Korso XCO, Finland

Put it down to determination or stupidity, take your pick, remarkably given the circumstances I came away with 6th position at the C2 Korso XCO in Finland at the weekend.

Just over two days before the race I went down with a nasty virus which really put my whole body in a bad place. Initially I thought I was just tired from the drive from Horten in Norway down to Copenhagen, combined with a slight case of travel stomach, but as the hours went by, and during practice day, everything really intensified.

Despite bouts of abdominal pain and sickness that had me unable to do anything but adopt the foetal position and feeling completely exhausted the whole time, I managed to summon the strength to go and pre ride the course.

Korso is conveniently located only 15 minutes from Helsinki airport, which we were constantly reminded of as the race venue was on the flight path. However, it was a nice spot on the outskirts of the town in a densely wooded region dedicated for mountain biking in the summer and XC skiing in the winter.

The track was a long 5.8km, mainly flat, and therefore fast, affair but to avoid an off-road crit style race (unfortunately common in the UK) there was a huge amount of rocky, rooty and very slick singletrack which required 100% concentration all of the time. I discovered this in practice when a slight lapse left me quickly on the ground – it might not be steep but when it is that slippery you always have to be switched on. With a reasonable start loop, I was confident that I’d be able to move through early on before entering those long singletrack sections.

I made it to race day staying really positive despite what my body was telling me and eating only small quantities, but more frequently than usual, as this helped to manage the worst episodes. All I was hoping for was to avoid having to curl up in a ball before the start – would they hold the gun until I could sit upright on the bike? Luckily I made it through my warm up and rolled to the start without delay.

After the start I navigated my way around the rider in front of me on the grid, who had a shocking jump, and moved up to conclude the start loop just sat inside the top 10. During the first full lap I could tell that my body didn’t have very much to give; my energy felt low and the power to really push wasn’t there. It was clearly going to be a race of doing the best I could with what I did have, and try to make use of every little rest section (few and far between on a flat course!) so that I could open it up as much as possible on the wider sections.

It proved that a few riders had gone off too fast to hold pace and I started to come back through the field from the second lap onwards. Riding in a small group I realised that I was riding much smoother and more easily through the technical sections of singletrack. I used this to my advantage and attacked into one of the sections – once I had clear trail ahead of me I was able to ride away enough on the tech parts so as not to be caught on the fire road sections. In stark contrast to the weekend before in Norway, I made very few technical errors and rode remarkably smoothly on my hardtail throughout the whole race.

Into the finish I couldn’t quite make up the last few seconds to take a top 5 but given the stomach pain, nausea, and total lack of energy during the race, I was pretty pumped with the outcome.

Getting badly ill, which I am now starting to recover from, could be seen as frustrating and annoying but instead I’ve taken real positives from the way I rode and can just see it as another good step on my racing comeback ladder.