Rab’s World: Getting the racing bug

Our racing columnist Rab Wardell returns with an update on how his attack on the XC racing circuit is going. He’s been training hard, racing in foreign countries, avoiding customs, not avoiding colds and doing his best to earn points for prizes – namely an entry to the World Cups and then the Commonwealth Games…

Racing in the dust of Israel - how long since there's been any in Scotland?

“I’ve recently managed to get my assault on racing going. I’ve mentioned a few times before that collecting UCI points (world ranking points) is a serious objective of mine. I need 20 UCI points to earn the right to start in the World Cups, and I hope to get back on a World Cup start line in June this year.

One slight point-collecting complication is that there is a bike race in August which the best racers in the world need to collect points for to gain qualification. That race is the London Olympics and not surprisingly there are a number of nations taking qualification fairly seriously.

I’d picked some early season races to hopefully kick start my points scoring opportunities. In early March I flew to Tel Aviv in Israel where there were four UCI Class 2 events (points to 10th place) over the space of ten days. If I had a good racing trip I could have easily gained the 20 points needed for a World Cup before the season had really even started. Things are rarely that simple though.

I had a bit of nightmare journey into Israel, mostly due to a Syrian Visa and stamp I had in my passport from around 18 months ago. I visited Syria as a tourist in October 2010 and the authorities were suspicious of me, given the relationship between the two countries and the current situation in Syria! My bags were searched and I was questioned a lot.

‘Why are you going to Israel?’

An Orthodox mode of transport?

‘Where are you staying?’

‘Do you know anyone in Israel?’

‘Do you know anyone in Syria?’

‘Do you have a bomb in your bag?’

I’m not even kidding about this last question. Thankfully I passed the tests and later that night was safely in Israel and collected from the train station by my hosts Giora, the father of  the race organiser, Gal.

Over the first few days I checked out the course for the first two races in Mishmar Haemek, a Kibuttz about 40 miles north of Tel Aviv. The courses were amazing, built on a mega steep hillside in a pine forest: not the Israel most Westerners are see day in, day out in the media. I hung out with the guys in the bike shop on the Kibbuttz, drinking coffee and eating cakes and they told me about racing trips to Belgium, Fort William  and Dalby, among others. In the races I was happy with my performance. I scored an 8th and 9th place and was in the mix with the national champions of Russia, the Ukraine and Estonia, as well as some nifty Germans and Israelis.

For the following week things went downhill for me. After an amazing ride in Ben Shemen, a trail centre just outside of Tel Aviv, I picked up a chest infection and couldn’t ride. My lungs take a battering in racing and I seem to be susceptible to picking these things up. I was pissed, but I had to rest and missed the following two races before coming home. On the plus side I got to visit Jerusalem and the mountains to the north right on the border of Lebanon. I want to go back next year already. It was such a good trip with the most friendly people who are mad about bike racing. I loved it.

Rab at Kirroughtree. Photo by Sarah Mulholland

Once I got home I had about a week to recover from my illness and get back into the swing of things for the British Cross Country Series in Sherwood Pines. I normally love the racing here, super fast on twisting singletrack, like a Storm Trooper/Ewok jet bike battle. Unfortunately the course for this year was pretty much all new. It wasn’t really bedded in and there was next to no passing opportunities. This was a huge problem with 80 elite riders in the international field on course with over 120 expert, sport and junior racers too. I had a decent race, and was in the mix shooting for a top 15 before I had some problems passing other riders. It’s such a difficult situation, as everyone is racing all at once. It impossible to pass another rider from another category without impacting on their race, as well as impacting on your own. Anyway, I rolled in in the 20′s after being passed by a strong Dutch lad with a train of riders glued to his wheel, including a smirking Nick Craig

The following week was the Scottish Cross Country in Kirroughtree. This was a proper course! Short and sharp climbing, rocky singletrack and some natural sections. I’m looking forward to the British Cross Country here in June! The field was strong again, with the GT Racing boys, Rob ’4real’ Friel of XCracer.com and Allan Clarke riding, among others. The start was ballistic, with two riders riding for the first corner like it was the last, before imploding and disappearing leaving only a mushroom cloud. Dave Henderson, Gareth Montgomerie and I rode on and it was soon just Gareth and I, before Gareth gained a small lead on me on the third lap of four. On the final lap I tried to close the gap, which was hovering at around 30 seconds. On a short rock shoot I hit the compression a little hard at the bottom and lost some pressure in my rear tire. I had to throttle right back to save from completely puncturing and was passed by Dave towards the finish. I rolled in in third, disappointed with my mistake but at least I’m on the pace.

Since then I’ve been getting plenty of road miles and racing in and equally as much time on the Remedy. I have my Trek Superfly hardtail built for this weekend at Dalby, the second round of the British Cross Country series. There will be another strong field but I’m shooting for a top 15 and picking away some more UCI points.

‘Til next time

Rab

Ed: As it happens Rab had the showing he wanted at the Dalby round, taking 12th place in Elite…

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