Well, this was to be the baptism of fire for my new machine. I was really quite hooked and the Brecon Beast and Maxx Exposure had shown up up some serious failings in my old GT.
So, thanks to a wonderful 0% deal from the local bikeshop, I ended up getting my beautiful Scott Spark 920 just three days before my first forray into XC racing.
Lewis and I had pre-entered the Sport Male category and we had no idea what to expect.
Well what a fun day! First up is a big confession though.
After riding the 'sighting' lap, Lewis and I were deeply worried about doing three laps with some potentially very fast riders. We thought we would end up looking too ridiculous! With another hour still to go until the start of our 'open' race (they'd added in a 20th anniversary race which had messed the times up) we spotted a load of mixed aged males lining up for the 2 lap 'male fun race'. At that moment, they called the five minute warning. So both having the same idea, we literally legged it to the caravan and asked the lady if we could change classes. She said no probs but we'd need to change numbers.
As they were announcing the 'one minute' warning, we were fumbling with palstic ties trying to attach our new numbers.
Literally with ten seconds to spare, we made it to the line of our new class and we were off!
The course was really quite technical. It was 80% singletrack and the rest was gravelly double track. There were two if not three climbs within the single track sections that were what I would now call 'SPD catchers!'. They were steep, loose and slippery and just too long to be able to clip out and ride up. On the sighting lap, I managed the whole course without clipping out. On the first steep climb of the first lap however, someone had got nearly to the top then toppled off to one side. Embarrasingly, I did exactly the same thing and landed on his front wheel losing three places.
The racing was pretty evenly matched amongst the ten or so people I was riding near. On the first lap, I was absolutely killing them on the double track, then holding them up in the single. I think it's a bit unfair to blame my 29er for my poor performance in the real tight twisty bits but I rarely caught anyone in these sections.
As I attacked the double track at the start of the second lap, I was feeling ok, having managed a bit of a recovery but I'd definately over-done it on the first. The course had gotten twice as slippery as when we did the sighting lap and I'd say the Rocket Rons were borderline- a mud tyre on the front would have helped with confidence. Hills I was powering up stood-up on the first lap were reduced to sitting and spinning on the second. It became a case of damage limitation rather than attack on this lap as people started to pass me. I got into a too and fro battle with a guy in purple but the bugger had saved enough energy for one sprint up his sleeve.
He got by me on the single track and I planned on nailing him on the last bit of double track as I knew I could hold him up from there to the line. However, it wasn't to be. As I climbed out of the saddle to attack him, I had nothing there. Well not quite enough to pass him anyway. I messed up a gear change on the last steep double-track climb otherwise I think I could have just pipped him.
I literally didn't see Lewis from the moment we set off and it turned out his problems were multiplied when he started to get lapped by insane racing snakes from the open race which had started in the meantime. I beat Lew by around 10 minutes and seeing the Open-class guys come by made me realise how much we had made the right decision to switch!