Norge Cup Race 1 (C1 Saturday):
For my return to racing (after the long injury lay off) and Hamish’s next run (following the National Championships), we opted for two Norwegian Cup races in Horten on consecutive days. A C1 on Saturday and C2 on Sunday, which followed exactly the same course and format on both days. The back-to-back racing offered an excellent opportunity to get back into that competition setting, and also a chance to take on the best Scandinavian riders.
Inevitably if you are in Scandinavia you have to cross fiords to get anywhere, and sure enough to get to Horton required a ferry from Moss (near Oslo). A novel way to make our way to the race!
As the venue was situated at a school & just on the edge of town, it provided great facilities and easy spectator access. These ingredients are major aspects of any great race & should be at the front of every organiser’s mind, to build the profile of the sport, create an atmosphere and maximize sponsor visibility.
The course designers had really used their imagination & somehow managed put the track together to create a circuit of just over 4km in such a small and limited area. The course was very tight and rough, with a large percentage of rocky singletrack and plenty of places to be stalled if trying to ride on someone’s wheel. Even the open section in the arena, (which proved to be one of the few easy passing places), was super bumpy – just to give your back an extra kicking. Given the nature of the terrain and how the lap was put together, there wasn’t much flow. This in turn made it difficult to find a rhythm and incredibly hard to race.
Due to my recent accident & my breaking my knee cap, I hadn’t been on a start line for three and half months. Coming off the back of a second “off-season”, I was definitely feeling a little race rusty. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard you train, it is impossible to replicate the race environment; the nerves, the aggression, and the unbelievably high speed.
Hamish had similarly had some time out & hadn’t raced for a month (since the National Championships), as we made the decision to sit out the North American World Cups. Due to my injury, it was decided that the resources required to support just one rider over the Atlantic were too great to warrant the trip. It is a shame, because it was a major target this year and highlighted one of the problems of having such a small team – what happens with one inevitably affects the other. Still, Hamish had maintained his very good shape and was confident of putting in a strong performance in Norway.
Hamish was gridded on the second row, with me two rows behind (being unable to race for most of the season affects your World Ranking) and we both got off to good starts. The short start loop was irrelevant, as the speed was so high and the field completely lined out meaning it was practically impossible to move up.
After a ‘steady-ish’ first two laps, Hamish found his rhythm and began to eat through the places ahead of him. Riding as clean as was possible on the slippery rocks and roots that littered the track, he came in to finish an impressive 8th. The only blip being an over the bars on the final piece of singletrack before the finish. Top riding in a very high quality field.
I managed quite a fast start and moved through the places (when I could) early on. I then got close to the top 10 riders, before slipping back slightly mid race, due to some unnecessarily sloppy riding. I felt (unsurprisingly) that I lacked race sharpness, and made too many mistakes at vital points to give myself any chance of being up any higher and in the mix for a top placing. After a “last lap surge,” I took a couple of places & finished 14th _ inside the points, where I wanted to be & most importantly back racing and back in the fight.
Norge Cup Race 2 (C2 Sunday):
With a small budget team, there is inevitably a lot of “behind the scenes work” to be done. Many people don’t appreciate what is involved, especially on a two day race weekend. With no mechanic, there is bike cleaning, maintenance, and race prepping; then kit cleaning and sorting; and then preparing all bottles and Torq energy products. After factoring in all the prep & annihilating yourself for over 1.5 hours, whilst also trying to recover for the same thing the next day, you quickly realise that there is a lot more to racing than the race itself.
The weather forecast had predicted a deluge on Sunday, so we were prepared for a carnage fuelled mud fest for the second race of the weekend. There had also been quite a bit of rain on Saturday afternoon and over night, but despite the threatening clouds, the monsoon never came and the track held up well. In the end the conditions were only marginally more slippery than the day before.
We positioned ourselves on the start line in the same gridding, at the same time, same riders, same weather, there was certainly a sense of déjà vu. Using my experience from the the day before, I decided to attack the first climb more this time, to try and make up as many positions as possible whilst everything was close together. I managed to execute it fairly well, but given how narrow the track was and difficult it was to pass, I wasn’t able to open the engine up as much as I would have liked. With a very similar story to Saturday, I just lacked a little top end and made too many mistakes, but 12th place, two better than the previous day – certainly something to build on. I also reminded myself, that considering these were my first races back from a serious injury, it was a solid performance.
Again Hamish took to a diesel start, pacing his way up, gradually but effectively speeding past the riders in front. By the mid point of the race, he was really charging up and closing in on 8th position, only to have his seatpost break with two and a half laps to go. This required a lengthily pit stop to make it ridable before resuming the action. With such a hiatus at that stage in the race, there wasn’t enough time to work back through again, but non the less, he still took a solid 11th place. Frustrating indeed, but with real positives (from the way he was riding) up until the mechanical. With such great riding over the weekend, Hamish was clearly able to prove his good level of form, and was also able to take away another small victory – he was the first hardtail finisher on both days. It really was so rough, that about 90% of the field opted for the fully!
Certainly nobody was riding the course totally clean, and although frustrating at times when you just wanted to put the power down, a little finesse was what was required – it was great practice to ride and race such a track.
It was a top weekend of racing, and for me personally being back on the start line and practicing the course with Hamish for the first time since the 13th of April was incredible.