National XC Championship

The forecast for the weekend was not good but the sun was shining as I left work on Friday night and headed north up the A1 towards Richmond. It remained sunny right up until the moment I arrived and found somewhere to camp. It wasn’t raining too much, just enough to make cooking outside both unpleasant and rather difficult.
When I awoke on Saturday morning the rain had intensified so I had a bit of a lie-in until it had eased off slightly.
The first person I saw when I finally stepped out of the van was Nick Craig, with rumours of the course being quite tough and the rain continuing to fall he sounded quietly confident.
The next person I saw was Jon, who arrived bearing gifts, a pair of tubeless X-Kings for Tom, a pair of MountainKings for me and, oddly enough some Bluebeard shaving foam for both of us.
I watched the fun race and saw the start of the Sport race, the riders were coming back soaked through, absolutely covered in mud and grass, but (mostly!) with big grins on their faces.
The rain was showing no sign of easing so I decided that I should go and have a look at the course. The first climb was fairly steep, but not too long, just about right for powering up in the middle ring. I turned at the top, accelerated along the short stretch of grass, turned left and dropped down the chute into a left-hand berm. I got the turn spot-on, using the ground to turn me around the corner, a quick spurt of power to get over the crest, leaning the bike into the right-hand turn and down the next chute, keeping to left to avoid the stumps, spot-on again, the ground turning quite rocky here, the rocks moving about under my wheels as I turned again, nicely done, into the next part of the descent and then found myself wedged in small tree underneath my bike, blood coming from my ankle. Bugger.
Second attempt was more successful, passed that spot into the tight left at the bottom, across the slippery traverse and down the drop at the bottom. One more drop brought me out into the field at the bottom of the hill and another middle-ring power climb back to the top of the circuit. Picking up speed down across the grass the course turned sharply into a slide down through the ferns. Scrubbing the speed off at the top I kept left for the first third of the drop, then cut across to the right where there seemed to be more grip. Hanging off the back of the bike I kept the speed under control and the bike upright, with much encouragement from Dave, Alex and everyone else watching there. I avoided following the, by now well-worn, path straight on into the undergrowth and made it round the corner, back on the power again and somehow found myself flat on the floor underneath my bike, blood coming from my knee. Bugger.
Second attempt was more successful, much to the disappointment of the spectators, although they graciously gave me a cheer as I got down in one piece and headed up off up the next climb.
There were two fire-road sections, linked by a flat but very twisty and rooty section through the woods, and then a short climb into Troll Woods. This section was great, none of it too difficult but a relentless sequence of short climbs, steep drops and tight turns, really good fun. I found Tom near the end, having volunteered to marshal for the Saturday races he had spent the day constructing a rain shelter from a tree and some ferns, hiding from the innumerable flies and midges and shouting encouragement to the riders as they came down the drop towards him and tried to scramble up the next climb (top marks to Kenta G, first person to do this successfully, and the only one to do it while the rain was sill falling)
Troll Woods finished with a short, steep climb, just about doable with a careful line choice and then a traverse across a tricky, loose section, trying not to fall down the big drop to my left. There was one final drop, basically just hold on and hope for the best, with the final tree protected by a good old-fashioned straw bale, and then a long fire-road drag back to the start/finish area.
The rain finished just as I finished my practice lap. The sun then made it’s first appearance of the day, and coupled with the wind the course dried surprisingly quickly. I was one of the few fortunately enough to get out for a late lap, around 7pm. The course was absolutely fantastic by then, very fast rolling and challenging without being too difficult, if the weather stayed like this it would be great race.
Muddy bike!


The rain made it’s next appearance around 10pm, continued to fall all night and was still falling when I awoke on Sunday and had my breakfast.
I watched a bit of the earlier racing and then went to prepare for my race just as the rain finally stopped.
I got a reasonable start, staying out of trouble through the first bottleneck at the gateway and followed Tom up the climb. It was a little chaotic down the first decent, the pack still together, I held back a little as the man in front got his line a bit wrong which allowed Martin Pearson through with a cheeky move down the inside. We all made it down in one piece and I got Martin back going up the next climb, and managed to open up a bit of gap down the drop through the ferns, up the next climb and through Troll Woods. However, he was back with me by the end of the lap and snuck through as we headed up the first climb at the start of lap two.
I had a good fight with Chris Pedder and Stephen Hodge for the second lap but they got away from me when I made a mistake on the last descent from Troll Woods. My back wheel came around to the left, I got it back under control, bringing the whole bike over to the right in the process, narrowly avoided the tree with the straw bale padding and was just congratulating myself on having held it when I caught my front wheel in a hole and launched myself over the bars, landing on my head. Bugger.
I had enough presence of mind to keep rolling out of the way as Chris was following me down the hill, equally unable to steer, but he avoided me and took the place.
Unlike Mr Corbyn, who requires first the medics, then the air-ambulance and then a trip to the hospital for scans and x-rays whenever he lands on his head I am made of sterner stuff. I regained my composure, got my bearings and retrieved my bike. I got a little cheer from the spectators as I set off again, and said something witty to them about how good Hardnutz helmets are (although I was slightly dazed still and it could have been complete gibberish)
Lap 3 was more successful, I remained attached to the bike at all times, even down the final drops and, coming though the gateway to start my final lap I could just see Martin in front of me heading up the climb, probably less than a minute ahead. I saw him again as I turned into the decent through the ferns, heading up the next climb, the gap about the same. I caught sight of him again on the fireroad, slightly closer, and gained on him steadily through Troll Woods, as the rain started to make it’s return again.
He didn’t quite have enough left to get up the last climb and had to get off and run, forcing me to dismount and run too, up the final part of the climb and across the traverse. He remounted at the top, but I was bit cheeky, running passed him as he was remounting and pausing in front of him to remount, launching myself down the last descent with my left foot clipped in and my right waving around. I held it together and got down the drop intact, around the corner and set off up the last fireroad. I don’t know what happened to him on that last drop but I had a 50 yard lead over him when he emerged around the corner. He gained on me steadily along the fireroad, the rain lashing down now making it difficult to see through the spray from my front tyre, and he was only 10 yards behind me as we turned into the arena and sprinted for the finish, I crossed the line just 4 seconds ahead of him, in 39th place.
Tom finished in 37th place, despite his brake calliper working itself loose in the final stages of the race.
The next race for the team is Bonty 24/12, my next race is the Keilder 100 on September 3rd, our own Mr Cockburn is defending champ. He had to miss the National Champs through illness but hopefully he will be recovered in time to try to defend his title, although it would be nice if I could take the title from him, long shot but anything can happen in a race of that length.



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