Once again July brings around the biggest domestic race of the year – the National Championships. The winner wears the stripped jersey for a year and can claim to be the best rider in the country on that day.
I’d had a good build up with some hard training in the Alsace and a couple of solid results in Wales and Portugal where I had begun to feel back to myself at race speed. It had been a few weeks since I had lined up in Belas, and it would have been nice to have had another blow out, but unfortunately the calendar didn’t fit together. Still, I was fresh and highly motivated.
Seb was still in a state of rehab from his fractured patella sustained earlier in the year, so I was to be the sole representative down at Hopton Wood in Shropshire. The track was likely to be a good one based on the side of a steep hill that includes some sweet downhill trails, although it had been changed slightly from the ‘up and a down’ that it was the last time I was there (two years ago for a National Series round). A lot of the same trails had been used but the course climbed and descended more evenly throughout the lap. Despite being literally in the middle of nowhere (think a grass field 30 minutes from the nearest habitation), the event was well attended including my own personal fan club –Fran and Iain had come to check out what ‘this crazy sport’ is all about. Thanks for coming and shouting at me!
The forecast was for rain on practice day and sure enough it came. Personally I found the grip still good under my tyres (Conti Race King ProTections in case you were wondering), and the downhills were not particularly technical despite some lying water and mud. Sunday came around and the sun was out. This coupled with the number of riders that had raced before the senior men’s race at 15.15 meant the track dried out almost completely and rode much faster compared to the day before. Adapting to changing conditions is one of the great challenges of mountain biking.
I am fourth ranked British rider on the World Ranking so once again had a great grid position on the front row. The start was really hard pointing straight up the field on the dead, grass surface. I had a good reaction to the gun and grabbed the hole-shot as we turned onto the fireroad climb.
I set the pace on the first climb before settling into fourth wheel. Everything was still really close together, and I came around lap 1 in third. I struggled to hold my speed on the second lap and slipped back a few places, before dropping my chain on the third lap which frustratingly cost me time. Fighting to stay in touch I was to eventually finish 10th. Again it was a solid result, but I had wanted more from myself because I knew I was in good shape.
The next day my hands were unusually sore as a result of unknowingly white knuckling the bike in a bid to keep riding fast. Sometimes it is possible to want and fight it too much rather than relaxing and letting it flow. There is still plenty of racing to be done this season, and hopefully Seb will be back next time we line up at the start.