(Brillliant tune, that, by the way, give it a listen)
Well, with Angela out of action in the pits having been struck down with the current dreaded lurgy with no obvious source, it took all of about 5 seconds from me mentioning that I didn't have support for this weekend's NWCCA race for Steff to step up and offer his help (despite taking part in the preceeding race!). Ace. Cheers Steff. :)
An early arrival to get a parking space in what was promised to be limited spaces saw me turn up to today's venue just as a member of the public clambered into his car and pulled away, leaving a van sized spot right next to the sign on building. Ace. In fact the only downside was working out what to do with myself for so long before the race!
A quick couple of laps to get a vague idea of which way the course went revealed some lovely twisty, turny singletrack through the trees (complete with hidden roots of doom), plenty of "grind it out" "is this a climb or am I just dying?"and "where's all my grip gone" sections. All the promises of a great course for racing on.
Watching the V50s race, that certainly seemed to be the case - the ground was drying quickly in the wind and the racing seemed close and fast. Then it started raining, suddenly.
A bit of a warm up riding up and down in the park and practising/finding the best line on the start straight (I might not have known all the lines round the rest of the race, but I had the first 20 seconds dialled in!) got me thoroughly drenched, but still eager to get racing...in fact the only people more eager for me to get going were the commissaires, who blew the starting whistle before I had a chance to scoff my startline gel (in fact I'd only just managed to get my warm up top off!).
"Whatever", "Doesn't matter" I told myself as I got a half (OK maybe quarter) decent start and used my start straight wisdom to good effect to get into the lead for the first corner. A tactical win as I knew the next singletrack section would be dictated by whoever was in front of you, it being so slippy and narrow. With no-one in front of me I just worked on keeping upright and ignored the sound of a thousand heavy breaths from the entire race milimeters behind me. It just about worked and my slight lack on knowledge about where to ride to avoid the roots/get the corners right didn't lose me any places (friends in the peloton behind, maybe, but not places!).
Half a lap or so later, Rob Jebb swung past on one of the more open sections - as he did I chanced a glance behind and saw we'd opened a bit of a gap. Happy with that I immediately set about being unhappy with being overtaken and made sure I got my nose back in front before the next tricky bit...which I duly mucked up, forgetting there were a set of wooden steps buried in the mud on one side of the track and plowing into them at fully pelt, coming to a half halfway up!
The mistake was so bad it actually caused Rob to come off as well, which I felt guilty about for all of around...well, half a second or so, after which I did all I could to forget about it!
Rob got ahead again as I continued in a similar vein of just not riding very well, which start to get to me a bit and saw me start to try and push on at all the wrong times. I had a few lucky escapes which brought the gap between us down to a couple of seconds and then...from out of nowhere...and sneaky hidden tree root in the singletrack stole all the grip from my front wheel, firing me into a tree quite spectacularly.
You don't win races rolling around on the floor. The gap instantly grew to around 15 seconds. I found myself stuck in one gear, with no idea whether the mech was just clogged with mud or if I'd damaged something (other than my pride...).
Somehow the one gear I had was simultaneously too big and too small leaving me grovelling around on the climbs and flailing around on anything flat or even slightly downhill. A quick bike swap (cheers Steff!) got me on something with working gears but slightly less grippy tyres. Not that the Vittoria's on the 2nd bike are in any way bad, they just slide around more, which helped me calm down, weirdly: a smoother touch round the corners was required so I concentrated on that rather than chasing and stayed upright (if not always totally facing forward...) for the rest of the race.
2nd. Can't be unhappy when you've had a fun day with good people, slithering about in the mud, even if you've not got to try and work out what you've done to your gears...
Thanks to everyone who came up with that course; yet another great test of fitness (present, in spades!) and skill (er, working on it!), thanks to everyone who raced me, marshaled so I could race, helped in the pits for me, cheered me on and - because he keeps getting me stronger without getting me more knackered - Lee @ Transition