Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Red Kite Summer XC Series Round 1: Summer?!

Star date: 29 May 2013
Location: Coed Trallwm
Event: Red Kite Summer XC Series Round 1
Weapon of choice: Carbon singlespeed with largely unused dropper post and suspension forks
Greatest achievement: Climbing strongly
Greatest weakness: Descending less strongly
Result: 2nd overall / 1st veteran / 1st and only singlespeed

"Expect the course to be fast and furious, not too much climbing"

I left home in glorious sunshine expecting bone dry trails, dust in the air, evening sunshine filtering through the trees - fast, furious summer fun. By the time I got to Coed Trallwm the heavens had opened. While it pretty much cleared up for the actual race, this came on top of heavy rain earlier in the week at a venue that derives its whole appeal from being rough around the edges - no manicured trails here. In other words, conditions picked up where the winter XC series left off: muddy as ****.

This prompted a last-minute change in the course, so we faced not only the monster fireroad climb of old but an extra looser ascent tacked on the top. So much for "not too much climbing"! More disappointing was the turnout of only a dozen riders, split 50/50 between battle-hardened racers and intrepid weekend warriors.

With no mad sprint at the start, I ended up leading the way up the big climb. Remembering how hard this had been towards the end of previous races here, I made a conscious effort to take it easy, but Strava tells me I must have sped up along the way. Probably because the whole time I could hear another rider tight on my rear wheel. This normally only happens when I'm being lapped, so I kept wanting to move over to let him past...

After we hit the very top and started to come back down on a section I've never ridden before, my pursuer came flying by, showing me up for the mincer I am. Part of Coed Trallwm's black trail, it would normally be a fairly straightforward flat-out descent, albeit loose on the turns with some hidden dips and ruts to catch out the unwary, but I found it a real handful in the wet.

This was followed by the most technical section of the course, a short rooty affair familiar from previous races but muddier than ever. More custard than porridge, and with more and more sideways action as the race went on, but thankfully not steep enough to make it scary. However, it finished with a short sharp drop which would be simple enough in the dry, but in the wet... You really needed to keep left and head down in a straight line to be safe, only some dastardly roots at the top did their best to force you right... I got down without a problem on laps 1 and 4; went wide and had to run down on laps 2 and 5; and completely lost it sideways half-way down on lap 3. A fair average in the circumstances.

The rest of the descent was the familiar heavily rutted and bepuddled logging road with gravity constantly urging you to go faster than you or your tyres really wanted to, followed by the usual fun loose switchbacks down to the café, the little stream crossing and then a short new section with tricky low-speed turns which grew squelchier and squelchier as the race went on.

I caught back up with the leader at the top of the climb on lap 2, but again he left me for dead on the descent and that was that. Not knowing who was behind or by how far, I continued to push on as hard as I could to hold onto second. I couldn't see anyone so I knew I just had to keep going - and I did. Unlike in previous races I managed to ride up the big climb fairly comfortably all five times. Really pleased with that.

Descending, it just wasn't happening for me. It's a while since I've dealt with slippery conditions and I never really settled. It was a good test of technique and nerve, though, and with nobody breathing down my neck I was able to take my time and concentrate on relaxing and looking ahead. Strangely I felt more balanced with my newly-repaired dropper post up rather than down. After a few rides with a fixed post, it was strangely comforting to feel something poking around between my legs as I went down...

Got back, cleaned up, had a chat and a curry in the mercifully midge-free café, which warmed me up nicely, and even took home a goody bag with a water bottle and cap. You can never have enough water bottles; shame it rattled itself apart on its first ride...

So... Evening racing? I thought I'd be tired after work but I felt strong. David Thomas, the guy who beat me, is not only young (pah!) but rides in the expert class. I'm sure he could have stepped it up a notch or two, but it's good that I was able to give him a run for his money for as long as I did.

Do it again? Yes, definitely. I loved the laid-back vibe, the course and the café.

When? Difficult to say. It's all a bit "Popstars: The Rivals" at the minute, with Red Kite in Llanwrtyd and Cycle-Tec in Builth both planning mid-week races on the same nights... Which will be Girls Aloud and which will be One True Voice?! (Yes, of course I had to Google it.) Either way I look forward to some fast, furious (flat?) fun with summer sunshine and a decent turnout next time around.

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