Bike Station: Wickwar MTB XC Race

Variety is the spice of life!

It was only a week ago that I was competing in a Welsh Gravity Enduro race, where it was a pretty chilled affair apart from the timed downhill runs. Now to the other end of the scale, a new British Cycling MTB Cross Country race hosted by the Bike Station. It was 4 laps of a 3.8km course and go as fast as you possibly can. There’s a switch from baggies to Lycra, trail bike (Cannondale Habit SE) to XC beast (Specialized Epic FSR Comp 29er with Fox 32’s) and mass start instead of trail to yourself, all in the name of fun on bikes!

The previous evening, I was not super psyched for this race, though I decided to go for a quick blast along the canal and river path to get me into the XC side of life. The fact that it was fireworks night evening completely passed me by, so I caught a few displays on my way round, some made me actually jump, very loud and really close! Got back and watched the neighbours little show from my garden until I got too cold and then curled up on the sofa with a big bowl of pasta (carb loading is still the done thing I hope!) and a cheeky glass of wine (gotta be done on fireworks night!).

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The view before the racers rocked up, frosty yet beautiful

I haven’t really been doing the training thing lately, just going out for a play now and then.  If I had, I may have found this slightly easier, but to be honest I’m not sure that would have helped with the course conditions! I could have ridden Cwmcarn several times and would not have met the issues I faced as I headed out for a recce of the course!

On the day it was glorious sunshine, but deceptively cold, so took a few wardrobe choices for the day. A 40 minute journey over to Wickwar, where the event was being held.

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Gorgeous day, but really cold!

What’s the course like?

Short, but mighty is what I will call it, having a bit of everything to keep it interesting. It started with a slippy gully, with cheeky ruts to catch you out, leading into a couple of corners with firstly some rocks to avoid then a couple of laggy puddles that my bike made a bee line into! It then swooped up short yet slippy climbs then into little descents that were quite steep and heading into slippy corners (foot out, just in case!). Then a grassy, muddy climb, which I didn’t even attempt to ride up as I knew running/walking it would be quicker than spinning/slipping up it. It was going alright so far, but I discovered the worst was yet to come.

It was here near marshal 3 on the map below that the mud was beginning to build up, turning my Specialized Fast Track into a slick, mud tyre with no grip at all. Getting any traction was now novel and control was slightly unpredictable. A blast along a grassy section led to a short descent to a river crossing! That water was going to be cold and didn’t fancy getting soaked before the race had started, so did a bit of ratcheting of the pedals to keep moving but not dipping them in, might have been nice if this was in the summer! It didn’t even get rid of any of the mud, just made it even more claggy (that was the word of the day!)

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Yep, it went this way and that way!

After this there was a now wet climb up and over an embedded tyre (bit random) and then further up to continue up following the fence line. This led to a climb around rocky a left hand bend out on to the open part of the course. Discovered earlier that this is also used for motocross and we were heading onto part of their tracks. This is where it got tougher, a grass climb to start (slippy) then onto a muddy, bumpy descent (not too bad) but I was collecting mud like it was going out of fashion! It climbed again slightly shorter this time, but still tough (walked up this to save my legs), my bike was getting heavier and heavier. Another little descent and then a grassy traverse where my chain came off. This was definitely  down to the amount of clay like mud everywhere. It was then another grassy climb, one last muddy yet short descent where usually mud flies off, not here though, more was getting attracted to the bike. This made the last steady climb ridiculous, I started to ride, but then the rear wheel had so much resistance that it was hardly going round. I didn’t need to ride it so walked up, chucking mud balls off when the rear wheel stopped spinning! I could only laugh at the state of my bike after one little loop!

This lap did not fill me with confidence or a sense of ‘this is going to be fun’ it was more of, if I go around again what is going to break on my bike due to the mud, where am I going to fall off and why on earth am I doing this. I could have had a lye in and a chilled Sunday or joined the MTB Divas, who were riding at Afan, but no, I decided to go to a random field and take part in an XC race, which I have not trained for or now look forward to, but hey ho I’m not going to quit before it’s even started! It took nearly 25 minutes to plod around the course, strava route to show my chilled time!

Race Prep or something

Now, what I would see as the norm after a practice loop, is pop a jacket on, have a cup of tea, check the time and go for a warm up spin before heading to the start line. Not this time, the recce loop was earlier, which meant there was about an hour. This was filled up mostly with trying to clear away the bike of mud from the drive train and tyres, it was like glue. I took off the front mud guard to help with a little bit more clearance as no mud was flicking up at me, just sticking to the bike.

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Mud slicks, why have they not created this tyre!

It was also about 5ºC so it was quite hard to stay warm even with the sun shining down on us and I had no hot flask of tea to enjoy either (note for next time). There was no rush to take the layer off, we waited to the last minute, to the point that the organisers had to come round to say it was time to head to the start line. Oo, it was chilly! I had a few swigs from a can of coke and a few jelly babies to get me going as I was unsure where I was going to take anything else on during the race, so started fuelled by sugar and hoped it would last!

4 Laps and it’ll be over…miss positivity!

After the recce loop and the chilly wait, motivation levels had dwindled as well as my temperature, but headed to the start line to meet the other 2 hardy ladies who were racing with me. We were all pretty relaxed and even mentioned that as long as we all complete it we will all get on the podium, we’re just racing for which step! Ah well, women racing is still not to the level of the guys, but maybe it will get there one day, who knows…seems to be working in road cycling, so why not mountain biking too?

The 3 of us waited as we watched the Elite men set off, then the Expert, then the Open and Sport guys. Getting singled out just a little here, but hey it was now are ‘mass start’, what a giggle! We set off, I did get in front after the initial sprint, but knew I was super cautious down the first section and was getting a bit out of control as I made my way down. It was on the second short up and then short down that I got a slide on and came off the track rolling to a halt just before a bramble bush. It took a moment to unwrap my bike from the bramble as Emily took the lead and sped off. I got back on, but now could stick at my pace, I think I prefer to be the chaser maybe?!?. I’ve learned that I can’t sustain it if I set off too fast and there’s pressure being at the front to keep it up, not sure I could have done, probably would have just crashed again! From there on in it was just about getting round with no more offs, thank you very much!

After over taking a few of the guys in the sport/open category I was pleasantly surprised at how the course was already improving since earlier, only a slick layer of mud on the tyre, not excessive amounts. It took me most of this first loop to warm back up again and get the legs working properly and settle into my pace.The first lap was done, comfortably in second with no clue how far behind I was, but just kept pedalling. The second loop was a little better, getting used to the track now, though there was still a few slips and slides along the way to keep me on my toes. I decided on a couple of sections that for me it was quicker to run up them instead of attempt to cycle and go no where fast. It was nice to know that the laps were pretty short, so no climb or slippy section lasted that long. It was then back round for lap 3, feeling ok, but knew I needed to take on some drink soon. I caught up with another chap and followed him on the single track just to watch him stylishly do a 180 and come to a halt just before he was going to slide into the river, close call. Checked he was alright and then cracked on. On the next climb I went for a much needed drink as I ran half heartedly up the hill, still needed to do more of that drinking thing, but the course had no let up!

It was then on the next climb that I spotted Emily up ahead, off the bike and fixing a puncture. You never know when the unfortunate loss of air will strike, but as harsh as it is, the race must go on and I actually thought she had just fixed it as I was passing, but apparently not. It felt mean riding past as she was leading with a good gap by the look of it (nice riding Emily), but I was now just warming up to the course and legs were feeling ok so carried on, looking over my shoulder expecting her to be right back on my tail.

It was the last lap and the course now and it seemed to have got quieter, guessing that the top guys had finished as they started a good 10 mins in front of us and I believe some were doing fewer laps, so it just meant there was a handful left out on the course. I knew now I could just keep a steady pace, not do anything silly and I would be home and dry (apart from going through the water splash!). The track was running really well now and I could have gone again, but quite happy to finish with a smile on my face and dry, but not warm feet (Sealskinz, keep my feet dry, but still not warm!). Here’s the Strava proof of the race, click here.

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The mud really sets off the sexy Fox 32’s, love this bike!

After a little spin around getting my heart rate to something a little normal, I nipped to the van and got a jacket and the trusty MTB Marathon Big Bobble Hat (there was a few spotted here!) and headed back over to the finish to wait for the other 2 to come in. It’s amazing when the temperature is not that high how quickly you can get cold again. They went through some of the guys podiums and whilst Emily got changed into something warmer, Lynne successfully finished the course and deservedly got to stand on the 3rd place step on the podium. 3 ladies showed up, 3 ladies got a small, but appreciated round of applause just before everyone left, such fun! A great wee event that with a bit more promotion could attract a few more keen bikers of all levels from the area, but it is a toughie so may not be for everyone. The results and info of the event are found on the British Cycling website. I think there will be a video of the shenanigans up at some point too!

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We all look so smily, all good fun, well done to us all!

I believe if the header of this blog suggests, there is to be another round of this, in January, but it’s a ‘watch this space‘ kind of dealio. I will be paying attention to the weather and conditions as to what tyres may be the best for the track, not sure it will be any better than it was for this race, but possibly a little slipper. I’m thinking narrow spiked tyres, just because it would look pretty cool!

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Gonna be fun getting this mud off…trophy stuck in the mud!

All in all it was a cracking day out to spend in a field, there was a mobile burger van, but had no cash to take them up on the much needed post ride warm up brew, though I think they had left at that point anyway! My tip for this race is take cash, bring wellies and spare warm layers and even another bike to do the pre race loop, so your race steed can look all clean on the start line! The last one may be taking it too seriously and you have to have 2 bikes to be able to do that!

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The aftermath of a mud filled race, mud glorious mud, still waiting to be cleaned!

I need to get back on it as I have  the first round of the Gorrick Winter Brass Monkeys Enduro series, a 4 hour race at the end of November to train for. It helps me to have an event to add purpose to the riding I do, but a training buddy would be handy too, someone who will get me out on the day I don’t want to and push me a bit further as just now I am going at whatever time, speed or distance  I fancy, not that consistent, progressive or effective really. I need a push and shove to get me going further and faster…know anyone?

I hope everyone is still getting out for some rides even though the evenings are drawing in and the temperature is dropping, but don’t let that stop you. You know you will love it when you’re out there…most of the time any way!

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