Sunday, 22 May 2011

Belgians and big rings (on their mountain bikes)

Yesterday Sam and I went to Dalby forest to see.some of.the UCI.mountain biking world cup. It's a 3 day event that starts on Friday night with a street race around Pickering town centre, taking in tight alleys, down stone steps and sprints. 4 riders are set off at once; the first 2 get seeded whilst the last 2 are eliminated, hence the name Pro Eliminator! This is a unique way of seeding the main professional race that takes place on Sunday.
The actual world cup stage is set in the forest and is 6KM long, multiplied by 5 laps. It has been redesigned this year and looked pretty gruelling in places. The first point we watched the U23 men's race was at Worry Gill. This consisted of a climb into a wooded area with what looked like a near vertical drop (the photo shows a Belgian rider taking on the drop) into the gulley. This creates a bottleneck as only one rider can get down at one time. There was another, slightly longer, way around that avoided the drop. Although less technical, the advantage was that the riders could gain places/time by not getting stuck in the bottleneck. After heading down the gulley there was a climb back to where the spectators were gathered to a short, rocky, technical climb. Again there were 2 routes; one easy to avoid the bottleneck. A lot of the riders had to just get off and run wither their bikes up due to congestion. One German rider made it up without doing so and punched the air at the top in celebration - a personal victory perhaps?

The next point to watch was a "must-see" according to the brochure; Medusa's Drop. The name suggests some terrifying descent into Hell but wasn't nearly so bad. It was steep, with plenty of tight switch-backs in between. It finished with a pretty rapid straight down descent into the rider's feed station. Apparently the climb to the top of this descent was exceptionally tough, so we headed off to see how bad it was. There were no paths to this point so a little bit of cross-country traversing was required, as was running on the track for a couple hundred meters.
The pain on the faces of the riders coming up here was unbelievable, as it was the last lap and all still pushing to their limits. Sam occasionally offered encouragement, to which there was no reply. In fact, they were so tired, that when one USA rider wanted to overtake his opponent, he could barely get the word "right" out (the side he was coming past on). We found this quite amusing but highlighted exactly how difficult it was.
This is where the title of this post comes in. Every single.member of the Belgian team came up this hill on the big ring of their crank. Others did too, but they were in the minority. Only one Belgian didn't come up on the big ring and this was because his bike was broken. It looked like the rear mech had snapped; presumably from trying to power up the hill in one of the hardest gears!

Sam and I talked about how we would find the course. On foot as spectators we didn't see anything we hadn't tackled before. On our bikes, it might be a different matter. It was a shame to miss out on the Dalby Dare this year. This is 1 lap of the world cup route plus another 19KM of other forest routes. That way we could have really tested ourselves. Big ring up to Medusa's Drop? Maybe next year!

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