I’d heard that Switzerland would be like no other country I’d been to before but still, I never expected vending machines for milk. We were in Gränichen for the UCI XCO Junior Series and man was it hot! My Sigma said it was pushing 40°c. Arriving on Friday morning gave me plenty of time to ride the course before the race on Sunday. I didn’t fancy any milk.
It’s difficult to really say what type of rider the course would suit. It had a mixture of everything including drops, gap jumps, punchy gravel climbs and steep twisting descents. The start of each lap took us up a nagging road-climb, which wasn’t long enough for me to get into my rhythm and drop riders but was long enough to hurt.
122 riders lined up at the start, I know it was 122 because they were all standing in front of me. Mayhem is the only way to describe the start. I have never been in a race where the pace and aggression off the start-line was so intense – I was totally shocked and dropped to the back, which was right behind me anyway.
The day before races I usually ride the course very early in the morning and then try to stay off my feet and do nothing for the rest of the day. Gränichen was no different, except I couldn’t do nothing. By the afternoon I was fiddling with my saddle, swapping tyres around left, right and centre and playing with tyre pressure.
The moment I hit the curb entering the finishing arena and felt the rim pinch the tube, I instantly regretted my previous days’ fiddling! It was time a 4.2 km run and push to the pits.
Lapping me, the leaders came by as I restarted. Now I was determined to stay with the leaders to get a feel for riding at the front of an HC category race, albeit one lap down.
I have to say it’s no harder at the pointy of end of the race than it is where I usually find myself this season, which is sandwiched between the two ends of the race. In fact I think it’s easier up at the front in a way. It’s certainly more fun.
I finished 92nd and went away with a stack of positives to take into the next races and beyond. For example, I’ve realised that the race isn’t amongst the riders who have been gridded from boxes three and four, the race comes from boxes one and two. All those riders in front of me up to thirtieth place are simply getting in my way as I try to get to the race before it’s over.
äWe like to consider our approach to the bike and racing as ‘old school’. The downside to this is my dad insisting on me wearing winter longs and thermal jackets even though its 30+°c, the upside is the camping. I love it.
Our VW bus looks like a little fishing boat moored alongside the huge cruise ship sized motorhomes. Motorhomes, which are more often than not, covered in bike component brands and prints of 10 year old riders you’ve never heard of and never will.
We have however upgraded to glamping with our three ring gas stove and a Helinox Lite Cot for me to get a good night’s kip.
Already one of the highlights of this season has to be meeting Mark McGuire and his dad Barry over the weekend at Gränichen. Riding as a privateer with no team mates can be lonely sometimes. Having these guys around all weekend was fantastic. Thanks Barry for your help in the pits and congratulations to Mark on his impressive ride, finishing in 9th place, well into the UCI points.
And finally … Jolanda Neff and Samuel Gaze?
Words - Lomas Wefing