I’d heard about the racecourse at Dalby after the World Cup in 2010. First of the “new school” courses, the lap was shorter and more technical than anything before. Since then, other courses have caught up, but it was still the best course I’ve raced on.
All this was reason enough to put the British Series race at Dalby on the calendar. After I’d qualified for the World Cups, it made sense to head over to Europe a week early and get the traveling and jetlag out of my system. The British series race was perfect for that. I flew into London on Thursday morning and met up with Tom Sampson who’d decided to piggyback on my trip. We drove up to Loughborough and stayed with my Brother for a couple of days before the race.
We drove to Dalby on race day and arrived early to get a lap on the course before the start. I loved what we found, and I lined up knowing I could put together a good race. The temperature was also perfect; 10 Celsius (50F is ideal for me. The Dalby course is a little different than most, because the start/finish line is at the top of the hill, and the start throws you straight into a downhill. I was gridded 17th, on the second row. The start “straight” was a sharp left-hand bend straight into the downhill, and with an outside position I was confident of getting off the line well and gaining some places into the singletrack. That didn’t happen. Instead, Jason Boutell who was in front of me snapped his chain on the second pedal stroke and crashed in a pile. I slammed on my brakes, avoided going straight into him, and then played catch up with the people that got a clean start.
Nerdy Bike stuff:
I was riding my 2016 Spark RC. After the pre-ride I upped the fork pressure from 62 psi to 80 psi (I weigh 165 ish pounds at the moment). It’s perverse, but on the smooth US courses softer suspension is better. Dalby had enough drops that I needed a firm surface to push against. I slowed the rebound on my rear shock from middle of the range a couple of clicks. The drops were bigger and not very frequent, meaning a slower rebound was better for this course.
Tire pressure: I normally race at about 22 psi front and rear, but I went up to about 26 rear / 25 front. Low pressure is great when the course is loose and sandy, or really wet, but at Dalby the surface was hard and fast with good traction. This meant a firmer tire held up better through the fast rough sections. I was running 2.2 inch Maxxis Ikon with EXO sidewalls on the SRAM Rise 60 carbon rims. After the race I found that I’d sliced my rear tire at the bead, but it had held pressure and didn’t cause a problem. I’m glad I upped the pressure before the race, as I didn’t notice hitting the rim at any point and still must have flexed the tire enough to slice it.
The first lap went well, and I didn’t get held up much, despite being further back than I would have liked. I started picking people off and had some luck following other riders who were gaining ground. There comes a point in every XC race where the gaps get big enough that you have to start doing the work yourself. By lap three I’d made up the easy passes that I should have gained off the start line, and then had the more difficult job of riding up to people in the top 10.
My bike didn’t feel quite right: mainly the seat height felt odd. I’d just put a dropper post on my bike for the trip to the World Cups, so I assumed the dropper was making me feel weird. I figured out after the race that my seatpost was slipping, and I lost about 2cm of height during the race!
With just over a lap remaining (about 25 minutes) I caught sight of a group ahead. I got a position check coming through the start finish on the last lap, just as I caught the back of that group. I was in 12th. Higher than I had thought. UCI points finished at 10th, and looking ahead, I realised that two of us in the group would be going home without points. I wasn’t going to be left out. I made a distinct effort to get in front on the downhill out of the start, and got a gap immediately. Paul Oldham, a long time pro in the UK, caught me again on the next climb, and it was down to he and I. I felt sure the other two riders wouldn’t come back, but I put in a few short sharp efforts nonetheless. Paul came around me on the final long climb, and I clung to his wheel with the realisation that my seat was indeed now really low. The only thing to do was get out of the saddle. I got ahead of Paul just before the final technical section, and pulled out enough of a gap that I could be confident holding it to the line. I gave it one final sprint to the finish. 9th place, and two UCI points to go with it!
One of my better races – I’m putting it down to a combination of temperature, smaller field size (only 50 racers – although the front of the field was World Cup standard, the field died down a little after the top 20), and also a course that suited me well – no long climbs and a lot of technical sections that I was confident on.
We left Loughborough on Tuesday and drove to Belgium. We spent the night in Namur, and had enough time to ride through the 10th century Citadel that hosts World Cup Cyclocross races. We then walked into the old town centre and ate a good meal accompanied by a proper Belgian Beer. Today (Wednesday) we arrive in Albstadt and start figuring out how to race a World Cup. I’m ranked 145th out of 157 starters – back row!!