Well … this weekend I went to the Olympics, 1 year late, and found out that I was lacking in skill/bottle/skin … delete as appropriate … to truly tame this course. I’m sure that many riders had the same thought I did last winter when the NPS series dates came out and saw the final round was at Hadleigh Farm. I thought, “Great! I can race the event I saw one of the best, if not the best, MTB races EVER in 2012 with Jaroslav Kulhavý, Nino Schurter and Marco Aurelio Fontana smashing lumps out of each other to come down to a broken seat post and a final sprint to win!” Awesome I thought, the course looked fun and ‘easy’ on TV so it will be a cool way to end the 2013 season.
So finally after thinking about this race for nine months, the weekend arrived with what was the shortest drive all year, for an NPS, to the track at Hadleigh Farm. We had a full day to pre-ride the course and get to know all the ‘A’ lines well before the race on Sunday. To put this in perspective, this is the first time this year that my team mate and I have managed to do this, and have enough time to study all the drops, and to do at least three laps! After the first 500m we both realised that time WAS needed as the first obstacle, triple trouble, took a good 15 minutes of pondering before we both opted for the ‘C’ line. This then set up what was to be a very long lap of the course which, was unlike any other course this year. There was an obstacle every ½ km that demanded your full attention to spot the ‘best’ line and right speed to hit it, as there was no margin for error! I found this out on the second obstacle, ‘the monument’, after hitting the line three times. With growing confidence I tried it for a fourth time, only this time slower, and took a tumble onto the rocks. This reminded me why we had seen a 15 deep cue at the ambulance on the way in to practice as one crash left me with a lot of gravel rash!
After getting the obligatory pics of riding down the drops where the Olympic rings were carved into the rocks, we did a full lap at 80% race pace. After hitting all the lines we planned on and trying to negotiate riders assessing the obstacles, a lap time of 19 minutes looked a lot slower than what the pros did one year ago. Watching the open race in the afternoon, I was surprised to see a lot of riders build their bikes up in the car park and then hit the start line with no pre lap. They then rode most of the ‘A’ lines on the course which was nearly as scary to watch as to ride the circuit.
Leaving the venue feeling happy that we had checked out every inch of the course and were confident of the lines chosen for the race day, a long night of watching youtube ensued seeing how the pros rode it and if we could spot any better lines to take in the race.
Race day! Finally I would get to pretend to be an Olympian for one day! After watching the pros make the course look easy and seeing how riders like Kenta Gallagher look so relaxed jumping down a 4ft rock drop, I was keen to get on the course in the masters race.
The course was so well designed that it even had gate posts at the right height next to the feed zone that were perfect places for four bottles to be positioned. As we did not have any one to feed us during the race, we were now sorted for hydration.
To say my race did not go to according to plan is an understatement as I had a big off at deans drop on lap one which, after I had managed to get into the top ten from a hard start loop promptly put me back of the field and a lot of chasing.
The chasing was working well until lap four when another off occurred and I was put into survival mode on the course. I was very happy to finally finish and not leave in an ambulance and score 21st place. This put me back into the top 30 overall. It was awesome to see my team mate achieve 11th place after spending most of the weekend worrying about racing the course and defend his 8th place overall.
So it was a good weekend for banjo cycles riders to have survived the final NPS and now time to recover and heal before the Cross season which starts in two weeks……