Could this be the best race ever? In many ways it was. Did I win? Not even close! Did I learn anything? A little. But, did I push myself into that little zone of pain for just a little longer than normal? Yes and boy did it make the difference!
Sometimes it’s not about the result, it’s not the people you’re in front of, or those who are behind you – It’s knowing that on the day, on that course, you couldn’t do any more than what you did. It was because of this feeling that I left Wasing contented and strong.
Wasing will be the next round of the National series in a few weeks time, but this week it would host the second round of the Southern XC series and also the Southern Championships, run alongside each other. This meant three things;
- Lots of people would be looking to get their set-up dialled in for the National.
- Lots of “Pirates” would be looking to score prize money and a shot at the title.
- I was bound to not do very well!
I don’t know what it is with Championships, as a pose to series races, but I always go badly – last year’s Southern Champs was the only race where I’ve ever ended up dead last! Part of this is down to other racers aiming to peak for this race, where as I’m usually looking to reach a very different peak later on in the season at one of the 24hour races – This year I shall be racing Mountain Mayhem solo in a month’s time. Another part of this is the Southern title which always attracts a larger field, which is often made up of faster riders. For instance one of the racers who I try to compete with at most races will comfortably finish in the top five, but could only manage a top ten at Wasing.
I had arrived early to get a couple of practice laps down and to get a rough estimate of lap time from the Open race, which my buddy Mike won in great style. His time would have seen him just ahead of me in my race – Good effort dude! The course was dry, dusty and very rough and the similarities between this and last year’s Southern Champs at Pippingford reared their ugly heads! There wasn’t any point thinking about that though – I’d just have to do the best with what I had.
The second row of the grid meant that I’d been gridded in about 9th position, which was interesting because I finished 14th last time out, but not being one to argue I just stood where I was put in the freezing wind! With a minute to go the grid was alive with riders shedding arm warmers and gillets and everyone clipped in expectantly. “Thirty seconds”…”The race will start in the next fifteen seconds”…And we were off! I managed a completely uncharacteristically good start which saw me in the front group of seven or eight on the long tarmac start straight. Up the first gravel climb I was riding well and could easily hang with the pace and when we went through the first technical bit the guys in front were actually holding me up! This, alas, was not to last!
The middle section made up about 50% of the lap and was horrible – apart from being very rough and rooty, I have no explanation for why I couldn’t find my rhythm, but on the first lap and the second riders just seemed to fly past me with no problem. It was the mirror image of the section that I hate at Pippingford and was hugely demoralising. There was nothing for it but to just go as hard as I could everywhere else.
This is what I did. Luckily the very last bit of the course was brilliant and I definitely had the magic on that final downhill – fast, loose and in places damp – just how I like it! On the first lap I saw the potential, as I caught up quite a few riders. On the second lap I just went as hard as I could, but I really felt rubbish. But on the last lap I went like a lightning rod. In fact I reckon I went past three riders on this one section right at the end and I was going so well that I caught up (and then drafted) one of the elite riders.
Where would this leave me? A truly epic 17th place and six minutes down on the winner! (just about halfway down the board!)
So, no Southern Championship for another year, but I left feeling very differently from Pipingford. I was utterly wrecked last year, but I’ve come to realise that it was really just a mental thing. This year I was physically wrecked and probably no amount of strength training would have got me the silverware, but mentally it was all change – mentally I’ve got my act together, grown up, got on with it and was on top of the world. As Casey Stoner has said if you can do well physically and mentally at a track you hate, then the tracks you love will pay you back – Roll on Dalby next week!
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