Emma Bradley report from her last couple of races in the elite category for the Cotic-AQR team:
Photo by Darren Ciolli-Leach http://www.xcpix.com/
Southern XC #2 - Pippingford
I was very lucky enough to be invited to stay within a 30min drive of Pippingford this year; certainly saved me from a horrendously early 0630 start. Team mate Anthony Jordan was the kind host, but I was not only treated to a roof over my head, as first stop was to AQR Physio Anne Dickins’ house for quality food and entertainment courtesy of more of my team mates. I was in top company; European and National 24hr Solo Champ Rachel Sokal, Ant himself being a National 3rd place soloist and Simon Usher who racked up an awesome 9th in the 12hr solo Vets, all relatively unscathed following their feats at Exposure the weekend before….no pressure then!
Sunday dawned with a lovely blue sky but a stiff northerly breeze that took away any warmth you had. I arrived, signed on and headed out for a practice lap. I’d been told it hadn’t been too wet in this neck of the woods and was hoping that the course would run relatively well as I am all too familiar with Pippingford in the wet after last years final Southern. Oh how I was proved wrong. The course was not just wet, it was very wet. Last year in the rain I could still clear the Quarry; this year I couldn’t even make it to the start of the A-line on my bike! The lap was to progress in a similar manner with sections either being lethally slippy or really waterlogged and draggy. It’s really quite disappointing as Pippingford has some really cracking trails and the one positive was that the bermy downhill was still running pretty well.
From the off I wasn’t too bad but within about a minute of getting into the lap I realised that I must have forgotten to pack my race legs; they just would not let me put any power down and I had to watch riders pass me without being able to fight back. Every climb or draggy section was torturous. I soon found myself on my own and it remained so for the rest of the race. I had previously queried the number of laps with the Commissaries as I returned from my practice lap after 45mins. I knew that 30mins was do-able in the race but lap times would only get slower. Whilst he took this on board the laps were held at 4. This resulted in me coming home in around 2hrs 40mins…..not the normal 1hr45min to 2hrs I’d expect. The race was more a training session and was all about just persevering no matter how bad the conditions were, riding as smoothly as possible and avoiding mechanicals (although with the mud I still had my chain come off three times!). On finishing it was a rapid face clean before podiums and then once changed a cup of tea to try and get some warmth back in me.
Big thank you to the AQR Southern crew (plus visitors) for the food and entertainment, and especially Ant who not only provided a bed but came down to cheer me on in the freezing cold. Finally, big thank you to long suffering Rob for driving/bottling and having to clean my bike off afterwards!!
British Cycling National XC Series #2 - Dalby Forest
I love Dalby. It screws with your head and can really bite if you’re not paying attention as it requires you to be on your toes at all the time. Even after the horrendously wet/cold weekend I’ve just had, I still love Dalby (although it’s going to need some serious TLC after the state the trail has ended up in following the weekend’s events).
Practice hadn’t gone brilliantly the day before. My first lap was interrupted by a hail storm, leaving me soaking wet and freezing. After returning to the van for a complete kit change I went out again with the intention of getting my butt down Medusa whether there was an audience or not (I’d had a quick look on the first lap and it was really cut up, but then didn’t want to wait in the ‘queue’ in the hail). Unfortunately I barely made a quarter of the lap as I couldn’t get my braking fingers to warm up and couldn’t tell how much brake I was putting on, plus had concerns over my back brake (which was fine, just a contaminated disc it seems). I made a decision to return to the van get into dry clothes and get as warm as possible.
Race day looked a little better weather wise and wasn’t too cold (for me) but I was togged up in fleecy ¾ tights, a long sleeve base as well as my jersey, winter gloves and socks (I really do not like the cold!). The arena part of the course had turned into what I imagine a cyclocross course to look like….there was no green grass just brown mud. The start was comedic, with us all squirming all over the place and I managed to negotiate a rider who slid out. We had a start loop on top of 4 laps to make sure we hit the UCI finishing time target, so after a brief respite on the trails we were back in the arena to start the first lap properly. Again I was struggling with my leg power and soon was alone again. However, after being passed I soon found I was able to catch Stephania Magri up on certain sections, although I never had the power to do anything about it once I’d caught her. I also got caught myself by Hannah Cooley and started a bit of to’ing and fro’ing with her also, but again I could never get away. The course had deteriorated significantly from practice and whilst I was happy to ride the Worry Gill drop I avoided Medusa’s Drop as it just wasn’t worth it and I didn’t believe it would have affected the outcome of my race. I rode as hard as I could but Annie Last eventually caught me and so I finished a lap down in 23rd, but happy and in one piece.
28 riders started my race and 24 finished; you can probably understand why I am glad to be in one piece. To those riders who injured themselves I wish you a speedy recovery, especially my good friend James Gleave (Torq Performance) who is unfortunately looking at an extended rehabilitation period after damaging his back.
Many, many thanks must go to Rob for cleaning my bike from grim to sparkling on both days and for having to stand in the mudbath that was the arena during my race. Also thanks to the unknown spectators giving me a huge cheer in Worry Gill and at Medusa’s; it’s always really nice to have lots of encouragement, especially on grim days.