Race Number 1 of 2011 - Alpine Bikes Round 1 at Innerleithen, Scotland
8th February 2011

Inners podium

So the 2011 race season has finally begun! December and January weren't great months for my racing preparation. I spent most of my days and quite often nights as well, sitting behind my desk preparing for my final year optometry exams. It was all worth it though now I'm settled at my new job in Newcastle working as a pre-reg Optometrist in the eye hospital. This change in life style has freed me up some time to get back on the training program so I will be well prepared for the first big race of the season – BDS round 1 at Nant G in Wales on the 20th of March.

This weekend we headed up to Innerleithen in Scotland for the first round of the Alpine Bikes winter series. Last year this series was a disaster due to the cold weather resulting in icy tracks and cancelled events. I managed to hit a fence at round 1 almost cutting my nose off, and had a nasty crash at round 3 which gave me a shoulder injury which I then carried through the entire 2010 season.

This time we were more fortunate. When we arrived on Saturday morning it was raining, mild and muddy – so there was no chance of ice! The car park however was flooded as the river had burst its banks only hours before.

Flooded car parkThe track proved to be quite simple, which was a nice way to get the season rolling. It started off with a technical rooty section down to the top fire road, followed by a long pedally jumpy straight into some tight berms which took you to the middle fire road. From there the style of the track changed completely and it became much faster, and in my opinion more fun. It went down a steep shoot into some off camber, before crossing a bridle path, then heading into another fast, steep, loose rocky shoot and another off camber leading to the bottom section. A fast straight with 3 big jumps led you into the bottom woods at break-neck speed, before it was hard on the brakes through 3 tight berms, into a fast rooty off camber left hander before the jumps and sprint to the finish.

Saturday practice was awesome. Wicked to be back out racing and having fun with the buddies learning the track and going fast. I'm still waiting for my 2011 Ellsworth but it didn't really matter because I'm still in love with my current bike. It'll be sad when I have to stop riding her in a couple of weeks... although I am pretty excited to get the new mount!

Sunday brought rain, constantly, and lots of it! What do you expect when you go riding mountain bikes in Scotland in February! You're either getting ice or rain whether you like it or not. Even though the track got soaked through I stayed on the dry tyres. Innerleithen has very hard ground which has lots of rock in with the mud, so grip wasn't a problem and the dry tyres would roll quicker through the top section and be better in the tight hard pack berms.

I was dead excited to get up the hill and race. I didn't feel nervous at all which was odd, and even more strangely I didn't have my famous 'race poo' before run 1 or run 2. I think after doing so much studying and exams, getting out and riding the bike nowadays is simply fun, whether it be against the clock or not, so there was no reason to feel nervous.

Flooded fieldMy first run was a good one. No big mistakes and it produced a good time. I clocked a 3.30 which put me into first place with good friend Pete 'Pistol' Williams 2 seconds behind in second place. Scotland's own and hot favourite for the win, after winning the IXS cup here at Innerleithen last year, Ben 'Giraffero' Cathro, had a big crash near the bottom which put him 5 seconds behind me in 4th place after all the first runs were done.

I knew I had to step it up for the second run if I was to keep Ben at bay. I had already done pretty much everything I could in the fast technical stuff in my first run. It was the pedally fitness related stuff I was going to struggle to match him on. There's a big difference between 2 good riders on a fitness orientated track, when one does lots of training prior to the event and the other doesn't. However, I was feeling positive and ready to push as hard as I possibly could second run.

I felt my legs at the top on the flat sections. I pushed and pushed but felt the power dropping with every stroke. I went crazy in the lower sections to try make up time but it wasn't enough. I beat my first run time by a second and clocked a 3.29, but Ben put in the run he was after and clocked a 3.22. However being only 6.5 seconds behind him at the start of the season is very encouraging and proves all that desk time through Dec and Jan hasn't done too much damage – I've just lost a touch of fitness.

So that's the first race of the season done and I aim to progress from here. I feel it was a fantastic start, with 2 solid race runs which were only 1 second apart from each other, and an elite podium finish with 2nd place. I've already got back in the gym since the event to start improving the fitness back to where it should be!