The weekend saw the final round of the British Cycling MTB National Points Series at Hadleigh Farm, the venue for the 2012 London Olympic MTB events.
A great chance to ride a course which saw thrilling racing over two memorable, hot and sunny days.
With the venue being only a stones throw away it was easy to get over and practice on the Saturday, something which seemed essential according to the reports coming back from those that had attended one of the coaching days at Hadleigh.
Steep, rocky and unforgiving descents were the dominating feature of the 5km loop with severe A-lines and supposedly easier B-line alternatives.
I arrived a little apprehensive but confident that my twenty odd years of mountain biking would stand me in good stead to make it around in one piece.
I'm not an overly confident or arrogant person, but the first descent, aptly named 'Triple Trouble' saw me freeze on the lip of the A-line drop, spin on my heals and retreat to the safety of the B-line, which was in itself a test of nerve with a one or two inch deviation from the gulley potentially sending me off balance and crashing to a painful halt.
That pattern of rock up to the triple arrow (extreme caution) warning sign, stop, assess the descent, retreat, take a run up and see what happens continued for the whole lap. The larger the group of riders gathered at the top of each section, the greater the challenge.
Two rock garden sections per lap would be enough to cause complete carnage, the first of which 'Deane's Drop' had an A-line section resembling a dried up river bed with a foot high drop off half way down. The B-line was a loose switch back section followed by a series of rocky steps and a table top to negotiate before rejoining the course.
The second Rock Garden would be the scene of my first wake up call. Having made it through the real tricky section, there was a rock berm with a gap jump midway. Queue this kind thing from me. Scuffed and bruised (body and pride) limped around the rest of the course having lost my bottle on the downhills and my ability to pull on the bars and push on the pedals on the ascents - not great preparation for race day.
Home - clean and dress wounds - eat - bed.
Sunday morning and I woke with less pain and stiffness than I imagined I would, determined to race and go someway to protect my high overall standing in the series, I made my way back over the river to have another early morning lap or two to calm my nerves. I only managed three quarters of a lap but negotiated all the tricky bits reasonably comfortably so was confident I could get a top ten finish come the afternoon.
A terrible start saw me way down the field and fumbling to locate foot on pedal, eventually clipped in I managed a sprint up the outside of the bunch to regain a top five position for the long haul up the steep, loose gravel climb to the high point of the course and the first potential bottle neck. Half way up said climb and the rider in front ground to a halt resulting in me crashing into the back of him and needing to dismount and run the second half of the climb - great!
Hop back on and try my best not to get caught up again, first descent done and dusted, nipped past a few riders into Deane's Drop. First thing I see is three riders walking down the A-line, so have to take the B-line, loose switch backs sent me off line for the first rock steps. Looking back at it, if I was three or four inches either side of the line I was on I reckon the day would have had a different outcome, as it was, my day was to end in a head crunching, body breaking heap on the floor not five minutes after the whistle had blown to signal the start of the race.
My team mates who'd made the journey to heckle/support me never saw me again until I was covered in iodine and sporting stitches on my face.
Mountain biking got a whole lot tougher that day and my respect got a whole lot bigger for those that completed the course damage free.