Wednesday, September 26, 2007

British NPS round 5 :: XC :: September 22, 2007

Round 5 of the British National Point series was held for the first time at Coed y Brenin. A new venue was a refreshing change of scene and as expected Martyn Salt and his Inevent Team, plus the TREK crew, once more organised a fabulous weekend for mountain bikers of all ages, fitness and skill levels.

I knew from November 2006 that I would be in for a long, lengthy and very tiring season. The last round of the national series has left many, including myself a little jaded. For myself, I chose to race and train in Oz, where the sun was shining, rather than make the most of a proper off-season over the winter period. Then it was time to move house from Australia to the UK and then back to France again, before working 16 hour days as a mountain bike guide, secretary, waitress, dish washer, event organiser and even ‘labourer’, as Ian and I turned our building site of a house into something that almost resembles a home and I learnt what a flat head screw driver is. In between the demands of daily life that we all know and experience too well, I managed to complete all the training Matt Hart prepared for me this year, which can be any thing from 2-5hr sessions, race regularly in the UK as well as out here in the Pyrenees. Finally, it was time to celebrate Ian’s coming of age over an entire week, which meant 7 fun filled days with old friends and family, that rolled into very late nights. By the end of that week in September, up until the race this weekend, I have been feeling totally ‘done in’, hung over to the max, which I didn’t think was possible without touching a drop of alcohol.

Phew, I had to get that off my chest, as a few people made comment that I was looking fresh as a daisy, presuming I had been chilling out all summer, when in fact I had mixed feelings about being fit enough to race this weekend. Like most elite mountain bike racers I work full time and it has been an exhausting year, no regrets at all because it has been full of excitement, adventure, plus new found friends and I have loved every moment of it. This weekend of racing, my final event of the season, not only produced mixed results, but more importantly it has taught me some valuable lessons.

I must admit I was feeling quite lethargic on race morning of the cross-country. I sat in the Cotic Bontrager tent and was quite concerned that my body would not make it round the course. I wish I could say I was really excited about racing the XC, but I just wanted to go back to bed and watch day time TV, which is quite scary as I hate day time television, in fact I hate sleeping during the day. I needed every ounce of mental strength to take myself off to warm up. I had read in one of those ‘informative’ ladies fitness magazines a little breathing trick that was supposed to make you more alert, but it left me feeling like I had bruised lungs and provoked a few concerned looks from people passing by. I began a few sprints to prod the heart into action and spent those thirty pre race minute re-acquainting myself with my shiny Soda which had been hung to rest since July.

The start of the race remains a blurred vision, but I found myself out in front early on, leading Jenn O’Connor, Amy Hunt and Jenny Copnall for some of the time, before they took their turn at the front. My legs felt surprisingly strong, and they didn’t recognise the long draggy climb as being particularly hard. I really enjoyed pushing myself and the intense breathing that followed really forced my brain into action. When the descending started on the first lap, down a twisty fire road, before a couple of short sections of rocky single track, I felt a soft feeling in the back of my rear tyre as I hit the first few bends. I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it as the rain overnight had left the course quite moist. I moved back to 4th place and lost touch with the three girls who cruised past me. I stopped to check my tyre and it had lost some air, but it didn’t appear to be going down quickly so continued on hoping that the sealant inside had sorted it out.

I suddenly felt this urge to chase hard and if possible catch up to the three girls out in front. The lethargy I had suffered all morning had disappeared and a new wave of determination and excitement prevailed. I eventually caught the leading girls and together we headed towards the best section of the course. The fast rocky straights and bermed banks were good fun, but I was struggling on the rocky sections as my forks seized solid and I could feel every bump. So now with soft back end and rigid front end, I simply tried to take the smoothest line possible. By the end of the first lap I was in third and still digging deep for that extra speed, hoping my legs could find another gear. I was surprised to bridge the gap on the start of the second lap and find myself back in the lead, with Amy Hunt right on my tail. As we hit the rocky single track I could feel myself tensing and tried to pick the smoothest line possible between the rocks. Ian has this little mantra “where you look is where you go”, so I put it to the test and found myself staring straight at a huge rock in the middle of the trail, which forced me to fly across the handle bars and not only look closely, but kiss the ground as well. Amy called out a few words of ‘encouragement’, and flew off down the trail. I cursed than giggled to myself, and took off down the remaining single track, feeling quite fired up and ready to race. I know this may sound ridiculous, but I always ride quicker after I have fallen off my bike. It allows all the tension to be released from my body, and I feel completely relaxed and at one with the ground…in other words it makes me realise that I can fall off the bike without hurting myself.

I caught up to Amy again and together we took it in turns to lead before making our way to the start of the third and final lap. I can’t remember very much of this final lap. I knew I had a chance to finish in the top two, if not take the win, but I also knew that I needed a faultless ride, as I had no idea how far the competition were behind. The fatigue had completely disappeared, and the end was in sight. I had a small gap over Amy, but knew I needed to increase the lead if I was going to keep away on the descent. Then I felt the tyre soften a little more with only a couple of kilometres until the finish line. A huge knot developed in my throat and I knew this could mean race over. I stopped to check the tyre and it was now noticeably soft. I only had a small amount of climbing left, before the down hill section to the finish line so I plodded on. Amy left me standing still and I was now riding on the rim. I tried to fix it, hoping I had enough lead to at least remain in the top 5, but then I discovered a leaked air canister, a fault on my part for not checking it before the start of the race.

For those first few seconds when I knew my race was over, I was absolutely gutted, and kicked myself for not checking the seat pack before the race. I couldn’t finish the final lap. I was sent off course, so as not to be in the way of other racers. I had a long walk back to the arena, and time to reassess the last hour and a half of racing. I was naturally very upset with myself, but it soon dawned on me how strong I actually felt today. The adrenaline from racing brought me out of my slumber of fatigue and I was buzzing from the experience. I still had the national marathon championships the following day, and felt fired up to race hard….and hopefully not puncture.

I was unable to walk fast enough to make it back in time for the podium presentation, but congratulation to all the girls out there who finished today. It has been a pleasure knowing and racing you all, and I look forward to future battles in the UK or perhaps if I can tempt you, I might see you at some races out here in France in 2008.