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Cycling: Taking on the Commonwealth champion was my toughest test yet

Heulwen Gilbert will be providing regular updates of her season

Finished my first elite National XC in one piece… just about!

Travelled up to North Yorkshire on Saturday morning with my Dad and twin sister in order to pre-ride the course at 2pm. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and Dalby forest was looking stunning!

Strangely for me I was nervous about pre-riding the course – may have something to do with the fact that it’s been used for world cups in the past… Anyway, I enjoyed the first half of the course, being wary of the rocks which are NOT my friends!

I opted not to attempt to ride the well reknowned ‘Medusa’s drop’ as I knew I’d be straight over the bars, and with my busy Uni schedule I hadn’t been riding off road much. On one particularly rocky section of course I cut the corner too tight and went flying over the bars! Luckily, my sister was there to catch my bike to save it from too much damage (bar a little scratch). I survived the rest of the pre-ride without any other spills, but feeling a bit shaken up.

Great photo courtesy of: http://www.richardhowesphotography.com

I woke up to the sun streaming through my Travelodge window on Sunday morning and it immediately put me in a good mood – I’m more of a ‘fair weather cyclist’!

My chauffeur for the weekend, aka my twin sister drove me the short trip back to the race venue where the first race of the day had just set off, now my nerves really were starting to kick in!

We re-visited parts of the course I was worrying about to put my mind at ease. As soon as I started my warm up, the nerves began to subside, and the legs started to feel good. I was gridded second before last on the start line, due to missing the first National round, but this I didn’t mind with the Commonwealth Champion raring to go in front of me. I popped one last TORQ fitness gel (cherry Bakewell – my favourite), and off I went.

Strongly

I struggled to get my foot into my pedal after the gun sounded which got me off to a bad start, but luckily, I have a strong kick and was able to power my way back up to 10th place before the first single-track section. I rode the first lap strongly in seventh place, happy that I was contending

Happy to have survived in one piece!

for a top 10 finish in my first elite national race. It began to rain towards the end of my first lap, making the ride back into the arena fairly slick, this made me worry about the state of the rest of the course, however, this was short lived when I almost stacked it in front of the crowd. My second and third laps were awful – my gears kept changing themselves and my chain got jammed into my cassette, my hopes of seventh or eighth place disappearing up the hill ahead of me. On the fourth lap I had a breakthrough and realised my wheel was not on properly, I quickly fixed it and sailed on to finish a solid ninth place.