“What’s happened?” Dad asked as he caught sight of me trudging through the bushes into the tech zone.
“They’ve pulled me out on the 80% rule.” I groaned.
I’d done two laps. That was my first taste of UCI Junior HC XCO racing in Europe. Short, but not very sweet.
We’d set out on the eight hour drive to Haiming in Austria full of enthusiasm and excitement, now we were left trying to make sense of what had just happened? How could they be that much faster than me? I can’t train any harder than I am already.
Haiming was, and remains, one of the most brutal courses (technically speaking) I have ridden.
Still stunned by what had just happened, we found ourselves standing next to Marianne Vos (who would later crash so badly on the warm up, her injuries finished her season before it had started). Not one to let an opportunity slip, dad clicked into full-on fan mode.
We told her what had happened and she was genuinely interested in what we were doing. To cut a long story short, she made it clear that no matter how hard it gets, I should never resort to ‘short-cuts’ and make ‘progress rather than perfection’ the goal.
This advice has guided me ever since and is the basis of all our target setting as well as pre and post-race analysis.
Racing on a budget, (‘on a budget’ is a euphemism for no money) forces you to:
a) be resourceful
b) toughen up
c) camp in playgrounds.
The travelling and camping (euphemism for roughing it) was a result of doing the big international races. It meant that Dad and I were now spending more and more time together, often in very close proximity. Having your dad as your coach complicates an already complex relationship still further. Normally your coach isn’t around you all day, every day. The ‘Dad-Coach’ sees stuff your standard coach wouldn’t see.
Having said that, my first season ‘on the road’ was an absolute blast. I loved all of it, the travelling, the camping, the courses, and the racing. We met some great people and some not so great people.
The international racing in 2015 put me up against the elite juniors from all over the world. These lads had been racing since they were in primary school and representing their countries since the start of secondary school. I’d been racing for one season and now I was taking a battering almost every week. Being gridded on the last row left me no chance of seeing the front in 80+ fields. Despite all the knocks, we stuck to the plan, set realistic goals and kept making progress. As soon as I entered national and regional races, I was always in the top three, especially if it was a ‘climber’s course.’ I was progressing.
In July, I raced my first ever National Championship race. I have dual nationality (German and British) but for the UCI you are only allowed one nationality. I’d chosen the GBR prefix and was headed to Hadleigh Farm, home of the 2012 Olympic course. Despite being a course which certainly doesn’t suit my natural strengths, I enjoyed racing the Nationals and had a great time with my Dad and my two brothers in England. We became Sainsbury’s junkies. It’s an odd feeling for me racing in Great Britain. I see myself as British, speak English fluently, with a Yorkshire accent for good measure, but I feel faintly ‘continental’ or ‘exotic’ when I’m over there. I have become attached to Hadleigh and raced there again this year in the UCI World Junior Series.
2015, Heubach, Germany was when I realised that I was into MTB racing all the way, no turning back!
Within two years I’d gone from racing unlicensed schoolboy races in my skater shoes and hoody to lining up with Simon Andreassen and Max Brandl in UCI HC races. Moreover, importantly I felt like I belonged there. We raced in Switzerland, Austria, Luxemburg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and the UK. Yes, I took a pasting most of the time, but I was also making steady progress. I was learning how to train and recover correctly. I was becoming disciplined and responsible. I was losing my fear of the unknown and consequently growing in self-belief. I was also getting used to living out of a van and washing in cold water.
The season ended with zero UCI and zero Bundesliga points. However, points hadn’t been my goal. Progress had been my goal. Being pulled on the 80% rule hadn’t happened again since Haiming, I was able to sleep before races and recognise when I needed to go less hard in training to avoid heavy legs at the weekend. I’d realised what my limiters were in races and knew how to work on them in the coming winter. I felt like I’d grown a lot both as a rider and as a person.
Next up was my Abitur, (German A-level exams), and a winter of hard training in preparation for the 2016 season in which I would start to race half-marathons and put the wind up one or two so-called fast men.
Very special thanks to Marianne Vos