RACE REPORT: Fforest Fields – National XC 4

Wow, I really think this was the toughest race I’ve ever done! Not only was the course hilly and hard work, the almost continual rain meant it was close to impossible to stay upright too!

I had high hopes for this race going into it as I’ve done very well in Wales before at Nationals and the course sounded pretty good so I felt pretty psyched. I just really wanted the weather man to be wrong as he had forecasted heavy rain. I don’t mind racing in the rain, I’d just read on Singletrackworld that this course was close to being unrideable when it was wet.

The initial plan was to head home as soon as possible after work, pack the van, pick up Nathan and then head to the Friday Night Summer Series at Kilworth as a warmup/openers for Sunday. The first part went OK, I got home, packed the van and headed to Nathan’s. We loaded up quickly, and then as we got over the M1 we realised Nathan had forgotten his sleeping bag! Not great if you’re planning to camp! So we headed back, grabbed his sleeping bag and then with time against us, decided to go straight to Wales.
As Nathan hadn’t eaten, we decided to head to a McDonalds on the route (#eatlikeapro), however once we hit the A44 there weren’t any to be found! So instead we decided to try the OK Diner – an American style restaurant. I can thoroughly recommend it, the food was great, reasonably priced and the service was awesome too!

Although it was raining slightly when we got to Fforest Fields, the tent went up with no issues. We both went to bed straight away ready for the course walk in the morning.

The course walk went OK, however the course was very steep in places. The first climb was steep and long. Wet too! I really thought that this could split the field with ease, I’d have to work very hard here. The first A Line (which is the subject of many a video post-race!) looked absolutely nails! The course dropped in on loose sand with some sharp corners onto a steep descent. I thought that it looked OK in the current dry conditions, but could get crazy hard in the wet. The second major issue was the second singletrack section –  this dropped into a steep chute after riding over a lot of off camber roots. Line choice was paramount here. The next section just looked difficult, almost like someone had just run a strimmer through and thought “That’ll do.” Thankfully the last section was relatively flat and straightforward, except for the last grassy descent, which was more like a CX course here!
Nathan and I went for a ride when the course opened, the hills really were very steep! Nathan decided after crashing a few times that I didn’t want to race that afternoon as he just found the course far too tricky. I didn’t blame him, it later turned out that lots of riders ended up crashing out over the weekend. After the Sport race had finished, I decided to go and ride the course again. I was lucky enough to go round with Phil Pearce, and it was really amazing how much time he takes to coach younger and less able riders. On pretty much every technical section he was stopping and chatting to riders, showing them how to do sections and in one circumstance riding one Youth rider’s bike down a section! I was really impressed – its really inspiring to watch him in action!

Later that day we hooked up with Ollie Richards and Chris Bailey of KTM, and got invited to the pub to watch the England/Russia game. I think the main memory of this was a lot of jokes made about which were the least stabby pubs in Builth Wells! Chris and I also spent a lot of time chatting about various about van conversions; he’s spent a lot of time DIYing his van into a camper.
After listening to the rain hitting the tent for most of the night, I went out for pre-ride in the morning of Sunday after lots of rain and the course was now super super slippery. After decking too many times for my comfort I decided to swap to full on mud tyres (Schwalbe Dirty Dans front and rear) and lent Chris my wet tyres. His choice of a Ralph/Burt combo wasn’t going to cut it! I got some food down my neck about 3 hours pre-race; my usual combo of a tuna salad, Nutty 9Bar and plenty of water.

I warmed up on the turbo and headed to the start line just in time. Literally just in time. I missed my number being called out by about 30 seconds! When the race went off I ended up missing the pace and getting dropped somewhat on the start loop which was frustrating. I just didn’t feel like I had the oomph I normally do. The climbs really seemed to take it out of me. Chatting to Melissa post-race I maybe thought that the nervousness I felt about the course may have really affected my mindset, and robbed me of the normal adrenaline rush I tend to start with. Towards the end of the first lap I crashed (I had crashed repeatedly throughout the first lap, it was super hard to stay rubber side down!) and broke my shifter. This meant being stuck in a reasonably hard gear. My thinking was in for a penny, in for a pound, so I ran up the hills and rode back down. Got a lot of cheers from the spectators for my resilience!
After the second lap of running I honestly couldn’t keep it up, so jacked it in and headed to the showers, I was totally knackered. Piling all the stuff in the van, I got back to the finish line to retrieve a wheel Chris had borrowed and headed for home. 2 and half hours later, I simply collapsed into bed!

Thankfully now I’ve managed to repair the shifter and sort out some spare wheels, so bring on the next race at Cannock!

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