National MTB Championships 2017
22-23rd July: 2017
Cannock Chase: Staffordshire
An Epic Battle!!
I travelled early again on the Saturday morning with the Birchills to Cannock Chase for the one off National MTB Championships at the end of July. I hadn’t ever ridden in this area but was promised a mixture of trail centre tracks, paths through woods, and all on a ground similar to Woodbury Common. Woodbury being my “home ground” meant that loose pebbles that offer no traction should not necessarily trouble me. The rest of the course, on inspection, consisted of a few nasty drop offs that could be avoided by slow “B lines” and a downhill damp rock garden section that I was definitely going to avoid at all costs!
Having studied the start list I knew that there were two competitors who I hadn’t beaten who would be lining up with me. One of these was the lady who all season had shown her pedigree against me and was sure favourite to take the title. The other lady I had raced last season in my very first National MTB event and her experience had shown then. On that occasion I was happy to survive, although the second place was a bonus! In theory, everyone else I had beaten this season…….
We had three laps to do, and true to form the two ladies who I was expecting to pull away did after the first technical line where I had to take the slower line. I then spent the first lap relatively alone, chasing a few back markers from the younger gridded starting group. I therefore settled into third position and was happy with that, so it came as a big shock part way through my second lap to receive the pantomime shout of “She’s behind you” and to see a lady from Stirling Bike Club only a couple of bike lengths away from me! This did alarm me and I tried to pull away from her, but could tell that she was having none of it, and I could not shake her. As we entered a gentle uphill section on a narrow path through the woods she took an “alternative” line and came past me. From that moment on we swapped places on several occasions each trying to gain an advantage and pull clear of the other, but we could not. It was really hard not to let up and accept 4th place, but as the Birchills had said “no space in the van home if no podium place” (as both boys had already been crowned National Champions) somehow I had to hang on! The Birchills shouting had something to do with this! Half way through the third lap I felt that the other lady was feeling stronger than me and knew that I was absolutely nothing more to give. However, on the same woodland uphill track where she had made her first move, she made a small slip and lost some momentum although remaining in front of me. Then again, she slipped, and I knew then that she was as tired as me and was riding on adrenaline only. This chink made me gather myself and I got past her whilst she was getting back on the pedals, and with slightly less than 1 km to go I had the lead back. As we approached the “bomb holes” for the last time I could hear her breathing as loudly as me behind my back wheel, but knew that I had to negotiate the ups and downs and roots with absolutely no errors to stay in the lead and race for the finish line….and this I did.
In many years of many different sports there are just a few truly memorable moments that I will cherish and this was one. I was pushed to the very limit by an experienced competitor who it turns out has a great cycling pedigree but who also had the same mindset as myself. To receive 3rd place after an epic race at the National Championships was fantastic, and my opponent was to be complemented for making this such a race. It was a race within a race and I got my lift home in the Birchill Champion van!
Round 5: National MTB XC Championships
Sunday 6th August 2017
It has seemed like a very long journey to be finally at the start line of the last National MTB XC race of 2017. I had thought it would be easy this last one seeing as it was in the summer holidays, but somehow the end of term was still catching up with me, and recovery from the last National race although two weeks ago felt slow. I had even started the first Haldon summer race in the week and had almost been pleased to have punctured and had to retire with a lap to go. Not me normally for sure!
Turn out in all categories was low and I knew that all I had to do was to finish the race in one piece to achieve 2nd Overall in the National series in the Grand Vet women category. Luckily, despite some nasty falls during practice from other competitors and the air ambulance being called into action twice over the weekend, by the time I got to race the course was dry; dreaded roots not slippery and all “A lines” had rideable “B lines”!
So we set off after the commissaires let us ladies choose whether we wanted to do 3 or 4 laps! We did take the harder 4 option! The leader of the series was soon demonstrating her quality and was off. I was content to remain on the bike focussed, wanting no mess ups which would have ended my series hopes. I had done 3 of the 4 earlier rounds so needed this one to count. It was a great course…nothing too much of anything and I was very pleased to finally come over the finish line in 2nd place, but more importantly to be able to achieve 2nd place Overall in the National MTB XC Grand Vet Female series. If someone had said way back in April that this is what I would achieve I can imagine my disbelief. It has been great to reach this target and I have been delighted to stand on the podium this year proudly as a Mid Devon CC member and not being “unattached”!