About 18 months in to my life as a cross country racer and I found myself back at Sherwood Pines. Since being promoted to Elite it meant that some things were to be done differently this time round: no turning up on race day armed with a couple of spare tyres to cater for most eventualities; no more bimbling around for a solitary practice lap; and, most importantly, no more turning up late for gridding. Some things never change as I still managed to miss the grid call, though it's debatable what difference it made in starting at the back compared to starting very near the back! At least I had no time for the nerves to take hold.
Unsurprisingly the main difference between Elite and Expert is the unrelenting pace and the strength in depth of talent – I always found there were faster boys than me in Expert but at least there were only a few of us vying for the holeshot. At Sherwood, however, the flat nature of the course is characterised by twisty, loamy singletrack linked by long sections of fire road, making for intense racing typical of a 2hour interval session where the big bursts of effort are on keeping hold of the wheel in front of you. It is probably the only race of the year where roadie-style drafting is advantageous on the fast fire road drags.
A high quality field comprising a handful of European pros meant that my main objective was to avoid being lapped! After narrowly avoiding the start line pileup I settled in to the rhythm of St David as I found myself sharing the work with two other Welsh lads. We stayed together for much of the second half of the race until Sion o'Boyle (Torq) lost his front wheel going in to the last lap! At this point it was damage limitation, trying to manage the cramp that follows a dropped water bottle (my first since Sherwood 2010!). Ben Roff (Orange Monkeys) and I worked together for much of the last lap; the dirty deed of having dropped a countryman weighing heavy on our minds. We were only 20seconds up but on a course like this a few seconds might as well be minutes. At the end I finished a relieved 46th. Oli Beckingsale needn't lose any sleep just yet.
Thanks to Hotlines and Ghost whose RT Lector 9000 proved astoundingly tight, light and nimble in Robin Hood's back yard. Roll on the techy delights of Dalby!
|Serviced apartments: The Future for race accommodation!|