National XC Series Round Two – Wasing Park By Phil Pearce

Leading up to round 2 of the Nationals and I’m feeling good, after taking the win in Pembrey at round 1. It left me on a high.

I saw the start list mid week, and with Grant Ferguson and Liam Killeen not racing, I was going to be running the number one plate, on my home course, after winning round 1. Now this could have gone two ways – giving me nerves with the pressure of being number one, or giving me confidence and feeling that this is where I should be through hard work. Being me, I chose none of these options and just went with being myself – happy go lucky, going to ride because of the enjoyment and excitement it brings to my life.

Training has been good, although a tad heavier then I needed to be, due to 3 MASSIVE roast dinners in two days the weekend before. And of course 3 roast dinners means 3 loads of pudding. Not to mention the Easter egg collection haha plus my addiction to cake – let’s be honest what’s a life with no cake in it – it’s no life at all. Cake releases happy endorphins, which means a happy mind, which is key to success.

A wise man once told me ‘food is just fuel take the emotions out of it’! Well, I can tell you – that landed on deaf ears – I LOVE FOOD AND FOOD LOVES ME haha

Having grown up in Newbury all my life, I would class Wasing as my home course. It’s 8 miles from my door. Although you are never allowed to ride around the course, due to it being on private land. So, I always look forward to racing it. It’s like a hidden treasure! I like the fact it’s untouched and not open to anyone, unless to race on. The last time a National round was held here was back in 2012 and it was the National Champs, which Liam Killeen Won. I wasn’t even interested in XC then, so didn’t even know this was on my doorstep, let alone watching it. How times change so quickly.

I moved to Westbury at the end of last year, but my family still live in Newbury, so Rosie and I decided we were going to drive to Newbury on Friday and stay with them to make it less driving and take advantage of being close to the course. Plus I had to pick up our race bike from my friend Joe Winston, who took the time to give our bike the pre-race once over. BW CYCLING had put time aside to give my bike a once over, but I couldn’t get it to the shop in the week, so JW saved me.

We got to the course around 11am Saturday, as the course opened for practice at 11:30. Signed on to cover insurance and got our kit on and bikes ready. Rosie had got an awful chesty cold midweek, so really wasn’t sure how she was going to feel out on the course. And with a few technical sections around the course, you needed to be fighting fit. We did a slow sighting lap together, checking out the technical sections and getting them dialled. Luckily, we had raced here a few weeks before, as a course tester at round 1 of the Southern XC Series. Although the conditions couldn’t have been so different. It was the muddiest race I think I’ve ever raced. And even the main triple drop A line was closed.

So, this weekend was the first time we got to test out the newly revamped A line drop. Rosie had spent some time looking at this on the first sighting lap. Watching some people drop in badly doesn’t help with confidence. I did it 4/5 times back to back to show her how to get her body and bike position right. Second practice lap she drops in from the middle and has it perfect. Super chuffed, she was running back up to go again. Super proud she overcome the fears, this girls got skill.

We finished our sighting laps and decided to stay and catch up with other riders and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, whilst watching racing that started at 14:30. I decided to go out at second practice, after the racing had finished at 16:00. I went for my third lap a slightly quicker pace to see how the course was riding and the lines that had appeared after a race.

The course was riding super fast. From the start you’re on the grass for a short blast, then we hit a tarmac fire road, slightly up hill on to a gravel fire road, 1km in to the course was the first technical section, faced by a short steep climb then into two log drops (kiln steps) followed by a gap jump.

After this, was in to another climb, that lasted say 1 minute at a solid pace. This led into some more woodland single track that had loose gravel to ride over, a short flowy descent and we were faced with the next technical section, a hill climb with 3 tree trunk size log steps to clamber over (chain breaker). Still on the single track we flowed through the trees on the loose gravel up to the 4th technical section, which was a series of steps (the Steps) going downhill at different heights and spacing between. These were super fun on the Scott Spark full suspension bike, a case of just aim the bike and hold on. It felt like a bucking bronco ride hahaha. These steps finished in to a sweeping berm, which lead in to a climb, again not too long, but it corked screwed it way through the trees on a loose gravel path. Just after the 2km mark, was the main technical section, the famous triple trouble aka collarbone breaker. Three lines to choose from here. The super smooth fast exit A line drop, The B line was a safer roll in drop – not that much slower in regards of dropping in, but the A line was a straight line on the exit, so you carried a higher speed up the following hill. Let’s not forget the C line – this followed the edge of the drops along the bank line, down the side of the drops without your wheels having to leave the ground.

I was opting for the fun A line every time for the fun factor and the speed to get me up the next climb on the course. This climb was a hard packed soil climb with a few exposed roots thrown in the mix. At the top was the second feed zone, on to the fire road, perfect chance to grab a quick sip of the drink before dropping back in to the woodlands, we was faced with more heavily exposed roots on switch back corners. This was the course for the next 1.5km, before a section called ‘the quarry’ this was a session on rollable swoopy bombhole dips we flowed well, but all the time you had to be hard on the power to push the bike over the energy sapping ground. It went in to the 6th technical section called the Corkscrew – banked gully you traverse from side to side, before a banked berm leading to a long stretch of hard pack fire road, again a good time to get some fluids in the body. Back into the single track woodlands over some more heavily exposed roots. The course now had a mixture of conditions from loose gravel to exposed roots to soft loamy soil. With single tracks leading us through the beautiful woodland, we soon past the 4km marker and fast approaching the next part of the course – a very quick downhill descent through bluebell woods. A section of fast corners with little climbs to keep you digging hard. This took you through the 5 km gate and in to the last woodland section – a series of tight twisty corners through a few little banked dips, before heading in to the grass field of the event arena, this section was going to be hard. A flat grass field with long straights and slippy grass corners to what could be a sprint finish…. ohhh how I didn’t want this to be the outcome in the race.

So that’s the course and I’m now fully prepared for the race tomorrow. Rosie and I headed back to Newbury to get some dinner ‘fuel’ in us for tomorrow’s race.

Sunday had arrived and Rosie having another interrupted sleep with struggling to breathe, due to her cold, had to make the tough call and not race. She had lost her voice and could hardly speak. The cold had found its way into my body and my nose was feeling blocked, but luckily it was about the neck, so not on my chest like Rosie’s. I could feel this was coming on and knew it was going to happen – I was just glad it hadn’t started mid week. It wasn’t anything to stop me racing and with vics infused tissue up my nose and the turbine in place, there was no stopping me. We got to see all the races, as the day went on and everyone seemed to be having a great time out on course racing. This had me buzzing and so excited about getting out there. The whole atmosphere was great. It was so relaxed, it felt more like a local regional race, not a National event.

14:30 soon arrived and I went out for my warm up. And made sure I was ready for gridding at 15:10. My race had a start time of 15:15 and we are all on the line, waiting for the start whistle. As the whistle went, I managed to get a solid start and got clipped in straight away.

I tucked in behind a few riders and let them lead out down the road. I nipped in front to lead through the first technical section, Fletcher took the lead, going up the next hill. For the next 5 laps it was Me, Jason and fletcher doing most of the work, with our continental rider Arthur Tropardy taking the more tactical race option and sitting in and saving a little more energy. As the final lap come under the start finish line, it was Jason leading us down the road for the final time. I nipped in from just before the first technical section and this is where I stayed for the lap. It was a exciting last lap, knowing that it was coming down to a sprint finish. Any one of us four could take the win at this point. Nearing the end of the final lap! Leading the group out the woods on to the grass field, I kicked hard and began the sprint for the finish line. With one corner to go, I was holding on and still leading. Attacking and pushing hard, I was heading for the line, the French rider Arthur had come up beside me and just managed to nip in front to take the win. I followed his wheel in to second place, with Jason in third and Fletcher in 4th.

Wow wow what a race. Everyone was screaming from the side line. One of my most exciting, fun, high paced, hard, brutal races and it sure has sealed Wasing as one of my favourite race venues of all time. From the beginning of the weekend, I knew I was going to have a great weekend, what ever the outcome of the race.

To have my friends and family there to watch and support me was awesome. Everyone’s cheering for support was on point. I was without a doubt the happiest person racing and probably at the whole venue. I had a fantastic weekend and one I won’t forget for a while.

Thank you to my Coach Andy Wadsworth for the support, not only physically, but also mentally. He’s a great guy to have by your side.

Thanks to BW CYCLING and Scott Sports for your continued support. The Scott Sparks RC WC was the best bike for the course. And thanks again JW for being the bike machanic.

Words by Phil originally posted on his blog at http://www.philpearcemtb.com/national-xc-series-rd-2-wasing/4593816462

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