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The Cyclo-Cross Challenge

Sitting around on an evening after a long day at work and a week off the bike is never going to end well, especially when you switch on your laptop and begin to look for a good cycling challenge to conquer. So when I sat down and started to search for mountain bike centres it was never going to end well. Less than an hour later the seed for my cycling challenge had been firmly sown. The plan would be to head to Dalby Forest mountain bike centre with my cyclo-cross bike and attempt to ride the red route - a technically challenging single track course for suspension mountain bikes an certainly not a rigid road bike with knobbly tyres!

So with a plan in place I organised with my other half Sarah to head over to Dalby Forest on Sunday and conquer the challenge, trying hard to forget i'd already ridden 100 miles the day before. Sarah of course, gave me that look of "you're nuts" but we both knew it was too late to change my mind now.

Sunday came around all too fast and the alarm didn't quite go off on time and as a result we had to rush to Dalby and commence the ride with one hour less time than originally planned. This really put the pressure on and increased the challenge. After putting my bike together and fuelling for the ride I rolled out of the car-park towards the switchback climb leading up to the red route.

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I was slightly hesitant when I reached the start of the route, wondering if I was about to make a pretty big mistake. It was too late to consider mistakes now and as I rolled onto the route I swallowed the nerves and began to pedal.

The first section felt relatively easy, rolling along the undulating single track through the forest that flow along the hillside. Occasionally I would hit a particularly rocky section of track making it really difficult to keep the bike en-route as I was shaken around, having to use my body to absorb every bump. I was the suspension and it hurt.

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Five miles down and feeling slightly muscle sore I stopped for a quick refuel before sprinting into the climb that followed. One great advantage of the cross bike is that it gives you the ability to climb much faster than anybody around you on a mountain bike, helping me to rapidly move along the course. By now my muscles were really sore and the pounding vibrations from the rocky surface were unrelenting.

Ten miles in and still going strong I reached Dixon's Hollow and encountered a sign I really didn't want to see - "Black Route". Looking around in vain to see the red escape route I could find nothing, so with a heavy heart I pushed forwards. I was glad I did - I flew down the berms that followed and along a fast, technical couple of corners and sighed in relief realising it hadn't been as bad as I had feared.

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However, what came next was by far the most frightening part of the ride. I was completely oblivious that I hadn't yet tackled all the difficult black section that was on my route suddenly found myself staring over the edge of a cliff that twisted and snaked it's way down the hillside over the slippery, wet rocks. My heart dropped and my hands were numb. The constant shaking of the rocky surface meant my hands were tired making it difficult to pull the brakes.

I had been warned about this section but thought I had managed to detour away from it. Without anytime to think I was thrown into the descent. I hesitated too much and slipped off the bike for the first time, quickly dismounting and carrying over a small section before remounting. I refused to be beaten by this section of the course and despite my hands still not working I began to descend, keeping my body as stable as possible. Left. Right. Left. Right.

Before long I was at the bottom and thank god. At the bottom a bunch of real mountain bikers looked at me in shock as I sprinted away. Now I knew the hardest part of the ride was out of the way I could relax and enjoy the rest ride, swooping around the single tracks, through the alpine spruce, and along the isolated tracks, free in my own thoughts.

As always though, it wasn't to last, and I sudden realised I had run out of food and was starting to get the dreaded 'Bonk' when you run out of energy. So instead of being sensible I pushed harder, wary of the lack of time, and conscious I needed to eat as soon as possible. Thankfully I wasn't too far from the finish and hit a nice farm track that rolled gently downhill, easing the amount of work I had to do.

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As the speed picked up and I saw the final mile in sight, I picked myself up into a sprint and began to really fly towards the finish. I forgot the trail ended on the children's Gruffalo walk though and suddenly found myself staring into the eyes of the Gruffalo himself. I pedalled harder to escape the Gruffalo and found myself back in no time with a scone and coffee waiting for me on arrival.

Distance: 19 Miles

Speed: 9.5mph

Time: 1 Hour 59 Minutes