Portugal XCO Cup, Round 2 – Marrazes, Leiria
Polaris-supported mountain biker Tom Bell checks in with us from his latest international race at the Portugal XCO Cup in Leiria after traveling with his Axial Pod .
After a long racing hiatus between competing in Spain and Greece, it was a welcome return for me to get back to international travel and racing. Portugal is a country I really like to visit. It’s full of friendly people, beautiful scenery and above all, killer cross-country mountain bike races. Unfortunately though, being a thin strip of a country with a big coast line, the weather isn’t always the greatest, and that would prove to be the story of our time there this time around.
Lots of rain for the first two days after we arrived meant I warmed up on a slick but ultimately rideable course on the Friday evening and Saturday morning before the race. The track had changed a little from the previous year, taking out one or two technical features, and instead looping around a huge pump track that was newly built. The organisers had also added some new challenging sections throughout the course, with a tricky log drop and plenty of slick rock slabs to negotiate. Pleasingly for a climber like me too, it retained a lot of the elevation of previous editions, that would make for a tough, punchy lap. All boxes ticked, as expected.
By race day on Sunday, the track was a bit of a mess after more heavy rain. With 100s of riders having practiced the day before, surfaces were now seriously chewed up and almost the entire track was really, really slick. I got a decent start off the line, barring a missed pedal from Mario Costa just ahead of me. I settled into the pace up the first climb and first half of the lap, assessing as much as I could how it had changed after the women’s race.
Ultimately, the racing involved a lot of running and fumbling with the bike, and only got worse as the laps ticked by. It was a real challenge to know which sections would be faster to run or slog through still seated on the bike. In retrospect, I’d have been better running many of the parts I tried to ride, but if you can, you want to stay on your bike as much as possible, generally speaking.
By Lap 3 of 5, I was in the hurt box with everyone else, but feeling like I had some reserve to start making up some final places in the stacked field. Unfortunately, the conditions would prove too severe and the bike packed up. The rear mech cable got so jammed with mud that it forced itself free, losing all the indexing of the gears and breaking the retaining plate that holds the cable in place. A feeble attempt to fix it in the pits ensued, but it was clear my race was done. It’s always frustrating when you’re let down by things largely out of your control, but it’s all part of the nature of the sport and it’s still early in the season. With the conditions as bad as they were, it wasn’t going to be a race I could capitalise on even if the bike’s drivetrain had stayed in one piece.
Whilst I’m still suffering from a cold right now, I’m hoping to be in good enough shape to have a decent showing at the first round of the British Cross Country Series down in South Wales this coming weekend. My main goals are further into the year, so I’m still trying to build at this point in the season. I’ll keep you all updated with how the racing and training is going, and stay tuned for updates about the new team soon at DelvProTeam.com.