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Beware wheel suckers: Mountain bike world championships

Ben Thomas | 2 years ago

European-championships-latvia-mountain-biking-start-ben-thomas-British-national-champion

The European Championships often throws up a surprise or two and this year’s looked to be no different. When we first heard the circus was heading to Latvia we thought this could be interesting! After discussions with the race organiser and researching previous editions of the race here in the host town of Sigulda we knew the race was going to be fast with average speeds of 30+ kph. With just 1800m of ascent over 105km I’d set the Turner Czar up to roll fast with a 36t Rotor Q Ring and Schwalbe Thunder Burts.

Flying out on Thursday we suffered a 2 hour delay when a careless baggage handler drove the loading vehicle into the plane! Hope he got the bill! Eventually we arrived in Sigulda staying next to the bobsleigh track and ski slopes. Despite the last arrival I was excited to get out on course.

The course was made up of 2 loops, in the race we’d tackle both twice. I pre rode the small loop on Thursday evening finding some technical trails (some of which they took out for the race, boo!),  some tough steep climbs up the ski slopes and lots of loose sandy corners. Quite different terrain to what we’d expected. Back to the apartment before the mosquitoes had all my blood. I changed to a 34t Rotor ring and Schwalbe Racing Ralph front tyre to reduce the drifting. Over the next 2 days I pre rode the remainder of the course which was mainly fast fireroad sections. I also repeated a few key sections with British friend Sally Bigham who was one of the favourites  to  win  the  European  jersey. The race would come down to being in the right group to save energy around the larger lap, then hanging on around the small lap where the majority of the trails and climb were.

European-championships-latvia-single-track-mountain-biking

You might think that once you’re at the race venue there’s plenty of time to relax but the days quickly disappears and suddenly it’s race day. Warm up done, the top riders are called up for gridding, with a good world ranking I’m now on the front row. Bang the gun goes and we shoot off the line. The first 5km is all in tarmac through the streets of Sigulda. It’s a steady downhill and the pace is flat out, everyone’s either aero tucking or pedalling frantically in their biggest gear. A touch  of the brakes and you instantly loose 10 places, you then have to work hard to move your way back forward. A crash here would be carnage; we somehow all survive to the point where the race turns offroad.

I’m in the lead group of about 20, just. A few gaps open but I hang on. Having survived the first small lap I pick up a bottle from my supporter Adam. His race now begins as he takes off in the car to  reach another 6 feed zones. At each feed zone I’ll have a bottle of USN Ener-G with a Vooma gel taped to the side. The bottles will have varying amounts of drink in them depending on how far it is to the next feed. At a feed zone near the 3/4s distance I’ll have a caffeinated USN drink.

I’m in the lead group until mid way through the big lap when we filter into a singletrack descent, as we thin into a line the people at the front instantly get the advantage and gaps open. Out onto the open and up one of the toughest climbs of the track, I’m chasing but alone it’s impossible to close down a charging group with riders like Alban Lakata setting the pace.

I end up in a group of 3 which becomes 2 as we finish the small lap for the second time. The worst possible situation would be to be on your own for the last big lap. Well I wasn’t on my own, I had a wheel sucker content to sit there and do no work. He claimed to have no power but each time I attacked him he was able to follow. 30km I sat on the front, the lead group which had still been in sight now disappearing quickly and a group of 10 were steadily catching. Not ideal.European-championships-latvia-mountain-biking

Despite my best efforts the group caught me and the wheel sucker with 3km to go. Up the last climb and sprint for the line with the last bit of energy I have, 18th place. Gasping for air I’m ruined but soon hear Sally just won the ladies race making her European Champion! Amazing watching her on the podium. Well deserved especially after so many silver medals and setbacks over the years.

What a crazy race Latvia served up. Shame I was the wrong side of that lead group split but I can be happy with how I rode. It’s another good result and I look forward to some big training now before World Championships end of the month. Big thanks to Adam for the race support and the sponsors for getting me there.

European-championships-mountain-biking-latvia-finish

Ben Thomas

| 2 years ago

About this author:
Mountain Marathon Biker with team Mountain Trax - Vauxhall. British National Marathon Champion 2015 and 2016. Racing UCI World Marathon and Stage Races around the world.
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