British XC Series Round 1: Latest
Words And Photography By Luke Webber
With just three days to go until the opening round of the British XC Series at Sherwood Pines races are selling out, pre-entries are closed and Veet is out of stock at every reputable dealer.
In no time the whirring of turbos and stench of GT85 infused with warm-up balm will overpower all surrounding areas, wilting plantlife with sub-nuclear power. But between now and then decisions have to be made on bike setup, race tactics and every other variable. Many of these questions have already been answered in the race preview, but those that are more pertinent to the immediate changes appear below.
Last time a muddy race took place at Sherwood Ian Wilkinson was still racing mountain bikes, Martyn Salt was making his return to organising the British Series good and Trek were title sponsors.
That was 2007 - and while Saturday's British XC Series race was dry - Sunday's marathon event took place in torrential rain. That day an ecstatic Will Bjergfelt took the win, breaking his way through deep mud with zero remaining brake pads. And while the rider may be different come this weekend, the look of pain beneath mud-packed faces will be the same.
Forecasts currently point to a re-run of this epic race at worst and with rain sweeping the country in the coming days the best result will be a damp and greasy course. Because of the sandy, gritty nature of the soil at the Pines and a lack of great elevation adverse conditions will have little critical effect on tyre choice and technical difficulty on the lap (there's a distinct lack of severe roots and rocks on course). Lowering speeds will, in all likelihood, make the course slower and easier to tackle; most crashes in the past a result of misjudged speed on the lightning fast singletrack. In short, this rain in many ways will prove a blessing in disguise.
Perhaps the most common question pondered this weekend will relate to tyre choice. If you're running tubes (as opposed to tubeless or tubulars) it's going to be a tougher decision to make. That's because running pressures from 15-20psi is too risky tubed, meaning you are relying almost entirely on the inflated tread pattern to do the gripping, rather than dropping pressures to an extent where the shape of the tyre will change under load, increasing grip significantly.
If you are tubed, a good intermediate tyre with a harder compound is the choice du jour. Good enough to power through the singletrack without losing unnecessary time on the firetracks, this is a compromise that can't be avoided. Something like a Schwalbe Nobby Nic or Rocket Ron, Kenda Nevegal, Panaracer Fire XC or similar will be the best possible. If you choose to run a dedicated mud tyre - like a Bontrager Mud-X - prepare to lose all speed on the firetrack.
If you're tubeless and have done your research about the lowest pressures your riding style will tolerate, then you're going to be at a huge advantage. A tyre with little rolling resistance out back and a grippier tyre on the front will work out well. For rear tyres, Racing Ralphs or Kenda Karmas will work out just fine, whereas a Rocket Ron, Bontrager Jones XR or part-worn Nevegal on the front is going to give confidence in the higher speed turns, especially when used below 25psi. Because your weight will be over the back end on the fireroad sprints, such a low pressure won't inhibit your speed here, either.
Stopping mud and grit buildup on the bike is another essential skill to master and will ensure a smooth running bike throughout the race. Spraying GT85 or similar over the frame will help muck drop off, and making sure your chain doesn't resemble Iraq is highly desirable. Remember - you're applying oil for a race that will last for 2 hours, not two weeks here - one drop of Finish Line Wet per roller is overkill in all but the worst conditions. Finally, grabbing a bottle of water in the feed and spraying the drivetrain clean is a pro job and will help prevent chainsuck, mud buildup and preserve shifting performance.
Hopefully these few tips leave you asking only one question on race day; and that's how the legs will react once the gun draws. See you on the line.