It's been a while since I've put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to write a blog update. It’s been tricky to know what to write as I train relentlessly in pursuit of achieving goals which at the moment seem so distant over water in countries where entry restrictions, covid testing and quarantine are part of the new travel regime. We're back between the tape though and there's plenty of excitement about the season ahead.
Bike racing is back and it's a capacity turn out! After a year of no events there's a resurgence happening, everyone is motivated and raring to go. Down in Australia coaching clients have been racing the past few months and in parts of Europe racing is in full swing. In the UK we had to wait till the 4th of April to unleash our competitive spirit. The Southern XC Series is putting the pieces together and deserve the success seen at rounds one to three which have seen almost 600 participants at each round and a healthy waiting list. We’re seeing unprecedented demand; the excitement is great to see.
Many coaching clients had been training hard for this day in early April, many of whom I’d not seen since the beginning of 2020 at our Gran Canaria training camp. Covid restrictions meant it was illegal to travel to see clients in different regions of the country and even meeting more local clients was tricky. It was great to final see many of their smiley faces again and hear their motivation during a proper conversion rather than through an email or yet another zoom call. What was even more enjoyable was seeing most of them exceed their expectations and pick up some great results including several podiums.
My original plan on the 4th of April weekend was to start the season in France at the opening round of the UCI World Marathon Series. With international travel still looking tricky and the event being cancelled I decided it would be fun to get stuck into racing here in the UK. I had some issues getting race bikes together, covid and brexit playing their part in delaying sponsorship parts. After way too much faffing around with bike tools I had no choice but to race the big bouncy trail bike, it definitely didn't suit the tight twisty turny trails but was a lot of fun over the bumpy roots and little jumps.
The eagerness was clearly a little too much for some, or the race day skills were a little rusty, because the paramedics were kept busy. 9 minutes after the elites blasted off the line we were met by a red flag and told the race had been stopped because of an accident. We returned to the arena to restart the race sometime later. My plan of riding to the race (1 hour), doing some practise laps (20 to 40 minutes), racing (1 hour 30) and riding home (1 hour), was already a stretch on 2 bottles. The added 1 hour wait for the course to be cleared put me running on empty before we even got going.
Start two propelled us back into the twisty ribbon of the Checkendon singletrack which was split by big power efforts across the green fields of the Chilterns countryside. The trail bike wasn't too hot accelerating off the line or out of the many slow corners in the forest so it was elbows out, last of the late braker type action to get past the competition. Then on the open sections I could use my big watts and vo2 max numbers to make up more places.
It was a solid 4 plus hour training session including the 90-minute race but no result to mention. Whilst a result would have been nice this wasn't the goal. Seeing sponsors, clients and friends was the reason for attending. Feeling that buzz again reminded me of why I started racing and the amazing work the organisers of these regional events do. Now a month on from this first race another two rounds have taken place, another three SouthernXC races are scheduled and the British XC Series begins in just a few weeks’ time. The cross-country mountain bike scene looks healthy and there's an exciting race season ahead.