Sherwood Pines Forest Park
Sunday 5 April 2009
Race Report by Jenn O’Connor
Pics Courtesy Rob Crayton
I rode my heart out yesterday.
My race started in near disaster when riders from the second row of the grid barged into both me and German rider Mel Spath on the front row, causing us to run into each other and tangle up our bars. Mel got away again OK, but I dropped my chain and had to fight to get back up to speed. The rest of the field streamed past me, and I had to jostle for a place amongst the backmarkers, as we hit the first corners and out onto the fire road straight.
But there was a little voice in my head telling me I had the legs to win this race, and I refused to believe it wasn’t going to happen, even as the lead bunch disappeared into the distance.
I buried myself in the chase. I soon caught up with a chasing group including my team mates Annabel Simpson and Nadine Spearing. Both had had great starts, but Annie had collided with a tree early in the lap and taken a bad fall, hurting her back. She was battling on, but later pulled out.
I got away from that group and started reeling in the other chasers. I could occasionally glimpse the lead bunch, headed up by Rosara Joseph, an Olympian and NZ National Champ, with British National Champ Jenny Copnall, Australian Kate Potter, Mel Spath and newcomer Annie Last in a tight bunch. They were nearly a minute ahead of me, and it seemed like a huge gap.
Further back was another newcomer, Lily Mathews, who I quickly caught. She stayed on my wheel for a while but seemed unwilling to work with me in the chase, so I was happy to drop her and close in on Sharon Laws. Sharon had been dropped from the leading bunch and I thought she would be a good bet for a chasing partner, but she was either unwilling or unable and soon disappeared behind me. No doubt she was still recovering from her stage racing effort in the Cape Epic.
On the second of five laps I started to pull back the lead bunch. I was on my own in the chase but managed to close the gap to just 25 seconds. Their pace was surging, as a bunch does, and they seemed to yo-yo away from me at every turn. I nailed every piece of singletrack and hammered every fire road, and whittled away at the gap. I’ve never chased so hard in my life.
Onto lap three and the gap was just 10 seconds. It sounds like nothing, but 10 seconds is still a big gap to cross, and the leaders were getting edgy and starting to push the pace. Finally, on a long sweeping section of singletrack, I got back onto Mel’s wheel with a shout of ‘got you, you bastards!’. What a great buzz it was to finally catch the bunch after an hour of hard chasing. It must have seemed to them that I had appeared from nowhere as I worked through to the front of the group.
It seemed to me that Rosara was doing most the work at the front, while the others were biding their time, waiting for something to happen. Sure enough, we caught up with some lapped riders, and that?s where I got a bit lucky. Rosara and I both slipped past just before a couple of tight turns, while the rest of the bunch got caught up behind.
I stayed with Rosara and we opened up a small gap, just a few seconds. I was ecstatic. I came around her shouting ‘come on, we’ve got a gap, let’s go go go!!!!? Rosara didn?t need pushing. The two of us started working together in earnest and opened the gap. Through the twisty sections I could see the rest of the bunch ? the tables had turned, and now they were having to chase hard to try and catch me. As we passed through the arena for the final lap I heard the commenter say ‘this race is now an all-Kiwi affair’ Now that’s a feeling money can’t buy!
The last lap went like clockwork in our little two-person break. We gave each other space in the corners and singletrack, and shared the work on the front – a refreshing contrast with the early part of my race. At every turn I could see the chasers, but they weren’t gaining on us, if anything we were gaining on them. I couldn’t believe how strong I felt, and stayed glued to Rosara through the last few turns.
Now I’m no kind of a sprinter. My sprint is a bit of a running joke amongst our team. On this occasion however, I locked out my forks (something I very rarely do), pulled out around Rosara and gave it hell for the line. I nearly got it. I’d love to say I won the sprint and won the race, as it would have been the fairy tale ending that I’d worked so hard for, but unfortunately I didn’t morph into Tom Boonan just because the situation called for it. I lost the sprint by half a wheel and finished second.
But I’m very proud to be able to say, in all honesty, that it was close.
Mel Spath outsprinted Kate Potter and Jenny Copnall to take third, and I was pleased for her, as she’d done a lot of chasing herself during the race. Nadine finished further back, in another chasing group. Meanwhile, our Masters racer Ruth Mordaunt won her first race in convincing style, which was a delight, as Ruth has been hampered in her training over winter and genuinely didn’t expect to win.
With a field of 20 Elite women, including a big international contingent and some top racers, this was always going to be a big weekend and a tough race. It looks like British XC racing is back with a vengeance. Round two in Dalby Forest (May 10th) will give us some hills to play with, which will certainly sort the women from the girls. The Altura Patterson Training team will be ready.
Pic 7: The Elite Women’s podium (from left) Mel Spath (GER), Rosara Joseph (NZL) and Jenn O’Connor (NZL)