British National Series 3, Margam Park, Wales

For Round 3 of the 2014 British National Series it was a return to the venue of my first ever MTB race, Margam Park in South Wales. In the Youth category on that occasion we completed 2 laps of the track and I finished back in the field, so this time around I aimed to reverse that over 7 laps. It was also a small novelty to fly to a race in the UK for the first time.

I was disappointed on arrival in Wales to find no evidence of promotion or advertisement for the event. If the series is to attract anywhere near the same spectator numbers as counties like France and Germany, then the British Cycling Federation need to step up their game and get much more behind XC mountain biking.

However, the course itself was good with plenty of climbing to get stuck into. The arena had moved further up the road from the last time I raced there, which eliminated the long flat section to and from the majority of the track. Starting on the grass field it dragged up a fireroad before narrowing to a tough singletrack climb and dropping down a loose, rocky chute. Two more climbs (and descents) were then followed by the major downhill through the wood – the only damp and slippery section in an uncharacteristically dry Wales. One more stepped drag up through the second feed and finishing with a slight downhill swooping singletrack to the finish. Our Danish friend Chris Andrews aptly described it as “a mullet – business at the front, party at the back”.

With Seb recovering from injury still, I met up with KTM rider Gaz Hurst to squeeze in a practice lap together before his Saturday race. It’s always good to have some company and somebody to bounce around the merits of various line choices with. Check out the report from his race here.

It is no secret that we have had more than our fair share of injuries and problems this season so I was extremely fired up for a good performance on Sunday race day. Sure enough I got the hole-shot and lead the field up the first climb. A mini sprint to the narrowing singletrack climb ensued but Aussie National Champ and top 5 World ranked rider, Dan McConnell, quickly asserted his dominance and took to the front.

Keen to ride fast for the first few laps to make the front split, I crossed the finish line after lap 1 in 5th. On lap 2 I moved clear to 4th looking to gain ground into the top three. Whilst pushing the damp descent the following lap I got slightly off line on an off camber corner and washed out unfortunately conceding some time to those chasing behind. I had dropped my water bottle putting it into the cage on my bike at the feed zone on lap 2, and riding a lap with no liquid in the Welsh heat probably cost me some energy in the latter stages of the race. But by the finish I came in to take a solid 7th spot. I felt satisfied with the performance, and it is something that can be nicely built on as I look to gain momentum going forward.