It's been a hectic month or so. Let me bring you up to speed.
This year I've had the opportunity to commit more time to racing and training thanks to the backing of my sponsors. The first half of the season has been focused on Olympic distance Cross Country racing, although my main objectives are in the second half of the year and in marathon distance events. I also wanted to tackle the EWS-E and EWS100 in Scotland as part of a 4 day block of riding and racing.
I had a hectic lead-in to the EWS. To be honest I felt like I was cramming. I haven't raced an Enduro for about 5 years, and I got my hands on a Santa Cruz Bronson about 2 weeks before the race. Those 2 weeks were spent trying to source the right parts to ride, set up the bike and get up to speed. I was happy to find out that I got up to speed fairly quickly and felt confident enough that I would be able to hold my own in the race.
First up was my first ever E-Bike race and straight in at the deep end racing the World Series. I got my hands on a Santa Cruz Heckler the night before practice started. Again, I felt a bit like I was cramming, and we were still setting the bike up 30 minutes before the race started.
E-bikes still divide opinion, but I have to say I don't think I've had as much fun racing my bike for a long time. The race was relentless, with tight transitions and technical liaison climbs too. The stages were amazing, my fitness and skills were challenged, and I loved every minute of it. I am really stoked to have pulled off a solid race with minimal mistakes to finish 29th overall. You can check out my race on Strava.
Unfortunately, when it came to day 3 and practice for the EWS race I was sick. I woke up with a sore throat and took that as a sign that I needed to rest and recover. It turned out to be the right decision as I was suffering for the best part of 10 days with cold and flu symptoms. This was a real blow and took me out of training in preparation for the European MTB Marathon Championships in the Czech Republic.
European MTB Marathon Championships, Malevil
Although my preparation for the Euros was far from perfect, I wanted to grab the opportunity to compete in another high-level marathon in Europe. The Malevil Cup in the Czech Republic is a real classic and the start list looked stronger than the World Championships field from 2021.
I landed 2 days before the race with Chris Barr supporting me as a mechanic and manager. The course was a 100km point-to-point route with 2,700m of climbing. Along the route were 6 technical zones with feed stations, and Chris's task was to arrive at these places to support me with bottles and gels. This would be vital with an average temperature of 31 degrees and highs of 36.
The day before the race I practised two key sections of the course - the first 10km of the race and then from kilometre 40 to kilometre 65, which included some of the hardest sections of the course. I got a good feel for what was to come on race day and then took the opportunity to rest and relax.
It's a real challenge to take on these races, and there is a real range of riders, from superstar pro racers with big salaries on teams with huge resources, to amateur riders with no support staff. Fortunately, I was able to secure the support of Chris Barr who works at Alpine Bikes in Perth. Chris has been a friend of mine for years and he has a vast range of skills, most noteworthy is that he was mega keen to come and support. It's great to travel to events like this with support and company, and it really makes the whole endeavour a lot of fun. Chris planned the feed zone strategy and aimed to get to feed stations 2, 4, 5 and 6, skipping 1 and 3 because it was too much to gamble on making it in time.
Race day started early and temperatures were set to soar up to 35 degrees. I was seeded 77th and started midpack in a field of 130+ Elite men. The first part of the race was neutralised behind the race director's car before turning off-road after 3km. I was well positioned and eager to move up which ultimately lead to making a mistake and taking a bad line in the multiple singletracks. I followed two riders and we ended up having to stop and rejoin the main trail on foot, losing around 15-20 places. This was a frustrating mistake and a classic case of 'more haste, less speed'.
The pace of the race was frantic, covering the opening 40km in around 90 minutes. My heart rate was high for this whole section of the race, touching 181bpm on the steep ramps and pushing 60kph on the trails too. After 40km the course really increased in difficulty and the temperatures got really hot. From around halfway I was managing cramps in my legs and just had to focus on moving forwards, fuelling and hydrating. What was really good is I always had riders around me to race with, and I felt like I was able to push, although I needed to be careful. Chris was at all of the feed zones we had planned with more water, gels, energy drinks, tools and spares which was amazing. The final stages of the race were super fast and I finished in 62nd place, moving up from my start position. I felt like my race went pretty well, but my mistakes came in the first half of the race trying to push too hard and follow the crazy pace of the lead riders. All in all, I was satisfied with my ride given compromised preparation.
You can check out my race on Strava.
Vittoria MTB Marathon - British Cycling MTB Marathon Series Round 1
This year, for the first time, there is a British Cycling MTB Marathon Series. The opening round came 2 weeks after the Euro Champs and was in Pippingford Park in the South East of England.
I am motivated to compete in as many MTB Marathons as possible this year as I feel this is the discipline I can excel in. I travelled the day before the race to ensure I could practice the lap and get prepared. The competition was high with multiple British Champion Ben Thomas on the start list, as well as Joe Griffiths and Tom Martin. I was still feeling the after-effects of being ill after the EWS in Scotland, but I felt confident that I would be able to compete for the podium.
The race was a lapped format of a figure-of-8 lap with a bridge crossing, and there was a lot of fun singletrack too. In the start, I pushed hard and went with the leaders until the group began to split. I settled into a small group riding for 3rd place and maintained a good tempo for the duration of the race.
On the final lap, I thought that I had 3rd place tied up but I was caught by Tom Stephenson. I did all I could to fight for the podium but it wasn't to be. I rolled in 4th place. You can check out my race on Strava.
Looking back at this race and period of the season I felt like I'd become a victim of tackling too much, and in hindsight, I would have been better off focussing on fewer events. I've decided to focus on regaining some consistency in training and recovering from illness. There is still a lot of racing to come and I'm feeling motivated!
'til next time,