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21st/24th June 2012 - World Cup #4 Mont-Sainte Anne, Canada

Me and Sarah (my girlfriend) flew out to Canada for the Mont Sainte Anne World Cup on Tuesday and arrived late that night. From 9pm Sunday evening I had been very sick with a stomach bug and as a result lost about 5 Kg in body weight (which I don't have to lose!), so was therefore feeling pretty fragile when we arrived in Canada. After spending the first night in Montreal we headed up to Mont Sainte Anne on the Wednesday morning in our cool Dodge Avenger hire car for a course walk later that afternoon.

We arrived at 1pm, just in time to miss sign on, and the weather was amazing. Really hot and sunny – perfect to keep Sarah happy! Walking the track revealed that there wasn't much to it. Just very very fast and rough, and most of the more technical sections were in the lower part of the track. The track is a 600 metre drop, so we sure cover some distance on the way down, and the average speed was going to be awesome. I was looking forward to getting started.

After a really nice meal (I had the steak!) in a restaurant just down the road from the event (which became a favourite of ours as the week progressed), we headed down to our Motel which was on the side of the highway. It was very very basic with just enough room for a double bed and a little bit of floor space, but it would do. The joys of being a privateer and funding your own racing – travelling the world ain't cheap!!

On Thursday morning I discovered that while attempting to pack my suitcases, between throwing up on Monday, I had forgotten a vital part of my riding attire, my elbow pads. I'm a firm believer in wearing body armour, especially during practice because that's the most likely time you're going to crash while testing lines, and then the body armour takes the hit for you. So I nervously headed up without any arm protection. On my second run I had a nasty crash washing out my front wheel before a wooden kicker which was lined with felt, and grinding my left arm along it. This ripped into my flesh like a cheese grater and left a wound exposing bone. I knew I was in trouble and it was nothing a hillside medic could sort out, so I pressed on it as hard as I could with my glove for a few seconds to try to minimise bleeding, then picked my bike up and started to roll out. What I haven't mentioned is that it happened about 20 seconds into my run, so there was a long way to go.

Getting to the bottom of that run was hell. My arm felt like I imagine it would feel if you were shot, and the vibrations with the track being so fast and rough just made it worse. The medics on site at the event sent me straight off to hospital. Brilliant!!! I then spent the whole of Thursday in the hospital getting the wound cleaned and having an intravenous antibiotic administered to prevent against infection because the damage was so deep. I'd given up on riding again at that point and was already looking ahead to Windham. We got out of the hospital by 4pm and by that point I was starting to feel a little more positive about getting back on the bike the next day and doing my qualifying run, so I decided to see what it would feel like in the morning before making a decision.

I was one of the first down the track the next day. I was wearing my light ONeal Stealth body armour which has elbow pads attached under my usual practice ONeal Anger body armour vest for maximum protection of my arm just incase I went down on it again, the thought of which terrified me. I'd taken the first tablet of my 10 day course of antibiotics that morning, along with the maximum limit of Ibruprofen and paracetamol, so I was hoping I'd be able to hold on. All the tendons which run down your forearm from your elbow affect the grip on the handlebars, and they felt sore and weak. My plan for the day was to treat it like a race day. I wasn't worried about saving any energy for Sunday and the race, the aim was to learn the track and then try to qualify. If I needed to do 5, 6, 7 or even 8 practice runs that's what I would do. I'd not been to Mont Sainte Anne before, and I had to improve my confidence by riding.

That first practice run started off very painfully, but gradually my arm got used to the vibrations and my brain turned off from the pain signals. The worst bits were the fast straights, because they're easy so there was nothing else to think about but the pain. I did 4 runs that morning and by the end of it I was feeling surprisingly good. I'd not gone into the day with any expectations of qualifying after missing the whole of yesterday and having an injury, but by the end of practice I was feeling fast and strong and had convinced myself qualification was achievable.

My qualifying run is best described by the word 'ok'. I was slow out of every tight corner and didn't push hard anywhere. However overall there were no big mistakes and I rode reasonably well, so it was good enough to earn me 59th place and qualification, unbelievably after the stomach bug only 4 days before, missing a day’s practice and the damage to my arm. I was absolutely over the moon and really pleased with what I'd achieved. It just proves how much racing is a mental game and if you prepare yourself properly you can achieve your goals.

I took Saturday off the bike to rest my arm as much as possible and spent a day relaxing with Sarah, as this is a holiday as well after all! We headed into Quebec city to take a look around and see the touristy sights. By the end of the day I started to focus back on riding and made sure the bike was running well, or as well as you can with limited tools, no bike stand and a tiny motel room to work out of – once again, the joys of being a privateer.

I woke up the morning of race day feeling confident. I was first down the track in practice looking at lines and getting into things. My second run went really well and I'd pretty much forgotten about my arm as the pain killers were numbing the pain really well. Unfortunately my luck ran out on my third and final practice run. I went over the handlebars in the top woods, not only crashing hard, but landing on my bad left elbow and although the elbow pad took the brunt of the force, it still hurt like hell and opened the wound again. When I went to the medics to get it re-bandaged I saw it had set the healing process right back to how it was on Friday morning. Another problem was all my confidence that I'd gradually built back up after first damaging my arm was now gone. My arm was again very painful, it was at the forefront of my mind and I found it hard to get in the right mindset for my race run.

On top of this, I had further problems. I had bike trouble to sort out, as well as doing standard checks and changes before a race run. My chain device was damaged, so I had to fit a spare, and doing this with the bike propped against the car or upside down, with no cover from sun, and insufficient tools or parts to do it properly is not fun. Especially when this is time that ideally you'd spend eating, relaxing, focusing on racing the track and generally just preparing yourself for a race. I see pictures on Dirt of other racers chilling in the pits on their turbo trainers before they head up for their runs... I don't have time for that! 5 minutes before leaving for my race run I was stuffing in a sandwich while desperately touring the pits begging for a couple of chain ring bolts. I have to say at this point I wasn't hoping for anything special from my race run that afternoon. It had been one hell of a weekend, in fact, one hell of a week, so all I wanted to do was to get down safe and hopefully protect a few points to keep me in the top 60 in the overall, then move on to Windham.

All being said I'm really happy with how I then rode in my race run. I did a very controlled, calm and smooth run, bordering on steady in places. Through one section of the track in the lower woods I remember thinking at the time, 'sh*t sh*t the crowd are going to start booing me soon, I felt like I was going that slowly, but that’s what I needed to do. Just put in a safe run and get to the bottom – another fall on my arm would not have been cool. I finished with almost the same time as my qualifying run and in 60th place. After doing that race run (it was very steady!) and only being 10 seconds off the top 20 I feel good. I was sitting in the hospital all day on the Thursday and I didn't think I was even going to ride again until Windham, never mind qualify 59th the next day, and coming 60th in the race, protecting my overall position in the series to 58th. I can only be happy and satisfied with how I rescued the weekend. On another positive note I also got my masters degree result on Friday which is a 2:1 which I'm ecstatic with! All that hard work and time paid off! I can earn some real money this winter :-)

We're now having a couple of days relaxing, recovering and healing at Lake George in New York State, on the way to Windham which starts on Wednesday... I hope for a much more straight-forward weekend and a result which better suggests how I feel like I'm riding at the moment.

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