Novice Racer

This was the first mtb race of my season, in fact, it was the first mtb race of my life, and it may well be my last. I had spent the previous week on bike choice and foolishly harboured the idea that an orange Nomad would give me an advantage on a technical course. In case this was unfounded, I had tried my 2003 Marin East Peak and although this was lighter on the climbs the Rockshox Pilot fork was the main weakness. A generous offer of a Blur LT seemed the sensible option and a comparison run or two over bridleways and a little off-piste illuminated the advantages of the VPP counter rotating links over a standard four bar configuration.
On this spring day, it seemed lovely and warm arriving at 10 a.m. and after a change of tyres and a puncture repair, I set ready for a practice lap.
Unfortunately, time was against me so I rolled around the field for a warm up before heading to the start line. A familiarity lap was probably unnecessary as the course would be clearly marked and I could take the first lap easy before powering through the last three laps finishing with a sprint to the line. Good plan that.
At the line, Mike was waiting on his Orange. Prudence said start slow and try to ride evenly paced and then the gun went and so did Mike. I had never seen that Orange go so fast and it was the last I saw of him for quite some time.
Using a heart monitor to ensure I would last four laps, I had determined an upper limit of 170 as a maximum so I immediately went to 180. I was in last place and I do not mean just behind a line of riders I mean ten metres behind after only one hundred metres. Unless Lance Armstrong’s old Motorola team were in disguise as a bunch of middle-aged men then it seemed a few people had started too quickly.
After a few minutes, I began to catch a few riders and as their adrenaline surge ended, the pace in front began to fade. I made progress through a few riders until a few of us missed a turn and we went the wrong way. At the road, we turned around and retraced out steps. We were last and a long way back now. Our race was over for the day and in the first lap so maybe a familiarity lap would have been better or even a few signs that said “Stop, not race route” for us race novices.
I spoke to several people on the way around and rode along with one of my fellow detourers who had the best encouragement of the day when several little people called “come on Grandad!” on every lap.
I also tagged along with one of the Southdown girls for a bit before she eventually pulled away as youth exerted its advantage.
My favourite bike of the day was not any of the lightweight carbon race machines but a Specialized in bright orange. Can’t think why exactly…
I was still running at 9mph according to my Garmin Gps readout and was remaining within my 170 heart rate limit but I could feel the hills and the heat were beginning to pay.
A few cheers at the start/finish line helped immeasurably but my legs had no zing after lap two.
So overall, would I recommend it to you? Perhaps, but only if you like racing your riding friends and you do not mind it hurting a bit.
I did learn that the advantage of a lightweight hardtail on the climbs offsets the lack of suspension in other areas; that weather conditions may be the most important factor as although the heat punished everyone the older and the least fit seemed to suffer disproportionately.
As for times and positions  Alec’s 2:41 was the best race time. Samantha Bryant who rode with some of us in Whiteways last year won the girl’s race and was second in the boys! However, the best point made to me was by Kim Bang Sorensen riding in his Sussex-mtb jersey when he said that Ian Petherbridge had won his group easily, with an improved margin from last year, in 2:12. Kim’s own 2:38 put him in second place again but the fact he pointed out his rival’s achievement rather than his own was a generous touch.
As for my own lowly 16th, I learned that Father Time has caught and well and truly passed me.

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