The rain cascaded off the roof outside. The ominous grey sky threatened to bring back the thunder of the morning. A group of us were huddled in the doorway of the run down old golf clubhouse. We were watching the sodden riders from the first race strip back layers of thick, claggy mud from bike frames and bodies. We were wondering what we were doing here. We were wondering why we had made a 5 hour journey to race our mountain bikes around a very muddy old golf course in the pouring rain. We were wondering why we were waiting till 1 o’clock for our race to start.
A lot of this didn’t make sense. We had come to race in the British University Cross Country Mountain Bike Championship. A grand title for not so grand a race. A 2 mile course had been marked out around an old golf course. There was a brief section of downhill singletrack at the end of a grassy slog up the hill. Then heavy rain was forecast and the organisers were forced to reverse the course in order that it was safe enough in the slippery mud. We were left with a steep, slimy ascent which mostly had to be walked and then a nice wet roll down a grassy slope. As far as we were concerned, there wasn’t really any mountain biking involved. There were a lot of negative feelings leading up to the start of the race.
This was the first time I had ever been to a race where the journey took longer than the racing. A 10 hour round trip for a 1 hour race? You don’t get much for your time and money in XC racing! Having just ridden the Highland Trail Race a week and a half before, I wasn’t all too impressed by the course either.
The race was brilliant.
When 1 o’clock finally came around we made our way to the start line. I ended up in the mid-pack of around 80 riders, I was forgetting that there wasn’t enough time to catch a lot of riders in such a short race. I also had 560 miles in my legs though that were telling me this was going to hurt. The organisers shouted out that there were 6 laps instead of 5 as we had thought and then ‘Go!’.
And we were off, an all out slow sprint through the thick, sticky mud. I went as hard as I could from the start, that’s what you do in such short races right? The course went straight into a fairly tight hairpin corner and we all fought for positions. A fast spin along a brief section of hardpack followed as I tried to keep pace with the geared riders and then into the muddy hill. I pedalled hard, throwing everything I had at this hill. Pick off one rider at a time, reel them in and overtake. As soon as I lost too much grip I was off and running, slipping and sliding up the hill. My legs were screaming and my lungs were on fire by the top of the first climb on lap one. I pushed harder to take the next rider. It was a short race, the pain couldn’t last long could it? By the end of lap one I was gasping for breath and gulping down water. I’m not used to the hard efforts of short races.
Each lap I got stuck behind the same rider for the brief descent, I overtook him on the flat at the bottom of the course and then he passed me on the way up the hill again just in time to be in the way for the descent. I took great pleasure in watching him try to pass a girl racer a while before the descent on lap 4. He called out 4 times ‘on the left’ or something akin to that and then tried to pass but he could never quite make it. It got even better when, having finally passed her, she ripped up the descent and overtook him on the outside of a muddy slippery corner! I was grinning at my competitor getting showed up.
I pushed hard on lap 5, briefly forgetting the call of ‘6 laps’ at the start of the race. I ran the full climb, telling my protesting legs ‘just one last time!’ It wasn’t the last lap of course and this left me struggling for the final lap, my competitor took the lead on the climb and I had nothing left to reel him back in. I crossed the line not far behind, still grinning, pleased I had managed to race at all with so little recovery from the last big ride. The race may not have been very mountainbikey but it was a lot of fun all the same. All out head to head racing whilst messing about in serious amounts of mud has a strange appeal to it. It was really hard and really messy.
I finished in 15th place and 2nd within the Glasgow Uni team. Being a university event, the times of the top 3 racers from each uni are added together to give an overall team standing. Scott Lindsay, Ross Green and myself placed well enough to get the bronze team medal. Good results all round.