Many times I have been asked the question or a derivative of it; which is harder road or cyclocross, running or cycling, rowing or sculling, track running or cross country? The list could go on. As far as single (or one event) moments are concerned it has to be on the road (see this blog from the 2011 Etape Du Tour), but overall it is very difficult to say. And now there is another one to add to the mix; mountain bike racing. It's been at least five years since I raced this discipline. When I started riding I did a few 24 hour mtb races, and generally the longer the event the more available time there is for suffering and digging deep. Although it should never be underestimated how screwed you can get doing a 2k ergo test :)
So onto my recent excursion into the world of mtb with its singletrack, dropoffs and aggressive racing. I didn’t have far to travel yesterday, just 14 miles to Black Park north of Slough for Round one of the Southern League. Good and bad to report. The good; a newly acquired monster of a 29er thanks to Beeline, my legs that were super strong, and my overall enjoyment of the race. The bad, well that happened 2 seconds in!!
Positioned on the 3rd row, I got taken out straight after the gun went, as the rider in front moved suddenly to the right and pushed my front wheel off into the air. I went down hard into the gravel, and for a moment I thought I'd be run over by the 60 strong group behind me. Luckily they all avoided me. I picked myself up, re-engaged my chain and looked up. The sight of the rear of the whole field 50 metres up the track was somewhat disheartening. I knew straight away any possible hope of getting on the podium was now out of the question. I'd just have to play catch up, at least it will be a good workout.
Unfortunately the nature of the course (singletrack with minimal power straights or overtaking possibilities) meant that for the first half of the first lap I was in slow traffic. For a few sections I was literally walking off the bike as the field concertinaed together through the winding narrow paths. There is no point getting upset or angry at this. It's done and there's nothing I could do. Nearing the end of the first lap and I could finally start making amends. I finish the first lap of five, over three minutes down on the leaders.
The remaining 4 laps were much better, my skills over the roots, drops and bumps left a lot to be desired but it was all great fun. On first impression the etiquette was a lot less polite than in the cyclocross world, aggressive overtaking and a distinct lack of courtesy for fellow riders was very apparent. Something I’m sure I’ll get used to. I also witnessed a fair amount of cutting corners. By the last couple of laps riders were ploughing a new course in sections to cut off slow turns. I was not too impressed with that but again if that’s the norm, then so be it.
After 97 minutes or so it was apt that I eventually finished 13th, unlucky yes but clearly room for improvement in round 2. It was my arms and back that suffered the most today, and as I rested up in the back of the van the extent of my altercation with the gravel started to become apparent. My left side was stinging a lot. Back home and I had to jump in the shower still in my skinsuit to try and prize it away from my skin as the wounds had congealed and stuck. Plus the portion of malt loaf that I had up my sleeves had stuck hard as well, nice. Another skinsuit peppered with holes. But as always after a race, good result or bad, I feel I’d earnt a tea and a lie down.
So what is the hardest? Well of course it’s impossible to answer, they are all just different kinds of hurt.
(Images by Kevin Sheldrake)