Report: European XC Championships - Juniors

Report: European XC Championships - Juniors


Day two and the weather has changed, dramatically. The dry dusty trails of yesterday are now replaced with running rivers of mud. Lines carefully planned have now been erased. Mood in the camp is still optimistic; Brits have no fear of mud.

This morning saw a number of GB riders get to grips with the course for a lap or two in preparation for their races in the following days. Now's the time to familiarise yourself with the circuit, get used to where you are and tweak your equipment. Tyre choices are very much left until race day, meanwhile GB mechanics are tightening, pumping and modifying.

Today for the Juniors it certainly was a day of two very different races. Both pushing the riders outside their comfort zones and both throwing up challenges that were met and triumphed.

Junior women were first to the line, their race taking off at 1pm. Fortunately after a morning of torrential rain, it actually stopped for the race, but the damage had been done. The course was very different to the one ridden the day before, those little kickers now proved incredibly hard to ride and many were forced to slip and slide, the race soon took on the persona of a cyclo cross race with virtually every rider forced to dismount on certain sections and run. Lap tally was to be five, which on hindsight wasn't a great idea, forcing the junior women to race in savage conditions for nearly two hours.

Representing GB was Ruby Miller, a versatile bike rider, who dominates the current British XC series. On the continent however the standard is incredibly high as Ruby as been finding out throughout the season and has tackled the steep learning curve head on. Today was no different. Starting on the front grid, Ruby had a brilliant start, one she was very much delighted with and then she pushed on delivering her race plan that she had discussed with team coach Phil Dixon on the lead up to the race. Despite an off on lap three where she knocked her head, Ruby continued putting her all into the race coming through after five very long and very brutal laps to take 17th, ending her race incredibly tired but positive that everything is going in the right direction.

"That was a savage race for me, just the mud and the rain made it all a bit hectic at the start what with tyre changes and going round the course later than planned, but in the end it was really good and I enjoyed it so much. I actually got a really good start, which isn't normal for me! I just settled into the race and a few more people came past me than I would have liked, but I just dug in and I gained a few places on the last lap, which I'm really pleased about. I cramped up quite a bit because there was so much running, I haven't run so much since the cyclo-cross season, I wasn't expecting to run so much on a mountain bike course. It was such good fun and I really enjoyed the course

I had one off and hit my head, but the rest went okay following wheels and sliding round the corners was hilarious. That last climb was brutal but I managed to climb it on my last two laps, I ran it for the rest. I tried to climb it on my third lap but I got half way up, looking for the grass and rode into a bramble instead!

I was happy with the result, pleased the way I rode and even happier that I started to reel people in on my last lap. It's been such a brilliant experience to ride such a big event and do a good ride. I've come away with so many positives."

The winner on the day was French rider Pauline Ferrand Prevot, who led from the start despite being pushed all the way by runner up Michelle Hediger of Switzerland, who conceded just 27secs.

With the junior men's race scheduled to start at 3pm and the last woman had very barely crossed the line when the 90-strong men's field got underway. For them lay ahead six laps, but by now, thanks to strong winds and a glimmer of sun the course had started to dry out, especially in the open sections. GB representatives were Kenta Gallagher and Steve James.

For James it was a belated birthday present as he'd turned 17 the previous day. Gallagher after recent good form found himself gridded on the front row, with teammate James behind him on the fourth row. However as the riders surged forward James suddenly found himself on Kenta's wheel and went with it, both first year Juniors having brilliant aggressive starts. Kenta found himself in a group of four riders sitting pretty hovering around the top ten while Steve found himself in the early teens. By lap three Kenta's race had disintegrated, a snapped chain leaving him well out of the running, watching as rider after rider flew past, he quickly repaired the chain and set about forcing his way back up the field.

Meanwhile Steve had eventually settled into his own rhythm, tapping out consistent laps over the grinding course to finally come home in 21st, a great result for his first international Championship.

"This is my first every major championship and really it's only my third race abroad so I was really pleased with how I went. A great birthday present, I really didn't know what to expect, I didn't know what I could get when I got here, so to finish in the top 25 is really pleasing. I kinda liked the idea of the race being muddy, so when I saw the rain I wasn't too bothered, it would have suited me, as I'm not a power rider. I'm good technically, I was thinking if it is muddy then it'll be more technical and perhaps I'll have more of an advantage over the other guys. Then when it all dried out I wasn't disappointed I just got on with it!

I was supposed to be on the fourth row, but we were gridded and the commissaries all sort of turned their backs and we all sort of shot forward and I then ended up on the second row, so that worked out quite well for me really.

I followed my race plan that Phil and I had decided, I got the aggressive start, I may have slightly overcooked it, it took me about a lap and a half to get into any rhythm, I dropped a couple of places but other than that it went okay and it was a pretty sound race. I'm well pleased. The course was so hard, there were no rest areas at all, just going flat out, really hard but so enjoyable. I could have done with a bit more singletrack!"

Kenta Gallagher - an unfortunate race                         Steve James - a solid experience on which to build

Kenta eventually clawed his way back from mind numbing depths of the 40's up to a respectable 25th, who knows where he would have found himself if that chain hadn't broken. He was understandably disappointed but at the same time could see his ride back up the ranks had been solid and bodes well for the future:

"I didn't get the best of starts today but I rode myself into the race and then I think going into the third lap my chain snapped. It wasn't my day really. I did the same thing in practise the previous day, it's just one of things it can't be helped.

When it happened, I struggled to get the chain back together and by time I did I was well off the pace, I kinda switch off for a moment, I very nearly gave up, I had in my head already. It wasn't a physically hard race, just mentally it was hard to get back up, but in the end I gritted my teeth and tried my best. I didn't want to come all the way here and not have a result; I had to make the most of the experience.

It was slightly disappointed as I was running 10th, 11th, before it happened in a group of 4 riders, I felt quite comfy there. I was panning on making an attack, putting on some pressure on, but I didn't get that far with them. Hopefully I can take the experience away from here and build on it and maybe next week at the Nationals it'll come right on my home turf.

The course was hard, not much technical stuff out there, it was difficult to make back time. This is more Steve's kind of course, he's better on flatter courses and this compared to Scottish course is pretty flat! This is a power course with short punchy climbs with no technical sections. It was hard too wondering what tyres to run as it was pretty wet and then the sun came out and dried it all, so I ran intermediates and although they were hard to begin with they were alright in the end.

Of course I'm disappointed but there are positives to take from this; I'm still a first year Junior, hopefully I'll get the chance to come back next year and do better. To be able to experience something like this is unreal, it's been a great week, especially with the relay and I can now look forward to the future and move on and improve again."

Team coach Phil Dixon was delighted with the outcome of both Junior races; despite Gallagher's misfortune explaining to me later that he feels the future of the GB team is looking incredibly bright:

"There were two very different races for our Juniors today, Ruby came home in 17th and did exactly what she was asked to do. Got herself in the top ten to start with put herself in the race and gave it 100%. She's pretty tired now, her race was a little bit too long in my opinion, I spoke to the commissaries about the laps and in the end the winner came in after an hour forty, juniors should be an hour fifteen max.

The boys did very well and they both need to be happy with how they raced. You had two first year juniors there who came off the start grid, placed themselves in the top 12, both committed themselves to the first lap as asked. I think Steve suffered a little bit for about a lap and half after his commitment, he may have got a little bit excited to start with, I'm, not sure, but he came round and held his position and managed to chip three or four places off the back end of that race to finish 21st.

Kenta again put himself in the race as asked, he settled into eleventh, and he was about a minute to a front group of five so he was within sight of a top five spot and just as soon as he decided to bridge the gap he snapped his chain. He got on top of the problem pretty quickly, dropping rapidly down the field to around 45th, but rode back into 25th by the end of the race, that was heck of a bike ride from him. He was so strong, didn't drop his head at all. He may have suffered a little bit last lap, it does affect you mentally when something like that happens, it's a bit of a shame for him, but at the end of the day it's bike racing, a top ten would have been more than realistic for Kenta, which would have been amazing for a first year Junior. You have two lads there who have finished the race more excited than when they started, which going forward for me is what you want."

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