There’s always an extent of uncertainly that shadows over the first race of the season, Ae Forest always delivers the goods with long, rocky, rooty, and blown out stages but the question in my head was - can I deliver the goods? The weather did NOT play on the riders’ side, with freezing sideways rain that commenced from the early hours of Saturday and persisted until midday Sunday. Cold weather is something I have always struggled with, perhaps I should have eaten a few more pies as a kid but fortunately I have Sealskinz to keep me toasty instead!
Race day one was brutal, with two 3-4 minute sprint stages to open the lungs up; I rode safely to establish a satisfying top 10 start. Equipped with a spare pair of dry gloves and tissue to clear my goggles lens, I then set off for the third and final stage of day one. This stage was the technical one, and one that would naturally play to my favour. All was going well until mid-stage I found my front brake pads had decided to give up the go; with no stopping power at all I sailed well over a corner and began my scramble back up the track to re-join the stage. Having lost heavy time from this “over the bars” moment, I was stunned to find myself holding 11th place after day one.
Disappointed yes, but positive knowing that the crash aside, my pace in the soppy, muddy, and quite frankly horrendous conditions was good.
Race day two and the sun almost began to shine as the elite riders ventured up the hill for stage 4, another technical stage featuring polished rocks, roots and steep, deep rutted switchbacks further down the hill; this really was the day where my Orange Alpine160 would shine. A small crash again in the upper part of the stage cost me a few seconds and resulted in a time that again, wasn't too far off the pace but would cost me heavily in the overall time standings. Stage 5, let the pedalling commence - a fast stage featuring a trail centre top section which then dropped in to a freshly cut off piste (once loamy I imagine) finish. I rode conservatively, keeping the rubber on the ground and whilst not overly satisfied with my speed, at least I wasn’t adding mud to my jersey by rolling around on the floor! So, stage 6 and the most fun one yet! I was feeling fired up, ready to put the past mistakes behind me. Hitting lines I wanted and making things flow, I was enjoying every second of this downhill track! Unfortunately, another small mistake saw me wash out for the final time… I got back on and kept it safe to the finish.
Some weekends are ones to live and learn from, this was one of them. Seeing the results that evening, I was overwhelmed to see myself land 9th place after the mistakes and issues I had sustained and encountered throughout the weekend. A weekend of torrential downpours, mud, more mud, more downpours and a new race format, I don't think Dyfi Forest next month could be any worse… Still, that’s racing!
A huge thanks to everyone who has made this season possible again, the Orange Alpine 160 felt on point all weekend and dealt with the Scottish weather in true “Hand built in Halifax” fashion! I think an extra special mention to Sealskinz is in order for this race however, there’s no worse feeling than putting on day-old wet shoes, unless you have Sealskinz on your feet! Also a mention for VeeTireCo. for the ongoing support and encouragement, Extra UK with their amazing support on keeping my feet in my Crank Brothers pedals and invisiFrame for ensuring my ride stays clean and looking fresh!