One month into the year, already six race days and one win. It’s been a busy January mixing racing, training, managing a coaching business and looking after a one-year-old who's very quickly turning into a toddler! Trainings been going well and sensations are good. I'm still a long way from being my best but I don't need to be at that level till April so there’s plenty of time to build through the training phases. Being a coach I love each workout so I’m excited about the training that lays ahead and the outcome from all the hard work.
Five of those six race days have been the Echelon Pro Series on RGT. Virtual racing is super competitive and at this level I'm racing against riders who are in tip top shape ahead of the UCI E Sports World Championships which is happening at the end of February. Last winter I started the series in amazing shape, this winter I'm building into it, this meant the first few races I was definitely the nail, more recent though the tide is turning and I'm becoming the hammer. Heading into the final race of the series I'm in 4th overall, a podium is still in sight.
My first mountain bike race of the year would be the final round of the Gorrick Brass Monkey series. I was strangely nervous this night before the event and struggled to sleep, I'd never normally be nervous unless it was a big event like a national or world championships. I feel the expectations of others weighing on my shoulders, if there was any result other than a win there would be questions.
Minley Manor is a tough venue for a 4-hour marathon, the trails are great fun to ride but incredibly challenging to race over this duration. We were blessed with absolutely amazing trail conditions, no complaints could be made for a race taking place in January. It was freezing cold but the sun soon warmed up the forest and you could quite easily spring had sprung early. I will confess to having so much fun that I'd already done two practice laps before the race even began!
Having missed the previous events in the series I wasn't gridded so it was elbows out from the start to get past the 20+ people in front. By the end of the start loop I hit the front and then hit the floor soon after. We had pretty quickly caught the back of the 2-hour race which started a few minutes before us. I think a few people were a little startled and others had forgotten their left and rights. As I steered my way though I got pushed off line, got crossed up on some roots and launched from the bike. Fortunately, no damage done apart from a bruised ego and slightly sore calf muscle! Back on the bike full of adrenaline I quickly retook the lead, the Simplon Cirex rocket ship propelling me around the ribbon of rooty twisty trails.
I was into my rhythm, measuring my effort, building a lead, remembering to maximise my nutrition, and having a lot of fun! Lap one complete and I'm away with a two-minute lead. I didn't know that though so had to maintain the pace, I monitored my timings around the track so I could keep repeating a consistent lap time to continue building the lead. Lap after lap I felt confident but never knew if someone was breathing down my neck waiting for me to make a mistake. There were points on the track you could look back but there were too many people to know who you were racing. It was great to see such a well-attended event and there were plenty of Ben Thomas Coaching clients on track with many showing off the club colours. It was actually pretty lonely out front but each time I saw a client or another smiley face I recognised it was great fun to say hello and shout a few words of encouragement.
Half way though and the reality was hitting, ouch this is going to be a tough day! This course was proving how physically demanding it could be, the soft loamy soil sapped speed and the roots made it a huge workout for arms and back. I was thankful to be on the full suspension bike and to have done the recent suspension tuning on my SR Suntour fork and shock to perfect the setup.
Nutrition kept going in, 500ml of OTE Super Carbs drink per hour and one Super Gel every 2 hours to provide 90 grams of carbs per hour. Maximising carb intake would be crucial to help energy availability and power output in the final part of the race. After feeling my mind wondering mid race I felt strong again for the final hour. The race has a time limit, all laps have to be completed within the 4 hours, I was lapping in consistent 28 to 29 minute laps so would be able to race 8 laps. Ouch! Much pain but these lap style races can be fun where you learn the racing lines and then pin them lap after lap. I felt good and with the shorter 2 and 3 hour races finished the race track was free of traffic, on my final lap I barely saw anyone. I was having so much fun at this point that I was able to increase my pace by a decent margin.
Over the line, the crowd goes wild. Ok that didn't happen by I took the win and the top step of the podium with a margin to second of almost 10 minutes. Only one other person managed 8 laps. Thanks to Gorrick for continuing to put on these absolutely fantastic events, we are incredibly lucky to have all these great venues and trails to race on.