Sitting in the middle of the front row on the start was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in a domestic race. I have no idea why – maybe I felt more pressure to do well after a few good results or maybe it was the riders around me who I didn’t really trust into the first corner. Either way my stomach was full of nervous little butterflies and they too seemed sceptical when they overheard another rider say, “I’m no good in the tight bits so I’m just going to try and get to the first corner first…” I wasn’t going to try and do that – I had to do that, purely for the sake of self preservation!
A late night on Friday and then a day off to recover before Sunday’s race seemed ideal. Which is why I couldn’t help but be amused when I checked the race info, only to find that it would be taking place on Saturday? Still, it was only local so I loaded up the van at 1am on Saturday when I finally got home and then collapsed into bed for my eight hours beauty sleep.
Feeling less than beautiful I dragged myself out of bed at seven and into the shower, before breakfast and some proper coffee, courtesy of Kicking Horse. I made up enough Torq Performance drinks to get me through the day and blasted over to Bedgebury to get myself ready. I didn’t really know what the course would be like as I’ve never raced here before so I wanted to get a few early sighting laps in.
My parents have lived just down the road from Bedgebury for about twenty years and it’s where I’ve grown up, first riding with Dad and more recently where I’ve done the vast majority of my training, which is why even I was surprised to have not raced here before. It’s a brilliant place to ride, with a blue family route, a really good quality red singletrack route, a skills area, a couple of short black runs for those looking for a challenge and plenty of bridleways to explore.
The summer short course XC lap was much more like a CX lap and I quickly reasoned that I had the wrong bike and that I hadn’t had enough sleep – with excuses like that I was turning into a real mountain bike racer! Wrong bike or right bike, I was soon nailing the tight twisty singletrack and loving the short wide sections that would be perfect for overtaking. So after a few laps, I got changed ready for the race and tweaked a couple of things on the bike to get my set-up as good as it could be.
So nervously I sat on the start line and looked out onto the wide downhill start. There was no doubting that this would be quick, but even I was surprised by the speed at which we dropped down through the first damp grassy turns. Inevitably it all got messy as we hit the last big turn before the singletrack and after being boxed in I had no choice but to run it out wide and completely cut everyone else off, but it worked and I took control of the speed of the race through the first section.
I was climbing back up through the woods well before I lost the front on some seriously slick bluebells – it really was like riding on ice in the back section where the course hadn’t been ridden before. Two riders went past and then a third, but I was back on quickly and the four of us already had a little gap on fifth place, so I calmed myself down by riding on the back of this group for a while.
Each lap we came through the blazing hot finish area which I was using as my chance to take a swig from my bottle and then we were completely blinded as we headed into the pitch black fir trees that lined the top section of the course. More than once we all caught our hips or elbows on the sharp branches that lay in our way before we raced back through the cheers and shouts of the finish area and then down into the tall aspens that the tight slalom style course wrapped itself around.
Back out onto the fast downhill start straight the other three riders favoured for their chance to drink I made my way back past one rider and was quickly retaken when he saw what was going on. The two at the front must have sensed this too and began to wind the speed up at about halfway. I was trying to go with them, but I couldn’t make any of my overtakes stick and the 3rd place rider just kept the pace where he wanted it.
With the guys at the front now out of view I settled back down into a rhythm and stuck to the other guy like glue. Eventually upon hearing the bell I made my break on one of the longer climbs. As we raced side by side into the next section the bluebells once again claimed their victim, except this time it would be me who benefited and as I heard the crash and then the laugh behind me I put my head down and gave it the beans. When the course looped back around he grinned at me and I knew third was mine. Crossing the line after an hour of sheer flat out racing against some proper opponents I had to be happy with third!
It was my first time on a proper podium this year and it felt really good. The race had been run really well by both Bedgebury’s bike club – http://www.boarsonbikes.co.uk/ – and the three BC commissaires who’d made the trip down to make sure everything went smoothly. I’ll definitely be back for more of these races that happen through the summer and with lots of different categories it’s a brilliant way to get into racing and lots of fun for the kids. If you’re interested in bringing the kids, the other half or even just yourself along to the next one, here’s the link; http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/66452/Bedgebury-Forest-2011-Go-MTB-Series-2
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