Storm, what storm?!
The location of the 6th round of the Dark and White Winter Trailquest series was Sherwood Pines, Nottinghamshire, and given the "terrible" weather forecast it was a great surprise to start the morning with no sign of wind or rain - the predicted storm simply hadn't materialised. Adrian of D&W, reckoned the omens were good from the start as he had also awoken to no rain and then managed to drive all the way through Mansfield with all the traffic lights on green, something he and surely no other had managed before, so there could never be a chance of rain!
It was great to see a good smattering of new riders in the 163 entrants and whilst they might have thought they had picked an easier event to try how, wrong they were. What was lost on the hilliness of earlier events had been replaced with some very tricky navigation. Not only were there two maps with different scales to contend with (1:50,000 and 1:15,000) but no less than 22 of the 28 control descriptions mentioned the word ‘tree'...
So even before picking up the competition maps I had already decided to go into Sherwood Pines first using the 1:15,000 map. I just didn't want to be trying to navigate the pines in the last hour when really tired; given the need for very precise navigation and the high density of points it just made more sense. I also decide to go anticlockwise outside the Pines as I thought this would make best use of the prevailing wind direction.
Time then to pick up the maps and do the detailed planning; a couple of minutes and I was off, heading to the western side of the Pines. Only my second check point and someone overshot the turning, that pesky navigation was costing people time. I headed deeper into the forest and concentrated hard on making sure I knew exactly where I was, but then I look up from my map and there is a fallow deer standing in the middle of the track. It hops off into the forest and is closely followed by several more..... absolutely fantastic, was I the only one to witness this?
Back to the action and it's clear there is no obvious route as I see riders going in all directions, several of them more than once. I manage to clear the Pines in an hour and 15 minutes, not bad given the very sticky nature of the tracks, time to head onto the larger scale map. I plan a route out to the farthest checkpoint worth 25 points, collecting 60 points en-route.
The slight headwind on the roads and the heavy going in the forest take their toll on the legs but I eventually make it to the 25 pointer. I'm now into the last hour so there goes any hope of clearing up, route choice is now getting tricky, I'm a long way from the finish, so every detour to pick up a checkpoint is a calculated risk.
Decision time, I'm very tired and I have to make a choice on my next move, carry on or head for the finish? The decision to run for home becomes apparent, luckily there are still 20 points on the route back. I get to the last checkpoint and I'm going to be late back.....time to put the hammer down. I pedal as hard as I can -the target now is to be less than 5 minutes late back. I make it back just 3 minutes 51 seconds late and only 4 points lost.
The conversation over the post race tea and biscuits was of a great if somewhat frustrating event, based on the difficulty of the navigation. Top scorer was Killian Lomas with 344 points; clearing the whole course and only 14 seconds late returning, well done fantastic effort. The top lady was Sheila Pearce with 270 points. Special mention should also go to John Hopper, first a broken chain in the pines then a flat at the northern end of the map and he still got back with 11 seconds to spare. Unfortunately that was 11 secs away from losing all his hard earned points, 29 minutes and 49 seconds over the three hours. He only lost 190 points ouch; let's hope he's had all his mechanicals for the rest of the series. As usual for full results (overall & split times) go to http://www.darkandwhite.co.uk/results-cross-country-fell-races.asp
The next event is on Sunday 21st March from Stannington, West Sheffield - it's back to the rocks and the hills with considerably less trees. See you there.
More info on the Dark and White Series available here>>>