British Universities Championships, Ae forest, Scotland

After a winter of dissertations, coursework and exams, I wasn’t sure I was ready to be racing yet, but such is life and on a cold thursday afternoon in March 18 of us from the University of Bath loaded into a minibus and made the long, slow journey northwards. After the first wrong turn, there wasnt much hope that we were going to find the camping barn we’d booked up, but with a bit of luck and a dabble of judgement we made it to our destination – Craigsheilds outdoor centre (yes, it is just a barn)

On the Friday, we awoke to a slightly chilly, but beautifully sunny scottish day, and even though we had a race to think about, we couldnt resist going for a proper ride. 25kms later and lots of singletrack accomplished, I was pretty glad that I hadnt sat around all day. The red route at Ae forest isn’t the best in the world but after a winter of riding around Bath in the mud and rain, it felt almost as good as the 401 trail in crested butte! I’d forgotten how green scotland is too – the forst floor is completely coated with moss. By the time saturday came around I thought I should start concentrating on the race. The course designers had done a pretty good job of excluding all the fun bits from the race, so we were left with an 8km loop, at least 5km of which was on fire road or flat gravel paths. not the best. the singletrack downhill was fun with some tricky corners that I was sure I could gain some time on. unfortunately it led straight into a swamp to get back to the finish. I did two laps of the course and my legs felt pretty heavy. something about preriding that my body always feels terrible. I went back to the barn and ate a good load of pasta to get the energy up. I has set myself a personal goal of top 5, however with at least 6 elite cat riders in the field, it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew that a lot of guys had dedicated their winter to the upcoming season, and with my lack of training I could have been thrown out the back. A few encouraging performance tests back in Bath were the only proof I had that I could stick it.

Sunday came around and as usual getting ready for a race is so much work in itself. Luckily I had recruited a good friend to do my bottles, which on a 6 lap race was going to be essential. My head was all over the place on the morning, and my warm up was severely restricted as a result. I managed to get to the start line without my timing chip, so had to sprint back to the minibus and pick it up. I arrived on the grid out of breathe, but luckily the race went off a bit late. John Whittington was ranked our number 1 rider, which put me in the second group of riders; at least 40 people to get past before the racing even began, and since all the people I wanted to beat were on the front row I had my work cut out. The start was a bottleneck and gave the leaders a good minute at least on me. there wasnt much chance of picking up a fast train, so I worked hard on the first two laps to get into the top 10. from here on it was progressively easier; as I kept on pedalling other people had some impressive fireworks and I didnt have to work any harder to gain another 4 spots. It was a good job too because I was working at the limit of blowing up. Obviously I had done better base miles than some people, but still not enough to stick with the elites. I ended up finishing in 6th place; one down on my goal but reasonably happy.

The team did pretty good too; John had high hopes of a gold medal, but it wasnt to be and he came home a dissapointed 4th, 3.5 minutes ahead of me. Trevor has been training really hard all winter and battled past at least 60 riders from his 3rd row gridding to take 11th place. The newest member of the team, Liam, came home in 16th too, proving he’s got a lot of potential for the future; pro peloton watch out!

Overall, Bath won Team XC and Team DH for the men, and Silver XC for the women. Not a bad weekend at together!