After two very tough season openers, I was expecting more of the same this weekend for the London and Eastern League’s Hog Hill double-header.
Saturday – Day 1: London League
Redbridge Cycle Centre (also known as Hog Hill) is a great circuit and it’s also my nearest venue. I race here every week in the summer at the Beastway MTB series, and I always seem to do well, but I felt very out of sorts as I lined up for the start. I spent the previous weekend unable to eat or get out of bed and I still felt like I was getting over the experience…
I got away well, though, and quickly found myself at the head of the race with London League leader Matt Holmes of Arctic Premier. Holmes has dominated the series so far, and has won every race, but I was feeling good and seemed to be riding well.
Holmes and I sparred for the next 50 minutes, each trying to find an advantage on the fiendishly tricky course. Nothing worked and we arrived at the final straight together. True to his current run of form, Holmes had the better of me and hit the finish line with a second to spare.
Disappointing, but a much better performance than I was expecting and a great race against a very strong rider.
Sunday – Day 2: Eastern League
A stellar field lined up for day 2, most notably former junior national champion Hugo Robinson, recently returned from the first ever UCI ‘cross race in China.
Ross Tricker and Sean Dunlea were also in attendance and it was the four of us that led the race into the first corner. The second corner caught Robinson out, who lost a lot of places after sliding off, but he managed to battle his way back into the race.
My experience of the course from the previous day was paying dividends and, by the end of lap two, I had started to pull out a lead over Tricker and Dunlea. I tried not to look back and concentrated on picking my lines and staying out of trouble.
My lead continued to grow for the next few laps, but I was starting to tire and could feel the previous days racing in my legs on the uphill switchbacks on the back of the course. I know only too well how dangerous it is to relax during a race, but my concentration was beginning to waver as the tiredness crept in. I slipped and went down on a sharp right-hander and began to panic as my bike got caught up in a length of course tape.
I untangled myself and tried to get back into my rhythm with one lap to go.
I looked across the course and took a rough time check. Still looking good and I dug in for the last few hundred metres, through the berms, up the singletrack and out onto the finish straight, on my own this time, with enough of a gap for a bit of a celebration as I cross the line for my first win of the season, and on home turf too.
Big thanks to Bruce Mackie and all the Lee Valley Youth volunteers who worked so hard to put on this great weekend of racing.