Sunday I raced the UK Cross Country Marathon (XCM) Championships up in Selkirk in the Scottish borders.
The list of starters had come out a few days before and was a bit of an eye-opener. It was like a ‘who’s who’ of UK mountain biking with a list of elite XC and XCM racers (up to UCI World Cup level), 12 and 24 hour national champions, the last three winners of the Kielder 100 and a certain Dan Fleeman (ex-Cervélo Test Team).
The race was held in parallel with the Selkirk round of the Chain Reaction Cycles Marathon series and I nervously lined up with the other 100 or so championship racers at the front of the rest of the riders in the balmy Scottish sun, before being led out on a neutralised start on tarmac. As the lead-out van pulled off, the tarmac turned to rocky fireroad and a steep 1000ft climb out on to the moors. This quickly strung out the field and I got the chance to watch the race unfold in front of me. Right at the head of the race a group of six riders had broken away and were pushing a relentless pace, whilst I reckoned I was somewhere just inside the top 30.
The second climb was a steep boggy moorland slog and I struggled for traction and rhythm, and riders began to pass me. This set the tone for the rest of the race; making time on the drier trails, but struggling when the course turned to wet and boggy conditions – and there was plenty of it!
With a clear day, the views across the borders were spectacular and some of the trails were fantastic. Sadly, I didn’t get to enjoy them much as I would have liked, as my time was split between chewing the stem and trying to not to come a cropper in the slippery conditions. Not always successfully it has to be said – I’m now bearing some Hoogerland-esque scars after a run-in with a barbed wire fence!
For the next 15 or so miles not much changed in the race for me, but gradually riders who I’d only spotted in the distance started coming back to me. On the fireroad and singletrack climbs I was setting a really good pace and began to take riders on a regular basis. A final 1000ft of climbing through muddy bogs and sodden moorland meant I struggled again and gave back a couple of the positions that I’d gained, but I held them in range as we topped out and headed down. As the moorland descent gave way to farm track I realised we were on the outskirts of Selkirk – I locked out the suspension and smashed it for the last couple of kilometers, overtaking three riders before crossing the line in 3h 55m.
The course had come in short at 71km and although I was hurting and more than happy to see the finish line, the way I was riding, I really could have done with it being closer to the stated distance of 85km.
Ultimately, the race was won by XC racer Lee Williams, followed by mtb legend Nick Craig in second and Dan Fleeman in third. Official results still aren’t up, but it looks like I came 16th overall and 14th in senior men.
As with any race, I look back on things I could have done better and missed opportunities where I could have made up places, but given the level of competition to have achieved a top 20 finish in a National Championships far exceeds any expectations I had going in to the race. Really happy with the result and bodes well for the rest of the season.
Details of my ride can be found on Strava: http://app.strava.com/rides/9029379
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