XTERRA MALTA – My first off road experience!
Two weeks ago now, I went out to race Xterra Malta. Doug has been trying to get me to compete in Xterra for years, and after finally finding some confidence on a mountain bike I felt ready to give it a go.
So there we were, 2am on the way to the airport, mountain bikes packed and ready for an adventure. We arrived in Malta on Thursday lunchtime, built our bikes and went out for a little spin on the bike course. Doug had promise me that the mountain biking wouldn’t be challenging and that I had been riding far more technical trails than what I could expect at an xterra race. Well that was a lie. The course had changed from previous years to include “more technical sections”. It is safe to say that first ride didn’t go well. The first climb consisted of a really technical rocky climb, harder than anything I’d ever attempted to ride before. And it didn’t really get any better from there. I probably shouldn’t admit that I spent most of the afternoon in tears convinced that I wouldn’t be able to race. Unfortunately for me once I talk myself out of something there isn’t really any coming back from it. I’d lost all my confidence so the best thing to do was to sleep on it and try again tomorrow.
Friday started off better with a swim in the sea. The water was a little chilly but really clear, the highlight of the swim seeing a little sting ray. Back for second breakfast and then time to tackle the bike course again. I put yesterday behind me and was ready to give it another shot. Doug spent pretty much the entire afternoon teaching me to ride the course. We walked lines and rode sections over and over again so I knew what I was doing and where I would go. By the end of the day I had ridden a full lap of the course and dare I say it, even enjoyed it!
The day before the race I would usually do a ride with some race pace efforts and a run off with some pick ups. However after a big day of riding on Friday, we decided it was best to take it easy. I felt confident riding the course after yesterday so there was no need to potentially ruin that if another ride didn’t go quite so well. Instead we went for a little jog/walk around the run course before registering and going to the race briefing. Today, we also experienced Malta’s public transport. The driving out in Malta is pretty erratic and no different if you are driving a bus! Super cheap though and got us to and from where we needed to be in once piece.
Race day and I was looking forward to it. I felt bad leaving my trusty aluminium bike feeling all out of place in transition next to some lovely looking carbon MTB’s with wheels costing more than my entire bike! But I didn’t have time to worry about that, I had a wetsuit to put on and get myself on the start line.
I knew I was likely to be the strongest swimmer in the women’s field. It’s difficult to judge when I’ve never raced any of these girls before so my plan was to swim hard and try and put as much time into everyone as possible. Starting the race though I felt really flat, probably down to the amount of mountain biking and hanging onto my bars convinced I was going to die for the last couple of days. I led out the swim and had a minutes lead on the rest of the field. This has to be 10 of the hardest minutes I have ever experienced during a race. Out the sea, up like 100 steps, and straight into a technical off road climb. Following the lines that I’d practised was a lot easier on Friday when I wasn’t trying to ride it at race pace. I rode that first lap terribly. How I didn’t come off I have no idea (thank you bike!) I found some composure on the second lap and got into it a little more. The wind had also picked up which made some of the more technical sections far more challenging. In the meantime, Doug was busy using his face to slow down, but still doing alright near the front of the mens race.
I’d dropped back into 3rd by the time I reached transition but I had made it round alive! I was looking forward to the run, the course pretty much went up and down a cliff and with such an amazing coastline, there were plenty of good views to keep you occupied. I felt good leaving transition but knew 4th place was hot on my heels so I couldn’t hang around looking at the scenery for too long. The second lap of the run got tough but I didn’t seem to be losing any time so hung on in the hope that I might be in for a podium spot. Doug had finished 12th in the pro mens race and was there to give me a high five on my way down the finish shoot. I couldn’t quite believe that I had managed to finish 3rd in my first Xterra against a really good field.
I still have a lot to learn when it comes to off road racing. Learning to race a mountain bike being at the top of that list! But I had a lot of fun and will definitely be some more off road racing in the future.
Thanks as always to Doug for his patience in getting me to the start line. Blueseventy for the super speedy helix wetsuit, and Primal Europe for my amazing custom trisuit. Pulling on your race suit and knowing that if all else fails, at least you look the part is definitely a nice feeling!
Nicole is modelling our latest lifestyle clothing, you can find it here;