Sunday, December 06, 2015

North of England Championships 2015 - Heaton Park, Manchester

Whatever I was on this weekend, I need to bottle it.

I had a half-day on Friday.  Not at work, that was 11 hours long, a day and a half.  No, I rode to work but Andrew came out and picked me up in the car.  By the time I was ready to come home it was blowing a gale and I had armfulls of stuff to bring home.

On Saturday I had a relaxing day (so to speak) and then went swimming - an easy set to get back into it.  I was ready to race on Sunday and as the fourth storm in as many weeks subsided, I knew the rain would see it become my kind of course.  I was looking forwards to it as long as the wind dropped as expected.

Right on time with the weather forecast I finished changing my clothes and eating pre-race nutrition and made the decision to leave my rain coat behind.

None of us got a lap in before the start.  The races had already started to bunch together as bikes fell victim to the conditions and riders made the long walk of shame to the finish line with broken chains and derailleurs.  It was a long walk.  The lap was taking  14 minutes to ride.

I gridded behind Alison Kinloch.  I'm pretty sure I do better off a second row grid it regulates my over-exuberant starts to something my lungs can cope with and saves me sinking too deeply into oxygen debt which I spend the rest of the race recovering from.

Again I couldnt' hang on to the front wheels and Juliet Horrocks and I got tangled up with riders switching lines willy-nilly.  We fought our way around the open field - the flattest part of the course and onto the finishing straight for the first time.

The course then dipped onto a small hillside only around 5-10 m high and zigzagged up and down.  I found my self the tasty filling in a Horrocks / Mellor sandwich that was being squeezed around a tree so, rather than get embroiled in balancing on my bike, I jumped off, sprinted between the two then got back on when clear.

One descent then a hop over some uphill hurdles and I jumped back on again in the only place I thought I might have wanted to choose to run.  I slithered cross the off-camber hill and rode out of it again, catching up two old team mates, Alan Shuttleworth and Roy Blow, both with 2 minutes lead on me in the vet 50s race.  After a bit of banter with Alan I had to learn about what was coming in the woods which I hadn't even looked at yet.

Thankfully I had left 30 psi in my tyres and didn't have to worry too much about tree roots.  I passed two more women on a steep running climb - knowing I would need to get off but riding as much as I could before I did.  I had the strength and DB (the bike) had the grip for us to ride out of the woods and past the pits where TSK gave me strict instructions to stick with the two rivals who came back past me.

I did as I was told and we hit a series of short up and down slopes along a bank no more than 1 m high.  I rode what I could (mostly to rest my legs on the downhills) and ran the remainder.  We were all together at the end though I did get past one rider who jumped on too soon.  The other rode out ahead on a better line.

The open field slowed me down again but by the time we had reached the hillside I was fighting back and I faintly thought that (for once) my breathing felt less laboured than the other person.  Slight differences in decision-making put me ahead of coming into the woods and with every hint of an attack I managed to find a bit of extra strength to block a gap.  I fought it all the way through the woods and we were together again going up and down the woody bank.  A few times the other rider passed me on every downhill, when she got in my way I used it as an excuse to get my breath back.

I was gutted for Alison Kinloch who I passed running through the field with some mechanical issues.  She would have been in second place and was now scratching around with me.  She was also a long way from a fresh bike.

Onto the final lap and as we hit the off-camber section of the hillside I made the decision to ride what my competition was running.  I know I could ride it along the tape but that was where she was.  I had to ride 6-8 inches higher and as I drew along side my brain realised, "shit, you're committed, you've got to ride this".  It was either going to work an save me energy or it was going to go horribly wrong and cost me a place - maybe two.

Somehow it worked.  I held my line, the wheels stuck to the mud and I sailed past.  Already on my bike, I was instantly faster onto the field past the pits and into the woods.  Shit there were three of us.  Shit this was going to hurt.

The younger rider shot past me.  A really good effort from her but I could hear her breathing.  Then the runner came past me on the first of the uphill slopes.

I freewheeled the downhill and was above her, running around the tree.  I jumped on again, picked a line and stamped on it.  Past one.

I took as much speed as possible off a road crossing and carried the momentum onto the next descent before shouldering the bike on what I anticipated to be a long run. The climb and mud-bath after it had become less and less rideable all race and my competition decided to try riding it.  I left her to grind to a halt and swear as she climbed off her bike again.  In the meantime I sprinted as fast as I could, had a short ride before another planned dismount and only really got back on again when I knew that things were absolutely going to roll past under my tyres.

From there, it was riding as fast as physically possible.  If either of them had been anywhere near me they could have had a chance of catching me on the flat open field.  I had already burned a match or two running in the mud.  However, the only person to pass me was an early finisher, lapping me in the men's race.  Still, I didn't dare slow up or look behind me.

I crossed the line bloody exhausted and a little bemused as to what had just happened.  Most people I usually race with were some way behind though I put this down to the fact that neither Juliet or Rachel Mellor have raced for a while.  I couldn't actually think of many people in front of me.

Dad was super excited.  In the end there were only three veteran women ahead of me and I was ninth woman overall.

For a while we watched the men race into the dusk, before retreating to Sheffield to wash bikes and people before bed time.

The North of England champs is one of my favourite events and this year it was really special.  A good placing combined with a battle with two women 20 years younger than me and a little bit of home-turf glory.

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