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Early Dawes XC, Catton Park, 6th April 2008

I’ve (Mark McPhillips) never ridden or raced at Catton Park before but I had heard that it wasn’t very technical. So I wasn’t really that excited about doing this race.

However, as I looked out of my bedroom window on the morning of the race I was greeted by a winter wonderland. There was snow everywhere.

The thoughts of a slightly trickier race cheered me up. I was now really looking forward to racing.

A substantial chunk of my knee was missing and I was oozing blood!

Photo provided by Rob Clayton Photography Other Early Dawes Images

I had decided the day before that I would race my rigid Scandal thinking this would be awesomely quick on this kind of course. My Scandal turned out to be the perfect bike for the course. Unfortunately my lightening quick low profile dry weather racing tyres were not. Even on the practice lap I was struggling on anything even remotely muddy. Looking back on the event now I can’t remember even a small section of the course not being muddy. Simple solution, change my tyres. The problem was I did not have any spare mud tyres with me and as I was running a tubeless system. In the end I could not really be bothered changing them. A compromise was reached I dropped a bit of pressure out of my tyres which did in fact provide slightly more grip.

At the start line some well known local Polaris rivals were there too, namely David McKendry and JC. After briefly banging bars at the start with JC the field started to stretch out up the first climb. The pace was pretty fast but not ridiculous. As it flattened out at the top I was at the back of a small group that had pulled away from the rest of the field. Surprisingly the pace of this group slowed down so I was itching to get past and I timed my attack perfectly. An out of the saddle sprint on an open grassy section took me past the whole group with just enough time to duck inside David McK on a left hand corner which led straight into the first singletrack section.

It was in the singletrack that things first started to go wrong. Normally I can drop most riders in these sections but today I could not make the bike go where I wanted it to go. I was bouncing off trees but still in the lead. A stretch of double track was ahead I knew any riders behind would want past me ASAP as I simply was not going very fast in these slippy singletrack sections. I protected my line for as long as I could until eventually on another section of singletrack, my back wheel slipped out and David McK and JC stormed past. Over the next singletrack sections, they established a healthy lead. Once back out on wider tracks and up the main climb I whittled their lead down quite quickly but lost it all again on the singletrack.

Damage limitation mode kicked in. 3rd in these conditions combined with the way I was riding would be a great result. On an easy grassy section, I was contemplating one more BIG effort to make contact with the leaders when somehow I fell off. No idea how, or why.  But I was off and my right knee hurt like hell (see photo above).

Feeling a bit fresher earlier on in the race before the crash

I instantly got up and started running with my bike. I quickly glanced over my shoulder to see the fourth place rider digging in, on a mission to claim my 3rd place. There was no way I was going to come 4th!  I jumped back on my bike cyclo-cross style and started racing again. A few glances down at my knee in between my grimaces revealed a substantial chunk of my knee was missing and I was oozing blood!

Luckily, the extremely low temperature that day meant that after 5 mins my knee was numb and I could still put in a good effort (it also meant when the first aiders scrubbed my wound clean I felt no pain, thank God).

In the end I held on and finished thirrd. I have never been so happy to finish 3rd before and it kept alive my hopes of this run of good results continuing.

British Cycling Early Dawes Report, Early Dawes Official Results