My focus for a third National title was there each and every day since losing my stripey jersey a year ago. Wearing that jersey meant so much to me and I was absolutely devastated to lose it. The last few weeks I'd complete my workouts while imagining my rivals trying to attack away from me in the race, it gave me an extra few watts to record a PB or energy to complete an extra interval or 2. Training had gone better than I could have hoped, the legs felt strong and did everything I asked. I was ready but then just under 2 weeks before the event a big crash resulted in a sprained and swollen knee. After numerous doctor and physio trips plus a week off the bike the swelling had gone down enough to regain some flexibility in my knee. Once back on the bike the knee felt completely unstable and would buckle under power before beginning to swell up again. It was a tough situation, I'd trained super hard but was now watching my fitness disappearing quickly and knew there was a high possibility I'd not be able to race.
We were making the trip over to the Isle of Man where the champs would take place for a second time with 2 coaching clients and another friend who the Ben Thomas Coaching Club would be supporting during the race. It was a full van with 6 of us and all our equipment. After enduring the super slow ferry we arrived mid afternoon Friday and headed out on course for the only sunny ride of the weekend, summer was about to take a sabbatical! Saturday we had biblical rain and gale force winds hit the island, flights and ferries were cancelled until the evening which left some competitors with a very late journey. Some people even ended up on the Sunday morning 2am ferry that docked at 5am, the race started at 6.30!!
With some good rides Friday and Saturday I'd gained confidence my knee would hold but mentally I was pretty broken. I'd pretty much accepted in the week before I wouldn't be racing but now I needed to turn that focus back on. I was so incredibly motivated to win another year in the champion's jersey but I was super nervous about hurting my knee again. Race day started early, I slept terribly due to nerves, was up for breakfast at 3.30 and on the bike at 5.45 to warm up for the 6.30 start! Warming up on the rollers the rain was torrential, what would it be like up the top of the mountain!!?
Legs felt great early on and I opted to set the pace so I could pick my line through the rocky uphills and downhills and avoid the spray from anyone's rear wheels. This course is incredibly tough, it's proper raw mountain biking with no groomed smooth trails. Bang!! My carbon rear wheel smashes into a huge rock and all the air quickly spurts out of the punctured tyre, a few swear words are muttered. Please don't let a mechanical ruin my race after everything that's aready happened! OK the tech zone is at the bottom of this descent, I'll get a wheel there. Bump bump bump, carbon rim bounces down the rest of the trail with no air in the tyre. Rear wheel quickly changed by Adam and I start the first of many chases. I catch up with the group and settle back in feeling comfortable, there are 4 of us including last year's winner Tom Bell plus Paul Oldham and Nick Corlett.