TORQ at the World XC Champs

Lee Craige is one of the UK’s most accomplished domestic mountain bikers, racing at the pointy end of the elite female category, despite having to fit in training around a full time job. After some promising results at the beginning of the season, Lee took a fantastic 3rd place at the National XC Champs, which landed her a place on the British Team at the European XC Champs. This resulted in a month devoted to racing in Europe, flying the flag for the TORQ Performance Mountain Bike Team. Here’s Lee’s report of how it went…

On the 22nd July, I left Inverness for the long drive to Plymouth and Bontrager 24/12, my van packed for a month long trip that would take in the Czech and Italian World Cup rounds. It was to be a 5000 mile round trip. The TORQ Team knocked out two great performances at Bontrager 24/12, taking the win in the male and mixed quad categories in the 12 hour race. A good days racing!

On Monday 25th July I caught a ferry to France and drove on up to the Netherlands for a block of road and crit races. On the way to Arnhem, where the Scottish Cycling Road team have a base for the season, I got a phone call from British Cycling telling me I had been selected for the European Championships in Slovakia the following weekend. This changed things a little. I reduced my road block to 4 days intensive crit racing where my aim was just to stay in the bunch. A great experience to race at such a high standard and one that I was sure would stand me in good stead for those World Cup starts that were to come.

On the 3rd August I flew from Amsterdam to Vienna to prepare for the European Champs with the British team. The Slovakian course was old school and hot! 35oC with a brutally steep, loose climb and straight, fast, slightly off camber descents. But my learning was all in the preparation for this race. I learned loads from British cycling about myself as a bike racer and, although the Championship race didn’t go so well (I finished 42nd, just outside the points), I cant describe just how valuable this lesson was and I left with a handful of things to practice and improve before the Czech Republic World Cup the following weekend.

The Czech World Cup course, with 80% of it single track in the trees and climbs suited to those with power and a couple of tricky features, suited me much better. On the Friday I qualified 11th fastest in the Pro Sprint Eliminator which consisted of log hops and jumps and finished 15th overall due to a slipped chain in my heat. With lungs open and race head now firmly on, I stood on the start line on Sunday quietly confident. I got a good starts and clambered from 66th to 38th in the first lap. Slipping my chain again, I dropped 9 places but then held this new position until the end of the race.  47th from 66th and some valuable points in the bank.

On the 16th August we made the long drive to Val de Sole in Italy, with the temperature ramping once more. This course was a killer . A real rhythm breaker with its steep ups and twisting downs. Nothing too technical just very physically demanding. Race day was sweltering again but by now my body was adjusting to racing in these temperatures. I got a reasonable start, despite a crash on the line and felt OK sitting in my usual place in the middle of the pack, until I washed out on a completely flat and grassy corner twisting my knee badly. I got back on but with less conviction, finishing 55th.

It was after this race that I learned I had performed consistently enough to travel with British Cycling to the The World Cross Country Mountain Bike Championships in Champery, Switzerland in 2 weeks time. The opportunity of a lifetime! So instead of heading home I drove on up to Basel for my final preparations, racing the Swiss Cup as preparatin. With many of the big names there it was an intimidating start list. A bizarre but fun course too. A technical arena section with small gap jumps, a pump track and drops followed by a road section! A fast and very short lap but with the long road section to pass on each lap, being held up by the bunch (which normally allows the leading riders such an advantage) was not likely. This was an opportunity to see if I could really roll with these women. I rode well but the pace was super fast and slipping that chain again cost me hanging onto the bunch that went all the way up to 5th place. I worked with another girl at a 40 second gap to the bunch finishing 19th in the end, 8 minutes down on natioanl XC champion and pro team-mate Annie Last who took the win in fine style. I felt very happy with this performance and it gave me confidence and form for the weekend that lay ahead.

From Basel, I drove with Scottish Cycling to Champery and was reunited with team GB. Tired now from the culmination of 5 weeks of bike racing, I now had to step it up and get my head around the most technically demanding course anywhere in on the XC MTB circuit.  On the first day of practice, I lost my front wheel when landing a 4 foot drop and ploughed my head into the ground. I was off course for the rest of the day to get stitches above my eye. Not a great start but the following morning I went out on course and cleaned the remaining sections. 
On race day I was gridded 67 on the start line with 72 of the best bike riders in the world. On the gun, my sprint gained me 37 places and I came through the first feed in 30th place. Unfortunately, the steep gravel climb on the 2nd lap destroyed my bike handling ability and I crashed badly on the first descent. I lost 14 places in the crash and a further 9 in the remaining laps while I nursed my already damaged knee. It was a race of survival though, so technically demanding was the course and in just getting round I manage to hold onto 53rd place. In doing so I gained some valuable UCI points and, perhaps more importantly, some precious km’s in my legs racing at the top level in the sport. The deserved win went to Catherine Pendrel and in the U23’s race, Annie did us proud once more by hanging onto Julie Bresset.

On return to the UK lee went on to take 3rd place at the final round of the British Mountain Bike Race series despite an awful cold, another great result to round off the season!

As always, a huge thank you to our sponsors: – Frames – Drivetrain & Brakes  – Helmets – Handlebars, Stems, Saddles, Seatposts & Grips – Team PR – Tyres – Performance Cycle Clothing – Fox Suspension Forks – Advanced Lighting – Lubrication – Shoes – Cables & Housing – Pedals, Multi tools & pumps – Neoguards. – KCNC Chains, Skewers & Bottom Brackets – Hubs, Seat Clamps & Headsets – Spokes – Hand Built Wheels – Brake Hardware – Photography – Power Measurement, Turbo Training & Bike Racks – Tyre Sealant & Rims. – Nomad Cordless Pressure Washing – Bike Maintenance & Servicing

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