It feels like forever since I last raced. In fact it’s been six months since Bad Säckingen in September last year. It was the race which really brought home to me just how much I needed to work on my technical skills.
Six months and lots of technical training later, I lined up for the start of my 2016 racing season in … Bad Säckingen for round 1 of the KMC International Bundesliga last Sunday. The perfect opportunity to assess my development.
As the weeks passed and the race got closer, the typical first race of the season doubts had begun to grow. Am I fast enough to escape the commissaries’ 80% rule hook and will the lack of a cyclo-cross season be so obvious?
There is a lot on this course. It feels like there is a technical challenge around every corner, and there are a lot of corners. Shortly after the start there’s a short, very steep ramp with a 90° bend at the bottom. This section tests riders to their limits and wrecks equipment. It really plays with your head. It’s a case of commit or come off! If you and your bike are still in one piece, the next section is full gas single trail over rocks, roots and doubles. The combination of the speed and the concentration required is absolutely exhausting. There is almost nowhere to take a breather.
It’s worth noting that most of the pros raced on fullys this weekend, Absalon even had a dropper seat-post.
The mid-section of the course is made up of rock-garden and jumps, fun, but again you need to concentrate and commit or you are going to get hurt.
Finally after what feels like, on the one hand an eternity, and on the other a split second, you are into the back third of the course and you’re faced with sheer drops and off camber, steeply twisting ramps. There is brief respite as you come onto a stretch of road which takes you past the 1st tech-zone before you are barrelled into the final forested area full of craters. The race was five laps.
The bike set-up
This was my first race using 1 x 11spd XTR including the XTR cassette and I can only say that it is absolutely magic. In addition, I was riding my new DT Swiss XR331 rims built onto DT Swiss 240S hubs by light-wolf. What a fantastically light and strong combination. Brilliant!
I have also switched to XTR pedals for this season and have to say that they are perfect. Clicking in and out is a doddle and you can pedal hard without being clicked in (emergencies only).
Finally I must say a huge thank you to Benjamin Rees and his colleagues at SRSuntour fork service Germany. They serviced and set up my Axon Werx fork so perfectly and in no time at all. On a course like Bad Säckingen, having such a perfect, reliable fork makes a huge difference.
How did I get on?
I managed to finish on the same lap as the winner and rode halfway up the field from my grid position of absolutely dead last of 103 riders. I finished in 56th place.
The big success this weekend for me was facing my fears of the drops and descents and taking them on. 12 months ago I raced the same course and couldn’t do all the A-lines. This season I was on every A-line and full of confidence.
It’s all about progress, not perfection.
My next race is in England at round 2 of the National Series in Plymouth.