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Whyte Winter Series, Round 3, Mixed Fun Race

Before the race

As luck would have it I was in the area visiting a mate two weeks before the event so I took the opportunity to ask on the Thetford MTB forum if anyone would be pre riding some of the course, I hit the jackpot when the course organisor told me as I was travelling so far for the race he'd give me a personal tour of it! As there was to be a large group ride on the Sunday round parts of the course and I don't tend to ride often in groups (preferring to suffer in solitude when I'm training), I decided to turn up on the Sunday and join in the group ride instead, although it was a very kind offer from G, I'm sure he had better things to do as he (and a good few others) has been busy with organising this race for the last few months.

I was a little late getting to the forest but when I arrived a local rider was also there who'd arrived late and he took me with him to find the group which we found a few minutes later sessioning the first bombhole, a 20 odd feet deep monster of a bombhole! I don't think I've ever ridden in such a big social group, there must have been 40 riders there, maybe more, although there is normally a good turnout they were all doubt looking forward to seeing the course that G and his team had put together for us and they weren't to go home disappointed.

With the day being cold and dry the course was in fantastic condition and we got to see most of it, some of the course still needing some extra work doing to it. The course was a mix of short fire road sections, long singletrack sections which wound through the trees and big bombholes, some of the biggest I've ever seen. The one thing that stood out aside from the fact that this was going to be an interesting course to ride with plenty of variation was that it was going to be fast...VERY fast.

My training had been going really well up until about two weeks before the event when I started with a cold, which screwed up my training as I didn't want to make it worse and just concentrated on getting rid of it. The night before the race I got only a few hours kip...this is going exactly to plan! Finally, on the way down to the race, in my weakened state I drunk a ridiculously strong cup of coffee from the services which turned my stomach and made me want to (a) crawl into a hole in the ground and forget about the bike race and (b) throw up.

During the race

The race started at the usual fairly quick pace although, feeling like crap, I decided to let them surge ahead but not get out of sight, knowing that we would be catching the back of the four hour race within 10 minutes and we'd be held up. Rob (third in the series standings) seemed to be putting in a good stint at the front, pushing the early pace, so he was definitely up for it. Andy seemed to be very focused and I knew at some point he was really going to put the boot in, probably waiting until we caught the back of the four hour race like point tearing ahead and creating a gap if you're going to lose it anyway.

Once we caught the back of the four hour race myself, Andy and Rob were constantly riding through the roughest sections of the trail trying to get a few riders ahead, getting off and sprinting with the bike when the trail was blocked or the mud had brought down or tangled up a couple of one said anything to anyone, we just constantly put in our sneaky attacks hoping we could get away without the others noticing...absolutely no chance of that though as we were watching each other like hawks, looking for the easiest routes, hoping to see the other guys get held up or brought down in the four inch deep mud. We finally got through the worst of the tail back and were riding again within five minutes. Rob was still up front and then I think it was me with Andy right on my rear wheel. I didn't realise it at the time but the category was actually being led at the time by Dale Wallace riding for StreetLife, a new rider in the category who would have a good gap on us all by the end of lap one.

When we came to the bombholes I made the decision that I had to ride them and hope I gained an advantage as if I rode the non-technical section (NTS or chicken run) I could lose time to Andy and he would surely be taking them. As it turned out at the second bombhole he took the NTS but by the time I had scrabbled around in the mud at the bottom of the bombhole I came out at the same time he came out of the that was a complete waste of effort! At some point me and Andy got seperated, I know I was about two riders behind him with Rob behind me when I saw him take off sprinting. I turned to Rob and he told me to go, he wasn't up for a long hard chase and was going to protect his third position in the series. I went after Andy and managed to catch him up within a few minutes and we rode on at a fairly quick but steady pace in the slippery mud which was guiding our bikes all over the trail.

I was nearing the end of the lap when I was having a good close look at Andy's bike...then it hit me. The guy in front was dressed like Andy but it was definitely not him, he was riding a Scott for a start and Andy was on a Stumpjumper I think. I couldn't believe how stupid I'd been, I was feeling rough so wasn't pushing Andy hard but to let him get away without noticing was disappointing. I set off to catch him and a few minutes later went over the finish line. Toby (race commentator) gave me a shout out as I rode through so I shouted over "Has he gone through yet?", "Yes", came the reply (Thanks!). I upped the pace as fast as I could, cursing the fact that I knew I would have been out of the seat and sprinting at the previous two rounds at this point but could only stay seated, I was knackered already.

Try as I might, I couldn't catch Andy, he was long gone. I even started to wonder if I was actually in front of him and they were using a little reverse psychology on me to stop me slowing down if I knew I was in front of Andy...I just couldn't figure out how I'd lost him. The lap was uneventful, the course was deteriorating very quickly...there was still about four inches of mud but it was drying and becoming more clay like as well as the trail widening so there was very little way to avoid it.

I crossed the line hoping Andy wouldn't be waiting there for me but knowing he would be. He was stood by the registration van recovering and when he saw me walking over to shake his hand his face was a picture...he thought I had already finished and packed up and gone home! I thought I'd grabbed second, but Dale grabbed that as he had slowed on his second lap. I was hoping that somehow I could blag the win and seal up the series but I suppose you can't kid your own body...if you're not well enough then you're not well enough, third was acceptable. I was just glad it was over, it wasn't fun, despite the excellent course the TROG guys had put on for us.

So it all goes down to the wire at round four.

After the race

Very tired on the way home, which doesn't help when you have a four hour drive ahead of you! It felt like I was stopping for a coffee every 20 miles up the motorway. Having had a massage at the event my legs felt good although overall I was feeling physically exhausted.

Things to change

Things were going well until I got, the only decision I have made is to never get ill again.

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Well i am thinking of doing some races this year and reading these reports make me wish work no longer required and that i could just ride my bike. Great report, great website fuill of good info for poeple like me thinking about racing. I aint no Liam Killeen so i am racing for the fun of the sport lol
Paul Ellis

Thanks. I've joined British Cycling this year and also bought myself a race licence (in the Sport category). If I can get to the end of the season and have bagged a single point in the national rankings I'll be very happy. You've got to start somewhere and, as far as the national and regional series go, I'm starting very much at the bottom of the Sport category being my first year in these events. I hope to do some or all of the events in the British Mountain Bike Race Series and the Midlands XC series. I might do the National Championships's all going to be a very interesting and very tough learning curve this year!
Si |

I have found you website very interesting and full of information, Being quite new to the sport (riding 3 times a week for the last 9 months) and being biten by the bug in a serious way. One major word of advise i could offer is get out on your local trails with local riders...I am sure you know of several groups that go out in your area....don't go with the easy guys, choose the A group and your fitnes/training will be a far better experience than going out on your own. What i find strange is that you are only going in the fun ride, surley with the time and effort that you seem to be putting in you should be stepping into a higher group ?? or is it podium position that you are after. Like i mentioned earlier Si, its a great website and i really appreciate your efforts in putting it together. Kind regards Mike
Mike Robinson

Thanks for your comments Mike. I haven't been out with my local club yet, but you're right, that will help me up my game especially if I mix it up with the faster riders. The only reason I haven't ridden with them yet is that when I first heard about them (a couple of years ago) I got the impression I would get my arse kicked, so I thought I'd hang on until I was a little quicker so I could keep up! I've been promising them for ages I would come out for a ride with them and aim to remedy that soon. The reason that I am riding in the Fun category is pretty simple. Last year I was riding in whichever category had the most laps as the one big goal I had was to build up to doing a 24 hour solo ride, having being inspired by the excellent film 24 Solo. So I was entering all sorts of races, in all the wrong categories (Elite anyone?) and when I joined West Drayton MBC this year, a few of the more experienced riders said that this year I should concentrate on my speed. So to start with I thought I would do the Thetford series, entering the Fun race for a round and treating it like a 2 lap sprint. After the first round I realised that although I won, there was some good competition and rivalry in this category with guys with similar ability to me, so I decided to stay in the Fun category, continuing my 2 lap sprint races and enjoy the competition. As it has panned out the final round is going to be the decider and there is nothing in it between me and Andy, we're tied on points, so I think I made the right decision in starting at the bottom category and working up. If I had gone into 2 hour I probably would have finished up mid pack and not had the same fierce competition you get when you know exactly what position you are in and who your rivals are. I've also had the experience of things like sprint finishes for the race win, which I wouldn't have gotten in the 2 hour category. After this race I'm heading for sport. I may do the odd Fun race in the future at series where you can drop one round to give me an idea of which category my lap times will make me competitive in. Hope this answers your question!
Si |