Thursday, 7 February 2019

It was finally the week of the world championships in Mol Belgium. I drove out there on the Wednesday with Mark Doorbar, a great  friend of mine from Worcester and Wendy and about 20 friends were going to join us the following day.

We arrived late in the day on the Wednesday and were staying in a nice hotel in Lemel about 10 minutes from the course. After booking in, I ventured out on my bike for a 45 minute ride in the dark, just to loosen the legs after the long drive and felt more relaxed when I got back. After a good meal in the hotel, an early night was in order.

On the following day, we drove out to the course. I already had some idea of what to expect, having seen the park area when I had visited it on my way back from the disastrous European Champs the month before. In a nutshell, the course was a series of long runs in the sand and then some fast sections on the bike on the hard parkland woodland trails. I can hardly say it was my favourite course, but having recced it the month before, I had at least been able to put in some specific training on the local Hartlebury common near to Worcester.

Three good laps was enough for me to test out the course and then after signing on I went back to the hotel to rest. One thing which I had been dreading about the race was the gridding protocol, which was a complete lottery. Supposedly it was done completely randomly, but when I was drawn 28 out of 28 I felt rather despondent, especially as the reigning world champion Robin Delve was first on the grid. I was perhaps lucky in that there were only 28 in my race, so at worst I was likely to be on the 4th row. In the over 50s race, with 80 riders, I could have been on the back row of 10.

My supporter team had begun to arrive and so the gridding disaster was soon forgotten and  after discussions with Liam and Mick Shakespeare, I realised that anyway the gridding should not prove to be too much of a handicap. On the Thursday night I enjoyed another good meal in the hotel with my team and then another early night.

The day of the race proved to be cold but dry but I felt good and was looking forward to the race.

When I was called up to the line, I in fact managed to manoeuvre myself up to the second row, so felt really good when the gun went off! By the end of the first lap I had got through to the front of the field and briefly led the race, but a couple of spills in the sand saw me fall back to second behind Delve, who seemed to be lapping up the sand running again. With a lap to go I was still second, but then  my gears seem to jam in the lowest gear, which I later found out was due to sand getting into the Sram gear/brake lever. I changed bike in the pits but had already slipped to 4th, only then to find the same thing  happened on my spare bike. I was simply pedalling frantically but getting no where! I finally finished 5th only 4 seconds off a medal, but had the feeling that it could have been so much better.

Robin Delve should be congratulated for retaining his world title who won from fellow Brit Pete Harris and it should probably have been a one two three for Britain.

That night I partied with my friends who had so kindly come out to support me. It had been an incredible journey over the 18 months. I am so very grateful for the support of friends and family, especially my wife Wendy. I had to dedicate hours of my time in training and then going to all the races and she was very tolerant of this and my alleged grumpiness when I got tired! For the first year of my comeback, my body complained like hell at what I was asking it to do, but gradually it responded with better and better results. I certainly had some bad luck over the 18 months with mechanical trouble, but my body actually coped very well. The back was sometimes sore, but generally held up well and I managed to keep free of injury or illness.

After having spent 18 months so focused on this one race , I now have to decide what  to do next , but that is for another day. The day after the race, Wendy and I headed for Bruges with our group of friends for some rest and recuperation before returning home .



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