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So finally, after months of freezing temperatures, the first day of summer arrived, and amazingly brought with it a peculiar yellow orb hanging in the sky, this newly found warmth only tempered by the hurricane which accompanied it!! With breakfast devoured and both rider and car fuelled at the local petrol station (rider with coffee, car with half my wages), we headed off; laughing at the attendant chasing after the bins and potted plants which were being thrown around the forecourt like some kind of new, hip version of frisbee.
Round 2 of the Midlands Series was held in Chesterfield and after the pleasant sun of Staffordshire the heavier clouds of Derbyshire brought with them the odd drop of rain but after the snow and freezing conditions of the last couple of events this was nothing to worry about.
The line up saw the return of Lee Westwood to the race scene; having previously broken his hand during winter training; it’s always nice to see the return of one of the nice guys from injury but not so good to have to compete against him and with the sound of the gun he proved why...
Propelled by months of chomping at the bit Lee cut through the field and hit the front at an incredible rate of knots; riders like pins to a magnet were attached to his wheel fighting for the shelter it provided from the gale blowing across the course but even then spongy ground grabbed at the wheels sapping what little spare energy we had.
Already running in the red, ground getting tackier, pace slowed as riders sprinted just to dig their way through the treacle, I managed to find a drying line and following my team leader we sneaked into the lead.
Bog turned to fire road, then single track and as the heart rate climbed so did the course… Mud replaced by slippery rock, the course got steeper still; clicking up the gears I started thinking to myself I’m going to be in that elusive granny ring soon! (Since childhood, granny ring has always been a no, no!) Cresting the brow of the hill, grasping at whatever oxygen I could; I managed to pull up to Dan Fleeman’s wheel making it a team 1, 2….
Through the first technical section hugging Dan’s wheel I could hear that unmistakeable buzz of a freewheel getting ever closer, turning slightly to catch a glimpse of our pursuer; it was fantastic to see Jason and more importantly the third member of our team. Right guys, keep this up and the podium is ours!!
Back into the arena the team train roared, slowing slightly to take on water then back on the pace and straight into the squall blowing down the field. Taking our punishment on the front in turns we pressed on increasing our lead but as we neared the top of the field Jason started to struggle with his gears losing his chain over the top of the block; gutted but unable to wait 3 now became 2…
By the end of lap 2 we were starting to pick up back markers from the Go Race category, most sportingly moving aside to allow us through but by lap 3 traffic started to thicken and on the steep, rooted, single track climb walkers blocked our path; Dan luckily got through cleanly but alas I was blocked !!! Jumping off my bike and grappling for traction, I ran to the top of the bank using my bike as an expensive walking stick but the gap had opened. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to reel him back in on the climbs ahead I bided my time and attacked the final technical section, enjoying the flowing, fast wooded trail, I managed to reeling the leader back in one corner at a time… By the time we entered the arena we were nose to tail once more.
Through the feed zone, spectators cheered words of encouragement as bottles were discarded and replaced with new ones BUT before my eyes I saw the bottle Gem was holding out for me disappear into the trees!!! Surely I hadn’t upset Gem enough for her to tease me with the lure of a new clean bottle only to throw it way ?!?!? Thankfully no…Dan or Eric Bristow as he’s now known had thrown his empty bottle which had ricocheted off the one in Gem’s hand sending it flying !!
Panic ensued, Gem running round trying to find the right bottle on the floor, myself pulling an endo while trying to get back to where Gem was standing and then there was Dan, coolly, in a sign of true sportsmanship; or just being nosy about the chaos he’d caused ;o) dropped off the pace and allowed me to join back in the race. It didn’t last for long though as, on lap 4 in exactly the same place as before the back markers walked up the trail, Dan again got through cleanly but I had to resort to running which really isn’t a pretty sight!! The leader ploughed on but I was losing too much time on the climbs to made up on the technical sections; time counts yo yo’ed, but I just had no response.
The final two laps were bitter sweet; painful at the beginning as I mashed my way across the field then fantastic fun with the woops and little drop offs towards the end of the lap but with no elite riders in sight I was able to enjoy the last moments and came across the line in 2nd place; 40 seconds behind the leader.
The team had a fantastic day too, taking all three steps on the podium in the elite category and second in Grand Vets.
Course side support was, as normal at midland events, fantastic with an extra special thank you to the marshals around the course who not only shouted words of encouragement but did so with a smile and a time gap update to boot ;o) I tried to say thank you on my last lap BUT it’s pretty hard to do when you're concentrating on breathing !!!
Thank you for for everyone who was involved and help make it sure a good day.