Old Skool local xc racing
Whilst looking for things to keep riding interesting over the winter I was pleased to see a series of xc races pop up in the calendar just a short journey along the M5 from Bristol. Round 1 of the Mean and Dirty (MAD) 'Dash in the Park' was held in private National Trust woodlands in Ebworth Park. Promises of a more or less entirely singletrack lap in the woods on a short course on paper sounded good fun. The weather was clearly going to have an influence on underfoot conditions, as we found out!
For me one of the best things about going to mountain bike races is the craic and banter with your mates. That goes for any mountain bike outing I suppose but at races it's always good to share pre race excuses and post race tales of epic fails and who suffered the most offs. Often the sorts of races I normally do don't attract my local riding buddies so it made a nice change to get them involved. It was pretty funny trading banter blows by comparing our respective preparations in the week before, cake vs rice cakes etc. Even on the day itself my holdall with kit for every occasion including different sized drink bottles compared to 'it's only 90 minutes I won't need a drink will I?' and my personal favourite my mate Tim tucking in to a burger 20 minutes before the start of the race compared to my carefully timed energy bar 1hr 41minutes 10 seconds beforehand...you get the idea.
We went round the practice lap together which quickly revealed this was going to be carnage. An almost entirely flat course wouldn't provide a technical challenge but the naturally cut trails had taken a hit from the recent monsoons and were doomed to become sloppy gloop from the off. The technical challenge came in the form of keeping your bike in a straight line and the wheels turning in the corners. It was going to be a slow one but anyone who could quickly work out how to best avoid the mud would save some serious time. Wide taping meant you could cut across some of the corners but it was debatable whether the risk of leaves and twigs grinding you to a halt outweighed the slight speed advantage gained.
I planned to be at on front row of the grid to at least get one lap of slightly better underfoot conditions before the 80 people behind chopped it to pieces.
Off we set with a 30m sprint to dive in to the singletrack. The practice lap told us all that there wasn't going to be much passing on this course so I was pretty happy to enter the woods in second position. I think I went in to even stranger territory at an XC race by squeezing past the chap up front and leading for a couple of minutes. I then inevitably slid out and slowed enough to let 2nd place overtake. Not long after whilst focusing on getting back on his wheel I took my eye off the ball which led me straight smack on with a tree. The leader Nic was then gone for the rest of the race. I gradually pulled out a gap on third and the twisty compact course meant it was fairly easy to keep track of the distance between us. A nice slidey off camber traverse was the course highlight and thanks to mud tyres fitted this was good fun. It was head down to avoid a face full of mud and luckily by chance Roll for the Soul supplied me with a roadie cap the week before with a big peak on it. This came in handy! The rest of the course I just remember lots of singletrack turns and slight ups/downs which were indistinguishable at times due to such a pitiful average speed being clocked. I kept pushing as hard as possible to try and catch the guy in front but updates from the course marshalls and supporting family suggested he was holding a steady lead that he'd made fairly early on and built on slightly after that.
I slumped over the finish line in a surprising second position overall. Glad for the hard effort that's hard to replicate in training. Time to now get some big miles planned over the festive period to soak up the turkey.
The race included a kids race and there was a really nice friendly local race atmosphere that I think can get lost at some of the bigger xc events. At £15 a pop this was a great value blast around the woods and begrudging smiles could be found at the end despite bikes and people head to toe in mud and knackered from the relentless slogging. Top marks for the pre race information and briefings as well.
Chatting to the local National Trust officers before the race it was great to hear their enthusiasm for opening up the estate for more events in the future so hopefully we'll see a growing number of XC events in the Gloucester and surrounding area.
Thanks as ever to my sponsors, when conditions are crappy like this it helps massively to have lots of spare kit and a well oiled machine on hand.