The thing most people say on first visiting a World Cup track is “Wow – it doesn’t look that big on TV”. Until you’re actually looking down the rock chute or drop off, you don’t have an accurate idea of just how gnarly it is and how skilled the riders are who make it look easy. What I love about racing on World Cup courses is being pushed out of my comfort zone. That little bit of sick I get at the back of my mouth before trying to ride something I’m not sure I will survive – I get off on that. Which is a little weird. But that’s what separates people who like to ride on the dirt, from actual mountain bikers. The fact that I’m typing this one-handed (slowly) demonstrates that there is sometimes a price to pay for the rush of challenge and self-discovery.
I enjoy the progression I get as a rider from the first day I see a course (“How the hell am I going to get around this nightmare?”) through a few days of practice leading up to the race (“Yeah! I can’t believe I just rode that!”). Discovering the track with other riders a sense of camaraderie builds as we swap line choices and help each other conquer technical sections. After two days of practice in the pouring rain I was semi-comfortable and knew I could get around the course riding the B-lines (less technical lines but longer), but I don’t come to World Cups to ride the B-lines. Doing course recon with Holly and Dave Harris I'd worked my way up to riding the ‘Croc Slide’, an intimidating rock face constituting the A-line, shaving a couple of seconds off a lap. Entering that dangerous zone where my confidence was slightly exceeding my ability I decided to tackle the rock drop-in on the infamous Jacob’s Ladder section.
It’s hard to say exactly what I did wrong but the net result was me flying through the air and landing on some very unforgiving rocks. My left hip and hand took the full impact, saving my face and my bike, which I think was a good choice. Blinding pain overtook me in the way that I didn't cry, but could only sit very still as the blood drained away from my face and my vision started to get dark. Dave held my feet up as I went into shock and the paramedics made their way up to me. Laughter then ensued as I recognised one of them as a school friend from 20 years ago – the quirks of racing where I grew up. More laughter was had once I was sucking on the ‘green whistle’ of pain relief and realised that while my hip was very swollen, it wasn't broken and I'd be walking out.
Back at the event centre First Aid staff were more concerned about my hand which I had assumed was just a little bruised. Five hours in hospital later I was having the following conversation:
Doctor: We can’t see a fracture but scaphoid fractures don’t show up on x-ray for a week so we need to put a cast on your arm until then.
Me: Well let’s say we don’t put a cast on (still thinking I would be racing) – what would happen?
Doctor: Your bone could die.
Me: So how important is this bone anyway? Do I really need it?
Doctor: If you intend to do anything with your hand in future, you will need your scaphoid. (Thinking: idiot!)
So I let her put a plaster cast on to humour her, thinking I’d take it off the next day when I felt better. After a night feeling like someone was hammering a nails into my wrist I suspected the lady who went to medical school possibly knew better than I did.
I’d had a lot of fun riding the course, extended my skills, proved I wasn’t a pussy by riding the A-line so initially I was only a little disappointed. Watching the racing on Redbull TV though that gutted feeling set in though. I would have loved to be out there and think I’d have done a decent job. Some people have said I must think all my training was for nothing. But the truth is I would have done the training anyway – I’ve always loved the training but have learned to love the racing. Missing out on the opportunity to race in my former home-town was a blow, but I guess that gives me the perfect excuse to extend my World Cup racing until the next round here. I missed one race and there will be other races. Time to look towards www.singletrack6.com in July!