Scottish Cross Country Series round 2 with Rab Wardell

Second place and smiling

It had always been the plan to start this years racing at round 2 of the SXC in Dalbeattie. I’d been hoping to use this race to test my fitness before the Selkirk Marathon this Saturday. What wasn’t in the plan was that my carbon hardtail for XC racing wouldn’t be ready to race. Instead of missing out I was lucky that Chris stepped in and let me use his bike. It wasn’t the ideal set up for XC but a 100mm travel 29er carbon frame is a good place to start. It was Chris’s specific enduro build — his perfect bike for shredding home trails and a bike he guided to a top 20 result in the NZ Enduro and won the Scottish Open Enduro on last year. The bike set up ‘was what it was’ and I didn’t have time to change tyres to lightweight XC ones so instead ran with the 2.3 sticky trail tires. The more that I looked at it the more I realised that this was essentially what a modern mountain bike is. XC race bikes are almost as niche as downhill bikes these days. They aren’t the typical mountain bike like they were 10 years ago. Although I wasn’t getting my usual advantage from being on a specific XC race bike, I was really relaxed and actually looking forward to the challenge. I had no idea what to expect.

CB in action at the NZ Enduro — pic from the @santacruzbicycles instagram page originally taken by Sven Martin http://www.svenmartinphotography.com/

Apart from being on a different bike I treated everything the same as usual. My morning routine didn’t change. Spend as long as possible in bed, eat my usual race day breakfast with lots of coffee 3–4 hours before racing, prepare snacks, cook up a post race meals, get my bottles ready and pack my kit bag.

Once I arrived at the race venue I signed on and attached my number to the bike, checked tire pressures and got changed. As it was a local race I hadn’t practised the day before. In the hour before the race I did a gentle sighting lap to learn the course and built my warm up into that lap. I started off easily to get familiarised with the bike then I gradually built intensity as the lap went on. By the end of the lap I’d spent a few minutes riding at race pace and drifted above my lactate threshold before doing a couple of high cadence ‘sprints’ for muscular and neurological activation. It wasn’t the controlled warm up I might do for an XC World Cup but all of the basic ingredients where there in the right order, and I also got sharpened up mentally by riding off road.

During the race my strategy was the same as usual. Start fast enough so to move up positions and not give away too much ground. Typically at the start of a race I feel like I can move forwards and make up places, even in a World Cup I can move up. I was really struggling with the pace and was slipping back. I had to follow wheels and draft riders to try and hold position.

After around half a lap I settled into my own rhythm and took note of the riders around me. I slipped to 5th or 6th place on the major fire road climb. I could feel the additional weight and drag of the tires on the fast flat sections and on the hard packed climbs — they weren’t actually that noticable on the loamy sections of trail though.

On the technical singletrack climb I rejoined Andy B (riding his 150mm travel Bronson with some faster rolling tires to 5th place on the day!) and we smashed down the main downhill of Blueberry Hill before hucking onto the fire road. This was one main sections I used the dropper post and it really allowed the bike to come to life. A short downhill that most were struggling with became an advantage to me and I carried a lot of speed onto the next section. I was also using the dropper on some of the flat, rough singletrack.

Blueberry hill on lap 3 — fire road hucking! “YEAH RAB!” Thanks to Cameron McCormack for the clip

My aim now was to try to ride consistent lap times at (or slightly above) my threshold. I was racing on feel and not monitoring heart rate or power. I focussed on maximising the transitions from singletrack to fireroads and getting up to speed out of corners or over climbs smoothly but quickly. Efficiency is key and any crashes, wheelspins, poor gear selection or bad technique were to be avoided as this would just waste energy.

By the 4th lap I had joined Dougie Shearer (Innerleithen MTB Racing) who was the leader of the race. Now that we were moving into the last two laps of the race my goal was to set negative split lap times — in other words to speed up. I did my best wheel sucking on the fast, flat fireroads but was ultimately dropped by Dougie on the climb. I tried to reel him in on the bumpy trails where the full suspension was an advantage but I couldn’t do it. In the end I didn’t set another negative split for the final lap, maybe as I over did it on the penultimate lap in the pursuit of victory, but I was only 1 second slower than my second lap of the race. My pacing was good with each of my laps being within 50 seconds of each other, but it could have been better.

On the other hand I was delighted with a podium result and feel like my fitness is on track. Technically I raced well and met almost all of my process goals. For next week’s marathon I have a good plan of how I’d like to race and what my pacing and feeding strategy will be. It’s going to be good!

If you’d like to try out XC racing then check out http://sxc.org.uk/ for more details of racing XC in Scotland. It’s like enduro but you don’t need to wear a ruck sack or wait for your mates… ;)If you do race then set yourself some goals and have fun! For more information on goal setting check out our our SMART Goals blog.

You can check out the race stats on Strava.

For the bike nerds to geek out… Bike details

Is this the ultimate Tweed Valley trail bike?

Frame: XL Santa Cruz Tallboy CC (with 1.5 degree angleset), Rock Shox Monarch RT3 100mm

Fork: Rock Shox Pike 120mm with 2 x volume spacers

Build: Sram XO1, Rock Shox 100mm Reverb, 30mm stem and Truvativ Blacbox 750mm Clementz riser bar, Sram XO trail brakes with 200mm rotors, 1 x 11 gearing 36 tooth chainring and 10–42 cassette

Wheels: Enve 60 29 on DT Swiss 240 hubs

Tires: Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.3 run at 25 psi