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UCI World Cup Round 2 @ Val Di Sole, Italy - 13/16 June 2013

After a disappointing trip to Fort William for world cup round 1, due to a puncture in my qualifying run, I only had 4 days before riding started at the second round in Italy on the infamous Val Di Sole track. I wasn’t dwelling on the disappointment at Fort William and was excited to get to Italy and ride. Val Di Sole is one of my favourite world cup tracks and I couldn’t wait to get my wheels rolling through the Italian dust!

Upon walking the track we discovered a couple of changes and new sections which looked very exciting. They’d maintained a very fast line down the mountain and the rest looked so fun to ride. I couldn’t wait for practice to start. The weather was awesome with bright sunshine and warm temperatures forecast for the entire 4 days of the event.

I was having fun from the minute practice started on Thursday morning. It takes a run or two to get into the track properly because it’s so rough and steep, but when you’re into it and have stopped dragging the brakes it is the best! The bike just pings down the track bouncing from root to root and rock to rock.  The only let up from this are dusty shoots and ruts for you to slide and drift through. Such an amazing venue and in my opinion the best track on the world cup circuit.

Qualifying day started well for me with some solid practice. All my lines were dialed in and I was feeling confident. Unfortunately the event wasn’t well organised enough for us to have a timed practice session, so no-one had any times on the board before qualifying which was a strange feeling for a world cup. Normally we have a good idea of where we’ll qualify before we go up for our runs. I was more nervous than I’ve been for a long time before this qualifying run because of the bad luck I’d had at Fort William the week before. This resulted in me riding a bit more cautiously than I would have liked, doing too much braking and not carrying as much flow as I had been in practice. Nevertheless I had a decent run and I was pleased to slot into 14th place with more time left on the hill for finals!

Saturday was a half day for us and I used the morning practice session to test out which tyres I wanted to use. I was deliberating between the 2.5 Schwalbe Muddy Marys and the 2.35 Schwalbe Dirty Dans. I’d been used the Marys and they’d been awesome. However a lot of people were using the more spiked Dirty Dan and I wanted to try it for myself. I did 3 runs and decided to stick with my Muddy Marys for Sunday and racing.

I did two practice runs in the morning on Sunday and everything was going smoothly. Practice finished at 11.15 and my run wasn’t until 5.30! That’s the longest wait I’ve ever had to cope with. I dealt with the time pretty well and before I new it I was getting ready to go up for my run. On reflection I think my preparation was good. I’ve learnt a few lessons from the experience and have some improvements to make next time, but overall it was ok. I started my run well and was smooth through the top rock garden. However I made a mistake in the last loose corner at the top, my front end washed out and I had my first crash of the entire weekend. I got up and panicked, riding too hard pushing to make up the time I’d lost.  I also completely lost control of my breathing, resulting in my muscles being starved of oxygen.

I made time back between the first and second split, moving up from 74th at the first to 54th at the second, but I was never going to make it to the bottom. My arms pumped up and it got progressively harder to control the bike, until I couldn’t control my braking fingers anymore. As a result I hit a hole close to bottom, got thrown forwards and in saving it from being a crash I went left when the track went right and straight through the tape missing two corners. That means disqualification. Annoying because it meant I hadn’t even put some world cup series points on the board.

I learnt lots at Val Di Sole, but mainly that I’m now fit enough and strong enough to compete on a level with the best riders in the world. My race run didn’t go well but that’s simply because I’m still getting used to racing under the intense pressure of a top 20 world cup qualifier. Next time I’m going to adapt my approach slightly and I know I’ll perform as well as I know I’m capable of in the race run.

I have a few UK events now before heading off for world cup round 3 in Andorra!

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