So after a long season whose main aim was this one race, how did I feel on the start line? The plan was that I arrived at that moment just before the start like a rabid dog ready to kill, but to be honest I felt more like a scared rabbit. I had committed fully to this moment over the last four months....almost living like a hermit, employing a strict regime with regards to diet and avoiding illness and adopting a crude variation of Team Sky's marginal gains techniques. It's not the Tour de France or the Olympics and I'm far from a pro athlete but while there's still time I want to get the most out of myself. Avoiding illness for such a long period means amongst other things a lot of onion sniffing and avoiding contact with people as much as possible, hence the hermit analogy. Christmas was spent racing and resting, no alcohol or socialising. 4 races in 8 days was a heavy schedule on top of the 22 races already under my belt and with 6 days to go before the National the race at Derby was somewhat under par. But the plan was to peak at Bradford, other races would be executed with heavy legs, I just had to relax and trust the plan.
I had never been to the Bradford course before, the You Tube footage and other riders comments about it had not helped my nerves. We arrived the day before and I rode 7 laps to bed the corners into my mind. Technical sections were always my downfall but I am improving. While on the course I got chatting to another rider who just happened to be the course designer. He was riding specific sections to test out his work. There was one point that worried me, a slippery, rutted off camber section. My initial passes at it were lame and ended up slipping and losing a lot of speed. Then I saw how he tackled it....fast, using speed to get through and one leg out to balance and control the bike. So I tried it and although feeling out of control it worked, you just have to fully commit and be brave. It was kind of a turning point as I realised my handling skills had finally improved enough to take these turns at some pace. The other side of the course had a downhill left hander followed by a uphill. Previously I would be braking hard into the corner but now I attacked it full throttle and used the turning, sliding of the bike to naturally reduce the speed and I ended up with much more speed out the other side. Almost a eureka moment, it's taken awhile but I've become a competent cross rider. That night while in the dark in bed I go through the course in my head, how I attack to corners and how I commit to the technical sections. My legs are twitching and kicking Davina, she knows I'm a bit bonkers, so says nothing.
Race day arrives and we are at the course 6 hours before the start of my race! There are other races throughout the day so training on the course is limited but I manage another 5 laps before the course is closed for the first race. Feeling ready, I chill out for a few hours but with 30 minutes to go my 2nd bike seemed to have gears problems, I quickly try and find someone to help. Luckily Andy from Cotswold Veldrijden knows his stuff and fixes the problem. So it's up to the start line and time to get aggressive. Unfortunately my lack of experience made me look like a bit of a clown as once called to the front row, I had to lie my bike on the floor and wrestle with myself trying to remove my leggings. I then decided to swap gloves and throw a pair at Davina. She throws the other pair back but her throw is woefully shy and they just smack into defending champion Jim Bryan.. The mood is lightened even more as Greg Simcock picks up on my no sock strategy, a rarity apparently in cyclocross!
Soon the serious business of the day begins and my start is good, within a lap, 3 of us are away and clear. My realistic aim today was the top 6, Nick Craig/Darren Atkins fighting for the title, Andy Peace/Ian Taylor scrapping for the podium and a bunch of 3/4 of us trying to pick up the pieces. So to have a gap on 4th was a dream start. I look back and all the riders I've been up against all season are there, I know one mistake or mechnical and I'd be swamped. It's taken a big effort early on to get in this position and when I hear the commentator say 'we're now 14 minutes into the race.....", I think shit,is that all? I'm shattered. Craig is away and clear, as I stick to Atkins. On a switchback I see Ian Taylor is clear in 4th trying to get back to us, I overtake Atkins to push the pace on and say to him "together, I'd love 3rd". Now this may seem slightly defeatist, almost relinquishing the fight for 2nd but it was a tactical step to try and secure a place on the podium. Two riders working together makes it very difficult for a solo man chasing. Anyway 2nd or 3rd makes no difference to me but 4th would now be dissappointing given how well the first half of the race has gone. So at any of the power sections I nail it as hard as I can and my new found skills mean I'm actually matching Darren on the technical stuff. Into the second half and the gap behind seems to be increasing. Craig and Atkins both swap bikes, I decide not too, it's not clogging up and feels smooth.
The last lap although painful was an absolute joy, racing alongside someone as good as Atkins so long into the race was thrilling. He pips me to the line but I couldn't be happier. Lungs and legs in trouble and I hit the deck after the line, and for a few minutes I was an emotional and physical wreck. But Davina is there, we worked so hard for the previous four months for this moment, happy days.