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I normally write my reports on the evening of the race, it’s a good time to reflect on what went right or wrong and what could be improved on for the next race. However, on the way home last night I was just far too uptight to even think about writing it all down so I find myself the day after sat on the sofa with ice packs on my knees and painkillers close at hand trying to find a way not to make this into an excuse filled, negative moan of a report. I apologise now if it turns out that way, I am a racer and have to justify my mistakes to myself sometimes that comes very close to being a whinge bag!
So round four of the UCI World Cup took us to the picturesque town of La Bresse, France. This race I was lucky to have my boyfriend/mechanic Pete with me, he is normally away working so it was great to have him with me for a change. It makes things a little easier knowing that I’m not completely on my own just in case something goes wrong. We were sharing a cottage with the South African rider Sam Sanders and we were both looking forward to another weekend of World Cup fun. We headed out on the first practice day with Jessie Roberts of RWD Brakes team. The course began with a long, technical rocky climb with a little drop and rooty section thrown in. At the top of the climb it was a long descent back down to the start finish. It soon became apparent that the descent was going to be one of the most testing that any of us had encountered; it included a drop down a huge rock slab, steep slippery switch backs, a section with three drops one after another, tight loose corners and a steep descent down a muddy rocky cliff! We each had our sections that we struggled with but by the end of the day we had conquered most of them and were feeling much better than when we first saw it.
We couldn’t resist watching the Eliminator, it was a fantastic course going round the centre of the town. It seemed the whole town had come out to watch and with ace commentator Dan Jarvis revving up the crowd the atmosphere was electric. Tracey Mosley was the only competing Brit with regular competitor Imogen Buick having to miss this race due to exams. Tracey looked strong and progressed easily until the semi-final where she had a huge crash, I didn’t see it myself but having seen pictures of it I think she was very lucky to walk away in one piece. Unfortunately it ruled her out of Sunday’s race, I hope she’s feeling a lot better now.
Saturday’s practice began with rain which made a difficult course even tougher. Lines changed, steep sections became even more slippery and rocks were lurking to catch you out. Both Sam and I had problems and ended up with bruises and cuts. I made myself go round the complete lap so I could be confident that I could ride each section well, I had a few wobbly moments but came away comfortable with the course. Watching the under 23 men whizz round made the confidence grow; it was great to see the Brits riding so well. Both Seb Batchelor and Steve James flying down the descents, making them look so easy. I was beginning to look forward to the race.
The sun was shining after a heavy rainfall over night. I decided to go with a tyre combination of a Racing Ralph on the rear and to give me some extra grip a Rocket Ron on the front. I had a lovely warm up soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying such amazing views. I headed to the start grid feeling nervously excited and looking forward to conquering such a demanding course. I was gridded 85th so pretty much at the back and after last week’s crashes at the start I was cautious when the gun went. It is an area I need to work on and I definitely need to fight for my position more so I can get some space going through technical sections.
The climb was mostly done at walking pace as it was so narrow and only took one person to stall before we were all off running. Reaching the top of the climb I was in a group of four, entering the beginning of the first section there was a steep rocky descent ending in a drop. You needed to carry speed into the part of the course so you had enough grip to get through the corner and into the drop. Unfortunately even at this level you get riders that walk sections, this causes havoc with us that are trying to ride them.
The rider I was following had to descend extra slowly to avoid these riders meaning I had to too, I lost grip on the corner and had a heavy crash. It damaged my saddle meaning I had to stop quickly in the tech zone to fix it, this opened up a gap to the group which I then had to close. A further crash when I caught the group in front caused more damage to the bike, the extent of which I didn’t fully realise until I had passed the tech zone where Pete was standing. I came to the beginning of the climb and hit the gears, nothing happened, I was stuck in top gear. I could see that the rear cable had come out of the cable stop but try as I might I just couldn’t get it fixed back in. I had to make a decision, cut my losses and pull out or run up the climb to the second tech zone to get someone to fix it.
I hate pulling out of races so it was really a no brainer, so off I set for a bit of fell running with my bike for company. The crowd were fantastic cheer me on as I struggled up the 1.5km climb, I must have looked a right state I’d cut my legs so there was blood everywhere and I’m a useless runner so was doing a walk/jog combination while trying not to cry in frustration. I finally got to the tech zone where the WXC team and British Cycling helped pop the cable back to where it should have been. I set back off on the lap hoping I had enough time to get another lap. It was not to be as the mechanical had cost me far too much and I was pulled at the end of the lap, I was absolutely gutted. I’m still frustrated and angry at the crashes I had. I know sometimes it is easier to run a section but when riders are dismounting at every technical section and not moving off the line it scuppers other riders attempting to ride it. It not only makes a tough line tougher but at such slow speeds I’m having to ‘trackstand’ just to stay upright.
The key to fast and safe technical riding is hitting obstacles at the right speed and letting the bike do what it’s capable of. I’m still improving my skills but riding so slowly it inevitably results in me having to part company with the bike but at least I’m attempting to ride it and can be satisfied that I’m pushing myself to improve by doing so. My finish position was 70th so even with the drama I managed to improve on my gridding. I’m now looking forward to the third round of the British XC Series at Hopton Woods. It’s a new venue so I’m really excited to see what’s in store for us then it’s off over the water to Canada and the USA for the next World Cup rounds. I am truly living the dream!
As ever a huge thank you to my sponsors and coaches; Ian Warby and Mark Baines at Firecrest MTB, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Sponsor UK, Ana Nichoola, Whackjob Jim, PowerBreath, Mavic, Working Bodies and Baines Racing.
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