So here were are. The beginning of another race season. Another winter of training with coach Phil. A new year awaiting to unfold. What lies ahead remains to be seen but as far as season openers go, few do it better than the folks at TweedLove. We were in the Tweed Valley for the race known as Vallelujah, a hallowed race for those who regularly throw themselves off hill sides on their mountain bikes at the weekends. This year it took in delightful trails from both the well known Glentress and lesser known Cademuir forests.
It was great to see riding buddies and racing rivals again after a long winter of racing hiatus. The sun had come out and the trails were teeming with grippy dirt and perfectly formed ruts. It was shaping up to be a good weekend. Sunday race day came, as it always does and the seeded riders headed out toward the back of 9am. First up was Cademuir to take in 3 short, but technically demanding stages before making our way towards Glentress for a further 3 physical assaults of our bikes and bodies.
First race nerves always make an appearance but for some reason I felt remarkably calm. The chilled out nature of the event meant stress was at a minimum, but the make no mistake, the racing would be fierce, fast and furious. Excitement and determination got the better of me and I put the bike down coming into a turn on stage 1. "Chill out!" I told myself.
My plan of attack was to keep things steady until stage 6. Stage 6 was the big kahuna, the whole enchilada, the most important stage of the weekend. Being the longest and most physical, time could be made (or lost) here. I executed my plan with surprising efficiency with 3 stage results inside the top 6. But it was stage 6 where I had planned to make my attack. I saved my energy with this in mind and went with "all the eggs in one basket" approach.
The top section of 6 was a flat out, white knuckle ride down the southern face of Glentress and the stage snaked its way through the forest all the way back to Peebles. I was riding well, catching the rider in front of me and felt as though I could finish the race strong. Then, all of sudden my bike started to make some concerning noises. Like when you are driving an old car and you hear a loud bang, not a reassuring noise in any case, well that was what I was going through but at this point I was travelling at speeds of up to 31mph. Offroad. When your bike starts to make noises like that, you certainly notice. I put it down to a rock strike or something of that nature and ploughed on.
I began to hear rattling, but as is tradition when you are mid race run, I ignored it and kept pushing on. However, I was halted when my rear brake eventually seized and stopped the wheel from turning. I was only a few hundred meters from the finish line. "This can't happen, not now!" I shouted. I pulled over to the side of the trail, looked round and there it was. Sticking out of the end of my frame was my rear axle. It had worked its way out of the frame making the wheel loose and causing the rear brake rotor to become misaligned with the brake caliper, thus stopping the wheel from turning. I frantically tried to get the axle threaded back in but it was no use. The seconds ticked away and a rider went by, then another, until I got everything tightened up again.
I rode to the finish and I was gutted. Plauged by mechanical misfortune once more. Ah well, at least the sun was out. I ended up 19th thanks to my bikes spontaneous combustion no doubt. But crucially I was able to take away some positives this weekend. I have some good speed and I can hang with the really fast guys when I put things together. Its now a matter of patience and a bit of luck to carry that through to the end of a race.
Next up for me is Rd1 of the Scottish Enduro Series at Laggan. Entries are still available so get involved and give racing a go!