Grand Nationals? Not so much…

 By the time Christmas and New Year is over – with all the eating, drinking and general excess that the festive season always demands – I am sometimes struggling to keep my eyes on the prize. The National Championships is always cruelly close to Christmas, so the week or so between normal service being resumed after Jan 1st and the biggest race on the calendar, is often a time of frantic prep and attempted dietary restraint.

As ever, I was struck down by the traditional Christmas Cold, delivered just before the gifts on December 24th. This dragged on for ten days or so, but cleared, mostly, in time for my trip across the border. By the time the Big Weekend came around, I was feeling pretty good: Bikes ready, kit packed – time to head West.

We pulled into Abergavenny after a wind-whipped cross country drive, parking the VW amongst an impressive array of RVs and team buses. Not the best night’s sleep I ever had, but certainly not the worst and I woke to a damp and blustery day, one that looked like being a bike-per-lap kind of day. An 08:30 pre-ride seemed to confirm this, with some sections already cutting up and some very heavy going in prospect.

As the day went on, however, the skies brightened and the wind kept blowing – a combination which dried the course out beautifully over the course of the morning, although some sections remained extremely sticky. By the time of the V40-49 race – the last race of the day – things were looking good, and I headed out on my practise laps for an enthusiastic recce of what was in store.

Unfortunately, my recce was a little too enthusiastic (a reckless recce) and I lost my footing on a running section at the top of the course, going down hard on my right side and twisting my ankle badly, something I haven’t done for years. That old familiar sprain-pain came flooding back and I cursed my luck as I soft-pedalled to the start, lining up on the 3rd row and trying to ignore the throbbing from my ankle.

In spite of this mishap, I got a flying start, cutting through the inside of the first corner and finding myself in 5th place before we’d done half a lap. Defending National Champion, Nick Craig, was just a few yards ahead and I felt, suddenly, like this might be my day. I knew that a win was very unlikely, but a podium? Maybe…

I often struggle when I try and recall the way a particular race has panned out, but I remember clearly the desperate feeling I experienced as this race progressed, as my strength began to fail me and I started to work my way backwards through the field. Dead legs, burning lungs – I could quite happily have climbed off my bike at any moment during the second half of my 45 minute trial – but I ploughed on and crossed the line in 11th place, narrowly missing my stated target of a top ten (not to mention my dream target of a top 5).

Exhausted and with an ankle the size of a grapefruit, I hobbled homewards, disappointed but looking forward to next year’s race: I’ll get it right one of these days.

Happily, Kona’s other representative at the National Championships was made of sterner stuff. Helen Wyman nailed it once again and retains her well-deserved stripes for another year. Congratulations Helen – you rock.