Report by Gareth McKee.
I was delighted to be able to head to the first round off the British NPS Sherwood Pines in Nottingham with two of the top juniors in Ireland, James Curry (Banbridge CC) and Sean Bradley (Carn Wheelers) both representing Cycling Ulster. We would be supported by Simon Curry and Jeff Ballantine for the weekend who had also travelled.
After the long trip the first task was to get signed on for the event. Following that we quickly got changed and it was time to go for a few practice laps with the team. The first lap we took it relatively easy to learn the course. It looked like it would produce a super-fast race with only one steep hill, but lots of gradual uphill fire roads. After having a talk about the course we set off and completed another two laps gradually stepping up the speed followed by a cool down.
Come race day the whole team was very positive, despite the change of weather conditions. With the weather changing the handling of the course we decided we would go for a practice lap to see how tricky the course would be in the wet conditions - It was still rideable with caution, however from the practice lap through to the start of the race it had rained constantly. During this time Women's race also took place so the course was becoming rather difficult as they churned up the ground.
Due to having no UCI points from last year because of injury I was gridded in 44th among the 65 strong elite field, with lots of international competition! The start was frantic with mud spraying up from the other riders and it was just a case of making up as much ground without getting caught in a crash. Throughout the opening lap I was able to work my way through the field into the top 20 with the leader still in sight.
The course was so much different from the practice session and completely unrideable in places, so I had to run through these sections. Despite the conditions however, I had a good opening 4 laps thanks to Simon and Jeff looking after me in the pits. On the fifth lap the race was halted due to a seriously injured rider who required the ambulance. After this there was complete confusion, with riders taking off it was just mayhem as everyone tried to chase. Unfortunately I lost a few places in the restart, but over the last two laps I had a good battle with the riders around me and had a strong final to the race finishing 21st after a very tough event.
James Curry had a fantastic race finishing 6th in the extremely competitive Junior category, beating a lot of the top juniors from Britain. Sean Bradley had a tough day with mechanical problems, however never gave up and finished the race in 34th. There is lots more to come from these two riders this season.
We would like to thank Simon Curry and Jeff Ballantine for looking after us so well over the weekend, and also XMTB allowing us to share their pit area. Great team work from the Ulster contingent all round!