It was a last minute decision to go to this race. Ryan didn't have a great race there last year - he is more of a climber and thus rather avoids the fast flat courses, but because the German Bundesliga has been shorted and thus resolved some race conflicts, I can now actually complete both the Bundesliga and the BMBS Series, so I decided to go and a reluctant Ryan decided to come with me. Ryan's reluctance was somewhat lessened when we got an amazing upgrade on our rental car, a Mercedes AMG, so at least we were arriving in style :)
The pre-ride on Saturday revealed a few welcome changes to the course: it now contained a few more technical sections, nothing scary or dangerous, but sections that will definitely require good bike handling skill if you didn't want to loose too much time, such as a row of dirthills to get up and over on your bike and some tight twisty and rooty single-track through the forest. It also included a tiny bit more climb on this otherwise fairly flat course, but I'd say most of the climb is due to the steep kicker climb that was followed by a just as steep descent. Loosing your power or traction on this one meant loosing time trying to scramble up the rest of it. The rest was flowy and fast and flat, favouring road racing tactics of working together and staying with the bunch.
A good few girls lined up on Sunday for the race, including Rosara Joseph (NZL) who had won the race last year, my good friend Kate Potter, who I beat in the sprint finish for third place last year, the two British Olympic Development squad girls, Annie Last and Lilly Matthews. Notable were also the absences, with long-time racer Jenny Copnall having retired from racing to coaching new talent, Jenn O'Connor, who has moved back to New Zealand, and Sue Clarke, the British XC Champion. This new mix was very exciting and I could identify at least 8 girls that would have a very good chance for making the podium.
At 10am we set off and a group of 5 people, headed on by Kate Potter followed by Annie Last, Lilly Matthews and Rosara Joseph and me was forming quickly. The pace was fast but comfortable and we were going well until Rosara made a mistake on a tight singletrack and stalled. Nice as I am I waited for her to clip back in, but it took her longer than expected and the 3 riders in front were fast disappearing. Finally Rosara was back on track and sped up to chase and catch back up with the front. Unfortunately I wasn't able to speed up so quickly and found myself chasing after the group by myself. It felt like in a road race! So many times I thought I would catch them, but then they pulled away again. Furthermore, danger was looming from behind in form of Maddie Horton, who was going very strong, having upped her training since last year. She caught up with me and overtook me and I hung on to her wheel for a bit. She was first through the finish after lap one, but I pushed hard and overtook her again on the draggy fireroad climb to get into the singletrack first. She stayed on my wheel for most of the lap, but I didn't let her get by, and after a mistake from her on the steep kicker climb I was able to pull away and came first into the finish arena at the end of lap 2. I could catch glimpses of her for the next two laps behind me and a few times she came dangerously close, but I was able to keep her at bay. I could also see glimpses of Lilly Matthews ahead of me, who was gradually falling back. Then, on the last lap I noticed a rider coming up fast behind me - I thought it was Maddie again giving her final push, but I was surprised to see that it was Craigie Lee, who was riding very strong. She closed the distance to me quickly and now it was my mistake at the kicker climb that allowed her to overtake me there and pull away. I didn't have enough power left to match her pace and had to let her go. I finally finished the race in 6th position, 4.5min down on the winner Annie Last, who finished the five laps in 1h 58min.
6th place doesn't sound that great, especially in comparison to last year, where I came third, but I am very happy with the result. I pushed hard and rode well, but the competition was just too strong.
Full results are available on timelaps.co.uk.
Again, Martyn Salt and his crew from InEvent put on an amazing event, with the field coloured by the many trade stands and team tents attending the race. Thanks also to both Robs for feedzone support.