Just a week after the opening round of the Schwalbe UK British National Mountain Bike Cross Country Series, I was back between the tape at round 2 in Newcastleton. In spite of Newcastleton being home to one of the Seven Stanes mountain bike trail centres, I had never actually been here.
The organisers did a fantastic job of providing an awesome course even though there was still extensive damage to the trails following the winter storms. A slightly longer lap than the previous round in Tong, and 7 laps instead of 6, meant that the race was going to be significantly longer this week.
As another UCI classified race, the field was stacked with riders travelling from Europe to compete, as well as Cameron Orr returning from a top 15 finish at Round 1 of the World Cup in Brazil. I was seeded 12th based on the current World Ranking and was starting on the second row of the grid.
The start was flat out and it didn't take long for the field to split into groups. I was on the wrong side of the split after the first half lap but made an attempt to bridge on the main climb of the circuit. I finished the first lap in 11th place and 6 seconds off of the front group.
My main goal during the race was to remain in control of my effort and to be mindful of eating and drinking. I had carbohydrate mix in my bottles, as well as gels and half-and-half Red Bull and water for the last part of the race. I always aim to accelerate towards the end of a race and have the energy left to fight for position in the final, so pacing and fuelling are vital for this.
By lap 5 of the 7 lap race I had moved up into 8th place and the gap to Isaac Mundy of Spectra Wiggle p/b Vitus in 7th was around one minute. I tried to focus on my own rhythm in the hope it was enough to reel him in. In the end, I had to settle with 8th and scored my first UCI points of the season, a result and performance I am really happy with.
What has been noticeable is that I seem to have built well with some racing in my legs. I knew that coming off of a consistent winter I was fit, but I was lacking some racing intensity. I'm looking forwards to seeing how my condition builds with more racing.
Next up for me is a week of coaching work alongside Wardell Cycle Coaching coach Conor Campbell at the World Cycling Centre in Anadia, Portugal, followed by another UCI race in Portugal in 2 weeks' time.