Aaaall the way up to Falkirk for this weekend's National Trophy. I had high hopes for it, kind of... Previous trophies in Scotland (well, the ones I've done, in Irvine) had been BRILLIANT. Swoopy fast (dry) courses that made for great flat out racing, in stunning locations with great organisation (and weather). Falkirk had a lot to live up to.
It may have been a few hundred miles from home, but within seconds of wandering into the local pub (restaurant, ahem) it felt like home, with half the NWCCA crew seemingly in attendance at the bar (ordering food, ahem). Nothing sets the mind at ease like seeing the people you know - with even more of them apparently residing just next door!
Race day was dry, as the few days running up to it had been and the first footstep onto the grass at the race course (in the dark, summer's over!), in my trainers because I'd forgotten to get my race day wellies on revealed suede footwear friendly dryness. Phew on two counts - my trainers weren't instantly ruined and I'd get another fast race on the intermediate tyres!
A week of cutting short training rides due to a randomly sore knee left me feeling a bit tentative before the race. I did a couple of gentle practice laps, just to get the vaguest of ideas of where the course went and where the real obstacles were. Even soft pedalling round it was obvious that the organisers had pulled a blinder. Flowing corners, swooping descents, grovelling draggy climbs, some good "smash it" steep climbs and "point and shoot" steep descents. This was going to be brilliant.
I took even more care during the warm up to not stress the knee, doing just enough to get the HR up and muscles going, before basting my leg in just enough Volterol to make it slightly shiny. I tried to convince myself that it was good enough to just take part this time and not to risk any further injury as I rode over to the start, knowing deep down that that would all go out of the window as soon as the starting whistle went.
It did. I tried to take it steady round the first corner, hit the first steep climb about 10 places further back than my gridding position, got angry with the situation and tried to start battling my way back up. I made up a few places before getting stuffed into the course tape and barriers while trying a cheeky "round the outside" overtake. All the gained places lost again as I untangled myself. For a second, Radiohead's "Just" popped into my head and irritated me even further. Just get on with it, I shouted at myself (internally...). Got going again and once again started to chase people down. The front end of the race was long gone, I think I was about 20th or thereabouts, as I jumped off and ran the barriers, ignoring the knee completely. A niggling ache seemed to be as bad as it was getting (pain relief cream presumably kicking in nicely) so I cracked on, pushing it a little harder each lap.
The course was, as I'd predicted, ace. Each lap I rode it a little harder, buoyed on by regaining places, cheered up by the knee holding out, grinning (internally...) as a result of just how the bike was handling. The intermediate tyres were perfect - fast rolling enough to never feel draggy and just -just- enough grip to get me round upright. A lot of drifting was done in the corners as the ground cut up a bit and got greasy, but it never felt out of control. Front wheel, rear wheel, a bit of weight shifting each time to catch it while trying to stay away from the brakes as much as possible, getting back on the power as soon as possible - ocasionally having to back off slightly as I got carried away and asked too much of the tyre, catch it then power on again. I sort of forgot what position I was in and just loved the feeling of, well, pushing the bike/rider union (as cheesy as that sounds!)
A lap or so of that was ended by angela shouting at me from the pits (well, she souts info at me every lap, which is nice,but this caught me attention). Without realising, I'd closed the gap to 8th and 7th places. Fun sort of took a bit of a back seat for the last couple of laps as I got stuck in, chasing down Ian Taylor (no mean feat) and deciding to test the knee to the limits by putting in as much of a dig as I could as soon as I got within a second or two. My riding got a bit more ragged asI tried to eke out a gap, corners weren't taken quite as well as before, but I tried to calm myself by - bizarrely - trying to focus on chasing down David Lines ahead. A second or two here, a couple more there, my last 3 laps were my fastest of the race, each one quicker than the previous one, sadly not quite quick enough to make the catch (and lets not forget that managing to catch up to someone doesn't *quite* equal beating them!), but it was enough for me to cross the finish line feeling like I'd pulled a half decent result, just, out of the clutches of disaster!
Plenty of freeze spray and strapping on the knee straight after, with a brief pause on the drive home for a "when in Rome" Scotch pie lunch and a giddy feeling that the next race can't come soon enough. Loving this season. Great racing, great race courses, (the usual and new) great people shouting encouragement, helping out, generally being ace, great work by Lee @ Transition (I know I keep saying that, but seriously, I would not be where I am if he didn't know his stuff!) and, so far, great weather too. Cross is boss!