You have to catch a wave, the biggest wave, you miss it though or you fall from it and you could be waiting a while for the next one. Worse still you get swept beneath the water and find yourself fighting for air. This feels like the last couple of covid hit years of bike racing.
Last year there was zero bike racing until around July time when racing began to spring back up in regular fashion over in mainland Europe and here in the UK a smattering of small races and solo timetrial style events began appearing on the calendar. I was able to travel over to Europe for several races in autumn last year. Belgium, Switzerland, France and then worlds in Turkey. It wasn’t easy at that point to travel but it was possible. This year the UK government really clamped down on travel and the political brexit fallout meant other nations really clamped down on British travellers. My early season races in Belgium were cancelled, then travel to Croatia for 4 Islands MTB wasn't allowed. The nightmare of European Champs still tears at my heartstrings. After doing so well at Worlds last year and having been on the podium at the European host event Raid Evolenard in 2019 I was pumped to go there to smash a massive result. I trained like never before and was in absolutely amazing shape. Just 5 days before I am supposed to travel, all the training and prep is done, but I have to cancel the trip as the red tape is too great. Even with British Cycling's help to leave the UK and the race organisers help to enter Switzerland the paperwork didn't come through. That was the spring, I'd fallen from the wave. After those disappointments I couldn't look at social media, it was too frustrating to see my competitors racing week after week all around Europe.
Whilst those Belgium races and Euros were massive goals there ahead was still National Marathon Championships. As disappointing as the spring campaign was I still had to keep building for August. I took a couple of easier weeks and then began building. The shape came back quick, training was phenomenal but having not raced for 9 months there was some niggling worries. Pulling on fresh race kit from Kalas the emotions quickly surfaced, a new silky smooth Pro Razer jersey and super comfy Pro Goffrato bibshorts add a sense of occasion. I went to the Vittoria MTB Marathon is July and smashed everyone, well until my bike decided it didn't need air in the rear tyre. I was disappointed to not finish the race but had been putting minutes into the strong competition each lap so I actually left Pippingford buzzing knowing my shape was good and was super excited about the weeks ahead. It was great to be back on the race track seeing so many smiley faces from friends and coaching clients. I’d missed that race day adrenaline and the atmosphere around the arena.
The weeks passed, training continue to go well, the nerves rose. I was training in the national champs kit every day to give me a few extra watts in those hardest workouts. We drive up to National Marathon Championships in Kielder. I never ever check a start list but had been told there was some strong competition from the MTB and road scene. The day before I do 3 hours on the course. I'd travelled with two bikes, my training hardtail and my new Simplon Cirex full suspension. I decided to do the practise ride on the Razorblade hardtail and soon realised that the hardtail is the bike for this course. I am confident enough on the hardtail to ride the descents here as quick as I would on the full suss, plus a hardtail would absolutely fly along the gravel roads and climbs. The bike works perfectly on Saturday and I give it a quick check over that evening but actually there's very little that needs doing apart from a drop of Squirt lube on the chain.
Race day dawns, I haven't slept well but it doesn't matter, adrenaline will carry me through and this jersey is mine, I'm going to fight every kilometer to keep it. Up the first climb Alex Richardson from Alpecin Fenix and I gap everyone else but on the first descent my chain comes of the bottom jockey wheel, that's odd but I fix it and re-join what is the front group of about 10 by the bottom of the descent. The chain comes off again but again I'm able to rejoin the group. One rider says to me 'wow the pace is crazy high'. I hear two riders saying how strong I must be to catch back up when the chain came off the second time. This chain issue is worrying me now, this race has a very very long way to go. The legs feel incredible, I am sure I must be the strongest here. The day before I’d planned the race out in my head but as we reach a third distance the chain is off again, worse still it jams in the derailleur and pulls the derailleur cage into the spokes. Spokes snap, a spoke flies through the tubeless tape instantly puncturing the tyre, the derailleur is bent beyond repair. I'm strangely numb of emotion, this cannot be happening. My title, my jersey... I'd been swept under the wave and was fighting for air.
I spend the next couple of days with family enjoying the sites of Kielder Forest and tasty delights of the nearby desert restaurant… twice. I don't touch the bike. The mystery of how a bike can work perfectly for 3 hours the day before and then have an issue the day after, on the most important day of the year, still baffles me.
Luckily, I absolutely love the training, hour after hour, interval after interval. I could train all day if I had the time. After a couple of days of resting I'm back into the routine and have my plan ready to build for World Marathon Championships in October. Those waves keep coming and I'm going to catch one soon. Keep working hard, keep believing and good things will follow. I'm maximizing my chances of success by putting together a packed race schedule with a mix of MTB, road and gravel events. Next up is Skaidi Xtreme in Norway. I finished third in 2018, second in 2019, couldn’t travel in 2020, 2021? There’s only one step I’ve got my eye on.