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Kielder Winter Warmer - by Rich Rothwell, Team Syncros Endurance15th MAR 2010

Saturday was First Race of Year Day! How did I go? Did my head explode? Did my legs fall off? Yes! All this and more! My tale begins on Friday Eve... read on dear reader...

It absolutely lashed down all day on Friday... which meant only one thing; it must have been snowing down in deepest darkest Northumberland. As I packed my race kit I contemplated my first ever XC race.... wearing Full Waterproofs! Saturday dawned... and it seemed to get darker as the morning drew on! Into the Volvo of Joy and off. Just pulling out of Morpeth the rain turned to sleet... and then snow... and then a total white out. I started to doubt the safety of continuing. But as usual, blinkered stupidy won and I forged on...

Approaching the east end of Kielder Water there seemed much less snow and optimsim returned. Then it was snuffed out as the west end was thick again. But at least it had stopped raining / snowing / sleeting (delete / add every other minute).

Turn out was reasonable considering the conditions. Around fifty people stood shivering on the start line. One particularly lean looking chap next to me had a Scott Scale with xc racer boy tyres, full lycra strip and pimpy white Sidis. Had he been here before? I chuckled quietly to myself in my 8mm neoprene overshoes, skull cap, buff, merino top, windstopper fleece..... Bang! And we were off...

I had decided that I was going to go hard off the front and hang in there for grim death... Not the most refined strategy but in the end it worked. I swapped places with my man on the start line for a mile or two then we hit the first drag up and pulled away. Up some hair pins and I got the chance to look back and see a chasing group had formed. The first bit of singletrack was spot on, even if mostly uphill. I pushed hard to try and consolidate the lead.

Out of that section, down a fireroad, across a stream and then the real fun began.... about 5 miles on and off of deep snow with slippery landrover tracks cut into it. Being the first rider through meant I had to 'cut' a line... It's a heck of a good job I've been practicing in the snow a lot! Weight back. High smooth cadence. Relax... The back half of the course pretty much carried on in this vein. It then dived off down a steep, slushy, muddy slope. Up a fireroad section and down a steeper, slushier, muddier, slopier thing... complete with the blood thirsty photogrpaher in place... A good bit of rooty singletrack and the lap was done. Two more to go.

It was only on the opening stretch of the lap that I got a chance to look back and see who was there. One rider was about a minute behind me. I pushed on hard. Up the hairpins I could look back and see he looked strong. Dig in. Back to the snow section again. The rest of the riders had cut it up a bit now so going was a bit faster but probably sketchier... Lots of dismounts, running, remounts (with the bike in a 6in groove.... tricky!). Some remounts on the 'wrong' side of the bike too, a skill I've been practicing this winter... and it actually came in useful! (If you want a laugh at your own expense, try it!)

Round lap 2. The Marshalls told me my pusuer was one minute back. Along the straight again and there he was, spinnning away... Flip, I thought I'd lost him... So I put an extra dig in on the climb. Things were starting to hurt now... Into the snow... Problem was from here on it was so technical there just wasn't a chance to look over your shoulder or you'd be off. So I forgot about him and just focused on the grooves in front of me... Down the uber steep bit and only the forest singletrack to go. Steal a glance back... I was clear.

So I took my first win of the year in my first race. Got to be pleased with that. I used lots of little tricks I've been practising over the winter; mounts / dimounts, 'spin ups' to crest hills, hitting grooves in the snow, improved cornering. All these little things add up to a faster ride.

It was a fun ride. The entry to the Kielder Marathon series gets you soup, a sandwich and a drink in the local pub which creates a good focus and atmosphere. I sat and chatted with friends old and new and, with the season ahead of us, I remembered how much fun events can be and how the harsh winter training is worth it come spring.

Rich Rothwell is a member of Team Syncros Endurance syncros-endurance.blogspot.com

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