Emma reports from the last few races of the 2013 XC season.
Brighton Big Dog
Earlier in the year I’d agreed to do Brighton Big Dog with AQR teamate James Dymond. As it turned out this ended up being the week after I got back from the Pyrenees and my very lovely holiday. I would either be flying or dying, I had no idea which. Practice didn’t go to well with five of us getting lost and missing out a good chunk of the course!
Lap 1 felt horrendous; had I not been in a pair I may well have thrown my teddies out the cot and got off after that one lap. But no, we were in it together and the race would go on. Lap 2 and my interest in the race went up a bit as James came in really close to another of the mixed pair contenders. I soon caught the rider (Claire I learned later) up and passed her on the really steep initial chalky climb. I’d also reigned in how I was riding and paced climbs as opposed to trying to get up them super quick. During lap 3 I started to get real bad pain in my glutes, however I pushed through it as it would surely make me stronger in the long run right? After the lap I also found out we were in 3rd with 4th (Claire and her partner) just behind us. Part way around lap 4 Claire suddenly went by me on a fireroad and my competitive side kicked in. I dug deep and stayed on her wheel for some of the fireroad, then when the gradient changed and I was into ‘my zone’ I kicked and went. I’m not sure how much time I put into Claire but I had a feeling I was stronger on the singletrack and absolutely nailed it as best I could......to find out right at the end of the lap I’d ridden it mostly with my forks locked out!! I handed over to James happy in the knowledge that I only had to dig deep for one final lap and I was actually looking forward to it in a strange way as I knew it would be a battle to the end, or so I thought. Whilst waiting in the changeover area I was a little despondent to see Claire’s partner come in ahead of James but not to worry I had a Torq Forest Fruits caffeine gel ready to go for some extra zing; and then the bombshell was dropped. James had suffered a mechanical. I don’t need to say anymore on that topic though as he sums it up quite nicely in his own words!
I’d never been to BBD before and the atmosphere and weather were great, as was the company of my teams mates (Rach and Martin riding solo, with Ant pitting). I wasn’t ‘feeling’ the course though but thanks to Claire and her partner riding for Cotswold Veldrijden and making it a close race down to the wire.
Olympic Dreams at Hadleigh - BC XC Series Rnd 5
I was so happy to hear that I would be challenging myself on the full Olympic course when I arrived for practice on the Saturday (they hadn’t dumbed it down as feared). At the same time I was a little unsure as I really want to ride all technical sections on a race course and I had no idea how I would perform here. Out on practice I decided to start by riding the B/C lines of sections first to ‘get my eye in’ and then do the A lines. Triple trouble was up first (although only with A or C lines), and I did the C line and really didn’t like it; it was a little too slippy (dryness!) for my liking. I’d already had a look at the A line and knew the theory but riding these things is always different. I rode to the lip first, second time and I was over. It was quite a strange feeling the landing as the bike seemed to land twice; could be the springy Ti. On the way to Deane’s Drop there was a blind entry rock feature to negotiate, again with a couple of line choices. I watched another rider really commit and clear the left hand line, had a look myself and opted for that. Whilst the rocks behind were off camber, I’d recently ridden something similar whilst out in Luchon on holiday. Again, I rode the initial approach and second time I was over.
|The approach into Deane's Drop|
Now for Deane’s Drop and the infamous ‘this is where Liam broke his ankle’. I rode the B line and hated it; far too loose. The A line was a different matter, a rock based channel that snaked a little and ended with a small drop/chute onto the lower, looser part of the section. Annoyingly I kept stalling and was struggling with the turns in the channel as I kept hitting the sides. I didn’t stop and for once I managed to keep all my toys in my cot, finally clearing the section after about five/six attempts. I got to the ‘shore’ gap jump section but suddenly had a bit of a ‘feeling’ or more ‘wasn’t feeling it’ for this and immediately decided to take the b line as it would lose me little if any time (there’s always next time). From here it was pretty straightforward with Oak Tree Drop then the Leap of Faith sections easily conquered. At the Rock Garden there were numerous people scoping it out and attempting to ride it. I spent a little time just watching people on the various lines and decided on one that appeared to work for a number of people. Amazingly I cleaned it on the first attempt and was super happy. After a long grassy slog it was into Burry’s Berms; a high speed twisty ride down the hill with some fun jumps in. Back through the feed, up again and then a chute into the arena and round to the finish.
|Photo - Andy Whitehouse|
|Photo - Darren Ciolli-Leach|
Belgium MTB Cup - Beringen
Just a week after Hadleigh I was heading to Belgium to race in Beringen. A little background research told me I was to be racing on a slag heap behind the town’s mining museum. My arm had stopped hurting from my crash at Hadleigh, however I still had it bandaged up so was aware I had to be a bit careful also.
My jaw dropped on arriving at the venue; the pictures I had seen had not done it justice as it was super steep with switchbacks snaking up and down the slag heap. One of the younger Belgium riders said it was known as ‘mini Houffalize.’ As I went to go out on my practice lap a marshal warned me to be careful as a rider had been taking to hospital with a suspected broken neck....not the best thing to hear at a strange, foreign venue. I struggled at the first descent on some very tight and steep switchbacks and trying to get the knack of riding them. After that was the first choice of lines; a jump to a steep landing and fast left hander at the bottom or the ‘B’ line which was a steep chute with two turns in. Had I had more time at the course and not being a little worried about my arm I would like to have spent time on the jump as I’m sure it would have been fine, but I wasn’t quite feeling it so opted for the B line. I had my first taste of the steep switchback climbs which required you to be sat on the very nose to keep the front end down; glad I was riding 26in wheels though as turning a 29er through the turns looked interesting. Most of the course was in sight of the arena, but it went into some woods on the blind side of the heap. This looked a load of fun but I was really quite nervous for some reason and rode dreadfully. Back on the arena side I opted to also avoid the step section as again I was concerned about my control with my arm and instead worked on getting the lines sorted around the steep switchback descents. I have to say that for the descents I was really glad I’d recently ridden at AQR Holidays HQ in Luchon as it is steep out there and I’d learnt how to control the bike on terrain like this for extended periods of time.
|Steeper than it looks!|
I was unsure how the race would unfold as it was all quite different to normal. At the gun I managed to stick with the pack and hold onto one of the girl’s wheels for part of the initial climb. Lap 1 avoided the first switchback/jump section and instead went straight up the hill. Unfortunately I couldn’t hold onto a wheel and soon slipped off the back with one other girl behind me. As soon as I got onto the singletrack on the back side of the heap I found I was actually riding much better and started catching up again. This didn’t last as we got back to climbing again however. It stayed this way for the entire race in the end, with me getting lapped by 1st and 2nd only. I was really happy with how I rode technically in terms of handling the steep climbs and tight, steep descents. I was cautious in some areas but with the damage I’d done to my arm only a week before that was to be expected. Racing in Belgium was a really amazing experience and one I hope to repeat in the future.
I’ve got nowhere near my potential this year, but training has been hampered by on-going bio-mechanical issues and a major interruption to my pre and early-season training. Nevertheless, I have seen improvements in my performance even if the results do not initially tell that story. My technical riding has also improved further.
I have to give a massive thank you to Kate and Ian Potter of AQR Coaching for all their guidance, support and advice, and for letting me fly the flag for AQR over the 2013 season. Also to physio Richard Bricknell of Bristol Physiotherapy Clinic who has been straightening me out and dealing with the myriad of ‘issues’ he keeps uncovering. Finally, to Cotic for making amazing bikes that fit me so well and keep me grinning.
Hopefully I can make 2014 an even better year!