Following my comfortable 2nd placings in the VTT Departmentals and the Regionals I was really looking forward to the VTT Nationals. I had great form, and was up for some pain. I was 7th last year, and reckoned I could do better. However, it just wasn’t to be. With two weeks to go I started with a sore throat, which developed into a nasty cough. At it’s worst I was hacking up huge frogs, had a rash on my back and face, and felt shite. I stopped riding my bike completely.
A little under two weeks later I’m feeling much better, and trying to decide whether I can actually do the Nationals. I know I’m not fully recovered, and I’m still hacking stuff up, but after a few test efforts on the road bike, and with three days left, I decide to go. Meanwhile Carla is still recovering from her crash. She still has a very sore hand. I tell her we’ll strap it up, she’ll be fine – it’s OK I said it with fingers crossed. She knows that.
7 hours in the car in heavy rain, and we’re wondering if we made the right decision. As we arrive at the race venue in Doullens the rain stops, and the sky clears. It looks very muddy, kind of like how we were expecting the Somme to be. We try and ride a practice lap, but after 500 meters we give up. It’s that bad!
Next day, race day, we’re there early, tyres changed and ready to go. We watch the Vet A (40 – 50 yrs) race. The bikes are coming around clean! The mud has turned to something like plasticine. As the race finishes I tag onto the back for a practice lap. It’s a little soft in places, but it’s a fabulous circuit, getting dryer and faster by the minute in the warm sun and drying wind.
I’m placed in the third line on the grid. Not too bad, there’s plenty of places to move up before the first bottleneck. I get a good start, my legs feel great, I’m passing riders easily. By the time we hit the first singletrack I must have moved up 20 places. I’m thinking if I can keep going like this I’ll do well.
Down the first descent, powering away into the woods I’m feeling strong, but as the effort intensifies I’m struggling, I’m just breathless. I hang on for the first lap. I’m starting to hack some stuff off my chest, it feels raw, my legs have turned to jelly. It’s looking like I ain’t gonna do well after all. I switch to survival mode, and just try to hold my position. If I back off a little maybe I’ll recover.
Things go from bad to worse. There’s riders passing me left and right. My Haute Vienne team mates start to pass me. First three riders for each department count towards the team score. By the start of the last lap I’m 5th! I could pull out, but decide to take my beating. I cross the line 53rd out of 86 finishers. A Cat’s Arse Trophy! (catastrophe).
Later that day Carla shows me how it’s done. She does a brilliant ride to take 8th place in her race, and a silver medal in the team prize. She really looked good when she was racing, very strong and very focused.
That night we celebrated with a restaurant meal. Next day we watched some of the other categories racing. In the end the Haute Vienne took second place overall.
Thanks to – Everyone at Doullens for putting on a great event. It really was one of the best mountain bike circuits I’ve ever raced on. All the spectators and supporters for creating such super racing ambiance. Francis, Brigitte, and Jean-Claude for all their hard work getting the team there. All my Haute Vienne team mates for their support, understanding, and good-natured leg pulling.
It was a truly great weekend even with a duff ride. It was just great to be a part of it. The Somme really is a beautiful area of France. If you’re ever passing that way I recommend it to you.