So my first big target of the year has arrived. The training had gone great, feeling fantastic, until a week to go! The morning of the Southern XC the week before I woke up feeling somewhat ucky. After deciding racing was off the cards I went back to bed. Two hours before the start I woke feeling a bit more human so after changing my mind maybe 20 times chucked the bike in the car and headed off.. During the race the legs felt super…for an hour before the tummy went a little gurlgy again and I ran out of umph. Still I held on for fifth, a good result but I was disappointed as there was so much more in the tank. I was hoping a few days of rest and all would be well for the big one. Come Monday morning though and it seemed racing might have been a mistake as I had a raging temperature and sore throat. It was Thursday before I got back on the bike and I was still feeling less than super.
The journey from Southampton to Selkrik is a marathon in itself so we left early. Many, many hours later we were still going! Arriving a mere 8 hours after I’d left, there was time for a quick, if somewhat chilly spin – it felt more like early March than May.
The next morning it hadn’t warmed up. Sitting in the van it was a cool 2C! Warming up it was ok, until I turned round and rode into the ice cold wind, brrrr! This introduced a bit of a clothing dilemma which was still unresolved on the start line…thermal skinsuit, no I’ll be too warm, shorts and arm warmers…hmm legs might get cold, on go the knee warmers… then with 2 minutes off come the knee warmers! Finally after ten minutes of shivering we were off. The downhill neutralised start really didn’t help, getting up really close to the van exhaust was a bit warmer. After a few miles of neutralised chilliness we turned off past Bowhill and we were off. As usual a group prised itself off the front fairly quickly on the first climb. I hung on until 200m from the top when a small gap started to open. But with the top in sight I rolled the gear over the top and plunged down the other side using my 100mm of Scalpel full suspension goodness to close the gap on the fast descent, taking care not to be taken out by any stray sheep.
The first feed was followed by a series of steep climbs, not my favourite part of the course. I just seem to really struggle to maintain any rhythm on the slow, bumpy grass climbs. By the top I was some way off the back of the group, in 8th place. I lost some momentum on the next descent, bumping into roots and missing corners. By the bottom I’d been caught and dropped back to 9th, things weren’t looking so good.
I settled in with Steven Roach who had caught me and after ten minutes or so got back in a rhythm. I started to feel stronger and got rolling again. Steven dropped his chain on a descent so I pushed on. I flew down the descent and made good use of the tailwind on the road to Innerleithen. This was better, I even overtook a car, marp marp! Just before we turned onto the climb I caught sight of the front group, wow, back in the game! I felt good on the climb but wasn’t able to close the last bit of the gap. Still the rhythm was there and I rode strongly up the climb before flying back down the Innerleithen trail centre descent.
I grabbed a bottle from feed zone 3 before starting the last big climb back out of Innerleithen on to the moor. Still feeling good I motored on, catching Rab Wardell on the climb. I flew round switch backs and made full use of my full suspension bike to maintain speed through the bumpier sections.
Towards the top I started to feel sluggish. I could see Lee Williams up ahead so pushed on. I could see Lee was struggling, but so was I. Across the bumpy moor into a raging headwind it was a slow motion war of attrition. Having caught Lee I got a small gap, only to catch my pedal on one of the flippy flappy sheep gates, getting myself well and truly tangled up! We rolled along the top together before diving down the fast descent back to Selkirk. There was nowhere to get a gap now really, it was a flat out dive down to town. We were directed left onto a brand new stretch of road, whoever built it clearly liked bends. Up ahead I could see some people gathered, was that the finish?! Hoping so I kicked and kept a small gap over Lee to what did turn out to be the finish line.
I finished in sixth. I was hoping for top 5, so was a little disappointed but I completely emptied myself and rode well apart from a few mistakes early on, so I can’t be too down about it. Up next is the Southern XC Champs at Wasing, one of my favourite courses, then it’s off to Belgium for the 3 day BeMC race. Then it’s time for a rest and half term family fun time!
Thanks as always to everyone at Renvale, Revel Outdoors and all our other fantastic sponsors for their great support this year.
Words - Tim Dunford