This year for the National CX Championships I will be racing in the U23 division instead of the Elite category as if I race the World Championships I would not get any points as they can’t be transferred down age divisions. So this taken into consideration I would be racing a few hours before the elite men’s title race. Letting me for the first time this year stand on the sideline and watch the top Elite Men battle it out to be crowned the National Champion.
I few into Melbourne on the Saturday instead of the normal Friday because I was only doing one race on the Sunday morning this weekend. Arriving early would give me enough time to practice the course during the afternoon, making any final tweaks on the Sunday morning. After the Saturday practice I checked the weather noting that ‘high winds and no rain’ was predicted for the next 24hrs and this would lead to the course becoming a lot dryer and faster overnight.
Saturday morning came and I completed my normal breakfast as I would any other day and headed to the venue (Essidon Fields) to start my warm up. Thankfully Mum and Dad had driven the 10hrs down to have a holiday bringing my spare bike with them. This was nice to have a pit bike even though I might not use it.
After a long warm up on the rollers and short ride along the nearby road to check everything was in order I was lining up on the start grid. Either side were two of my team mates staring down the start straight at the first hair pin corner.
The countdown was on and I got settled waiting for the 15 second call. Next the gun went off and we were away. I got a great start and clipped in straight away taking the hole shot into the first corner. I slowed a little leading into the first turn not wanting to slip out on the tar as we hopped up the gutter and onto the dirt track. A few corners later I could feel team mate and defending National Champion Tom Chapman moving up on my right hip so I gave a little more room and ran wide on a corner to let him pass cleanly.
We were away three focus team riders stretching the lead. We rode tempo until the aptly named Zolder step (named after the famous step at a euro race in Zolder) were we all hoped up it on our bikes and then sprinted out of the saddle up the hill. The lap continued up around and down the hill another couple of times before heading outside the event grounds. Straight along the fence line into a block headwind and up another hill with steps every 5 meters, this is where Tom and Myself started to form a small gap of about 5 seconds over Team mate Jack Hogan.
Coming back around to the start area was another long gentle rise that would start to prove crucial as the laps went. This rise lead into a series or tight switchbacks were if you were strong you could force a gap and try to get away from your fellow competitors.
Three laps in and many back and forth attacks from both of us. I managed to pass Tom and get a small lead but it wasn’t much compared to how close we had been riding prior.
I looked to make time were others would relax and this is where I thought I could put in the biggest time advantages. Prior to the race start I looked at a shorter climb after the Main steep climb were the crowd was gathering because I knew that everyone would try hard in that area and then relax on the next smaller climb. No one was there speciating and it was also around the corner and hidden from the crowd by a fence so if someone was struggling they might ease up there thinking that no one could see them.
I put in two really hard laps and managed to stretch my lead out to 15 seconds making sure that I hit all my lines and changed gears only when I was on top of the current gear. I tried to not load my legs any more than needed. Spinning up the climbs for as long as I could.
Next lap coming into the Zolder step and through the sand pit I had somehow hooked my chain off the front ring with my foot as I was preparing to hop up the step. This caused it to jam in the rear cassette and spokes. I immediately got off and started to run the main climb looking at my bike and thinking it was just a simple chain falling off the front chain ring but unfortunately it wasn’t. I stopped at the top of the climb and started to put the chain on the front ring but couldn’t work out what was wrong and why there was so much tension on the chain, someone in the crowd yelled out ‘its stuck in the cassette’ as I reached to pull it out Tom had passed me. I just tried to stay calm and fix it without rushing and soon enough I had it out and was back on my bike chasing.
I was pretty annoyed at myself thinking that I must had not set my bike up properly before the race but that was the last thing I should be worrying about right now so I started my pursuit of Tom. Coming around the finish line I still hadn’t caught back up and it was only three laps to go. I dug so deep trying to catch back up that later on the lap when I did make contact I was completely spent. I thought that if I’m hurting everyone else must be so I passed straight away using my momentum. I like to be on the front with a clear view of the course and able to choose my own line not following someone else’s.
Two laps to go and we were together I had no tactics left I had all my cards on the table and the tank was empty. I started to think back to all the hills training I did each week and when I didn’t want to do that one last effort but I would because that’s the one that makes the difference. So I pushed on just trying to accelerate out of every turn as fast as I could and slowly I forced the gap 1 second then 2 the 3 then 4. With the bell ringing it was only a mere 5 second lead that I had and if I made a mistake it was all back together.
I managed to stay upright and ride the last lap not making any major mistakes. It was a great feeling coming into the final corner and getting to raise my hands in the air knowing that I had really earnt my first U23 National Champions Jersey.
Mum and Dad
A big Thankyou to Joshua from Riding Focus for the photos.