After a busy couple of weeks (read 9 races in 7 weeks) and then a weekend away watching how Phil Pearce and the big boys do it at the XCO World Cup in Albstadt, it was back to racing with the 5th round of the MSG Eastern Series at Thetford Forest.
It was a bit of a tentative decision to go to Thetford as it’s a 240 mile round trip but I have been taken in by the MSG races. I think their organisation is great and the courses they put on (sometimes with some huge limitations) are superb. This made the choice a lot easier to make and so, at 0700 on Sunday morning, the car was packed and we were on the way to Norfolk.
Now, some people may wonder why I decided to leave at 0700 when my race doesn’t start until 1400…well, let me quickly explain. When I did my first Eastern race at Shouldham Warren last season, one of the only things I didn’t like was that the course was closed for practice from 1000 to 1300 which meant that you had to choose between doing a practice lap, or getting a good warm up in. Since that day, I have now totally changed my mind and I think it’s fantastic that the course is totally clear of practising riders during a race. To overcome this, I decided to leave home early so that I can get to the venue for around 0900 which allows me to get my practice lap in before the start of racing and then gives me about 3 hours to watch and chill out before starting my warm up. It makes me much more relaxed so is absolutely worth the early start.
Earlier, I mentioned how the MSG crew put on some fantastic courses while up against some big barriers and this round was just one of those days. Due to issues with the Forestry Commission, the course designers had some real hard guidelines that they hard to work within. Basically, this meant the course was predominantly made up of fireroads and grass tracks with the odd, short bit of singletrack thrown in. Two A/B lines and a swoopy, bermy section kept things interesting and coupled with the hot and dry weather, it made for an incredibly fast race.
After warming up, I made my way to the start and found out I was gridded 31st (they would be gridding the first 4 rows of 8). I had a few guys I have kind of slotted in to racing with around me although most of them were on the first two rows. On the whistle, I got a pretty good start but due to my gridding, I was a little boxed in and couldn’t get through so had to take what I could. Jumping onto wheels along the fast start, there was what heard and looked like a big crash on the start. It caught my attention over my left shoulder but thankfully, I just missed it. Hopefully, everyone got away without injury!!!!
I found myself sat on the wheel of an old adversary in Will Kearse of Sussed Out Suspension who in turn was sat in a group of about 5 or 6. Together, we began to work our way through the race and we could see the leaders about 20secs ahead. I felt pretty strong and was enjoying working as a group, especially with Will but as we came in towards the start/finish line, Will seemed to be a little blinded and went slightly off line which meant he lost loads of momentum. I passed him and tried to encourage him to jump on my wheel but the pace was really fast and as he was alone, he struggled to make the bridge.
I now found myself with Jack Wilson of Arrow Cycles. We had Seb Herrod, Jonathan Sheasby and Ash Kirk (EHF Velopro) just ahead and egged each other on to make the gap up to them. I was feeling brilliant now because I knew that Seb, Jonathan and Ash had started on rows one and two and became targets for me! Jack and I managed to make the gap but had worked really hard to do so. We literally had to cling on to the back of the group and try and get some recovery but the three of them must have upped their pace again as they started to pull away slowly. We then started to catch the back markers from the Elite/Expert and the Junior races. While they all moved aside, sometimes it wasn’t really practical at the time and on one occasion, I got stuck for about 10 seconds until I could pass. Jack had slowed to wait for me and help drag me back up to those three who were now about 20 seconds ahead.
Starting the third lap, still working hard with Jack, we exited the first A line and were riding hard through a section of singletrack when I was suddenly covered in sealant. Jack had punctured and it seemed pretty terminal. Jack pulled off and I continued the chase alone. Once I was on my own though, I had no chance of catching Ash, Jonathan and Seb and I ended up riding the next 3 laps alone.
Coming into the end of the 6th lap, I was caught by Oliver Quinton (Iceni Velo) and Leon Goodwin (Louth Cycle Centre) who were going like a train. I tried my hardest to jump on but I had no chance and lasted about 1 minute before they were gone into the distance. Alone again until the middle of the last lap when again I was caught by a small group, this time consisting of Elliot Lawrence, Charles Wade (Welwyn Wheelers) and Campbell Walsh. I managed to cling on this time and decided sit on the back until we had passed the last chicane where I would go as hard as I could and try and take the sprint.
I made an early move along the outside but it didn’t work and so it became an all out sprint from about 250 meters out. We crossed the line 4 abreast. I still don’t know exactly who won the photo finish but TimeLaps have credited Elliot, Charles and me with exactly the same time and have us all down as finishing joint 11th.
It was, without doubt, my best race this season, coming from 31st on the grid to finish 11th (or 12th or 13th) is pretty good in my eyes. An average speed of 15.1mph for the race goes to show just how fast it actually was. I just wish I could have that much fun at all XC races.
I have to say a massive thanks to Jenny Hill for getting burnt while waiting in the feedzone to hand up bottles, Lorraine Turner for helping her(sorry I hurt your arm) and of course the team and their sponsors for making it my best season yet –
KTM Bike Industries (www.flidistribution.co.uk)
TORQ Fitness (www.torqfitness.co.uk)
Continental Tyres (www.conti-tyres.co.uk/conticycle)
Four4th Lights (www.four4th.co.uk)
LAS Helmets (www.lashelmets.com
Selle Italia (www.selleitalia.com
Anthony Pease Photography (www.anthonypeasephotography.co.uk)
Special thank to Les at Horizon Photography for the images www.horizonphotographic.co.uk