If round three was a cold soggy, hilly affair and a disaster for me as a race, then Darlington was the complete opposite. As a course this was hard packed, low on technical sections, rolling and so promised to be exceptionally fast paced. Every short lap was rewarded with finishing on the man made bmx track over the table tops and the swooping berms.
Summer had finally arrived and the week before the trails were drying out so by the time race day came the track was dusty. Real dust! A remark that deserves its exclamation remark as its been a good few years since it got this dry here. As the pack set off from the start the dust was being kicked up and suddenly visibility became limited. Well this was an all time first, although I realised it not only affected visibility but also my breathing. Not that I'm going to blame this for my terrible start. That fault went with me following a wheel that wasn't going anywhere fast and getting boxed in. The only other single speed racer had got ahead of me and with a group of people in front and a long single track section I had to bide my time.
It wasn't until half a mile into the lap that it widened enough for me to launch my first attack. I passed five riders in quick succession finding a wheel further on and sticking to it. Between myself and this guy from the veteran category we put in a fair gap from the chasing group behind. Problem was we weren't catching the guys up ahead either. And so there we remained for almost half the race, sitting in limbo only the fast guys coming to over lap us. It wasn't until I made a bad mistake on a grassy off camber slope that left me doing a nice 180 degree spin, that I lost my racing partner.
I had to dig hard to get back, it took at least two more laps before I got him back in my sights. He was trying to make the gap bigger (he told me so after) but I was still making ground. Then on one of the grassy slopes he slipped allowing me to get right back on his wheel. As the track switched back onto the climb his chain dropped and he had to stop. I attacked the climb and made my gap. He told me the last image was seeing the writing on my shorts 'derailleurs are for failures'. Least he saw the funny side. The race was uneventful after that, I finished as the first of the single speed racers but a little low down over all. I was loosing out big time to all those with gears on the flats. More importantly I'd got my mojo back and had really loved this race, which is just what I needed after round 3.
Round 5 - Errington
A different venue and a totally different race. This was a course with good twisty and rooty trails, drop offs and a two lung busting leg burning climbs. It had rained the night before and the roots were slimy the bike was not happy as it was flicked and pinged off line. Not ideal for me and I was going to have to face facts that I was going to struggle with this race. The race started at the bottom of the first climb which flattened out for a bit before going into the next climb. Yep a leg killer. This followed a fun bit of track that had some challenges in it covering the last two miles.
What was going to factor in this race was the climb and that people were either getting in your way on the single track or in my case holding them up. There were 60 of us packed onto a narrow bit of track. There were eight single speed riders which was a record attendance, so this promised to be fun.
The start was good for me. I climbed well pulling a big gap on the middle section of the field (the pro riders went off like whippets as usual) Only one other single speed rider had got ahead of me. But it was hot work. The temperature in the woods had risen, and with the damp drying up its was like a sauna. Not that that was an excuse for my lousy single track skills. Mental note, I really should pre ride every course! It wasn't long before I started making mistakes and getting passed by people. Arrgghhh why am I so rubbish at single track? By the time I got to the climb again it was starting to feel a bit lonely. There were people behind...somewhere and some ahead.....in the distance. I caught a few by a mammoth effort up the climb but all the effort was in vain as in the single track I started to loose more time and so found myself on my own again.
As much as I enjoyed the course I wasn't really enjoying the racing experience. I couldn't find a wheel to follow and the climb was now torture as my legs weakened from the grind of one gear. I did a better single track run on my last lap but it was little to late. I ended up well down on the field. Also I was last but one in the single speed category. I could climb better than the field but I just couldn't go with them on the twisty stuff.
I think looking back at this race its made me realise more than ever that I need technical training and guidance. I just cant see how to get faster. I don't mind about fitness as one gear is going to limit my speed anyway but if I can limit damage in the single track then I might place better.
Round 7 - Bedlington
I missed out on racing round six back at Ponteford and so with what felt like a long gap was really excited about this one. I'd seen a video a couple of weeks before of the course and it looked hard with all the off camber slippy roots. The North east had had a tropical delouse the day the video was taken. Race day couldn't have looked more different. It was hot. Damn hot and the trails were bone dry, all the roots were now grippy. This promised to be a fast hard race and I was really up for this. With two power climbs split up along the course it was well suited to one gear. Apart from one bit. There was a long tarmac section before the final climb to the finish which begged for some mashing in the big ring. That's me in trouble then!
From the gun and up the first climb (this was actually the final climb but it was used to spread the group out) I was proving strong and passed quite a few riders. I tried my upmost in the single track but was loosing some time, although not as much a I usually did. The trouble is I couldn't find a wheel to hold onto. Every time we got onto the tarmac whoever I was with suddenly got away and I'd have to give my all on the climb to reel them back in. This was ok at first but I knew it wasn't going to last. I passed one guy who like me was on a ridged bike and was being bounced off the roots wildly. So much so he was flung into a hedge. One way of gaining a place I guess.
The only real race came from a surprise attack in the form of a lass called Hannah. In most of the rounds I'd not seen much of her often finishing minutes ahead. But after some good training she was putting in a good effort and I was aware of her gaining on me. I was also aware of how close our points were in the overall and so I had to react to this. She told me after that I had become a target during the race and it had given motivation to chase, and it was working! By the mid race she was only ten seconds from me.
I had to put some effort in now. Luckily the heat wasn't bothering me. My motivation to dig deeper came when I was overlapped by the second place rider and overall series leader. He'd got 20 yards on me on the tarmac before going into the climb up to the start/finish area. By the top I'd got passed him!! At least I know now that my climbing ability is strong. I let him back pass as I knew he'd be miles quicker in the single track (he was!) I kept a strong pace not daring to look back in case Hannah was still there. By the time I reached the tarmac section I got a good look behind and she was nowhere to be seen. As it was, she had faded in the last two laps, her motivation to chase gone and finished over minute behind by the end. I can see me being the one chasing her next year!
I finished ok, but not great. The small field contained some really strong racers so placement was never going to be good. However, I knew I'd done enough to clinch the North East Single Speed Category Title. Yep I'd won something. Probably not for being particularly good but for getting the most points over the five rounds and in the end only two of us did that. The other six riders did not complete enough rounds. Still as they say, you have to be in it to win it!
The last race is not until September, so I'm going to enjoy the break. I'm not expecting to do well in the last round anyway, for me it'll just be a chance to catch up with some great people and race for the love of it.