Guest Post: Rich Mitch the MTB noob… Race1: A Baptism Of Fire Road


I’d like to welcome Rich Mitch (Richard Mitchelson) to girodilento.com. If you’re on Twitter you may know Rich as @rich_mitch, if you read Rouleur you’ll probably have seen his wonderful caricatures of various cycling legends. Rich is also famous in my house (with my kids) as the man Daddy knows who helps make Moshi Monsters. But apart from all that Rich, is a terrific bloke and one of the most enthusiastic and encouraging cyclists you’ll ever meet. I’m delighted to have him contributing to girodilento. Rich is also a voracious racer, keen to try almost any form of two wheeled, pedal powered racing and this is how we get to this inaugural post. After a season road racing and a winter of cyclocross racing, Rich’s has recently ridden his first mountain bike race. I’m delighted to bring you this post that I hope will be the first of many more race reports during his 2012 Mountain Bike race season. Welcome Rich, it’s a pleaure to have you on board!

Enjoy …

Race1: A Baptism Of Fire Road – Gorrick Spring Series – Crowthorne Wood

I have to admit that with a handful of long rides atop my new Scott Spark Elite 29er along the picturesque rolling fire road that is the South Downs Way, and with a season of cyclocross and winter of road miles in my legs I thought I’d be set up pretty well for my first MTB race of the season, scratch that… ever. I may have been wrong to enter the race under the “Expert” [read as Elite] guys in the 4 lap “Sport” event… this is a lesson learned for my next race for sure. My technical skills are tentative at best, but with a bucket full of enthusiasm and being the sort of person that will happily sit in a race flogging myself to death like an extra from The Life of Brian I entered the fray. Here’s the first report;

Much like my first Cyclocross race back in September, this first jaunt, part of the Gorrick Spring Series at Crowthorne Wood, was mainly a fact finding mission to see how fit or unfit I was and how much more I needed to do training wise to keep up with the Sport level of racer I’d decided to join.

Arriving to a packed woodland car park I found a spot, got the bike out and went to find the sign on. As I’d paid online before hand and with no BC license required I found my number board, grabbed some zip ties and headed back to the car. The atmosphere was very friendly with an edge, you could spot the guys out to win, a steely look over at me, the new guy, weighing up if i was going to be a threat [that was unlikely today.] Whether it was in the fun category, open, sport, expert or one of the many other races heading off from the start area throughout the day the place was packed with riders heading back to cars looking knackered having just raced or people still looking fresh or nervous at what was about to come. Apparently around 600 people raced that Sunday, pretty impressive and brilliantly organised with races running like a well oiled machine.

I thought that seen as I’d arrived typically VERY early, something which stems from my rowing days, I thought I’d head out for a sighting lap. People had said I shouldn’t “ride it blind” they instructed “you’ll be fine.” Perhaps i would have been, but these were words from racers who had years in the MTB scene, riders who have offered me no end of fantastic advice in my run up to today. I decided to roll round and check it out, what’s the worse that could happen?

The first thing that struck me about this “not very technical course” [words I’d heard about the Crowthorne races] was how narrow, winding and peppered with roots the singletrack was. Luckily it was relatively dry and my 29er coped with the course brilliantly. The constant barrage of direction changes, up’s downs, steep little sections and longer climbs started to open up my lungs and with sweat beading I decided to head back to car before I went to mad. It was a warm up after all. So with half the course checked out I sat on the boot of the car waiting. Nerves got the better of me, as they normally do before you head into the un-known and after a gel, some drink and a moment of music to get my head in the right place I headed to the start area down the hill.

Lining up with other riders i joked and chatted as I normally do when I’m alone in an un-known environment. Yes, I’m that guy… chat to anyone. The sun beat down and for a day in March it was warm. Shorts and no sleeves were the order of the day, perfect racing conditions. We watched the Expert guys take off at an amazing rate and as we were called forward onto the start line I checked my gear, clipped in and waited.



The hooter went and we were off, I admit now to holding back a little off the start, just trying to get the lie of the land slightly, working out how fast we’d go. I thought following wheels for the first lap was the best option and for the first third of a lap the plan went well. Soon however, the course got more and more narrow and soon riders were leaving me in their wake. I was overtaken a couple of times but I was determined not to chase to soon, this race was long and i knew deep down that if I went to deep to soon I’d have nothing left for the laps to come. I should have chased.

I soon found myself out the back, alone in a wood. It was a pretty odd feeling, trying to push as hard as you can with nothing to gauge your speed against, It was silent apart from the sound of me breathing hard and my Rocket Rons eating up the trail. Corner after corner it went on, just me. I felt like I’d failed, normally in races I’d been in you can at least spot another rider in the distance, but the trees and tight winding nature of the course meant I had nothing but the screaming voice in my head willing me on “YOU’VE BLOODY WELL PAID FOR THIS!!! PUSH ON YOU DAFT BUGGER” it went on.

I’ll admit that within the first lap I’d gone pretty deep, my lack of technical training meant I was fighting with the bike. But, on the up-side I was learning quite a lot, how to take roots, corners and drop offs. Soon it started to feel easier, but only a bit. I sat behind a rider who may have been passed me for half a lap, trying to learn the best way through certain sections, and every time I’d come back to a section I was improving.

Normally I can describe the cut and thrust of a race. This time I can’t. Riders from the Expert race came past me as I was just into my 3rd lap. They were motoring at a pace which left my mind boggling. There are always thoughts on where it went wrong, had i eaten enough? [my normal failing] had i drunk enough? it was pretty warm and getting to the bottle in the cage proved tricky. These as always are things I’ll try to improve for next time, and that’s how I look at these early races: learning experiences to build on. My first aim for the day was to finish. I did that. My second aim was to not come last…

The gent at the finish line made the international sign of “kill it, your done” [the finger across the throat] as I was about to head out on my 4th lap. “I think I love you” I gasped, my body gave up and I slumped over the bars. I took a swig of now luke warm High5 and my vision came back into focus. “So I’m guessing that means I’m last?” I said. “Lets see, you never know” as the woman on the tannoy announced my position, 24th. I was a broken man, demoralised by my performance and my legs and lower back felt ruined. I chatted to the gent at the finish line, trying to pick up any hints and tips for next time. His jaw dropped somewhat as I explained this was my first ever race. “Really? You should have gone for the open or even fun events” he said “this is a completely different type of racing to anything you’ll have done before” he continued “the intensity of it all will have been a shock I imagine”. I nodded knowing he was right, “a ‘cross race cannot compare, no matter how good your bike is” he made a glance down at the Scott holding me up and grinned. The terrain, singletrack, fireroad, Crowthorne’s own “Cork Screw” a berm based lumpy section snaking its way down a section of trail had thrown me, un-nerved me, left me sore, scratched and a bit bruised somewhat but it had inspired me.

I made my way back to the car. The majority of riders had left and the place felt pretty empty. I mustered some energy and put the bike back in the car, threw the rest of my stuff in the back and slumped in the driving seat. I was a beaten man. The thought I’d finished last filled my thoughts. It was so disappointing to think I had failed and come out of the whole thing looking like a chump. I drove home, trying to work out where it had gone wrong. I know it was my technical ability that let me down, I don’t do excuses. This is where I need more work, cornering, berms, roots, narrow gnarled single track. All of these things I can find on my doorstep, and I will be hunting them all down in the weeks before my next race. The improvement starts here.

I arrived home and a soak in the bath eased my tired legs. Dinner was a very welcome sight, as many racers know the sugary nature of gels, energy bars and sweet drinks leave you craving savoury and salt after a race. As i took a swig on a beer and watched Crufts I switched on the laptop to check my result. They were already online, with lap times of every rider, which i thought was pretty impressive for the amount of people who had raced that Sunday. There in front of me was my day, broken down into lap three times, and beneath me seven other riders. Seven. I’d come 24th out of 31 finishers. It’s weird I guess, looking over the times I’d posted I hadn’t done as badly as I’d thought, but the fact I wasn’t last put a massive grin on my face. It felt like a minor victory for me, some would have hated to finish there, but not me.

I can’t wait for the next one, I’m adjusting my position on the bike slightly, and getting a shorter stem to help me be more agile on the bike. I know this season is going to be tough, but I don’t think I’d want to do it if it was easy, I love the challenge of it all. Bring it on.

(the wonderful photo is copyright Joolze Dymond –http://www.joolzedymond.com/joolzeD/FrontPage.html )