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Racing bikes is a non-stop, ongoing battle of learning, remembering and improving. Just when you think you’ve made every preparation possible, there’s quite often a spanner thrown in the works!
The past couple of races have been very unpredictable on my part, here’s how the story goes…
The weekend of round 2 of the British Enduro Series at Dyfi, was one that isn't all too far away from where I live, with the thought of being able to sleep in my own bed over a race weekend was a seriously appealing one. Unfortunately, I picked up a stomach bug on the Friday evening and come Saturday morning, well I won’t go in to details but I was pretty much bed ridden for the majority of the weekend. It’s never a nice feeling to know that your rivals and pals are out there shredding without you, but this time - it just wasn't a possibility for me to hold a pair of bars on what was the most enduring race of the BES calendar. Never mind, onwards to Ireland!
So the weekend post stomach bug, I trucked over to the Enduro World Series in Ireland. Feeling pretty fatigued from the previous few days antics, I made sure to eat well and stay hydrated and realistically set out to enjoy myself as much as possible given the circumstances.
Friday practice was a tough one and for me, it felt like a wakeup call to the world stage again! With 25miles of rough trails and high temperatures, I was looking to just get through the day unscathed.
I succeeded, just about… I took a couple of tumbles, as did many but dead legs and bruised hands aside, looked forward to the Saturday. After a good meal and evening chill-out, Saturday did arrive, with more blue skies and seeming similar trail conditions. This day, was a good day. With the trails suiting my choice of bike far better, I was loving it! It’s not often after several hours of riding that I think, I don't want to stop - but that’s exactly what I thought! I was so ready and gunning for race day.
Sunday, race day… Waking up to slightly overcast skies was a blessing, with 7 gruelling, rocky, rough and blown-out stages ahead, the slightly cooler weather was welcomed. I took a steady approach to stage 1, looking to get the day off to a safe start with a top 70 stage time. Dropping in to stage 2, the worst I feared became a reality with a flat about 10 metres in to the stage. Only being allowed one set of wheels for the event, I decided to stop trailside and repair the flat resulting in a pretty dyer stage time, but one that was beyond my control. With the overall time of the day becoming void having had a flat, I was just looking to lap up the crowds excitement and have fun…
It seemed to work, pulling out of the bag another couple of top 60, top 50 and top 40 stage times for the day.
I always say that providing I ride as well as I can with a minimal amount of silly mistakes, I’m happy. And this weekend, whilst I feel in certain areas I could have ridden a little faster, overall I was happy with my performance and my Orange Five, aside from one flat - rode insanely well all weekend taking the hammer!
The week after the EWS was a tough one, those I have spoken to that raced in the event have been knackered! I think it was easy to underestimate just how much three long, hot days of riding takes it out of you. Unfortunately, it was time to sweep that tiredness under the mat last weekend (22nd May), with the last round of the Welsh Enduro Series arriving at Eastridge.
With a little local pressure on I sprinted out of the gate on stage 1, to be graced by a snapped chain about a third of the way in to the stage… Not the start I was looking for! Fortunately, the “ride the stages as many times as you want” format worked in my favour and I was able to fix the chain and embarked on stage 1 once more. I rode hard and put down a stage win on stage 1, swiftly moving on to stage 2 before the beckoning rain clouds opened up. Putting down a 3rd fastest time on stage 2, I was feeling confident for the day. Time for stage 3 and sods law, the heavens opened not only with rain but pretty big hail stones too!! Knowing the track would get slower by the second due to the rain that had come in, I pushed hard to put in a fast time. Only a third of the way in to the track again, I succumbed to a front puncture and knew that my only opportunity for a fastest time on stage 3 was ruined. Having fitted a new front tyre, I made my way back up the hill for another attempt of stage 3. I set off from the start holding back an all-out sprint in hope of keeping my chain in tact! Despite the rain having effected grip and speed levels, I felt pretty awesome all the way down getting a little out of shape but just having fun! I crossed the line in the same time as the riders who rode the stage in the dry, to say I was chuffed with that is an understatement!
With not a lot of energy left in my legs after having ridden everything more than I’d have liked to due to mechanicals, I decided to call it a day with seeing myself in the lead by just over 2 seconds.
It’s never over until the lady sings, but I was quietly confident knowing that the trails were slower than they had been a couple of hours previously. Until 3pm that was, when the sun shone! Rob Smith, a local to the hill who was sat in second place took the opportunity better his time on the drying stage 3 and low and behold pipped me to the win, by 0.80 seconds overall!!!
To lose a race by so little hurts deeply, knowing that a time difference that small is the difference between one or two pedals strokes… Never mind, that’s racing. The format of the event is more than just the best man wins, with the weather so changeable and the tracks riding differently at different times of the day, it was also a game of tactics. Whilst this being a fantastic way for the lesser serious racers to have a full day of racing against themselves or mates, I still feel a little unsure as to the fairness of the event format when it comes to wanting to win. Anyhow, what a wicked days riding - I loved it all the same and well done to ALL those who survived the 5 hours of racing in such sticky and slippy conditions!
I commend you if you’ve got to this point in my wittering on… And would also like to commend Orange Bikes, Sealskinz, Extra UK, Torq Fitness and VeeTireCo. for the support they continue to give me day in day out. Marginal gains work, and thanks to these guys that margin becomes greater as time moves on.