Pitch n putt.
Flowing curves over a perfectly manicured turf. Fascinating use of the natural slopes, with surfaces switching form solid to sand and back again. And it was made of people to hit little balls around with sticks?! Nah. Don't think so. Blatantly crafted by a Cx rider with an eye on the last race of the season, to create grins and give season old headsets a proper send off.
Anyway. After a final few hours pre race natter with people, at the venue, we lined up for the final time this season under sunlit skies at the bottom of the pitch n putt course that had my name written all over it. Crossed out. Seriously. Ian Taylor was literally laughing his head off when he saw me pre riding the course (in a nice way, I mean) - "not your cup of tea really" would be the phrase that worked best. I don't want to do myself too much of a disservice - I can 'get round' corners, I don't arrive at every bend with my hands off the bars, covering my eyes, screaming and crashing through the tape, but in the power vs skill balance, it's tipped towards power and this course was all corners. Even the straight bits were actually a corner somehow. I was on the back foot. BUT, I was smiling. The course was dry, fast, still a bit technical thanks to the clever use of the manufactured grass banks to shoehorn a surprising amount of off camber in and a huge amount of fun to ride.
I was going to be out skilled, but I was going to be thoroughly enjoying myself while it happened.
Every one of these start sprints has been ace. We've had a proper season of great racing, lets do it all again soon! Pic by Ellen
It happened very quickly. By about the 3rd corner Ian had cruised round the outside of me making me look rather pedestrian and just a few corners later Matt Lawton appeared from somewhere underneath my left armpit, railing a line round a tight off camber bend that I had no idea even existed. If you've raced on the track, you'll know that feeling on the stepp banked curve, when someone rolls through underneath you, it was like that.
I spent a bit of time reassessing how much grip there was - I'd set off on the older Merlin, as it had full mud tyres fitted, to bag me as much grip as I could find and make up for a bit of a lack of talent, even if they were a bit like a tractor tyre dragging their way around the dry/tacky/dry course everywhere else and decided to stay on it, rather than swap to the newer Planet X, with it's faster rolling (but still decent on the off camber) intermediate tyres but less helpful cockpit set up (I've got it sorted to help me get the power out on any 'open' sections', which is usually a good thing for me, but today I just wanted a less aggressively TT like position.
A small 'off' on one lumpy, innocuous bit (that skinned my shin in a damn painful way) saw Paul Colling ride back up to me and take 3rd spot in front of me for a lap or so. I spent the lap watching and looking for better lines than what I was picking, before realising I was "settling in" too much. This was a race. OK two whirling dervisches were the best part of a minute further round the Skalextric track (showing my age a bit there - all the kids were describing it as Super Mario, whatever that is, with no knowledge of the joy of flinging small plastic cars into the skirting boards at great speed because you didn't take your finger off the trigger fast enough...), but we were still racing and I'd not been off the podium at the NW races all season. The course might be the opposite of what suited me, but I was damned well going to put in as much effort as I could, so I did.
Get those thighs burning! 'Awarding' myself some hurt. Lots of lovely 'nasty' bits on that course! Pic by Ellen
For every half a second I felt like I'd lost on a corner, I 'awarded' myself an extra second of power based hurt in between. Keep doing that, past where it was probably a good idea and keep doing it until the end of the race.
It worked and, with some decent enough riding (still not 'bags of skill' fast, but acceptable enough and upright all the way...) I managed to get enough of a gap for the pressure to be off.
A distant 3rd but (cliche alert) we were all winners, getting to play out on that course. A perfect "last day of school" event that took season weary racers and left them all wishing it was all about to start again. Ace. I really, really hope next season turns up soon, this one has been utterly brilliant - here hoping for more!
To everyone I've raced against this year, a heartfelt, genuine, THANK YOU, I hope you've had as much of a blast as I havve. I really do think this is the best sort of bike racing there is and it's because of the fun (and hurt, sort of) you've all made it. Same thing goes to everyone who's helped out - in any way - with setting up and running these events, the league(s)/series(s) and championships. I helped out at one event and it was bloody knackering, the hard work everyone has put in this season is astonishing and thoroughly brilliant. Fist bumps and high fives all round.
And, in case you've not cottoned on to this one yet, for all the success I've had, even all the losses I've somehow managed to limit more than I had any real right to, massive respect and thanks to Lee @ Transition Endurance Group. They have a tag line "your best season yet" and he's delivered on it. Repeatedly. Not only that, but he's as enthusiastic for next season as I am. We're not done yet, we're just starting to nail it. Bring it on!