As Nationals is on the horizon and the last race in Ireland almost a month previous, I had planned to make a trip over to the UK to regain some race sharpness. I settled on racing in Bakewell, Derbyshire and in Todmorden, north of Manchester with a stop in Nottingham for New Year with friends.
Bakewell was a completely unknown quantity, set in a beautiful location at a country house/outdoor centre in the Peak District. After building up the bike, I headed off on a practice lap and wasn't exactly inspired by what I found...3 muddy fields, which you went up and down twice each. After the kiddie races left the top field like a swamp, the junior race left the whole course as one big, claggy, sticky, grassy mess. I suspected that getting the bike to the finishline would be harder than the physical exertion of racing, and I was right.
I started well down the field, but was pleasantly surprised with my condition and set about overtaking the masses as the bike got more and more clogged up. I managed 4 of 9 laps before that awful crunching sound of rech mech exploding rang out - bummer, race over. That wasn't what I wanted after making the journey over, but on the bright side, it meant saving myself for Todmorden on Monday...as long as I could find a bike shop open, with a Shimano rear mech, late on Saturday evening, on New Years Eve....Thanks to the lads at Zepnat for sorting me out.
Of the two planned races, Todmorden was the one I was most looking forward to..I had heard a lot about it from Greg and watched some footage of previous editions on Youtube. The iconic feature of this gritty, Northern race is a steep cobbled climb at the top of the course, which is a grunt for some and a walk for others. I was hoping to be in the grunt category. The rest of the course was a bit fast, a bit slippery and a bit boggy - the bottom section was really really boggy and meant a long run for the last third of every lap.
The start loop was wide and open, so gridding wasn't a problem, what was a problem was picking the correct piece of ground in the swampy field - I had a great start only to almost stall after 200m when the line I chose led directly into an invisible wet hole. Ah well, you pay your money and take your chance.
Coming onto the course proper, I was a wheel behind Greg as we hit a sliddery off-camber section which required undertaking some portage - Greg took off like a rocket and must have gained 5 places while I progressed at a more steady pace. As expected, the cobbles were a bit of a walk on the first lap due to traffic, but on each subsequent lap I rode up without trouble, to much acclaim and applause from the gathered spectators, which was nice - for the whole race they seemed to cheer equally for the front runners, the stragglers and the "I'm going to die-ers." The other notable feature of the course was a long, sweeping, severely off-cambre, rutted descent, which was a bit of a hit-and-hope on each lap. I hit the ground twice on this corner, once a small slide, but the other time a full on, face in the mud, swamp-monster experience. Which earned me lots of cheers from assembled spectators as I finished the course with half of Todmorden Park on me and proved to be something of an attraction for photographer Joolze Diamond
All told, I finished 24th, not bad but not great. A better start and a clear run at the cobbles on lap 1 would have gone a long was to securing a top 20, as would better running legs. The aim was to improve my condition for Nationals next weekend, and the trip I think achieved that..if only I can get rid of this bloody cold!
A massive thanks must go to my wonderful girlfriend Agata, for all her help on this trip - packer, mechanic, soigneur, coach, photographer, psychologist, girlfriend and #1 fanclub all in one.