The reality of a National Championships.
I have to be honest National Championships is a race and an experience I don’t enjoy what so ever. Of course, it's amazing when you win but the race is so different from any other of the season. I race week in week out at the biggest races in the calendar with the biggest names yet I’m never nervous and rarely feel pressure other than what I put on myself to do the best possible race I can do. Yet every year the National Championships comes around and I feel pressure from everywhere and everyone. It's way worse than any World Championships I've ever done. Whether its spectators telling me what lines I should be taking or the general chatter of who’s going to win or commissaries talking to riders like we’ve never raced before or hearing the whole Nikki vs Helen battle, its funny in a way and I'm sure Helen would agree with me in saying that it seems to slip everyone's mind that we race against one another for 6 months of the year, you would honestly think we had never raced one another before.
Every year I come into this race with absolutely no expectations because anything can happen and riders who you don’t race with the whole season are now your main competitors. Needless to say, the courses in the UK are always so different from any of the European races so you really do have to change a lot come race day.
This year was no exception. Christmas and New year had come and gone and in a flash, I had raced 8 races in 12 days. I had some great results and I really feel like my form has been coming along nicely but at the end of that period it was definitely time to switch things up and have a change of scenery so I headed out to Girona to do a short training block and have a few days without any racing (a whole 6 days without racing to be exact !;).
Friday we left Girona for the UK. It wasn’t the best start to our trip, my suitcase went missing, along with my race shoes! Damn Norwegian air. Next, our hire car broke down and by the time we had arrived at our hotel, any meal plan had gone straight out the window.
Saturday started out better, still no sign of my suitcase but I had a fairly relaxed morning whilst Matt headed off for a 20km run! Yep 20km, training for the London Marathon requires some long running. Mine have to wait till cross season finishes before that panic training commences but that's a whole other story :-). We headed down to the check out the course late afternoon.
The course was totally dry, extremely fast with a LOT of corners, not much running at all. There were a few off camber banks but they were fairly easy to ride. I debated whether to go with sand/file treads or typhoons but decided on the typhoon options as I preferred to have a little more grip around corners. If it had rained a lot then I think the course would have been good but the weather really hadn’t done the course any favours and so it was running more like a criterium and was very difficult to get any power down because of the constant corners. I would say the course didn’t play in to any of my strengths as a rider and although enjoyable to ride it was for sure not a course I'm suited to. At the same time my form has been good and it was another good opportunity to practice some skills before worlds so I was fairly confident I could put out a good race. When the courses are so fast they become more of a waiting game, it changes things a lot because riders are able to stay close at the front of the race for longer and it becomes more a race of who makes a mistake first or who can ride a good crit rather than who’s the strongest or best technically. On the positive side, my mechanic was happy, easy work weekend for him with the bikes ;).
After a couple of interviews at the course, it was time to head back to our hotel and get some dinner. 10 pm came and I had a phone call from reception. My bag had arrived !! I was made up, I will never make the mistake of not taking my cycling shoes in my handbag again. A rookie error I know but usually, hand luggage doesn’t go missing! Phew. I went to bed a happy woman.
Sunday morning we headed to the race, I did a few laps, it had rained a little in the morning but not anywhere near enough to change the course at all so I stuck with my typhoons. It was so nice to see all the young children out supporting all the riders and it allowed me to see the bigger picture, no matter if I got that National jersey or not, I was doing something good. I was inspiring riders to get out there and give cross a go and realising that so many of these people who had come out to watch also watch me week in week out back over in Europe over live streams and support me that way made me realise that today's result didn’t matter. As long as I did my best on the day that's all I could do and with that, the nerves fade, the pressure left my shoulders and I carried on like I would for any other race and so it was time to make my pancakes and get race ready.
I didn’t feel like I had particularly great legs at all on Sunday for whatever reason, sometimes you just have those days when they feel heavy and not as zippy as they needed to be for a course so fast. but from past experience I knew roughly how this race would go so I felt well prepared in that sense. I knew the race would be fast I knew there could be potentially a small group of us going for that jersey right till the very end and I knew to win that race I would have to be patient, and wait and wait and wait to make my move. Something that doesn’t come easily to me but I knew that's how it would be won. There are some fantastic young riders coming through British cross at the moment, both Male and Female and I think everyone saw that on Sunday. I was super impressed with how many youth and junior women we had starting earlier in the day too, it was great to see.
Before I knew it we were off. My family and friends were all there to give me a cheer. It started super fast as expected and after just 1 lap, I was surprised there was only myself and Anna Kay left at the front of the race. We were both racing each other hard but neither of us had attempted any big attacks so early in the race and unfortunately for Anna she dropped her chain with 2 laps to go, which ended the battle early, and so we didn’t get to see how that would have turned out as neither of us had really done any big moves. From then on in I just put my head down and went for it, of course for me it wasn’t the best way to win but sometimes these things happen and there's nothing to be done to prevent it. I know how that feels as I've had my share of bad luck but on that day lady luck was on my side. Hopefully, Anna has got all her bad luck out the way now after having the ride of her season Sunday, i’m more than confident she will have a great end to her season.
For me crossing that finish line with my hands in the air was a relief, I've had a fair few podiums at some big races this season but that was the first time I got my hands up so I was very happy. 4 x National Champion is something I'm very proud of and I'm excited to get back in that jersey this coming weekend. For me these next couple of weeks are a super important time of the season, its a balancing act trying to hit peak form for worlds, whilst also making sure I'm recovering and training well before I begin to taper.
Huge thanks to my “Village” Matt, Kristin, Marc, My family, Mechanic, Kareena, and my sponsors for always being there when I need them, my biggest supporters and always by my side!
Next up for me is Pont Chateau, lets hope I make it past 200m this time ;)