Words by #TeamRutland member Lee Hopkinson
2019 HSBC National XC MTB Championships
The 2019 HSBC UK National XC MTB championship were held at Cannock Chase on 20th/21st July. I had entered in the Vets category which is for the 40-49 year olds.
The venue had been used for Round 3 of the national points series earlier in the year in May, but I didn't race then and unfortunately it's a venue that I am not familiar with. The Championships starts with the non-ranking races of the Fun & Sport classes on the Saturday, as well as there being an opportunity to pre-walk or ride the course for those racing on the Sunday, ideal for those who live close or who are camping.
On Sunday there is a course practice 7:45 - 8:45 before the races for the junior classes start at 9am, and a second practice session 10:00-10:35 before the �main event�. Whilst a race is in progress, practice is not allowed - for safety reasons and to not hinder the competitors. The second batch of races start at 10:45 and these include the following classes: Masters (30-39), Vets (my class), Grand vets (50-59) Super Vets (60+). Each age group starts at 3-minute intervals, and from checking the entry line up there were 144 riders on the track once all classes had begun.
I had completed all the bike prep the day before so I could arrive ready to ride the first practice session at 7:45, allowing more practice track time if needed at the second session. The alarm was set bright and early for 5:15, allowing for final packing time ready to leave for 5:45 and the 2 hr journey.
Waking on the Sunday with a sore throat and swollen glands was not the best start I could have wished for! I was in two minds as to whether I should race, but as this was the National Championships the pinnacle race of the season and being armed with the Trek Procaliber 9.8 all thanks to #TeamRutland, not going was not an option!
When I arrived at the venue for 7:30; many riders were already there from camping the night before. First off you need to sign on - you cannot go on the course until this is done. Here you hand in your race licence and collect your race number and timing chip (which is an ankle strap) and the race number must be displayed on your bike before you allowed on the course. When you have finished you then have to hand back your timing chip to get your licence returned.
The vets race numbers are from 400 and the number you are given is based on the ranking points from British Cycling from previous races through the season; the number also gives you your grid position. This year I was #437. Having attached my race number I was ready to head out for my practice laps, only to find out that the Sunday schedule was running behind by 30 minutes, allowing for some extra warm up time. It only took 5 minutes of practice time to realise that this was one of the toughest courses I had been on (maybe not that surprising for a Championship!) and the cold that I had was not going to help.
The course was 3.4 miles with 300ft of climbing. Its design was very tight and twisty with lots of off-cambers & roots as well as lots of short sharp climbs which did not allow for much recovery time. There were a couple of sections that had an A& B line, the B line will be longer but not as technical. One such section was called the Rock Garden and I decided to practice both lines so that I keep my options open especially on the first lap when it can be quite congested.
After my practice laps I still wasn't feeling particularly well, so decided to rest up and wait for the race rather than have a second practice. The Vets race had now been pushed back until 11:15, I left my 30 minutes warm up (not on track) until 10:35 allowing me to get to the gridding call in plenty of time. I was gridded on the 2nd row from the back (37th out of 46), the Masters race lined up first, then us Vets and followed by the Grand & Super Vets. The start of any XC race is frantic with riders jostling for position before the single track, this was no exception with 20 of the best riders in front of you!
From the start I managed to hook on the wheel of the gridded rider in front of me which allowed me to gain around 6 places. On entering the single track I was in a bunch of around 5 riders and gapping those behind. Unfortunately, once I was into the climbs, which offered very little rest time in between, I started to feel the effects of my cold, which meant I was going into the red (high heart rate) and not being able to recover, so I had reduce my pace resulting in losing touch with those in front. By the end of the first lap I had lost around 3 places. On the 2nd lap I was trying to conserve as much energy as well as trying to stay competitive, but due to how I was feeling this was becoming more and more difficult, and by the end of the 2nd lap I had nothing left in my legs. With the knowledge of having to do another 5/6 laps and not wanting to do myself any longer-term harm I decided to stop. This meant I did not finish (DNF), which unsurprisingly I wasn't happy about!
In hindsight I shouldn't have raced with how I was feeling, but I wouldn't have been happy not to have gone! Now its time to recover and get back to my goals for the remainder of the year.
Happy Riding guys.See Lee's bike of choice here!
I have been riding bikes since the mid-seventies. Starting out on a Raleigh Budgie with stabilisers, progressing through many bikes including a Raleigh Strika and BMX Raleigh Burner to my first mountain bike in 1988. I initially started out using the mountain bike as part of my training for Motocross which I had been racing since the age of 6. Due to family issues at the age of 20, I decided to stop racing Motocross so needed something to fill the void which it had left and XC mountain biking racing fitted the bill perfectly. So, after many, many bikes (just ask the wife!) and travelling across the UK for the last 26 years, I am still competing (well trying to) in the ultra-competitive class of the Vets - those who really should really know better, but hey it goes to show age is just a number!
Apart from the racing side, I just love to get and out ride, anything from commutes to work or midweek social rides. My goals for this year are to continue to race, this will be in the Southern series, Eastern series, selected Nationals and the local Friday Night Summer series, I also plan to do the following supportive rides, Summer Solstice 100 miles, Leatherheadz 3 Shires ride and the Numplumz marathon. Last year I managed to ride just under 5000 miles so need to beat that this year! I also look forward to finding new routes in the countryside we are blessed to have around Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, so will hopefully see some of you out and about!