"Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes" from "The Cobbler of Preston" by Christopher Bullock. "Tis easy to be sure of three things death, taxes and a first lap shambles"
from "Every Race" by me, the clobberer of Preston.
So yes, after a ruddy long drive with a wobbly wheel thanks to a wheel weight coming off and a night in the creakiest Travelodge ever (tip toe all you like, other guests, every floorboard moves and makes noise so I can track your every move easily. Oh you're stomping round like a herd of elephants all night anyway. Jolly good :-/ ), bright morning sunshine (it gets light earlier down south) lit up what appeared to by quite a slogfest of a course. The course map made me think it was going to be nothing but corners but the pre race preview suggested there would be one hell of a lot of pedalling. No hills (unless you class the 'rollers' as hills - more on that later). No drops or big clambers but in no way easy for the lack of them. It was all rideable at 9am, but I got the sneaking suspicion it wouldn't be by the time I got to race on it.
During my pre race bike faff I accidentally let all the air out of the tyres on the Vitus and pumped them back up a bit harder than the ones on the Planet X. FMB Super Muds. I reckoned they'd be spot on given the ground conditions, so that's the bike I chose to start on. Go!
I do'nt quite get my foot in properly off the start but I'm sat down so it doesn't affect my speed too much as we whizz towards the first series of corners. My pre race preview showed me a nice grippy line away from the line everyone around me is trying to use a tthe same time so I manage to avoid the argy bargy completely and stay in the mix. Hurrah. Maybe I'll not bugger up this first lap, eh! Yeah no.
The course conditions have changed since I checked them out before the v50 race and my quite-pumped-up tyres are all over the place. Now, that's not unusual [know your tyres] the Super Muds do tend to 'skate about' a bit more on greasy mud compared to the Limus on the other bike, but usually that's not too much of a problem because they shed the mud quicker, so keep providing that level of grip for longer, you've just got to deal with the slither and use the more pliable carcass to help get more 'feel' [/know your tyres] problem is, with the extra pressure in them they're not biting at all and, unsuprisingly, in the heat of trying to gain places I lose all traction at the back and end up dumped on my arse mid corner. Damn it.
Before I'd even packed the van to drive the 300 odd miles to the venue I'd decided that, if I was going to put that much effort into getting there, I'd finish the race. Even if I broke both bikes and just had to run with the remains on my shoulder, even if my legs fell off and I had to crawl round, I'd cross the line, so a typical first lap lie down wasn't going to see me drop out. Drop down out of the top 20, yes, but not out of the race.
I clamer back up and get on with testing what I can get away with, on the over inflated tyres, after all it could just be first lap franticness (it's a thing) rather than a proper 'issue'. There's a lot of 'body english' required, but I start to make my way back past riders.
My sneaking suspicion that there'd be running involved turns out to be absolutely right. A couple of long sections on either side of the pits have become unrideable, ankle deep speed-stumbles that probably look pathetic to onlookers but are utterly on the limit. I'm still a bit "max heart rate" fuzzy on lap two as I leap back on, on reaching a rideable section, forget that the tyres require more 'finesse' than 'power-mashing' and lose the front end just as I've got past Chris. A sack of spuds style flop that hurts enough to make me decide to swap to the Planet X on the next pass of the pits.
[Know your tyres] The mud, for all it's attempts to steal shoes when running and it's attempts to steal grip on the bends, isn't sticking much, so I hope the Limus (Limuses?), that offer more 'mechanical grip' even with their less supple carcass (but boy do they drag when things speed up!) being run at a lower pressure should sort out the issues I'm having [/know your tyres]
They do. I have to give myself a bit of a talking to as I start wondering if I'd have been further up the field and not on my arse so much if I'd used them from the start and just focus on chasing everyone in front down (as per usual...)
The stodginess of the running sections is getting worse every lap and, although I'm not fatiguing much, each run section is getting longer. In fact, the 'far' side of the pits is now pretty much a run all the way to the start of the man made (Ok, it's all man made really, but you know what I mean) 'rollers'. They're only about a foot high each, but from a stumbling remount into soft, soft mud at pretty much 0 mph, while also trying to get feet clipped back into mud encrusted pedals, they feel almost unclimable! They're certainly not swoopy, just 'grovelly'...
I spot Matt a few corners ahead of me as I hear the bell riding for the final lap. I can't really tell if I'm still gaining on him as at one point on the course I find myself thinking I'm right on him the shortly after the gap seems pretty big, then he seems to be just ahead, then quite far up the course again. All I can do is stay upright and keep the running sections quick - so far I've managed to close gaps / get an advantage on them, despite them feeling horrible to do - and see what happens. I do, but he crosses the line comfortably ahead. I've no real idea what position I was in at first (despite everyone in the pits shouting at me constantly - which usually helps - so I''m suprised to find out it was 5th. I refuse to think "what if" and just enjoy the fact that i've gone from about 20th to 5th in a 4 lap race, with half if being done on slidey squirmy tyres (tm).
Huge thank you to everyone in the pits that kept me in the race and everyone who was shouting for (or just "at") me. Especially all those who had already raced to ace positions in their event - awesome support from awesome riders :) Super huge thanks to everyone involved in putting on the race. The first real ankle deep mud bath race of the season and yet still with loads of rideable, technical, cornery sections that made for great racing.
And Super mega huge thanks to Lee @ Advance Cycle Coaching who makes it possible to ride into the pointy end of a National level race from the back, over and over. Hard work pays off :) Next up (somehow already) is the World Champs. I'm weirdly delighted to have been given the random start gridding of 18th as it means the first lap drop backwards through the field is done with before the starting gun and I can get on with making up places from the get go for once :-D