Mid April and the second round of this years Southern XC series was upon us. With most rounds falling well for my racing schedule I decided to dust off my Cannondale scalpel and give my xc legs a workout. The first round was held just outside of my hometown of Reading, which unfortunately I missed, this round was held on the Pippingford estate down in East Sussex.
The run up to the event and the weather was variable all week, would it hold off to give good conditions for the race or not? A totally new venue to me, so I was looking forward to checking out the track and conditions of it. From the line a fireroad littered with sharp hardcore rubble greeted you with a gradual climb followed directly into a singletrack downhill trail which was mostly off camber also, so getting to the front would be rewarded with a clear run down here. After a few minutes of undulating trail through patches of very energy sapping and sticky mud you arrived at a tricky and slippy bank before the first of three course splits where there were steep but faster ‘A’ lines or longer and less technical ‘B’ lines. A hardpack gravel road climb followed by a short sharp bank again and you were rewarded with a long bermed downhill run allowing some recovery time. A steep descent and cross a stream then a near impossible muddy bank climb and along it’s side and you passed a pond. From there you climbed slowly over marshland which had you fighting for grip just to keep moving forwards, all the time sucking the energy from your legs. After another step drop and short road restbite another boggy climb awaited you then the going got a little more hardpack with a couple more short but draining climbs before you arrived into the finish arena. A lap aiming to take around the 25 minute mark, and with the masters category lining up 4 laps, a long and tough race lay ahead!
Masters is run in the last block of races for the day,so first of were Elites then Experts, Masters and finally Sports, all separated by a minute gap. Not having raced the first round I wasn’t gridded for the start, fortunately not all the names called out were present to line up so I managed to lineup on the second row. The gun went and we set off up the first road climb at a fast pace, I positioned myself well quickly and slotted in around 4th place up here with first round winner Matt Stevens setting a fast start upfront. After following another rider down the first section I opted to overtake to try and keep intouch with the leading two riders who were getting away. I muddled through the ‘A’ lines and started the long climb focused on keeping Matt Stevens in sight ahead. By the end of the first lap I had kept Matt just ahead of me, with another rider Crispin Doyle pulling away into a lead. Turning down the first hill and unluckily for him I saw Matt walking up the opposite way telling me he punctured and with no spares his race was over. This moved me up to second place, but with our category catching other riders finishing their races and some expert riders ahead I didn’t know how close other masters racers were behind me. I concentrated on keeping a good tempo and kept looking ahead at the track to try and seek out dryer or harder looking lines inorder to make sure I could ride through sections successfully aswell as trying to conserve as much energy as possible. From the mid point of the race to the finish it turned out to be a lonely race, I rarely saw another racer apart from a couple of riders finishing up their races. By the end of the race I was exhausted, the 4 laps took nearly 2 hours to complete much longer than xc races I am used to of late. I was happy though, I had finished in 2nd place with a comfortable gap to 3rd place.
I needed to have a good race to satisfy myself that my fitness was ok and that’s what I got. I will aim to compete in more rounds of the Southern series and hopefully place well in the overall standings, a good objective in itself but will also keep me focused on maintaining good fitness for my gravity racing throughout the year also.
Happy to make the podium after a long hard race.
Big thanks to Cannondale, Mavic, RRP, Crank Brothers, Giro, Maxxis for supplying the support with the racing.