I harped on about the benefits of mountain biking in a winter blog post once because I felt it improved my bike handling skills.
But if you’d told me that barely six months later I’d be at the British University and College Sport Championships, I would have laughed you out of the room.
Nonetheless, the night of the June 6 saw me camping in a field in Sheffield prior to race day.
There are definitely better ways to prepare for a national race than barbequing until past midnight and drifting off to sleep in a musty tent to the sound of “I want to take you to the gay bar, gay bar waaaaaa” being blasted over the campsite by a van stereo.
The forecast for the next day was ominous – luckily it wasn’t to be – although at 8am, Eric (the University of Bristol cross-country captain) had us all run inside with the breakfast food (smoked salmon bagels and Jordan’s granola courtesy of the union BUCS grant) as the rain poured and the clouds started to rumble.
The rain made the course an absolute mud bath, made worse for us in the championship race, since the sport race (which doesn’t earn your university any BUCS points and has fewer laps) was running in the morning before us!
We walked the course whilst the sport race was ongoing to watch how the bikes were taking the conditions. According to Eric, most people’s drivetrains looked like they were made of mud. I looked up what a drivetrain was later but I have to say I agree with him. The climb was also impossible to cycle up, so we were going to have to run beside our bikes in the thorns.
By 1.30 pm, all of the championship competitors were shivering on the start line in front of a jolly British Cycling commissaire who looked very pleased that the course was in such a foul mess.
The boys set off in a spray of dirty water as their tyres failed to grip what was effectively a marsh, so us girls knew that there would be no real sprint at the start for the first corner. I had initially been concerned about the first twisty downhill part of the course because the deep mud in the trench smelled a bit sewerish (I don’t think that’s a word but basically there was a horrible smell). Guess who fell in that on the first lap?
Four laps of the course later and I was on the home straight. Cam, Elky, and Eric from the men’s race had all passed me, encouragement aplenty, and I was pleased to see them looking very muddy and tired too, but very professional and upbeat.
I caught a glimpse of the girl ahead of me and tried my best to keep up but frustratingly I couldn’t match her speed on the downhill – I had been making up time on the uphills with my road biking fitness – and she slipped away from me to take the elusive bronze medal whilst I came fourth. I was obviously still pleased with this though. The best surprise of the day was to actually win a bronze medal anyway!
Louisa, my fellow girl teammate, finished a little after me in seventh, so we were lucky enough to both get a BUCS medal for the women’s team! Cam finished 14th which was really good from a strong field, and Elky, Eric, Aleksa, and Alex all had great rides in the Champs race too.
Also, one of the few things that I remember from my second lap was seeing a fearsome tall bloke with a long blonde ponytail (I think from Lancaster Uni), who managed to cycle up the impossible hill with no traction at all and whilst on this hill, he bunny-hopped up a rock drop that was about a foot high.
This is definitely ‘rad’ in mountain biker terminology.