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Saturday, September 7, 2013

World Championships, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

After a month or so at home and a short break from training I was feeling good and motivated to carry on my form from earlier in the year into my World Championships campaign. In order to be as fully prepared as possible for Worlds I planned a short trip to North America taking in two races. A USA Pro XCT in Vermont, USA and then the 6th World Cup round in Mont Sainte Anne, Canada.

The first race in the USA started off promisingly enough, making it up to 2nd around the first lap and seemingly in a great position in the front group of three heading out into the 2nd lap. It all unravelled from there though as my legs deserted me, causing a slow fade back into the large chase group and from there it only got worse. Dropping out of the top 10, eventually ending up way back in 21st by the finish. Definitely not the way I had planned to kick things off.

Still traditionally I haven’t done amazingly well first race back after a break and a week later I was lining up again at the Monte Sainte Anne World Cup itching to get stuck in and get things back on track. It’d been a while since I was last there for the 2010 World Champs and it was exciting to get reacquainted with one of the best race courses in the World. While not as strong as a European World Cup there was still a good line up and I was aiming for at least a top 10 result. Again I started decently enough, in 9th place after lap 1. From there hovering in a group around 10th position for the next two of six laps. Early on I had felt fairly decent, climbing well and generally riding pretty strong. But again my speed and energy declined as time went on. By the middle of the race I was struggling to stick with the bunch with the main climb in particular taking its toll and really grinding me down. I was eventually dropped and completely ran out of steam as I had at the US race with an especially poor last lap falling to 19th in the end.
Far from what I had been aiming for so far at least I knew I had the pace to be mixing it up come Worlds if I could regain the ability to sustain my speed for the entire race duration. I arrived in South Africa with 10 days up my sleeve for fine tuning the prep before the racing kicked off with the team relay on the Wednesday followed by the main race on Friday. Training went really and the days ticked by quickly and before I knew it we were into it.

The relay was good, New Zealand hadn’t put in a team for a few years and we had a strong line up with Anton, Sam Gaze, Karen and myself. For me personally it was a great opportunity to get in a full on race pace lap of the track and a dummy run of warm up etc before the main event. I put out a decent lap and we rode pretty well as a team with an 8th place finish.
Team Relay action. Photo: Michal Cerveny.
After the relay performance I was happy with how things were going and felt like I had set myself up well for a good result in the Cross Country. With it being my final year in the U23 category I was very keen for a high finish and was confident I would be able to pull it off.
The Pietermaritzburg course is a really good one with some challenging rock features and although on first appearance it doesn’t appear too hard climbing wise it is actually quite tough with a long climb in the 2nd half of the lap that undulates with varying grades of steepness that I found pretty hard especially later on in the race. At the start of Worlds week the course as a whole wasn’t overly challenging and fairly simple between the main technical sections. But as the week wore on the trail surface deteriorated with so much riding traffic in the dry conditions and it became loose and dusty with drifty sandy corners that were easy to make mistakes and slide out on.

Race day came with the first sign of potential rain after a week of perfect hot sunny days that made a joke of winter with the temperature regularly hitting the 30’s. At the start it was still dry but the sky was pretty dark and it was only a matter of time before the rain started. It made for an exciting race with the sky darkening and the temperature dropping right down over the first laps and then the rain coming on properly from the middle laps.

The pace was superfast right from the beginning with the leaders stretching the field early on. I began in 22nd position and started solidly, 18th after the first lap which while not stunning was still decent enough. Working hard over the next laps I climbed up to 14th. Despite feeling pretty good I was never able to get up into the top 10 where I really wanted to be. Peaking out at 11th place in the middle of the race and around the mid teens for the majority. It took a while for the rain to have an effect on the race, it wasn’t really till the last couple of laps that we noticed it. But it caused a lot of problems making the open trail sections greasy and slippery, and the rockgardens in particular became very slick making for plenty of crashes which shuffled the field quite a lot.

Treehouse Rockgarden. Photo: Rob Jones.
The last lap was hotly contested, I began it in 14th and was still there at the midway split fighting it out with about five other riders. Struggled a bit on the last climb losing time and places but managed to just stay in contact coming into the last downhill. The last run through the Treehouse rockgarden was full on with a big group of us coming down in quick succession. A rider crashed in front and I stalled out but managed to avoid running into them and crashing myself and kept going. It was all super close as we all popped out onto the finish straight and sprinted madly for the line. I’ve never been much of a sprinter and unfortunately this time was no different and I lost out a bit, getting rolled by two of the riders but at least held off one to claim 17th.

Afterwards. Photo: Jeremy Christmas.
 I was expecting more from myself coming into the race but afterwards couldn’t really complain with how it went. I actually felt good and was generally quite strong. I was found lacking a bit right at the end, particularly on the last climb and a good sprint would have given me 15th but at the end of the day I just wasn’t fast enough to get up for a higher finish this time round. Still it’s my best World Champs result since racing in the juniors and a big improvement from my results over the last few years so I am happy enough with how things went and reasonably satisfied with my performance. I’m looking forward to a good break from racing and training now. First up a couple of weeks in Canada before heading back home to the real world in NZ near the end of September.

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