Challenge yourself, and you’re able to push yourself further, ride faster and reach new boundaries in the process.
The Jersey 2015 Natwest Island Games was always set to be a challenge. I knew it would be hard to cross-discipline between the mountain bike and road. I knew the standard would be incredibly high: including national and commonwealth champions in both fields. I also suspected that the terrain and courses, for both the mountain biking and road riding, would be pretty brutal.
Now, half-way through The Games, I can pretty definitely say that my predictions were correct. It’s been a tough (but very enjoyable) week so far, and it’s not over yet…
XC Cross Country RaceCross country racing demands a unique blend of technical skill, fitness and bike handling. I have a huge amount of respect for XC racers as a result, and they really are a special breed. Back in 2011, at my last Island Games, I considered myself a dedicated XC rider; nowadays though, my riding and racing is far more road focussed, and I predicted this would have an impact on my technical ability in the cross country racing here this week…
We walked the purpose-built Jubilee Hill XC course on Saturday afternoon, and pre-rode it on Sunday afternoon. Our recon immediately confirmed that we were in for a challenging race. Perched on the edge of the escarpment that Jersey airport sits upon, the course is packed to breaking point with technical single-track, drops, rock gardens, off-camber downhills and lung busting climbs. The ground was as dry as a desert, too; and as a result every corner was super loose and quickly blown out. It was going to be a dusty, technical race, which would leave little room for error.
At 2pm on Monday afternoon, Team Isle of Wight lined up alongside 16 other islands in hot and windless conditions. The flag dropped, and the race began…
I struggled with the fast start, and entered the first section of single-track towards the back of the pack. The first few of the 11 laps were a blur of avoiding crashes, trying to make up lost ground, and getting used to the feeling of having lungs and a mouth full of dust.
By lap three, things had settled down a bit. I was gradually picking up places, but continued to struggle on the more technical sections of the course. I had more than one "off", when I washed out on the loose switchback sections.
To be honest, the rest of the race was a blur, too. My heart rate didn’t budge from threshold for two hours; and my legs, arms and face were coated in sweat, dust and blood by the end. I continued to gradually pick up places, and pulled myself into 20th overall for the finish. It was without doubt the hardest XC race I’ve done.
I was pretty satisfied with 20th, although it was a significant drop from my 13th place in the 2011 Games. I went as hard and as fast as I could though, and it was my bike handling that mainly let me down. As I predicted, if you want to race XC really well, you need to ride cross country… a lot! Time to get an Isle of Wight mountain bike team in regular training!
Onto the road race...
Road RaceMonday night was spent trying to recover as quickly as possible, in preparation for yesterday's road race. This was going to be another leg-killer of an event, with national champions, commonwealth athletes and stacks of full-time pros on the start line.
Dawn broke on what was to be the hottest June day in Jersey for five years. At 9:30, when our race rolled out on blissful closed roads, it was 29 degrees; by the time we rode back to the hotel, it was 32 Celsius. Scorchio! With more bottles of electrolyte drink made up than I can count, we rolled out...
Having pre-driven the course the day before, we knew that the 2km climb mid-way through the circuit would be the crunch point. The first time over it, the whole Isle of Wight team stayed with the main group, but the attrition rate in the peloton was already high. The second time over we dropped more, then more on the next lap. By lap three, the group was whittled down to around 25 riders, but Sam and I were hanging in there.
On the fourth lap, on the flat section that took us back along the seafront, I cramped up. I've never cramped before in a race, but I expect the combination of the efforts during the XC race the day before, and the heat, meant my muscles were struggling. I had to stop pedalling for a fair while, with the excruciating pain, and quickly shot to the back of the peloton.
It required a flat out effort just to make junction with the group again, after the cramp had subsided. Unfortunately, just after I did re-join, we hit the climb for the fourth time. I clung on for as long as I could, but I couldn't crest the hill with the group. I was dropped.
The rest of the race was a combination of a two-up time trial, with a rider from the Isle of Man; then a solo ride once the heat had taken its toll on him, too. I crossed the line in 22nd place.
It was another fairly satisfying result, although a bit lower placed than I had hoped for. It was an impressive showing for the Isle of Wight team as a whole though, and we all finished in what were super challenging conditions, and in a field of high-calibre riders.
I've decided to sit out of the mountain bike criterium this evening, but will now be racing in the town centre road crit tomorrow; hopefully with better recovered legs. It's been an awesome week so far, and we are set to have two great evenings of racing still to come.
Jersey 2015 hasn't failed to disappoint!