Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Marathon National Championships

The 2012 Marathon MTB Champs took place this past weekend in Selkirk, Scotland, after a two part journey we arrived at the venue midday Saturday. We signed on, tried to figure out the feed zone locations and then went to practise the lower loop of the figure of 8 race circuit.

This weekend I was travelling with Mountain Trax team manager John Newport, and Cannondale rider Tim Dunford. Whilst Tim and I went riding John went to buy a map of the area so he could have a better idea of where each feed zone was. The course was either climbing or descending, 4 big climbs were to be ridden over what was supposed to be an 85km course. On Saturday we rode the first of those climbs and the final descent, it was a worthwhile ride as it gave us a good idea of conditions.

Sunday morning the race began at 10am behind a pace car which led us down the tarmac road at the start until we turned offroad through a private estate. Having practised this section I knew I wanted to be on the front just so I wouldn’t get soaked by the rider in front flicking up water from the waterlogged trail. I stayed comfortably within the lead group to the top of the first climb, down the first descent and along the tarmac road to the first feed zone at 16kms.

Going into the next climb the group split through a slippery singletrack ascent, the rider ahead of me let a gap open between him and the front 3 riders, with nowhere to pass it allowed Dan Fleeman, Nick Craig, and Lee Williams to break away. As the climb opened onto the moors I was forced to chase but these three leaders weren’t going to let anyone ride back to them.

I chased hard and the legs felt great but on the descents I was losing time and the time gap would increase again. Entering the first of the technical downhills I crashed twisting my handlebars and landing on my ankle. The pain from my ankle was pretty bad and I was shaking so much I couldn’t undo my stem with my Lezyne multitool. After a few deep breaths I was back on the bike but had lost 3 minutes and slipped from 4th to 7th place.

It didn’t take me long to catch back up and overtake 5th place but I didn’t catch 4th place until just before feed zone 4 at the 60km mark, he’d used too much energy early on in the race and was now suffering. I still felt strong and was flying up the hills, but still felt out of control on the descents. I recognised the top of the last climb where we’d ridden to on Saturday, I increased the pace still hoping that I might be able to catch 3rd place on the descent back to Selkirk.

Unfortunately the gap was too big and the race over all too soon. Crossing the line after just 71kms and 3hrs25 seemed like more of a sprint than a marathon. Having trained for a 5 to 6 hour race I was left disappointed that the race was over, I still had more to give and could have kept the same pace going for another few hours. The front 3 riders were deserved podium finishers but I think the result would have been different over a more suitable distance and that I could have achieved my goal of a podium finish. As usual the Santa Cruz bike performed perfectly, the bike was a pleasure to ride even if I had pumped the tyres up too hard using an unfamiliar and inaccurate pump!

4th place is my best Senior National Championship finish so far and I’m hoping to build on the form I have now for my next big targets, the European Marathon Championships in June, and National XC Championships in July.

Thanks to John Newport from Mountain Trax and Vermont Images for all his help, support and photos.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

2nd place at Southern Regional XC Champs

Southern Champs was a big target of mine, last year I won the elite title. Sunday morning my focus and determination was sky high, I wasn’t going to lose the title without a fight. A pre ride of the course revealed a familiar track through the bluebells of Wasing Estate. On race day you know fairly quickly how your body is responding to the efforts, even during practise, on Sunday riding the track felt almost effortless.

You can see my video from practise here:

A strong field of elite riders had gathered including the regular Southern XC Series competitors plus a few additional extras like John Whittington and professional cyclocross star Ian Field. From the start gun I leapt into the lead along the first flat fireroad drag, I never looked behind but could still hear people on my wheel. Taking the left hand turn into the first climb I accelerated again, hoping to cause my rivals some pain and knowing if I was first into the singletrack I could recover before the next climb. Out of the singletrack I put in another big effort.

During this race I could feel that my training was beginning to work, the pedals kept turning and as a result the gap to my rivals grew. Eventually I looked over my shoulder, Ben Sumner had joined me. Going into the second lap I let Ben take the lead, only for a short while though, I wanted to ride this race at my pace. Half way through this lap Ben Sumner crashed on one of the many tough rooty sections. It was a little too early to be leading this one out alone but I had no choice.

Onto the third lap and the red and yellow colours of Ian Field could be seen steadily closing the gap. A little mistake was enough for him to close up on me and take the lead. His 29er full suspension bike was making easy work of the rough trails but I was making back time on the open fireroads and climbs. Eventually on the fourth lap the elastic snapped, a 10 second gap grew and Ian could be seen ahead managing the gap.

With a big lead over third place I slowed the pace on the final lap beginning to think about the following weekend’s race. Crossing the finish line Ian had a 30 second lead, and I was a further 1 minute 30 up on Ade Lansley in 3rd. To lose the Southern Champs title was a disappointment but the form is good, the motivation is high, and this coming weekend there’s a National Marathon Championship title to fight for.

You can see my post race video thoughts here:

Monday, 7 May 2012

Gorrick 100 Report

This past weekend was the Gorrick 100 enduro at Swinley Forest. Last year I won the big 7 lap distance and this year I was returning to retain my title, win the race in my new race colours, and test my form ahead of the National Marathon Championships. The 10 mile lap was surprisingly dry thanks to the excellent work of the race organisers who built many of the weather resistant trails in the area.

I filmed a little preview video you can watch here

Lining up on race day the field was smaller than in previous years, probably due to the recent poor weather putting people off. The numbers may have been down but the level of competition was high, within 10 minutes from the start there was a lead group of 4 which included Tim Dunford, Jamie Newall, George Budd and myself. Behind us were the likes of Ant White, Josh Ibbett, and Jay Horton who were chasing hard.

George and myself rode a strong pace splitting the group, leaving just the 2 of us in the lead. George was attacking the climbs making me suffer but I held on knowing there was only so long he could ride the climbs that hard. Our first 3 lap times were faster than anyone else could manage, including the much shorter race distances; this left us with a decent gap to 3rd place so on lap 4 we eased off the gas. By lap 5 I was suffering from the early pace we’d set but it was clear George was suffering more as he was noticeably slower on the climbs.

On lap 6 George was hurting and no longer able to assist by doing any work on the front in the wind. From this point on he was a passenger holding on for as long as possible edging out a gap on Tim who was still chasing in 3rd. Mid way through that lap the elastic snapped, the gap opened and I was alone in the lead with 15 miles to go. On the remainder of the lap I increased the pace testing my strength and setting a faster lap time than the previous 2 laps. The last 10 mile lap flew past, I knew once I’d ridden the steep climbs on the first third of the track it was almost mission accomplished.

Congratulations to George for finishing second and fighting for the victory and to Tim Dunford who finished third.

You can watch my race video here

And my post race thoughts here

Training has been going well over the last few weeks and this race win gives me good confidence ahead of the National Marathon Championship in 2 weeks time. Before that I’ll be attempting to retain my Southern Championships title at Wasing Park this weekend.

Gorrick 100 race video filmed on Mountain Trax's demo GoPro