After the relative disappointment of ninth place at round one of the British XC series at Sherwood Pines, which bore more resemblance to a cyclocross event with snow, freezing mud and slow progress, round two in Redruth, Cornwall went a bit more according to plan.
Its a long journey, almost to the end of the land in fact, so anything other than success would be a bitter pill to swallow.
Car loaded up, the sun was shining and warm on my back - "good start" I thought.
Next stop was to collect Neon Velo's Rob Purcell, a long time friend as well as a pretty handy fat tyre racer too. Scarily, with over forty years experience between the two of us, we still go through the same 'helmet, shoes, shorts, jersey, socks' verbal reminder routine before a long journey.
So, we're loaded with kit, gas and snacks for the journey, just one last thing - "ROAD TRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIP"
Cruise control firmly engaged for a good ninety percent of the six hour drive is a nice feeling. Sun still shining we arrive at The Old Railway Yard B&B a little achy but in good spirits and eager to go and ride the course.
Its always good to see friendly faces at an event of this nature, and the familiar Team Scott UK duo of Greg Simcock and the omni-present, omni-smiley and omni-flipping good Nick Craig (star of past & present) were no exception, although Nick's advice of "knee pads would be good for this course" sent a few shivers down my spine.
Brave face on, we rode out onto the grassy top field which was host to the race village, start, finish and next door to the full up field allocated to the campers.
That was about the only 'easy' section of the 5km loop, the rest of it was in an old mining pit and was an absolute peach of a course with fast single track descents with numerous kickers and berms to keep the attention, then there were the steep bits, five in total I think which had alternitave 'chicken' runs, the severest of all with a switchback halfway down followed by a drop off which had the forks hitting the stops each lap.
The climbs were leg burners but nothing too long, the real killer though was the twenty foot high berm which required a full on sprint from a dead turn just to make it over the top.
A couple of laps done and feeling satisfied, we headed back for a good meal and some sleep.
Race day started cloudy and potential for rain later on.
I was off in race two at midday. We got to the venue just in time to see local favorite and current National Marathon MTB champion Sally Bigham (star of present) take a convincing win in the women's elite race by over three minutes, and all in the big ring as it turns out due to a front mech failure - nuff respect!
The next somewhat familiar star of present and I imagine future to take to the course was Daniel Tulett, unbeaten this season and taking a convincing win by nearly two minutes.
Down to me then!
Gridded eighth meant I was on the front row & a good start was essential with such a short distance until the first section of potentially disastrous downhill.
That didn't happen! A fumbled pedal entry had me going backwards fast and I was 17th into the bottle neck at the top of the first descent - "Balls!"
I managed to claw back a fair few places on the first lap and reckon I was into the top ten first time through the finish. There seemed to be a lot of riders opting for the B-routes on the steepest sections and especially the massive berm which meant I could gain time on them in these sections.
Coming to the end of lap three and unbeknown to me I was up to third having just passed Nick Baxter of PMR@cing and I was feeling really good.
Gel done and drinking plenty courtesy of my pit bitch, there was no sign of the cramp which has blighted me in the past.
Lap four passed with no dramas and I even overheard spectators commenting "Wooah, nice kit" as I tackled the big drop off.
The start of the fifth and final lap and the Elite riders were beginning to catch me, first Kenta Gallagher, Grant Ferguson and Hamish Batchelor came past in a fast moving and very polite train, then Seb Batchelor & Rab Wardell, the latter giving me a heads up "oi, ViCiOUS punk" as he warned of his approach.
Half a lap to go then and staring to feel the burn in my legs on the sprint up to the mega-berm...... this doesn't feel great..... "uh oh", I stall at the top having clipped a pedal and lose all momentum, I tumble down the side unceremoniously and lose around 30-40 seconds, gather up my bike and get back onto the circuit
a bit shaken, a rider comes past me and I glance at his number - 434, "that's ok I think, he's an Expert"..... "hang on a minute"..... quick glance at my number - 438...... "SHIT!"
And that is how I missed out on the podium by 20 seconds, I could've kicked myself, so so close.
Rob's turn next.
With three wins and a fourth place so far this season the form is definitely there, plus hes got one of those fancy new bikes with the big wheels too.
The gun goes and not the best of starts, but I know Rob always has a strong last lap or two under his belt so no panic just yet.
The two leaders are head and tales above the rest of the field and have around two minutes over the chasing pack by the end of lap two of six. The battle is on for the remaining podium spot.
Unseen by me, there's a third rider on his own with a gap back to Rob who had broken clear of the group on lap five, then caught and dropped what I thought was third by the finish line.
So, another fourth place, two in one day. This also moves Rob up to third in the overall standings.
An old familiar face and star of the past, Dave Hemming has been riding in the veterans category this year. A Junior World downhill Silver medalist in 1990 on, as I remember, a Chas Roberts with Pace forks up front with all of 1" travel - how times have changed.
Chatting to Dave after my race, he said he'd been discussing the current ViCiOUS kit and saying it "reminds me of the old Alpinestars days", I'll take that as a compliment for sure.
An absolutely brilliant weekend away and some decent results to boot. Next up, the Eastern Area Championships at Thetford Forest followed by Round three of the NPS in Shropshire.
A set of smashing pictures from the racing by Andy Whitehouse.
Ps, Cornwall got the Alpaca.