Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2009 British Mountain Bike Series R1 - Sherwood Pines

I have always had a love/hate relationship with Sherwood Pines. I love the flowing single track trails that until recently only locals knew about. When I lived in Nottingham these were the trails I learnt to ride a mountain bike on. Now with the new Cotic sponsored red route, there is alot more single track for bikers of all levels to enjoy....but when it comes to using Sherwood Pines as a race course, I always know I'm going to suffer.

In the past Sherwood Pines has had a reputation for suiting roadies as there are no long climbs, but plenty of fast swooping single track, with fire road sections in between. It always encourages riders to stick together and work together, before some exciting attacks towards the end of the race. There is nothing wrong with this type of off-road racing, it's just another type of course that racers have to learn to be good at if they want to be strong all round racers and good bike handlers. Personally I have never been good at it, as I have never had the opportunity to race crits or race on the road, but I had a blast...even as I type this report I'm still buzzing from the experience on Sunday. I also think it encourages racers to use their brains a little more rather than just their fitness....something I'm first to admit isn't a Potter strength :)

Coach Ross gave me clear objectives for my first race in the UK, and I was determined to meet them. This race was a training exercise in preparation for the first three world cups. It wasn't merely for getting my legs back up to race speed, but the focus was on my race head. During practice 2 hrs before my race I focused on what my goals would be that day and how I would achieve them. I had to have words with this little voice inside my head that kept saying...'but what if this happens or that happens...shhh!'. I had to keep my thoughts and irritating mind conversations calm. There would be none of that today. I'm working on breaking old habits this year, if I'm ever going to improve and be competitive at world class level over the next 4 years then I need to start thinking about my racing, and sometimes that means taking a step back. It's impossible to be at your best every race, as we all go through peaks and troughs. For alot of racers it will still be many months away before they hit their best form, but all racers naturally want to win so it can be difficult sometimes to be told to use a race as part of training or to start a race with heavy trained legs that are not feeling what I call the 'buzz' factor. But as I have discovered over the years racing can improve other areas of your riding, as you need more than a strong pair of legs to race well. Plus sometimes a good kick up the backside can make racers hungrier than ever to achieve that top podium result.

On race morning I gave myself a long warm up, and purposely kept away from my pals Joolze and porridge lips Anthony (the Torq monkey) who always sends me into a fit of giggles. No I had to be in the 'zone', 'focused' and not be a nervous wreck.

The course had alot of single track, some of it was fast and swoopy, while other sections were tight and narrow. There were a couple of jumps and a log to ride over, plus lots of roots that could catch riders out at speed. There were very few over taking spots except on the 1st and last km of the 7.5km race course. This course was going to be tough at speed, but I was excited and ready for the challenge.

I was gridded on the front row. I kept reminding myself to focus on my race plan, and not to get too excited early on. Suddenly we ladies were away, charging down the fire road, and trying not to choke on the dust. I found myself riding comfortably behind world class kiwi racer Rosara Joseph, but as we hit a short piece of single track I was lucky to stay on the bike. I took a bad line and found myself drifting a bit too much for my liking, then with a bit of a front tyre wobble on...it was almost a stack, in fact it could have been a pile up as there were other racers right on my tail. Luckily I relaxed, looked ahead and the bike got back on track. I was back on Rosara's wheel and waiting for an attack. Nobody came flying by until just before the first bend where there was another quick right hander into a narrow piece of single track. Everybody was fighting for a position, elbows out with plenty of aggression and a few growls along the way.

The first lap was hard and I focused on chasing down the sprints and remaining calm. It was too early to panic, and I reminded myself to think about what was going on out in front. Rosara and German Cycleways racer Mel Spath had a small gap, but it wasn't long before there were 6 of us behind Rosara. I was in 5th or 6th position, and continued to watch and learn from what was going on out in front. There were small attacks often, but nobody could break away. I found my rhythm pretty quickly on the single track and loved riding the jumps. The speed was exhilerating and I was feeling super confident today, which is always nice when you are pelting down the single track and your elbows are almost scraping the trees.

On the second and third laps the pace started to slow in places, and I moved up to second position, with a train of girls right on my tail. There were still attempts by all riders to move up and break away. But nobody was ready to take on Rosara, who I could tell was controlling the pace and looking comfortable. On the third lap Rosara and I broke away, but only held a small gap. We took it in turns to lead, and I was really enjoying the excitement of trying to make a break. There were still two laps to go and I was out in front. At times I tried to look behind to see who was still on our tails, I knew Rosara was still there as she was talking to me and made some comment on my very 'graceful' attempted manual through a dip that almost sent me flying over the handlebars and totally off course....oops! A few giggles later and I was back racing again and focused.

I had been at the front for quite a while as we headed around the first loop of the fourth lap, and I started to wonder how hard the remaining girls were working. This was my first big mistake, as I purposely slowed the pace to see if anyone would take the lead. I was concerned about doing too much work and not knowing what was happening behind me. What I didn't know was that Patterson training kiwi Jenn O'Connor was back on our tails after a disasterous start. As I lead out of the single track Jenn attacked, and I reacted too slowly. I found myself back in 5th position. I knew there was still time, but any mistake from the girls in front of me on the single track and it would be race over. Just as alarm bells started ringing in my brain UK's young promising mtb talent Annie Last (Halfords), who I thought looked super strong early in the race stumbled or caught a tree root. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but next minute British national champ Jenny Copnall (Look RT) and I were at a standstill and going nowhere. This allowed Jenn and Rosara the perfect opportunity to attack, and attack they did. There was a bit of confusion and bad gear selections on my part, with Jenny and I urging Annie to dig deep and get back up to speed. As soon as we reached the next fire road section Jenny and I sprinted past Annie and focused on catching the kiwi duo.

I knew Jenny and I were going to struggle to catch Rosara and Jenn who were now completely in control, but we tried and the pace was high. Half way round the last loop Jenny lead into some tight single track where light was dim, and it was hard to carry speed as the bends were tight. Suddenly she missed a bend and the two of us had ridden straight on and off course....double doses of frustration from both of us and all I could say once more was oops! It was an easy mistake to have made, but it cost us some precious time and we had alot of work to do now to get back up to full speed again. I took over the lead, and with 3km to go the race was on. I had to be careful here. As all good plans can be undone, so mine had. I could race my heart out and attempt to chase down Rosara and Jenn to try and make up some of the time deficit, or save energy and race for third with fresher legs. If I raced hard would Jenny stay on my back wheel and have more energy than me for a sprint finish at the end or would my legs cope....decisions, decisions. I wasn't confident that I had the power to outsprint anybody today over a short distance.

At the 2km mark I still thought that it was just Jenny and I, but little did I know Mel Spath had crept up behind us, she had also overcome some bad luck during the race and was right on our tails. At the 1km mark I was about to make my own attack, but got caught off guard as Mel sprinted by. I chased her down, and dug deep to remain on her back wheel for the final 500 metres. Jenny was also on my back wheel as we headed into the arena. It was full steam ahead. I tried to pass Mel on the outside with less than 20m to go but as hard as I tried Mel was not giving an inch and crossed the line just ahead of me to take third, with Jenny Copnall just behind me in 5th place. I discovered that Rosara and Jenn finished 45 seconds in front and Rosara just took the win, with what must have been a thrilling finish, and a great way to start the 2009 British Mountain Bike Series.

Surprisingly I wasn't disapointed with my race. It was the type of race where mistakes could happen very easily to anyone, and I knew exactly where I had gone wrong. I always knew it would be a tough course for me, and I'm very pleased with how I'm riding at the moment as I know there is better form to come as it is still early days. So there are no 'what ifs' or regrets, as I'm already focusing on the first world cup this weekend in South Africa which has been on my mind alot lately....so fingers crossed!

The rest of the day I was bottle feeder for AQR Holidays Team racers James Dymond and Mr Potter. Both AQR boys like their climbs, but are also super swift on the single track too. Unfortunately James hurt his ribs in practice, so was suffering a little bit on the day, and Mr Potter started well back on the grid and fought his way back to 26th place which I thought was a super effort for my hubby after his seat post kept slipping. I'm also pleased to announced that I had the fastest lap of the Potter duo this Sunday....so no washing up duties for me this month :)

Martyn Salt and the Inevent Crew once again hosted a brilliant event. James Hampshire designed the course and he deserves a huge pat on the back as I think it was a super course for both racers and spectators. Already looking forward to round 2at Dalby Forest in a few weeks time, and hope to see you there.


Adrian Taylor said...

Arg! That's a shame! Claire and I (and our new sproggie in bike trailer) happened to be bimbling round Sherwood Pines that day. Had we known you were there, we would have dropped in on you... as it was, we were doing our best to avoid the race shenanigens!

kelvin said...

Great report! A good read even for a non-racer.