For my return to racing after the long injury lay off and Hamish’s next run following the National Championships, we opted for two Norwegian Cup races in Horten on consecutive days, a C1 on Saturday and C2 on Sunday, on exactly the same course and format both days. The back-to-back racing offered an excellent opportunity to get back into that competition setting, and also a chance to take on the best Scandinavian riders.
Inevitably if you are in Scandinavia you have to cross fiords to get anywhere, and sure enough to get to Horton required a ferry from Moss (near Oslo). A novel way to make our way to the race!
The venue situated at a school just on the edge of town meant great facilities and easy spectator access, an aspect of any race that should be at the front of every organiser’s mind to build the profile of the sport and maximize sponsor visibility. The course designers had really used their imaginations to put the track together managing to make it just over 4km in such a small and limited area. It was very tight and rough with a large percentage of rocky singletrack and plenty of places to be stalled if trying to ride on someone’s wheel. Even the open section in the arena, one of the few easy passing places, was super bumpy just to give your back an extra kicking. Given the nature of the terrain and how the lap was put together there wasn’t much flow, which made it difficult to find a rhythm and incredibly hard to race.
I hadn’t been on a start line for three and half months after breaking my knee cap, so was definitely feeling a little race rusty coming off the back of a second ‘off-season’. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard you train, it is impossible to replicate the race environment; the nerves, the aggression, and the unbelievably high speed.
Hamish also hadn’t raced for a month since the National Championships after we made the decision to sit out the North American World Cups. Due to me being out injured it was decided that the resources required to support just one rider over the Atlantic were too great to warrant the trip. It is a shame because it was a major target this year and highlighted one of the problems of having such a small team – what happens with one inevitably affects the other. Still, he had maintained very good shape and was confident of putting in a strong performance in Norway.
Hamish was gridded on the second row with me two behind that (not being able to race for most of the season doesn’t help your World Ranking) and we both got off to good starts. The short start loop was irrelevant as the speed was so high and the field completely lined out meaning it was practically impossible to move up.
After a ‘steady-ish’ first two laps Hamish found his rhythm and began to eat through the places ahead of him. Riding as clean as was possible on the slippery rocks and roots that littered the track he came in to finish an impressive 8th. The only blip being an over the bars on the final piece of singletrack before the finish. Top riding in a very high quality field.
I managed to start quite fast moving through the places when I could early on and got close to the top 10 before slipping back slightly mid race due to some unnecessarily sloppy riding. I felt (unsurprisingly) that I lacked race sharpness, and made too many mistakes at vital points to give myself any chance of being up any higher and in the mix for a top placing. After a last lap surge to take a couple of places I finished 14th, inside the points where I wanted to be, and most importantly back racing and back in the fight.