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I have ridden in Wales a number of times over the years at trail centres, and I have only ever raced at Margam Park so I was looking forward to riding somewhere new. Fforest fields is just down the road from Bulith Wells and only just over the border.

I arrived late Friday afternoon and as usual for my trips to Wales, blazing sunshine. I pulled into the camp site and pitched my tent and sorted all my gear out. As usual for arriving on a Friday it was still fairly quiet. I decided to have some food and then head out for a walk on the course. The course is all on private farm land so was not sure what to expect. As I left the arena and followed the signs the course immediately pointed upwards, it kept climbing and climbing until I was able to look over the starting arena. I thought this was the end of the climb but as I continued on my walk I turned left and yet more climbing! Once I had reached the top the course then drops into the woods and what seems more like a full on downhill course run than an XC race loop!! This was going to be a technical course! Once the wood section was complete there was a nice gentle fire road descent followed by more climbing and another DH section of tricky descents and flowing single-track. Once this was finished it was open single track and a small fire road climb back to the arena.

Over the last 5 years a lot of work has been done year on year to make the course at Wasing more and more challenging. This year was no exception with the large drop off mid-course becoming a B-line with a new A-line built next to it with a log jump into a drop. The log climb had been extended and a lot more log jumps placed around the course. Definitely the hardest Southern course not only of the year but that I have raced on. It would seem that with the shift to 29er by the majority of racers has meant the course designers have ad to think off new ways to challenge riders, and personally I think they are doing a great job. 

I took my time on my first practice laps looking at each obstacle and seeing how best to ride each one and where time could be made or lost. On the my second lap I picked the pace up and worked on some of the B-lines knowing that sometimes when in a group at the start of a race time can be gained nipping down an B–line whilst people stack up on the A-line. At one point a quick test with some other riders showed that on one particular obstacle the B-line was hardly any slower and would be a safer option in the heat of a race. 

Crow Hill has always been one of those courses that has never really excited me, it may be that I have had some bad luck on the courses over the years with mechanicals or that it always tends to be wet! So when I saw the weather leading up to the weekend I was not in the highest of spirits.

I arrived at the event just before 11am and once I had signed on and fitted my race number I jumped on the bike and headed straight out for some practice laps. The rain had luckily not done too much damage to the course, covered areas were still damp but the course was drying out nicely the more it was being used.  The opening of the lap was similar to past years with lots of tight twisty rooty single-track, followed by a long piece of fire road with a nice gentle rise to the second half of it. With all the training I have been putting into my climbing I felt like I could be strong here come race time. Once off the fire road it was back into the woods and some more twisty rooty single-track that was unfamiliar to me with a nice little drop of worked into the course to keep you on your toes. The lap came back on to the arena to drop away to more single-track that was familiar before climbing back to the finish.

Low Carbon Oxford Week is a summer festival which uses culture, creativity and community to inspire local people to take action against climate change. There are also a couple of other cool cycling events from Science Oxford and the Story Museum which are part of the Low Carbon Oxford Week festival this June. Click here to find out more

After the disappointment of being ill and missing the first round of the series at Sherwood pines I was really looking forward to turning my wheels in anger in a National event. It has been a number of years now since I have competed at the Nationals and the Sport Cat races are held on a Saturday and not on the Sunday. As it was a 200 mile trip I decided to head up on the Friday and camp overnight. This gave me the chance to watch the Soggy Bottom night race on the Friday night and allowed me to get a glimpse of the course ahead of my practice laps the following day.

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