Kicking off his 2018 season, we hear from Nick Owen (Manchester Trafford) on his first experience of national XC racing and debut year with the Evans Cycles Race Team.
For those who race, at some point the inevitable happens and you make the step up to a national level race. My first experience of a national XC race came at Sherwood pines for round one of the HSBC National XC series.
I arrived at Sherwood pines excited and nervous before my first national race – about two hours before giving me time to get a test lap in. This lap was a good idea to get a sense of length and any technical sections I would need to navigate. There was nothing too technical on the lap, apart from the man made obstacles around the arena at the end of the lap.
I was on the last row and four places from the back because the gridding is decided from the previous year’s points – with not previously having raced with a licence, I had not gained any points. From speaking to the guys from Trafford store, their advice was “make sure you hammer from the gun, get a good start before the course bottle necks and try not to get caught up in a crash” – easy huh?
We line up on the start line waiting for the whistle. It goes off I get clipped in and get up to speed sticking to the outside, just missing a crash in the middle of the pack, phew, now we are going, pedal to the metal.
The first lap was a lot of single file through the forest and sprinting on the fire road to gain positions.
I found the first half lap to be the toughest, holding the wheel in front up the climbs, then getting held up on the technical sections on the second half of the lap. I had to be tactical and find somewhere to get in front before these singletrack sections appeared on the laps to come. There were tight and twisty turns through the muddy forest, with riders struggling to get the power down and sliding in the mud. I decided before the race to lower the pressure on my tyres to help with grip, that proved to be valuable as I didn’t seem to struggle as much as other riders giving me confidence to push through these sections, as long as I was able to get in front before these sections.
On my second lap I made to the front of the bunch I was with, holding on to first, fully in the red. As we come along to a log, nothing too technical, I stumbled over it. One place lost, lets get clipped in before I loose anymore. It’s amazing how a simple feature becomes so much harder when you are riding at your max. Oh well, that didn’t go to plan and back to the back of the bunch I went. I thought what’s done is done and get back to it.
I managed to make my way through the field, as places spread out and with a few obstacles to clear, the sections with 2 lines, one over a few logs laid across the course about a foot high, and B line longer and slower. I cleared these with ease. The second was through two trees over high root straight into a tight hairpin with the B line around the outside, I decided to stick to the B line on this one as I didn’t feel the risk was worth the little, if any gain in time. The third was step ups with decking, I made a few places by taking the A line while others opted for the slower B line.
The fourth and final lap was here, I began to feel I could keep the pace up and found riders began to drop off which I could pass and managing to pass three riders on the last section.
This was my first national XC race not quite knowing what to expect I got fully stuck in and did enjoy the race, finding my endurance was there and not fading towards the end of the race.
Throughout the race I used Science in Sport Go energy drink. I found it great tasting and used it to keep me fuelled throughout the race. I’m interested to see if using a caffeine gel later in the race will improves my performance, but thats for next time.