Chilling out at the line-up
Ryan and I pre-rode the dusty-dry course on Saturday, which wound around the trees and trails of Sherwood Pines, the famous forests of Robin Hood. It was just over 7km long and consisted of miles and miles of tight and twisty single track weaving through dense trees linked through bits of dusty fire road. The course was pretty flat, and there were only really two small climbs: a draggy 1km fireroad linker and another short but steep fireroad kicker climb. It would be difficult to find a place to eat and drink on this course, because those fireroad sections would be the ones where people would go hard to try and get into the next bit of singletrack. It would be hard to overtake people on the twisty forest sections. The only other technical bits were two side-wise logs. So all in all it looked like it was going to be a very fast race where staying in a group would be an advantage, especially to draft on the fireroad sections with that wind blowing against you.
The women Elite field focusing right before the start
It was an early start on race day, and it was freezing cold. However, just before my race call up, the sun had warmed up the air and I was able to take off my leg and armwarmers. There were 17 girls in the Ladies Elite category, with the favourite of the race being New Zealander Rosara Joseph, an Olympian (9th in Beijing) and Oceania Champ (although I didn't know that at the time). Due to my points gathering in Cyprus, I had a great grid position, being gridded 3rd after Rosara Joseph and Sue Clarke. I knew most of the riders in the race, but I was wondering who this Rosara girl was....
And off we go!
The gun went off and the manic of my 5-lap affair started. Although I had a great position at the line, I was surprised by the surge and found myself being squashed between riders, almost getting tangled up with UK-based New Zealander Jenn O'Connor. I let myself fall back to avoid a crash and made up all my lost positions on the first long fireroad drag. I got into the singletrack first, with Rosara straight behind me and the other racers close by. Rosara and I had a bit of jostling for positions (I had no idea who I was taking on there) and it was Rosara and I leading on the group through the first lap. However, then the first problem happened: I missed my bottle from Ryan at the feedzone (we got to practice that, Ryan). I almost missed the lead group, now consisting of Rosara Joseph, Australian Kate Potter, UK national champ Jenny Copnall, and 2 or 3 Team Halford riders. Luckily, I caught up with them again and on we went. Since the course looped back to the start arena at about 3km, I was able to get my bottle from Ryan at the 2nd feedzone. However, when I was trying to drink at the next best fireroad, I lost my bottle. Hmm, not good, I gotta get that next bottle.
Since this race was so flat and fast it was really important to stay with the group and I made sure to close any gaps I let open quickly. Rosara Joseph and Kate Potter were now mostly leading the group through the race and I was hanging on. Bottle hand up went fine the 2nd time round and we raced on. Just before the end of the 3rd lap Jenn O'Connor had managed to catch up to the lead group, having chased us since our messy start.
At the start of the 4th lap, when I came to bottle hand up I was going really slow to make sure I got that bottle again (I don't think Ryan has gotten the knack of it yet). One second I was trying to grab my bottle and the next second I found myself on the ground with a bleeding elbow. What the hell did just happen?? The ground on the feedzone was a little rocky, and I must have hit a rock or root or something. Startled and desoriented I got back onto my bike. But the group had gone. Damn! Needless to say I was a little (if not a lot) pissed off, but my anger just motivated me to work hard to catch back onto the group.
I could still see glimpses of the lead group and chased hard to catch them again. I still had not caught up to them on my last time through the feed zone. But I wasn't going to give up. Eventually, a few km from the finish, I caught up with the Kate Potter and Jenny Copnall, now in 3rd and 4th position, and who had become separated from the 2 leaders Rosara Joseph and Jenn O'Connor. About a km from the finish I overtook Jenny Copnall and another few hundred meters from the finish I was able to overtake Kate Potter. I was just praying that I could hold the position until the finish line and gave it all. I sprinted as hard as I could and crossed the line just ahead of Kate Potter and Jenny Copnall and 45 seconds down on the winner Rosara Joseph. In second place, in another very close sprint finish was Jenn O'Connor who had shown a very strong performace throughout the race.
Apart from all my bottle issues, I'd had a very good race and really enjoyed it. The atmosphere was fantastic, the weather was great and the racing was very exciting. It gave me great confidence for my next race coming up, my first ever World Cup this weekend in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Report, results and pictures can be found on http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/ and cyclingnews.