It’s just over a week since the event that has become my traditional start to the racing year. The MTB Marathon Series at Builth Wells usually offers a night marathon followed by a day marathon, but this year it went one further, offering a XC Race on the Saturday morning, a trio of events that I couldn’t resist having a go at, turning it into a mini-stage race.
Before getting to the start line I had the hurdle of a bike build to get through. Several hours the day before was spent putting together my new 2014 Pivot LES. This year my bikes have been custom built, rather than off-the-peg builds, but are largely similar to the spec I used in the latter half of 2013 with a few changes. Perhaps the biggest being a switch from regular chainrings to the new Rotor Rex 1.1 chainset with its oval and 1×11 specific chainring, something I have been wanting to try for many years (more on this in the next blog). The bikes are significantly lighter than last year, getting them below the magic 9kg mark.
I didn’t have time to ride the bike after building it, so the Welsh XC would serve as the shakedown ride. What could possibly go wrong? Round 2 of the Welsh XC was going to be my first XC race for over a year and probably the last one this year, since I do not specialise in the short race format as I’m just not very competitive.
I did a few practice laps and the bike was feeling pretty good so lined up with the Elites ready for the pain! With 8 short laps around the Royal Welsh Showground riders were in danger of getting dizzy, but there were a few interesting features and for the distance a lot of climbing which would make it a tough race.
The initial start was pretty good, I probably should have pushed a little harder getting into the first singletrack, but I soon started falling backwards through the field and getting past by all or most of the pack. My first lap was dreadful, with no top end speed what so ever and loosing almost a minute a lap to the fastest riders.
Lap 2 felt much better, but one of my bottle cages was coming loose, so rather than do the sensible thing and put it into the other cage, I just dropped it on the side of the course, so without a “feeder” I’d have to finish the race without drinking. Lap 3 wasn’t much better either, I caught a stick or rock at an awkward angle, breaking a spoke that put a big wobble in the wheel and Lap 4 was also I punctured the rear tyre. Thankfully it sealed, although I was left with ~12psi so it was very soft. After that nothing major happened and I continued riding towards the back of the field, finishing towards the back in Elite and narrowly avoided getting lapped by former team mate Lee Williams on the sub 10 min course. One rather painful lap done, another 2 to go!
I had several hours between races, so tried to recover as best I could. The Exposure Lights Big Night Out is an event I have rarely missed, taking part in the very first one and almost every one since. I fitted an Exposure Reflex to the bars and Exposure Diablo to th helmet as I forgot to bring my new Equinox, ooops! The start of the race was brutal, almost immediately up a very steep gravel climb where I watched Nick Craig and Neal Crampton disappear and then Ant White and Phil Morris also came past and I tried to latch on the back. I managed to catch and pass Ant on a descent, then spent the remainder of the race desperately trying to catch the flashing red light of Phil who was never that far ahead and at the same time trying to stay ahead of Ant’s and his Exposure lights who was climbing really strongly. The fact we had all ridden the XC race made things more interesting and we all finished within a few minutes of each other with about 10 minutes to Nick Craig who was the first rider back in about 1 hour 30 minutes on what was a brilliant and really enjoyable course. I was the 4th rider back, which I was pretty happy with as the time gaps were not that big to the riders ahead.
2 races down, 1 much longer race left and recovery was really important. A Torq cookies & cream recovery drink and a bowl of pasta then lots of sleep, hopefully! For the Marathon the next day there were lots of fast riders attending, including Lee Williams and Stephen Hodge, who had both raced the XC the previous day and Ant White and Phil were both back to try and complete the triple. The start wasn’t quite as severe as the ELBNO, but after 6km lead out we did head up a long, steep climb that really split the field. The first climb was hard work for me as my heart rate was a little suppressed, but I made time up on the first descent and got into a small group of 6 or so on the second climb. Gradually the group started to splinter, leaving 3-4 of us together with only a handful of riders ahead, one of them was Phil Morris and again I seemed to spend the whole time trying to make up time.
As the race went on, in our small group we all seemed to have strong and weak patches but we stayed together right to the 50km marker, where we passed Phil Morris who decided to take the shorter route back. The final 15km was really hard work, up a long and often steep grass track, then a series of undulations and fun singletrack before finally heading down what was the climb of the ELBNO and then a quick blast around part of the Welsh XC course in reverse and into the showground to finish. It was only 60km in the end, but a really tough course with 1800m that really punished the legs.
I didn’t know where I finished until a few days after, but was pleasantly surprised to see that I was the 6th rider back. Lee Williams had dominated, being a considerable time ahead of Nick Craig, then Neal Crampton. It marked the end of a superb weekend that was more about training and testing myself and for that it was perfect.
The next goal for me will be the Dyfi Enduro, followed by the British Marathon Championships the week after where I am hoping to improve my fitness slightly and I’d like to achieve a top 10 place. Following that I have a big training block as I train for Singletrack 6 in Canada this July.