Polaris-sponsored cross-country mountain biker Tom Bell of Delv Pro Team gives us an update on a successful start to 2016.
All of a sudden the season arrives and it’s time to line-up for the year’s first race. It’s funny how winter seems so long, yet racing comes around so quickly.
I kicked off my 2016 campaign earlier than previous years out in Spain with the 4-Stage UCI event Costa Blanca Bike Race, where I partnered up with current British National Marathon Champion Ben Thomas. The event would prove the perfect way to log a quality block of mountain bike-specific training, and a great opportunity to secure some UCI points for the season ahead.
Ben and myself rode excellently as a pair and would climb to 15th in the UCI Elite Male category by the end of the event, mere minutes from pre-race favourites Trek Factory Racing in the overall.
After just a single day at home returning from Spain, I then flew out to Greece and Salamina Island, just off the coast of Athens, for two back-to-back UCI Class 1 cross-country races. A long drive from Yorkshire to Gatwick, a 3-hour plane journey, some more driving and a ferry ride later, I arrived on the island with a solid winter of training in the bank and readiness to battle. Some chilly but clear weather and a crisp ocean was waiting for us.
Saturday’s race would go well right until the last minute. After seeing that the field was predictably loaded with talent (including last year’s Junior World Champion and numerous National Champions), I had a tough start off the line, slotting into the singletrack bottleneck around 20th place. Confident of my abilities, I tried to wind it up and indeed began to pick off riders throughout the entire race, moving into 13th place by the last lap.
After a successful attack from the group I was with at the beginning of the lap, I successfully broke away to take around a 1-minute gap by half way point, before a broken chain would undue all of these efforts, eventually resulting in a disheartening 17th place finish as I coasted and ran the remaining 2.5KM.
Fortunately, there was another chance on Sunday to make amends. The 2nd day’s track would offer a little more climbing, more technical sections and a generally punchier course, so I knew it suited my physique and racing style nicely. I also knew from the Costa Blanca Bike Race that my ability to recover from one day to the next was excellent, so some level of confidence was in tow.
A much better start saw me move into 13th place by the top of the lap’s main climb and settle into a fierce pace. Groups formed yet splintered just as quickly as the race unfolded, and I was able to post consistent laps to catch fading riders ejected from the lead group. Coming in 11th by the end of the race put me well into the UCI points and brought the weekend back to life.
Far from just a result on paper, the 2 races gave me a lot of insight into my current shape, highlighting areas to work on for the upcoming races and events. I’m really pleased to be up there in such a tough race, and I’m now back home ready for another big training block.
Next, I travel to Portugal in March for more international cross-country action. I’ll check in soon and update everyone on my activities as I get back into the groove of training.