The series is entered so that’s a focus for winter then, This first event is Brandon which has the highest concentration of singletrack out of all the courses. That, over 500 starters and the 4 hour downpour from the gun made it a war of attrition.
I cheekily squeezed onto the front row of the 4 hour start, in the rain, wearing the most clothing I have ever raced in. Full legs, with knee warmers underneath and Gortex shorts on top too, 3 layers on top too, merino, Roubaix long sleeve and windproof paclite. I didn’t expect to try hard enough for the first two hours to sweat and the top layers could be ditched mid race.
Wheelspinning off the line on the Anthem I thought I’d made a big mistake in choosing to run with Ikons front and rear, but it didn’t stop me running in about 5th into the first corners. Acceleration seemed good, and I’d forgotten just how you don’t care which line you take on full bounce. Getting round the crashed rider on the first corner and moving to 3rd didn’t last long, I eased back as we climbed to the first singletrack.
Uh oh, what had I done, no side grip meant very steady progress through the turns in the wood, and it was only going to get worse. I seriously doubted my chances of staying on board at this point, and no grip would mean too much braking, not a good idea here in this weather. Catching the slow juniors and other straightline speed merchants meant it was slow going anyway, a high proportion of uphill singletrack was not making overtaking easy.
Into the second lap and Plumz Tom powered past and soon I hear a familiar voice behind, old Plumz rider Ed Mair had a chat then passed. Not panicking I let him go but progress was slow, I was definitely feeling the bikes weight and the pretty shallow Thetford hills. Oh yes I’m not race fit. With a bit of space this time though I realised the Anthem needed to be ridden differently than my initial turns. I considered that I was riding higher than I was used to either that or the Ikons just don’t have an aggressive side knob. The cure was some very exaggerated bike leaning, full on pointy elbows and keep the body upright. Bingo, progress was back and this was fun. lap 2 was over 3 minutes slower as conditions deterioted.
Ed pulled off at the end of lap 2 for more clothing, I was feeling perfect in my choices, still very wet but in control. The Goretex shorts were proving a great choice in stopping the grit getting in the shorts. Ed wasn’t the only one struggling as BigRing passed me, this boy should be up front and shouted he’d stopped for more clothes too. Sticking to the same power I plodded on, the course was full on chocolate souflee now and I figured the fast boys were putting down power levels that their bodies just could not produce for 4 hours.
The next two laps were a slog, it wasn’t suprising to see riders walking back down the track retiring, it was a war out there. It just got slower, who knows if it was the rain easing or just the 2 hour riders pulling off, but it did seem to improve for the last laps. I got the shout that I’d got sixth as the last one started and had enough to give it a push for one last time. This was the first lap I put any effort into the climbs and a 24lb race bike still didnt feel good, that will need some work, It would be great to have a time machine and go back and do it all again rigid to see if that would make any difference.
I put nearly 4 minutes into Chris Hunter to grab 5th on that last lap, and after seeing old sparring partner John McAndrew at a distant cross over point during the race it was good to gain 5 minutes on him at the end. It’s not that I rode at all quickly in this event, this result was solely down to quite a few riders blowing themsleves up. First lap position was 10th according to the timings, and it would have been harder to move up from there in the dry.
It’s hard to form an impression in these conditions, but the suppleness of the ride made me feel pretty fresh at the end, and it can’t have harmed the grip levels. No back aches was a result for Thetford, but thats also part of pushing too big a gear for the flatlands. If any grass was mixed up in that slurry, or if it was more clay based, I think it would have been a differenet story though.
Race facts: 2x750ml winter fuel and 2 Mule Bars
6 Laps in 4Hr26
Laps 35:23 38:51 45:09 50:51 48:45 47:46
Anthem Ikons 25psi