Deep frozen snow on the ground and fresh snow falling on the day before the race, it looked like a tough one. But constant overnight rain and the best possible place to be for drainage, the Brandon side of Thetford forest made for a remarkably good race.
Lining up ready for the 4 hr, there was some new kit to race test. Glancing trees with the 710mm X-lite bar was to end with a lovely FSA K-Force flat bar which with 9 deg sweep are to close to my favorite ever Salsa Pro-Moto bars. Grip duties up front were taken care of with a new Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.25 to be sure. the big change though was the first race on the XX1 crank and 10 speed cassette. I’d gone for a 34T ring, it was touch and go wether to retain a 32 based on the super slog that round 1 had become here, but with the extra 36 cog on the rear it remained.
It was also time to finally checkout one of the series challengers, Mark Wingar. Last race here he was a strong 2nd, and I was to find out he punctured in the last round, so it wasnt a surprise to see his Red Gipping kit disappear into the distance off the line. Settling into the early puddle avoidance it took a while to realise not as many were passing me as normal, I stuck to my normal relaxed pace.
Jon McAndrew tagged on and when two juniors passed he went with them and started to pull away, It took all my will to relax and not panic, I was just glad to see him this early, made a change from the usual end of race only. A pattern started to emerge, they’d pull a gap up the rolling drags and into the wind, I’d pull them back in the singletrack. Starting the 3rd lap, when they held me up on the superb fast rolling Plumbuster downhill section I’d had enough. It needed just a bit of effort and a gaggle of backmarkers and we had a split.
I could hear tyres behind tracking me and assumed it was John, but it turned out to be 2nd in the series Andrew Bone, as John eventually retired. From that moment on we started our race long battle, I just kept him in sight, but every lap suffered up the climbs. A mud laden Anthem against a One-one Race carbon frame probably gave him a 4lb advantage over me, and I was feeling every gram as I tried to keep the effort in check. In most places though I didn’t care, the superb way the Giant was riding in the singletrack more than made up for it, in very tricky conditions the rear Ikon didn’t even register a thought superb.
By lap 5 Bone had a gap, I was broken. looking at the lap times he put 25 seconds into me. I almost slipped into the thought that being ahead of John was a series points win, but luckily didn’t give in to the evils of slacking. Into the tough wind towards the final home stretch at 1 hour to go, it was time for the Burlycross push. It wasnt as evident as the last round, but I caught Bone after the plumbuster, along with Chris Hunter. Andrew heard he was 5th which made me 6th. This was now a real race. time for 2 more laps, let’s go.
Onto the draggy climbs I dug as deep as possible, but Bone appeared to be cruising behind, that tactic just wasnt working. So last lap and we both subconsciously eased back, but as the lap ended I could see a red jersey in the distance. Thinking it was Wingar we set off in pursuit, flashing past catching a glance at the Gipping jersey, major result.
I pulled us up to the line, no real speed just kept the effort going and sure enough Bone came round for the sprint, a big handfull of gripshift and I powered back round for…..3rd place, Oh yes. It wasn’t Wingar though, he got 2nd, very confused.
The series points are now mental close, three into the two remaining series podium places just wont go! There are 5 points between positions available, and you drop your worst result. Its going to be Epic.
Ashby 450 Champ
Bone 410 (2nd-5th-4th)
Burlycross 410 (5th-3rd-3rd)
Wingar 405 (3rd-6th-2nd)
Can I keep up with Wingar, well he put 1min 30 into me on the first lap, which was basically the gap at the end from 2nd. It’s all about if training or racing comes first I guess.
And the XX1 – Faultless, flat out in smallest rear cog on the bumpy Plumbuster, backpedalling to drop inside cranks, not a sound. Beats the usual tap of chain on ankle and clattering, all good so far.