Prior to leaving England for the World Championships in Ornans France I told various people that I wanted it to rain and for the race to be muddy. My thought process went something like:
– we just did a really muddy ride in Hopton Woods, it was fun and I felt fast,
– if it is a flat out un-technical race I am not going to match up to the Euro speed demons.
Looking out of the window down to the river in Ornans today, two days after the race with the river bursting its banks I should probably say ‘you’d better be careful what you wish for’. But it turns out my instincts weren’t too far off.
The little town of Ornans is everything you imagine a rural French town to be and our Gite was equally fabulous, very shabby chic. We were staying with Tim Dunford and Ben Thomas (also of the GB team) and my parents who were surprisingly non-plussed at how quickly we turned the pretty tourist accommodation into a workshop and food dispenser.
Thursday before the race:
Chris and I headed up the valley to meet another of my team-mates Catherine Williamson and her husband Rob to recce the last 40km of the course (she had looked at the first 22km the day before and thought this would take us about 3 hours.) It was pretty rainy and after we finally found each other we had already trudged across a few fields, clambered over some electric fences and avoided curious cattle. Another hour of getting blown towards barbed wire fences and trying not to slide off the edge of cliffs and we were definitely wondering what we had let ourselves in for! We made it as far as Cath and Rob’s gite (after 3 hours!) before we called it a day arranging to look at the last section the next day.
I had been reassured by Andy Blair (Aus) that the middle section of the course was ‘technical, committing and in places scary’. By comparison therefore our Friday ride was going to be easy! It certainly wasn’t as bad and Cath, Chris and I traversed the two valleys which completed the ‘course femme’ in a little under two hours. We thought we would then ride up into the arena and have a look around. Going up a little road climb I heard a CRUNCH and looked around to see my rear mech, in three pieces in my wheel and my mech hanger bent totally out of shape – uh oh… I had a mini freak out, but Cath and Chris managed somehow to calm me down and I carried my now un-pushable bike into the arena. No one was able to help me there (Whyte bikes are not very common on the continent) so I started to walk back down the hill to the town bike shop. At that point Tim and Ben turned up and as I explained my predicament Ben told me that his pit crew were coming over from England the next morning and could probably bring me parts from the shop if I wanted. At that moment I could have kissed him!
The day before the race:
My parts were now on the way from England and I decided not to risk riding in the mud again until race day (although my exploded bike made this rather impossible anyway!). We went to sign-on and I suddenly realised I was at the World Championships and I had no idea what I was doing. I joined the queue behind the German Team Manager which transpired to be the shortest queue of 50 riders I have ever seen. Unfortunately I only realised this when he slammed a stack of licences the thickness of two packs of cards down on the desk (lucky Germans)! The guys from Mountain Trax arrived mid afternoon with a rear mech and hanger taken from one of the shop employees bikes (talk about above and beyond!). Chris set about rebuilding my bike (he is also owed a massive thanks) and we were able to do a short spin on the road to check everything worked – which it did, perfectly. Phew…..
As promised the rain was biblical. I queried my previous desire for a wet race as I looked out into the mist covering the valley, but then distracted myself by putting on my GB kit – a somewhat curious feeling. Chris and I rolled down to the start ready for him to set off just behind the World Championship men and I looked around for Rob who was kindly going to take my bottles and do the mad trek between feed stations (but by bicycle to avoid the queues– sensible man).
I lined up in the back start pen looking down at the number 37 on my board and then those of Gunn Rita Dahle-Flesjaa and Irena Kalentieva in the 40s thinking ‘what the hell am I doing here?’.We all set off down the fire-road out of town in a big pack. I was somewhere in the middle most of the time but wasn’t particularly comfortable moving forwards in the group as I wanted to do. It was probably a good thing as I heard a bang and spotted Team-mate Cath, Sabine Spitz and others on the floor. I scooted around them and quickly got back onto the pack.
As we hit the first climb we merged with the men who had done another extra loop. At this point everything splintered and riders were sprawled up the hillside. There seemed to be guys and girls all over the trail all fighting for their line. I picked my way through trying to let as many of the male riders through as possible whilst passing the women I needed to. It was super slippy and you had to ride really smoothly.
The first 30km continued like this. There were quite a few people around a few girls and I would pass each other at various points depending upon on strengths – mine seemingly descending down insane muddy chutes and I was thankful that I could only remember one or two dry races from this season! It was still raining and the higher up you were the more fog you were riding in. I abandoned my glasses to the back of my head early on as they were more of a hindrance than a help (surprising given they are prescription!).
After about 30km it got a lot more lonely, and less rainy. You would think this was a good thing, but instead of nice slippy, slidey mud the trails suddenly became covered in sticky, claggy mud. Numerous times I had to stop and clear out my frame and forks, totally paranoid after breaking my mech previously. You looked forward to the spray of lumps of mud from your wheels whilst descending on fire-roads. It was somewhere in this middle section I came across Chris who was working his way through the men’s world champs field we rode together for a few minutes before we hit another climb and he moved off into the distance. Still feeling good and enjoying myself in the ridiculous mud I carried on, pushing hard on the pedals where the trails would allow.
By the last 20km I was in my element (apart from the bit across a field made of clay where I momentarily lost it due to not even being able to push my bike). Stomping up the hills and careering down them I have never felt so good. I think I overtook 3 girls, maybe 4 on this section and clearly my tactic of shovelling High 5 gels down my neck every half hour was paying off as they seemed to be fading in comparison and then I hit the last descent. I had been looking forward to this rock strewn gully descent for most of the race. It was something like Cavedale in the peak distract combined with Worry Gill at Dalby and as long as you were able to let go of the brakes and pick your way down it was brilliant fun. At the bottom you simply turned right and you were home back in the arena. I crossed the line and looked for my folks and my shower bag, no sign. After a half hour wait they turned up apologetic that they had missed me but apparently I had been too fast over the last bit of course that they mistimed it! I heard placing 35 announced as she crossed the line and realised I beat my start number – pretty unexpected! I eventually discovered I was 33rd which given that I was simply hoping not to be last I am pretty pleased with.
I still can’t believe I got to wear GB kit. It was always that thing I said I’d like to do but never believed it would happen! I cannot thank everyone who has supported me this year enough. – AW Cycles, Whyte bikes, High 5, Fizik, Mount Zoom and of course Chris Pedder for fixing my bike and always being awesome and Rob Williamson for handing out bottles to me during the race at the Worlds. Hope to be there again next year!