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16th/17th June 2012 - IXS Cup - Innerleithen, Scotland

The Innerleithen IXS European Cup was strategically scheduled the weekend after the Fort William World Cup, so I decided to fit it into my busy racing calendar. Unfortunately the weather forecast for the weekend was horrendous, with heavy rain predominant, and the forecasters were right. We arrived on Friday afternoon for the short practice period that was scheduled and the track was very very very muddy and wet!

I did 3 practice runs on the Friday afternoon and by the end of it I was really enjoying the track and had a good feeling of where I was going. The problem with riding in bad weather is the clean up process afterwards. The mud gets everywhere and having enough clean kit to last the weekend is always a challenge. For that reason I started Saturday practice wearing my ONeal Shore waterproof pants and jacket over my kit in an attempt to limit the amount of mud and water getting through to my kit and skin under it.

Saturday was rain rain rain. This kept the mud on the track thin and rolling speed was good. I'd put on new bars and stem in the form of some Burgtec RW handlebars and a Burgtec Boxxer stem and they were awesome. It didn't take long to get used to them and they really did feel good. The short 40mm stem puts the steering force directly above the top of the forks and made it feel really solid. I love them. I did 3 practice runs during morning practice then headed back to our accommodation in the village to get cleaned up for the afternoon seeding run and do a few things to my bike.

My brakes had started to feel a bit funny and needed to be pumped up towards the end of morning practice so I gave them a full bleed to make sure they were working well. Being able to grab a handful of brake at exactly the right time is really important for carrying speed through sections. The Shimano Saint brakes I'm using are awesome when they're working well because they are really powerful so let me brake as late as possible.

Unfortunately in my seeding run I had more brake trouble, and resultantly over ran a couple of corners due to carrying too much speed into them because I couldn't slow down enough at the right time. In one particularly fast right hander I actually came to a stop with my front wheel off the track because of the lack of braking ability on the way into it. However I still seeded well in 9th with a 3.16 only 10 seconds off 1st and 3 seconds off third. Without the brake problems I would have been comfortably 3rd, and I suspect not far off the top seeding spot. I knew I was riding well on the track, but needed to get these brakes sorted out if I was going to stand a chance of getting the result I knew I was capable of.

So straight after the seeding run and cleaning the bike off I headed over to Shimano to see what they could do. They ran a full bleed through both brakes and hopefully they would feel better come race day and morning practice. I felt good in the morning and set off on my first practice run feeling strong. However my brakes didn't, and when I got to my first braking point there was nothing there. I finished my run and headed back to Shimano to see what else we could try. Next it was new lever master cylinders to see if that would solve the problem. I headed up for another run and again they weren't right. I checked my pads when I got down and they were getting quite worn because of all the mud, so I put fresh ones in front and rear. The front brake then didn't feel too bad, but the rear was still pumping up and the lever was pulling to the bar.

I knew I was going well on the track and needed my brakes to be right for this race run otherwise I'd have no chance off carrying speed and hitting lines right. Therefore I went back to the Shimano guys again who did their best to sort my rear brake out. When they were finished it felt better, so I was finally hopeful that me and the bike could work together to do an awesome run.

Unfortunately I was wrong. There isn't a great deal of braking for the first minute or so of the track, but when I reached the technical woods I realised I had no rear brake. Resultantly I made one large error, coming to a stop on the take off of a drop because I'd messed up the corner into it because I was too busy trying to get the braking right through the corner. I then had to plop off this drop to the up slope, then boost myself over the knuckle of what was supposed to be the landing to get moving again. I should have been flying through this section, instead I was barely moving. I proceeded to make a number of other braking relating errors getting thrown off line in a few places and losing valuable seconds here and there – I knew it wasn't my day.

My time was a 3.13 and I think I was only 5 seconds off the podium and 10 off the win, with what I felt was a very poor run. I'd ridden well through most of a section, then when it involved controlling speed through braking, it had gone wrong. Annoying that I definitely had that run in me today, but my equipment wasn't helping me out at all. I went and visited the Shimano boys after my run to share my disappointment, and ask if there was anything else I could try to get this brake working again. Kindly they gave me a new rear Saint brake, because it was probably the caliper which was playing up. Big thanks to those guys for helping me out all weekend – although we didn't actually solve the problem in time for the race run, they were really helpful and did their best to get things working properly, and I now have a new rear brake which will work!

I'm only taking positives from this race. I know the pace is there, and I'm really starting to feel at home on this new bike. The tough conditions this weekend really showed me how good it is and what it is capable of. I'm excited to get to Mont Sainte Anne next weekend and see how she is there. Hopefully I'll have some better luck and things will get back on track for me! If I could have picked a weekend to go wrong out of these 6 consecutive weekends of races, it would have been this one, so fingers crossed!

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