It's a rarity that you'll find a Ben Thomas Coaching jersey on the start line of a cross country race these days, it's where I began but after switching to marathon I haven’t looked back. On the odd occasion though I quite enjoy heading back to an XC race for some speed training and to catch up with old friends. It can often be a bit lonely travelling to all these marathon races abroad on my own so seeing so many smiling faces makes for a good weekend. The first round of the British XC Series would take place at Sherwood Pines, the location of my first ever national level event many years ago. That year I crashed on one of the last corners in full view of the arena! With illness, mechanicals and other issues messing up my recent races I was hoping I'd be able to stay on the bike at this year’s Sherwood Pines race. I set the objective of hanging onto the front guys for as long as possible and picking up some UCI points.
We travelled up Saturday after my girlfriend won her hockey match, the pressure was now on me to do well! A win might be tough though with the best British cross country riders and some foreign pros in attendance. We arrived at the venue after a pleasant overnight stop, I quickly went to collect my number board before heading out on course. The normal flat fast Sherwood Pines course was still being used but after the rain on Saturday the narrow twisty forest trails had become pretty rutted and the roots were super slippery. It was a tricky lap that required power and skill.
After shouting some support to several friends and coaching clients in the early race it was finally time for the 3.15 elite men’s race. Some big power was about to be unleased on the trails of Sherwood Pines. Bang goes the start gun and the pack launches. I don’t clip into my left pedal on the first attempt so loose a wheel length to the front row but once clipped I exit the arena trying to overtake for a prime spot into the first trail. Elbows are sharp though and I get pushed towards the barriers so have to put the brakes on ending the overtaking opportunities. The race thins out into one long line through the trails but then on the gravel roads in the middle of the lap I fight my way forward. By the end of the lap 1 I’m in a group of 3 racing for 7th spot but the leaders are within sight. End of lap 2 and the leaders can still be seen ahead.
Third and fourth lap the groups pace slows and the gap to the lead group grows. I needed a bit of recovery on lap 3 but the pace is too slow for too long. Lap 5 and 6 I up the pace and set lap times far quicker than several of the riders ahead but the gap is too big, the effort too late to catch 6th place or even 5th place for the podium. Over the finish line for 7th place. 4th Brit and some UCI points. Can we carry on for another 6 laps!? My marathon legs are just getting going! A great result and some very good training, you just can't push yourself this hard in training. For any marathon rider a cross country race is a great way of working on your weaknesses. Speeding round little laps can actually be quite good fun.
The whole weekend was great fun and it felt so good to finally have a race with no issues. The Simplon Razorblade flew around the trails, that bike is a rocket ship! Looking forward to piloting the same bike at European Marathon Championships in a few weeks’ time.