Road and MTB racing adventures around Europe

“How are you so good at mountain biking when you live in Norfolk!?”
I got this quite a lot, and yeah it doesn’t really make sense, but my strength was the physically intense riding rather than the technical downhill sections. So I turned up to MTB races with a bit of bottle for the sketchy rocky sections, and then raced the rest like a cyclocross race/physical effort. 

How did I become European and 2x National MTB champion?

I felt fairly controlled on the tricky technical features, but was pretty slow in comparison to more skilled riders, but with physical and mental strength I was able to make up the time I lost on the scary parts allowing me to take the victory which stays with me forever.

With the support of my old MTB team, RenvaleRT, I booked everything up to go and race a MTB World Cup in Albstadt, Germany. I hadn’t practiced on my MTB much (mainly becuase I don’t live near any mountains!) but I wanted to see where I was in the World. 
Unfortunately it rained all overnight before our race so the course was slipperyyyyyy! We were sliding all over the place, and wet mud on limestone isn’t the best to find grip on!! I lost contact with my bike 6 times, the last one of which I flew over the handlebars landing on my head and cracking yet another helmet. I was determined to get up and finish the final lap, so stumbled to my feet and rode on a little dazed, but held my position. I finished 17th in the end, not the result I expected but not very surprising after numerous crashes and road bike training prior to the race. 

Headed back to the UK, came 2nd in the iconic Cicle Classic National women’s series race, then the following week took my first Elite National MTB win! 

Morale was high, I had several days of solid training and was ready to race round 3 of the National Women’s Road series; the 2 day stage race Tour of the Reservoir. 
My lovely Nan and Granddad took me 5hrs up North, on a lil’ adventure. 
Day 1 a small group got away and gained about 30s by the end. But on stage 2, a front group of about 11 of us broke away on the hills over the moorland. I felt so good and knew it was going to be a good day. After getting pipped to the line in the previous round, I was determined to get the win this time. 
About 6km to go I planned exactly where to attack, emptied my bottle, tightened my shoes, skipped a turn and… GO!! 

No looking back, I gunned it up and over the penultimate hill and had a gap. Kept the hammer down on the descent, looked over my shoulder and no one was to be seen! 
Confidence and adrenaline surged through me, I knew I had the win but gave it everything to the top of the final small climb to the finish as the overall race victory was up for grabs!! 
My Nan saw my head pop over the crest of the climb and they knew I’d won it… YEAH! I shouted arms in the air crossing the line in 1st place! I cried with my grandparents in happiness and after confirmation from the commentator I took the stage win and overall victory of the race, and also I was the new leader of the British National women’s Road series!! Wooooop! 
That called for champagne spraying and chocolate milkshake afterwards (with all the toppings!) ?
I was on such a high, social media going a bit mad and still full of adrenaline. My first Elite MTB and Road race wins in 2 weeks!!

My Nan and Grandad are so supportive and it was an amazing moment to share it with them both. 
Maybe chicken curry, sticky toffee pudding and ice cream is my new pre race meal!??

After the sketchy conditions and falls in Albstadt, I wanted to try an get an accurate representation of my World ranking so booked up another MTB World Cup adventure, this time in Val Di Sole, Italy. 
Any cyclists knows that travelling and sitting on transport is very tiring and really not good for the legs, so I took flew on the fastest mode of transport, and good ol’ Dad made the 2 day journey by car with all the luggage and equipment to Italy. 
The next day on the fast, dry course, I had good sensations (despite my legs shaking a bit on the rocky technical sections!) but it was good to feel my mountain bike and familiarise myself with the course; where to push on, where to recover and where to feed etc. 
There was one rock drop playing on my mind, but I rode it about 5 times and the final time was OK so I left it at that. 

I collected my race number, headed back to our accommodation, stretched and foam rolled on the balcony chilling to some tunes then a good dinner and bed… Ready for the early morning start-something mountain bikers are used to! 

05:15 alarm sounds… Wake up, stomach my pre race MTB breakfast of porridge, some Museli, 1/2 banana and egg. 
A bit of stretching, lay in bed for a bit then got kitted up to ride the beautiful 15minutes along the white water river to the course. 
Dad met me there in the car, we set the rollers up, plugged into my earphones and I began my warm up. 
Just as I was getting on the zone, I looked to my side and saw a transponder on one of my competitor’s bikes. Looked to the other side, and another girl has one too. Looked down at my fork… No transponder. 
Phone Dad, tell him to go to the sign on number collection point, no one there. 
Trying to focus on warming up; which is very important before an intense mountain bike race! Phone rings, no one at the sign on building. 
Dad floors the volvo back to our accommodation, looks everywhere, no transponder to be found. 
Floors it back, but in the meantime I hop off the rollers go to find and ask the organiser what to do and he points me to a tent which was about 20m to the right of where I was warning up. They’d been calling my name on the speaker but I has my pre race warm up music in!! 
Transponder on, phone Dad, run to the call up starting pen which was nearly closing and try to refocus my mind and body onto the World Cup I was about to race! 
Moral of the story; always check you have a number AND transponder! And don’t listen to your music too loud! ? 

I was gridded about 3 rows back so had to try and get a good start as it soon bottlenecked into a narrow climb. I got stuck behind people on the climb so cyclocross style dismounted and ran. 

I felt a bit out of control on the rock drop which was playing on my mind, but got through and began picking people off. 
I was making my way into the top 20 riders and knew I would improve my position. A girl infront of me took it slow into the rock drop so I had to slow my pace a bit, but hadn’t practiced it slowly before and you would think slower would be safer but not in this case. I needed speed to keep the momentum and propel my wheel off a rock ledge, but the opposite happened. 
Slower speed, less momentum, nearly cleared the rock ledge but nearly means nearly, and my front wheel hit it and turned beneath me sending me flying over the handlebars, head first again… Annnnnnd another cracked helmet. 
Dad came running to me under the tape, helped my up grabbed my bike and I got back on battered and scraped. I rode about 1/4 of a lap before pulling out. There was no point continuing. 
I stopped where Dad was and just sat down with him and cried ‘I’m not doing this anymore’. Dad is my number 1 supporter and encourager, but he knew this was the right thing to decision and agreed. 
I know I said it in the heat of the moment, but it was true and how I felt. 
We discussed and agreed that it would be stupid to continue racing the MTB at a World class level, without actually riding my mountain bike! I can’t expect to train and race on the road for months, then rock up to a World Cup MTB race and ride the A lines. (A lines=faster by difficult, B lines=slower but easier). 

Had I raced to a good result in Val Di Sole, say top 10, then I would’ve seriously considered trying to get onto a pro MTB team and commit to it for a couple of years, get some solid technical training in and see where it would take me. But despite Junior European and National success, the saying ‘you’re only as good as your last race’ seems appropriate so my chances of getting onto a pro team wouldn’t be as high as I’d hoped.

So this was a pretty significant turning point in my career, where I decided to take a break from MTB racing and focus on the road more. As my road racing was going well, I felt comfortable and confident with my decision.
Then a few weeks later came 2nd at the National MTB Champs! But I wanted to finish on a high, and was racing on my ‘home course’ which holds very fond memories-from a broken collar bone to a World Cup win!!

Ok so NOW my MTB won’t be touched for a while! Promise! 

Thanks for reading, my next blog will be the final one reflecting on 2018, and will talk about signing my first professional contract taking my chance at the European Champs! 

Sophie Wright

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