'Everybody Hurts' - Southern XC Perham Down

When you're racing a Mountain Bike event it is probably fair to say that "Everybody Hurts Sometimes" as the REM track goes; however after Sunday's Southern XC race at Perham Down in Wiltshire, I reckon I probably hurt more than most, as a consequence of two pretty major crashes and a very hard, but largely unsuccessful effort in an attempt to get back into the main pack.

When you arrive at a venue and there is an air ambulance sat in the car park it normally means the course is a hard one; in fact there were two broken collarbones before I had even started my race, as the junior and open categories demonstrated some carnage around the course.
On the pre-race warm up lap Sean Williams, Jamie Brett and I rode the course and confirmed that it was indeed challenging but great: a mix of short sharp climbs, dusty descents, chalky drops and weaving single track. Once again my single track inability was showing even on the practice lap as I seemed to fall a bit behind Sean and Jamie every time we got into the woods. I knew that in the race itself I was going to have to put some serious effort in on the hills in an attempt to hold a decent position through the single-track.

The Race
The start wasn't that full on - more my kind of riding; gradually building up to pace; I stuck with the main pack through the first section of single-track and seemed to be feeling all right, with Jamie just a few riders back.
On the first grassy climb I picked up quite a few places, easily moving into the top 7 or 8 riders. As I had thought -I was just going to have to hang on in the single-track and pick up the places on the climbs - fair enough, I could deal with that.
However the single track posed more of a problem that I imagined - during the Island Games I had managed to counter my lack of single-track practice by riding the tricky sections of the course numerous times before the race; but after just one practice lap on this circuit, my weakness in Mtb handling ability in these twisty narrow sections began to show. I lost a few places in the first section of woods, but then regained them on a fire-road section.
It was in the second section of woods though that the proverbial s**t really hit the fan. I clipped a tree with my handlebars and came down hard on my hip, nothing major but it knocked my rhythm and quite a few riders came streaming past.

Remounting and cursing under my breath at my poor performance I rode on. I took a few riders back on the next few uphill sections of the lap and really enjoyed the dusty down-hills and technical sweeping sections of the course.
But it was while enjoying a very steep chalky drop that my race came to a rather abrupt halt. The drop was seriously steep and very fast; and at the bottom there was a long, hard-pack straight section where you could really make the most of the speed. I was flying along, at around 35mph I reckon, making up some decent ground on the main pack in the distance, but with no-one else immediately in front.
As a result I didn't realise I needed to slow down, and indeed there were no signs or warnings of what was coming, despite the rest of the course being well-signposted. At 35mph I crested a small hump, which looked like I would just jump off the other side, only to find that in fact the other side was a ditch! So instead I went over the handlebars at some considerable speed; hitting my ribs and forearm pretty hard on the bars and then skidding along on my back to a pretty sudden stop: definitely NOT fast!

Standing up and checking my bike and body for any considerable damage I again remounted, this time in rather considerably more pain. While I had been rolling around in the dust about four riders had pulled in front and I was now at the dead-last back of the field. This race really wasn't going according to plan - all I could hope for now was to regain as many lost places as possible and perhaps overtake those four or five riders that had got past me.

By the uphill section of the second lap I was back in contention with the back group, overtaking three riders and gaining ground on the others. Then on the fire-road section, whilst I tried to take a much needed first drink of the race, the whole bottle top came off in my hands and I dropped the bottle on the ground (spilling its sticky contents over me in the process). Not wanting to leave it on the track as a hazard and knowing that I had already pretty much "finished" my race, I stopped to pick it up; letting a few riders through in the process.

The rest of my race was a mixture of trying not to lose too many places on the single track and gaining a few more on the up-hills. I just enjoyed the dusty descents and swooping technical sections of the course and tried to get to the finish without doing myself any more damage.

I eventually rolled across the line in 12th out of 16; making up a few places on the last lap. It might seem odd for me to say this, but it was still an enjoyable race; a great course and when I wasn't on my bum in the dust the legs actually felt pretty good.
We also had some interesting discussions between the three of us on the journey up there and back about the prospects of a real Isle of Wight Cycling team and the chances of getting a good team together for Bermuda 2013 - all really interesting and exciting stuff.

This week I am hoping to do the Portsmouth Circuits Race on Wednesday, then the next race after that will be the Goodwood Road Race on the 24th July - time to get on the tarmac for a bit!

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