MTB race taste

Normally sticking everything on a credit card for later worries, I was very good and paid-off a mountain bike with my wages last autumn. Starting out, with not much to spend, a hard-tail was what I was looking at… and if I was going to get a hard-tail I thought I might as well get a 29er (against many jibes from the downhill boys in work). Banter aside, working in a bike shop has the handy benefit of generous discount, so I got myself a sweet Commencal Supernormal 29.2. I immediately swapped the brakes out for Shimano Deore 596s with their easy modulation and servicing. The steering felt a bit weird to me so I also swapped out the bars and stem (680mm + 105mm to 760mm + 60mm respectively). Good move: The bars now look as big as the wheels and it feels like my brain expects it to. I’m ready to beast all these new trails opening up in N.I.

Having ridden around Belvoir and Lady Dixon mostly in deep mud, and practiced a bit of jumping at the Ormeau BMX track I felt ready to join 2 others from work for round 3 of the XMTB spring series in Ormeau Park…. supposedly a ‘fun’ adult race suitable for beginners.

Craig gridding upphoto: thebelgianproject

We got lucky with the weather meaning the course was perfectly dried out (or at least firmed up), which helped prevent my noob skills from being overwhelmed. We started out, and photo evidence puts me 54/59 going into the first corner… it can only get better from there! A nervous procession followed for a lap or two, trying not to crash into those in front or behind. Eventually the pack started thinning and although I made a few overtakes, I should have been a lot more aggressive at this early stage: laps 3-5 saw me stuck for a few minutes at a time behind people going easy on perfectly fast but narrow sections, before I ripped past on the wider straights.

riding through the trees

Getting lapped by the front runners was a nervy experience. They usually wanted past at some difficult section, but I was trying desperately not to crash in front of them which would have held them up even more. Talking of difficult bits, there was a particularly nemes-otic off-camber root on a tight, uphill corner that nearly got me every time, and some other twisty bits that required careful threading with my monster truck. Otherwise, great fun. Plenty of ‘stretch-zone’ as the trainers would advocate: putting the skills under a bit of pressure and pushing the endurance, power bursts, and race tactics. The last few laps I started the old ‘Nicky Grist’… sprouting a co-driver personality to talk me through each move, because rider-Craig was getting sloppy picking lines and late to accelerate out of corners. It kept me focussed, if a little crazy.

52 minutes of hard effort and I managed to finish 28th. Exactly in the middle. I think that’s fair. My friends both finished a bit ahead, denying the ‘dark horse’ bet that was put on me at work. Sorry to disappoint, Soupy!

The run training does have to take priority until the end of June, but I’ve just signed up for the Davagh Enduro in April. It’s 2 weeks before my first 100K so will represent a good effort, but as cross-training to start the taper. Can’t wait to see the new trails up there!

looking through a wide corner

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