World Championships, the biggest date in the sporting calendar where the top riders come together in national colours to fight for the world champions jersey. This would be my ninth World Champs race and after finishing seventh in 2020 and twenty seventh in 2019 expectations were high. Since 2012 I’ve missed just two worlds, one in South Africa and last year’s race in Italy. After a year out I was eager to show what I could do against competition of the highest level. This year’s race would take place in Hadeslev, Denmark around three 40 kilometre laps, each with 500 metres of climbing. This was my first trip to Denmark and I was excited to visit another Nordic country.
Worlds is always crazy but this was something else! The Danish crowds were amazing which made for an electric atmosphere all around the course. The course itself was unlike any other race I’ve done. 4 hours 30 of either lined out full gas gravel group racing or super tight twisty singletrack where we were again in one long line with no chance to overtake. It was a very fast and very long criterium race! Sadly for me this was not a circuit that suited my strengths but I managed to come to the realisation after practising the course on Thursday and Friday that you can't have a race track that suits your strengths every year. This allowed me to refocus and get my head ready for race day.
Over the years I've learned that every time you stand on the start line you have to give 100 %. I owe it to my family who support me in my racing, my support team who'd travelled over from Sweden, my mechanic who puts up with all my bike incompetence, my sponsors for their generosity, my coaching clients who I aim to inspire and everyone who supports me on social media. This weekend had even greater meaning though. Team GB raced in memory of Rab Wardell and Queen Elizabeth II who both recently passed away. The minutes silence on the start line in Rab's honour was incredibly moving.
The start was all important and with emotions high World Championships began with 150 cyclists charging through the cobbled streets. A good start position or incredible strength to move up in the opening minutes would make or break your race. Once groups had formed it would be almost impossible to close a gap. I started with number board 79 so had work to do if I was going to get anywhere near matching my previous best.
Off the cobbles and into the narrow gravel paths around the city park, we were lined out in single file drifting through left hand corners, then right hand corners, before dropping down steps and up steep ramps to the next obstacle. I’m sure it was good for the spectators and live coverage but for us it was absolute carnage. Finally, out onto open gravel roads and the pace was unrelenting, already groups were forming.
Out of the city we sped along more gravel roads through forests and deer parks towards the MTB trails midway through the lap. I was in the second big group but thirty minutes in the race was essentially done. The group was probably twenty strong but just a few people were willing to take turns on the front, the rest of the group following the wheels to save energy for later in the race. My mentality was that the race was being decided now, I gave it everything on lap one trying to pull back the group ahead but our group let a top 25 result slip away as the big group just ahead pulled away from us.
I’d opted to race my Simplon Razorblade hardtail but either bike on this course would have been good. The hardtail was more nimble through the twisty trails, accelerates quicker than a full suspension bike and rolled faster on all the gravel roads. Through the rooty trails it was a bit rougher than if I’d been on a fully but each lap we rode slower through the trails than I’d ridden in practise.
Between the trails we sprinted each gravel section, burning matches, you could feel the energy disappearing from your legs and taste the lactate building up in your muscles. Beyond this point, halfway through lap one, not much changed bar a few people have mechanic issues or blowing from the unrelenting pace. What was fun was the support out on course, just before the second zone we raced through a cyclocross style arena which was packed full of spectators.
Lap three we were now catching people who’d been dropping from the lead group which had splintered into pieces. A big effort from Alban Lakata closed the gap to a big group just in front, suddenly we were back in contention for a top 35 finish. Unfortunately, we caught the group just as the race entered the final piece of singletrack, 15 people into one narrow trail didn’t work. The trail stretched out the group again and the rider in front of me allowed a gap to open.
As we charged back into Hadeslev I chased the rest of the group in front to scrape a top 50 result, finishing 49th. Time gaps were super close, 22nd place was just 2 minutes ahead, 34th just 30 seconds ahead! The result was some way from my best and what I feel was possible on a race route better suited to my strengths but it was still a strong performance against the world’s best. I finished the race happy knowing I’d given 100%.
It’s always an honour to wear the GB colours and I’m already looking forward to World Champs in Scotland next year!