The World Championships for Old Men. It should be the pinnacle of anyone's season, thinking about it (provided you're old enough), but for some reason for me it wasn't. Don't get me wrong, it was well worthy of a proper 'build and taper' training wise and the van was as neatly packed as ever with as much kit as I could imagine I'd need - no 'make do with whatever was nearest the door' or anything - but it didn't seem to count for anything. I've enjoyed all of the National Trophies so far because it's a nice 'season long' thing with all the ebbs and flows of good and not-so-good results, learning who's who and getting to know who it's likely you'll be racing against each time making for 'overall place' excitement.
Same with the (fewer than normal, for me) NW races, the classic courses and new twists on old favourites spicing up a long season racing with great people with an overall aim (not sure if I'll get enough races in for an overall place actually, but we carry on regardless!). The World Championships, however, didn't have those behind the scenes goals attached to it. Nontheless, I 'qualified' for an entry and had a spare weekend... (plus, it was the start of a three week block with races at the end of each, just like the run up to the National championships should have, so it seemed like a good idea to get the race/recover practice in)
The only real opportunity for practice/a look at the course was on Friday evening, so I headed out in the fading light to see if the ground would be as dry as last year, with intermediate tyres pumped up quite hard to highlight any slippery sections or hidden roots/rocks. It was certainly greasy in a few places but with little rain forecast before my race the next afternoon I sort of knew by the time my starting gun would go off, it would have firmed up a lot. No need for mud treads and no need for barrels full of water for the jetwash (what would the poor pit crews find to do to keep themselves occupied...)
I also managed to get my race day stupid crash out of the way early while checking to see if there was a better line over a log/jump/lump in the woods. I hoped that would be the only one; with no real 'finishing place' aims I'd decided to target staying upright (while still racing, rather than just pootling round!) instead.
Race day was cool and overcast but as dry as I expected and I could see from the early races that the course was near enough bone dry (lovely for mid December!), so I kept the fast rolling tyres on both bikes and decided to take the 'main' race bike out for the short, 30minute, pre race practice session to make sure the pressures I was running were good enough to hold the ground well wherever there was remaining mud. It felt ace. Properly ace. The handling was spot on, the tyres were fast on the power based sections and hung on nicely in the corners - I could even drift at will with just a twich needed to bring everything back into line, even on the few race speed efforts I put in. To my suprise (given I'd just replaced the freehub on the wheels) and great annoyance, the pawls were slipping under power, occasionally leaving my legs flailing for a second before they 'caught' again... "It's alright, I've got a spare" I told myself and rolled back to the van to swap to the mud tyre shod other wheels. no faults with those, but the tyres felt like dragging a plough after riding the 'fast' treads - certainly no lack of grip, but less "skim" and more "slog". Oh well, they'd certainly help in the aim of staying upright, the way they were biting into the ground... With plenty of time to spare I clambered into the back of the van to get into my pre prepared race kit and get my game face on (OK , warm up a bit on the turbo). To my suprise and great annoyance, the zip on my skinsuit decided today would be the day to give up completely - and it certainly wasn't warm enough outside for the 'chest out' look!
"It's alright, I've got a spare" I told myself and rummaged in the kit bag for the 2nd skinsuit I'd packed at the last minute because it just happened to be next to me at the time.
Race numbers swapped over, the zip on this one was reinforced with a couple of spare safety pins, just in case...
I was gridded (randomly) on the 3rd row and being that far back seemed to remove any pressure that might have started trying to rear it's head as we lined up. Maybe it was the lack of pressure, or maybe it was the craft knife based modification I'd made to the soles of my shoes, but off the start I finally managed to clip in OK and keep the cleats in the pedals as we charged along the long straight.
Upright and in aproximately the same position (well, 21st after being in 18th on the start) as I'd started on the first pass of the pits - so far so good!
Now, I might not have any aims for the race...but it is still a race and my legs feel good so lets put them to use and get going...
I enjoy flicking the bike around through the corners (no lack of grip, remember!) on the 2nd lap and in doing so find myself a couple of places further up without having to rely on putting loads of power out. This seemed to please the NW crew in the pits (if there was a World Championships for pit crews and associated banter, they'd already have won it), who were making themselves known vocally and making me feel like I'm racing somewhere in the North West, rather than at the Worlds!
Lap three sees me just behind a group of four as we turn on to the long start/finish straight. There's a bit of a headwind along it and, to my slight confusion, they all seem to be playing at race tactics - trying to hide behind each other and stalling rather than just get on with it. fine if you're in the leading group on the final lap but a bit odd when there's still half the race to go and all you're actually doing is letting everyone in front of you ride away. As I latch on to the back of the group they're veering across the tarmac, all trying to not be in front. I'm not interested in all that nonsense. They swerve across out of my way, essentially, and I just put my head down, shift up a gear and ride off while they sort of look at each other... There's quite a gap to the next three riders, but that's a nice target to be getting on with so the next lap is spent chasing them down.
I catch them as I pass the pits and probably annoy them a bit by nearly bursting into laughter as the NW crew start making what I presume are cat noises for some reason. Not a clue what's going on there, but they're obviously enjoying themselves, so whatevs! Might as well have some fun myself! Back on to that long start straight and it seems like a good time to do some TTing... I get tucked in low, elbows skimming knees, head near the stem putting out as much power as I can muster for a bit to see what happens. A glance down shows a violently weaving front wheel of a rider behind flailing to keep up and empty space behind him. By the next corner we've gapped the rest of the group. Nice. Whoever he is, the rider behind is getting lots of support from courseside - he's being told to stay on my wheel, make it count and all that sort of thing. The devil on my shoulder has little trouble in encouraging me to make that difficult just for the sake of it. I'm happy to sit in front and just put down surge after surge, listening out for the sound of suffering gear changes and gasped breaths. I've often said that you can come last in a CX race and still have had the best race out of the whole field and this is sort of proving it; I'm looking to get an extra pedal stroke in before each corner and get back on the power a bit earlier out the other side (death metal roars this time from the pits, which seems sort of fitting) and by the last lap the elastic has just about snapped, with a few seconds back to the well supported rider.
(Thanks to VeloUK for the pic)
A glance up the course shows too much empty space to close to anyone on front so I spend the last lap with no idea of what place I'm in, focussing again on finishing it off without any silly crashes. Mission accomplished. I assume I've finished in about 13th and it's not until halfway home while sat in a motorway service station that I find out it was 10th - at which point I start wondering "what could have been" if I'd got my head down from the very start, taken a few risks to get through sections a bit quicker and, well, you know, all that sort of thing. Luckily, I've got lots mor races to do to try and find out :) Huge thanks - as ever - to the best, more vocal and probably wierdest pit crew in the UK right now. I've never burst into laughter during a race before. It's probably not normal but it made the race very entertaining so thumbs up for that!
Mega huge thanks to everyone involved in putting on a proper, world class event. People (not me) became World Champions there and it was a fitting arena, course and racing for it.
Super mega huge thanks to Lee at Advance Cycle Coaching who's got me up to "top 10 when not targetting races" fitness - having enough fitness to be riding away from people for fun isn't something to be taken lightly and it's amazing to have it (and to still be building from it!) Can't wait for the rest of the season!
Slightly shorter commutes to the next few races, thankfully, but hopefully just as much fun :)