I am trying to finish my PhD this year, so I am trying to keep traveling and costs to a minimum, but one thing that I decided to indulge in for racing abroad is the British National XC Series. At least I need to try and defend my overall win from last year!
This is now my 4th year of racing the series in the UK and it's like coming home to an extended family gathering. Traditionally, the series starts off with a flat course and I wasn't "disappointed". Not only was it flat, it was also a fairly "safe" course, not crazy drops or anything too technical - I think the most exciting thing that could have happened on that course was hitting a hidden wet root, but even that was unlikely with the dry weather lately. But, in a way, this type of course suited me just as well. I've done a lot more work on the road bike recently and am doing a bit more road racing this year, and am lacking substantially in mtb training and racing, not having done the heavily contented Cyprus Sunshine Cup this year. So, for my 3rd mtb race this season, if you count the other two training races, I was hoping I could get away with it.
Annie Last, the runner up of the U23 World Champs 2011, having placed 9th in the World Cup in SA just a weekend ago, was the clear favourite for the win. Annie is being supported by Lee Craigie in her hunt for Olympic qualification points, who has just come back from 5 weeks of racing in SA, so I knew her legs would be more accustomed to the speed and pain of racing, so I my plan was to hang onto her wheel. The rest I couldn't judge at all, it would come down to how they had spent their winter training and would have good legs on the day. However, flat races always skew the results, so you would never know who would come out of the wood work on the day.
We started off really early, 9:30am (which is really like 8:30am taking into account the time change), not a time I like racing at. I also didn't have a warm-up, arriving a little on the late side at race venue and running around like a headless chicken finding someone to do my bottles (thanks again to Angela Oakley and Matt Adair for their help). But at least the weather was beautiful and the sun had just started to heat up the air. Much better than last year when we had freezing fog!
So, now to the race. We started off and I was third wheel behind Annie Last and Lee Craigie into the first single-track section. For a couple of minutes we were riding closely together, but then the elastic stretched between Annie and Lee and me and the rest. Annie disappeared into the distance and I tried to hang on to Lee as long as I could, but my legs were filled with lead a couple of minutes into the race and never got better. I could still see her after lap 1, but then she was gone too and I was in no man's land, with a group of chasers closely in pursuit. I was kept on my toes for the next three laps, but kept the distance mostly constant between them and me to finish 3rd behind Annie and Lee. My best result in a UCI C1 race ever!
Full results can be found here. The British Cycling report here.