It is Sunday morning and, as I write this report from yesterday's race, the rain is lashing against the window relentlessly. The 100km marathon racers will be about half way through their event today and, with the sandy Sherwood Pines forest floor eating away at their bikes, I really feel for them. I have revelled in many a wet race over the years, but it is no fun when you are left with a completely wrecked bike. It appears that this time around the elite racers got off very lightly, enjoying the driest part of the weekend.
The second round of the Trek British Series had a very international flavour to it. A category 1 UCI ranked event, it was great to see that some of the World's finest racers had made the trip to Blighty. We elite women racers are already used to a decidedly international field. In fact, were it not for my Antipodean friends' influence on the women's events for the past few years, we would not have enjoyed much of the excitement and competitiveness that we have. This time around we were joined by World number 5 Mary McConnelog, World number 9 Rosara Joseph and a number of other World Cup regulars including the Slovak National Champ, Cypriot National Champ and Irish Champ. I think this was perhaps the biggest elite women's field that I have seen in a National event, although it felt more like any other international event than a regular NPS.
While fairly flat, the course at Sherwood was certainly more of a mountain bike course as opposed to what I have christened a "gravel racers" course at Thetford. This was the best course I have experienced at this venue and I believe that we have the Potters to thank for that! Most of the circuit was singletrack and there was plenty to keep us occupied. Practically every bend could be used to gain time and the various log hops and jumps, while pretty elementary at a leisurely pace, became much more entertaining when taken flat out. Added to this was the slightly tacky ground, which made two wheel drifting a regular occurrence.
Our race departed the arena at Short Track pace, a spectacle of flailing arms and legs as riders all tried to hang onto Mary and Rosara's wheels. I slotted into position in about 6th or 7th and witnessed riders ahead blowing themselves apart as Mary and Rosara comfortably disappeared into the distance, displaying exactly why they are two of the World's finest riders. Perhaps there was something I hadn't been told about. Had Martyn made an impromptu change and reduced our race to a single lap?! If so, myself and Jenn O'Connor had not been told as both of us were riding with the four lap distance in mind.
With the front pair off and away our group formed as a group of five. After a lap, riders predictably began to run out of puff and drop away. This left a workable group of myself, Jenn and Janka Stevkova. Janka looked full of running but was also expending a lot of energy to cope with the technical challenges. Meanwhile Jenn looked very comfortable and efficient. I seemed to feel better as the laps progressed and, getting increasingly frustrated at not being able to ride the singletrack at the speed I'd like, took advantage of Janka's mistake at the log jump to break away from the group. This was in lap three and for the final lap I rode as hard as I could to maintain my gap and get onto the podium. This was a fun lap as I pushed hard on the technical bits and relied on reflex reactions to get me out of a few moments!
I crossed the line in a safe third spot, a couple of minutes back on Rosara, a good few minutes back on Mary and in front of Jenn and Janka, who took fourth and fifth respectively. I was pretty happy with this and hopefully displayed that, while not one of the World's very best I can certainly mix it with some very able riders from around the globe. It sounds as though Mary and Rosara both liked the course and event. Their presence undoubtedly made the women's race the spectacle of the day and I hope that all the international girls who made the journey here enjoyed the experience and will return for more racing during 2007.