To be honest, the last week has been quite surreal. A week before my first ever World Cup race I was racing at one of my favourite courses -
in the glorious sunshine at the Welsh Mountain Bike Championships. I was hoping for a podium as I am one of the small number of female riders eligible to challenge for the Welsh Championship title. Margam Park
I left my warm up until the last minute (probably cutting it a little too fine) and rolled onto the start line raring to go. After a good start I was in 2nd place behind Mel Alexander, who unfortunately for her, had a mechanical problem about half way round the first lap and had to retire. This then left me in the lead with 2nd place hot on my heels. After some tooing and froing at the end of the first lap and beginning of the second, I drew out a gap on 2nd place and managed to stay away for the rest of the race. I struggled quite badly with cramp from about lap 3 onwards so I had to back the pace off, but still managed to do just enough to maintain my lead. Due to a mix up with lap numbers I ended up doing an extra lap, 6 in total, and came through the finish happy to take the Welsh title with an extra lap in the bag.
The day after the Welsh Champs and during the working week leading up to our flight out to the
I was buzzing and proud to have a national title under my belt. This gave me an extra boost during my preparations for my next and biggest ever challenge prior to my first World Cup. Czech Republic
We flew out to
late on Thursday night, prior to the Sunday morning World Cup race. Thinking we’d have enough time, we stayed in the airport hotel and picked up our hire car on Friday morning. This was our first error as the car hire place didn’t open until 8am and I’d hoped to get to the race site for 9.30am ready for sign-on and practice. This was evidently not going to happen as it was a 2hr drive. In the end we didn’t get there until 10.45am, leaving me 15 minutes to frantically run around and find sign-on before it closed at 11am. I then had to build my bike in the event car park and proudly attach my World Cup number board to my handlebars. I could now relax and use the next hour and a half to have my first practice session on the World Cup course. I thought this would be enough time to get a feel for the course, but I was very wrong. I could have done with much longer than this as there were a few sections that I had to session before I was happy with them and I ended up not being quite finished with my practice by the time the session was over. I knew I had another opportunity to practice on Saturday morning so didn’t let this worry me and we drove to our hotel, a 7 mile drive away from Nove Mesto Na Morave in Zdar Nad Sazavou (don’t ask me how to pronounce it!!). Prague
The hotel was perfectly situated in a small square in the centre of town, with plenty of convenient parking right outside and our room was huge – probably the same size as our whole ground floor in our house!
The rest of Friday was spent chilling and exploring the local area and random supermarkets. We found a nice pizzeria for dinner (although we had to use trusty Google translate to help us decipher the menu!) and got everything ready for practice on Saturday morning.
After a good night’s sleep we trundled down for breakfast (where thankfully there was an English menu available) and had our fill of cornflakes and weird herby bread.
I then rode the 7 miles to the race site as a gentle warm up before practice and Mat followed in the car and walked out onto the course to shout at me on the techy bits I was struggling with. I had 2hours to clean the two sections I was mentally struggling with – the ‘Rock and Roll’ rock garden section and the three log drops just after the start/finish area. Thankfully, after the XC Eliminator event last night the log drops had been given an addition of some advertising boards just underneath each log which meant they were now roll-able rather than full on jumps, so this made me very happy and I moved onto the rest of the course.
I rode the whole course, using the lines I wanted during the race and felt happy with them and as I rode them faster the whole course started to gel and feel much better and flowy than in yesterday’s practice. The course felt very similar to our local trails at the Forest of Dean, but to put it in Mat’s words the Czech course was ‘The Forest of Dean, but on steroids!’ as everything was slightly more gnarly than at home – the roots were more numerous, more slippy and the hills were definitely more challenging.
At the end of the lap I had one hour left to session the ‘Rock and Roll’ section as I really didn’t want to have to run this section because I’d definitely lose time. I spent a while watching the lines other riders took and chose the one I wanted, but after a number of attempts I was just struggling with a mental block. I was getting through the rock garden, but struggled to get through a small gully of rocks and onto the north shore bridge. There were a couple of marshals watching me and came over and suggested I needed more speed and less tyre pressure. I was becoming more and more determined, but also frustrated so I knew I needed to change my approach. I let some air out of my tyres and asked Mat to stand further away from the main obstacle so I could look at him and passed the obstacle rather than focussing on it and not looking where I’m going.
I gave it another shot, got a bit further and realised that this was going to be doable. With a bit more speed and determination and I was there. Once I’d cleaned it, I did it a few more times to prove it wasn’t a fluke – the marshals even congratulated me I think because they’d seen how long I’d been there trying!
This was the end of the practice session and we had to get off the course ready for the U23 and Junior Women’s races. I was feeling very happy to have cleaned the two sections I really needed to conquer and felt happy with how I was going to approach the course on the morning of the race.
We stayed and watched the women’s races, noting any issues they had at the start and around technical sections. Unfortunately our talented British competitor Bethany Crumpton was involved in a crash at the start where the course narrowed to go over a bridge, but she rode on to fight back into a top 20 position, which was a great ride. I noted this down as I certainly didn’t want to get into a similar situation when my race started.
We spent the rest of the day chilling and making the bike race ready and trying to rest my legs as much as possible.
Race Day – Gulp!
Although I try to ignore it, I do get nervous before races, which in some ways I think is a good thing because it helps with the adrenaline, but it does make eating breakfast quite a challenge and the day of my first World Cup race was no exception. I ate as much muesli as I could stomach and then packed up my things and went for and easy spin over to the race arena. Mat followed in the car with spares etc.
Before I knew it I’d finished my warm up and was being called to get into the holding area and then line up. I made a bad decision straight away with my spot on the start line as I ended up in the middle of the pack at the back, whereas I’d have been happier at the side. I was taken aback when they took the tape down and everyone filtered forwards – this is not allowed in British racing so I wasn’t forceful enough with getting a good spot in the group – lesson learned for next time.
The countdown started and the gun went and immediately there was a delay as the top girls shot off and we were left waiting for the pack to get started – it takes a while to get 60 riders started. Once we’d all set off the pace was ferocious. I just about hung onto the back of the field down the tarmac start straight and onto the fire road. There was some panic breaking as a few people had to filter in due to the course narrowing and I was nowhere near aggressive or pushy enough. I ended up staying at the back of the pack and fighting to stay in touch, whereas I should have pushed forwards when people slowed up and got myself an advantage – another lesson learned.
From then on I was riding as hard as I could, but try as I might the pack got away – the course going uphill right from the start of the fire road didn’t help as I just didn’t have the legs for it and I could only keep one rider in my sights. I caught her up and rode with her for about half of the start loop and then dropped her, but there was no way I was going to make the gap back to the main field. So I just rode as hard as I could to get some good lap times in and keep away from being lapped. Annoyingly I messed up the ‘Rock and Roll’ section that I had worked so hard to clean the day before and had to run with my bike. I made the same mistake on my first lap after the start loop and gave myself a serious telling off.
The spectators were amazing. They shouted encouragement at me when I was climbing as I was obviously struggling with the harsh climbs and this really helped me to keep going and not get off and run.
By the latter half of my second lap (not including the start loop) I could hear the motorbike in front of the leaders catching me up and I knew it was only a matter of time. I raced hard and started to ride much better than before with things starting to flow a bit better. At the top of ‘ACDC’ (the fun switch back section before the final technical section of the course – ‘Rock and Roll’) I was lapped by the leading group so I knew that this was my last chance to nail the ‘Rock and Roll’ section. The spectators were so loud, it was amazing. I cleaned the section and rode through to the end of the lap where I was pulled as the leaders had already gone through. This meant that I’d done the start loop and two laps out of five – which may sound pathetic, but I’m quite pleased with this as my first attempt because I only needed to be about a minute quicker overall and I may not have been lapped on that lap, so the margins were quite close – especially as I know of a number of places where I could have made up time.
Overall I’m pleased with my first effort at a World Cup event. It was a massive learning curve, from things like knowing when/how/where to sign on and register, to finding out what time to arrive before the race and how many laps we were meant to do – which is hard to find out when you’re not allowed to attend the official team manager’s meeting. During the race itself I also learned many things from my experiences as a racer and also from watching others. These are all things I will take on board and put into practice at all of my future races both at home and abroad.
The course was also a technical achievement for me as I’d expected to practice the course and struggle with lots of sections, but by the time I’d finished practice on Saturday I could ride the whole course, which is a huge achievement in my book.
I loved the whole experience, the atmosphere and encouragement and I’m also chuffed to see the amount of people who got behind me and encouraged me via Facebook/Twitter etc. which is great for me and also really positive promotion for the AQR Team, Coaching and our sponsors so thank you to everyone who encouraged me and I look forward to improving on my 56th place at my next World Cup adventure!
My next challenge this Sunday is the third round of the British Series at Hopton in
Shropshire, this race will round off three big races in as many weeks – phew!