Chocolate Foot

Putting our best foot forward

XCO Nationals Rounds 1 & 2

XCO2 rachel cookWhat a way to kick off a season of racing! The first week of January came around faster than ever before… On the 28th December I returned home from an amazing month of trekking and volunteering as a physiotherapist in Nepal. With coming home from Nepal, I was literally questioning myself – where do I want to go with all my riding?

I had a very successful year in 2016 for my first year racing on the bike, so I sent through a message to James Lamb, aka Coach Chops. Coach Chops over the last year has worked really hard with me, programming rides, and working in with races to ensure that I am achieving great results when it comes race day. He mentioned that I should give the National XCO Rounds 1 and 2 a go – to see where I am at, what needs work and where to go from there. With that, I registered for Rounds 1 and 2 of the National XCO series to be held in Orange.

I ‘borrowed’ Dad’s car for the weekend, picked up Coach Chops, loaded in some bikes and headed out to Orange. We went an adventurous way – but we made it…! I registered, and hit up a reccie lap of both the laps that would be raced on the weekend. We did an easy pedal around the course, so I was prepared for what was to come, come race day. I loved the descents – they were great fun, however the climbs were less enjoyable! The track was quite dusty, with off camber roots, lots of hill climbing and a few fun descents weaving through the trees of the Kinross Forest. This certainly made it hard to see, and a challenging course – and I could only imagine how much harder it would be with traffic on the trail!

A nice pub dinner and a good rest at a beautiful property in Millthorpe was next on the agenda.

Saturday rolled around; I got into my lucky Chocolate Foot kit and Macarthur Design socks and was ready to roll! We arrived at the track an hour before the start and I started to warm up. Before this point, I wasn’t too nervous… however rolling around the dusty roads watching all the other girls getting into “the zone”, made me think about what I was about to do! I stayed focused and calm, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. All women’s categories were called to the start, by now it would have been 27 degrees, and it was hot. Chops gave me the “go all out” chat and I rolled off to the start. The officials got us ready in the start gate and let all the elite women off 3 minutes before us. They went off to the whistle and left us in a massive amount of dust! Next it was our turn, I was back in the 4th row from the start (2nd last row), in the middle! I honestly have never started a race with such a big bunch of girls! I was directly behind Danielle Pollock – an amazing rider who I have met through the Sutherland Short Course races, I knew she would start well – so I felt comfortable being behind her.

They gave us a 15 second warning, so I started counting down from 15 seconds in my head, and after about 5 the whistle blew! (I later discovered that they said they would start anytime in the next 15 seconds – ooops!) I still was off with a blast; I was up out of my saddle and pedalling to get up in the group. We went up a little hill and then ducked straight into the single track of the pine forest. I found a nice/intense pace, which I thought I would be able to hold for the 3 laps we would be doing. We wove our way up, and then would descend a bit, climbed some more, then down again, before a long straight climb up – a few girls were wanting to overtake on this single-track uphill climb, and they managed to snake around me! I love descending, so was definitely looking forward to getting to the top of the hill. I managed to crawl back to where I was – and then the descent came on! Lots of people were cheering us girls on, the track marshals were very motivating and other racers were all amongst the trees with cowbells! I managed to scoot past a few girls on this descent, I wrapped through transition, and Chops was there yelling at me – there was Bre right on my tail! I sipped from my bottle and got back to the single-track first. Here I was right in the hurt box.

XCO rachel cook

My legs just wanted to relax – not entirely what I need in the middle of a race. I was concentrating hard, and it was really hot, I whacked my handlebar into the side of a tree, started to wobble – but I held it together. That wobble was enough to let a few girls past! I tried to stick on the back wheel of the girl in front, but it was a pace that I wasn’t going to be able to hold onto! I continued up the climb and then had some fun and found my love for riding on the descent! Last lap bell rang, and it was game on! Chops was at transition saying I was 30 seconds behind 1st – this was it, final lap! I pedalled, but I certainly felt I was getting slower on the uphill! I was so hot. I went up the hill and Bec Henderson (racing elite) caught me! She was going so fast and had so much power, and with a blink she was gone. I got onto the final downhill descent and I had some fun, raced down and came across the finish line in 2nd! I was shattered! This was by far the hardest race I have ever done in my life!

I was so lucky to have Chops telling me what to expect for my first race – his knowledge and expertise certainly helped! After my race, I got to watch how it is really done – watching the masters, and elite men in the afternoon! These guys were super fast, and were all so ‘pro’! Chops also was coaching men in every race – who all smashed out amazing results – definitely shows that Chops’ knowledge and expertise in bike racing pays off on race day! Next - another pub feed for dinner, and a fun afternoon, with the animals, on the farm at which we were staying. Lottie, the horse, joined me on a cool down ride along the paddock fence!

Round 2 was on the Sunday – the legs were feeling a little rough from the previous day – but no giving up now! From the reccie, I knew that this course had more climbing in it! I got my HR working on my Garmin (as for Round 1, I didn’t quite set it up right… oops!), but was ready to go. I didn’t have to start in the 4th row like I did for round 1, which was great! I was ready to go, and boom – we were off! I had a great start, pushing forward through the pack and made it to the first bunch for the first section of track. We only had to do 2 laps today, as the track was longer than Saturday’s race – so it was an all-out race! It was certainly hotter, and the track was more open – crossing more fire roads than the previous day; my month’s acclimatisation in Nepal didn’t quite help with these conditions - heat! 

By the time I reached the top of the first hill, I was behind one of the girls in U17. She was riding super smoothly and was holding a great pace, however following her up the next hill found her in a wrong gear which meant everyone trailing behind had to unclip and put their foot down on a steep pinch. After that, I wanted to make a move before the descent, so got up out of my saddle and made it to the front of our little group. This descent was the same as the previous day, so I was familiar where the sneaky roots were, and the amount of speed I could carry through here. There was a lot of noise and cheering going on, which was great motivation coming into transition.

I came through the start/finish and Chops was again yelling at me, this was it, final lap! I was hurting, my legs were sore, my heart rate was high, but I knew what I had to do. I kept on spinning, got through the forest, kept climbing up and up, looking at my front wheel – I was exhausted. I heard a few girls coming from behind so this pushed me to go harder! I eventually heard the marshals, “Last hill – you can do this”, I was soooo pumped, I got out of the saddle and went all out! I smashed down the descent, trying not to choke on dust and had a super fast sprint (just what I needed when I was already so exhausted) to finish 2nd!

XCO3 rachel cook

I was pretty stoked with my results in round 1 and 2 with only 6 days of training and being off the bike for a month. XCO is definitely brutal, but it was a great experience and a massive learning curve for me after my first year racing in 2016.

Thank you to Orange MTB Club for the amazing trails and MTBA for putting on a great event. An even bigger thank you must go to Coach Chops (James Lamb) – I have no idea what I would have done without his support the entire weekend; thank you so much for standing in the pits in the heat, and pushing me to my limits! Bring on the racing year of 2017!