2016 Season Review - Polly Henderson
15 year old Polly, mountain biking cross-country racer (mtb xc) and future enduro star, reviews her first season of racing with the Female Riders Race Team.
After a long hard winter of training and having fun riding with my friends I was ready to start the 2016 race season. I chose to mainly focus on Cross Country with the odd Enduro race thrown in.
One exciting development for this year is that I have joined a race team. The Female Riders Race Team is a women’s team with riders from all over the UK. The others in the team are mostly Enduro and Downhill racers and most of them race at really high level, in the Enduro World Series (EWS), the British Enduro Series and the British Downhill Series. Our Team Leader, Roz Newman is Scottish Enduro Champion and Bex Baraona finished 7th in the EWS.
I have been lucky enough to get financial help from Dumfries and Galloway Council through their Individuals of Promise scheme and also The Holywood Trust. These grant awards have helped enormously as the cost of travelling to so many races and training sessions throughout the year, many with overnight stays, is high as is the cost of bikes, spares, clothes and equipment. I hope that I justify the expense with my commitment and ambition to go as far as I can.
My first race was in March, Round 1 of the Nutcracker series at Whinlatter in the Lake District; it went ok but with tiring legs and too high gearing, not as well as I’d hoped. So, between then and the first round of the British National XC series, I did some intense training to get to the level I needed to be at. The course at Pembery in South Wales didn’t really suit me; it was quite flat with only one or two technical sections. I finished 8th but only 9 seconds behind 5th place so I knew that a small improvement would make a big difference. This was also my first year of a two year ‘youth’ age category.
The next race was also a Nutcracker race, this time at Dalby where there would be a British XC race later in the year so this was good practice. Then it was on to the second round of the National series at Newham Park, Plymouth. I was looking forward to this round as I had previously had good races there and loved the course as it was technically challenging which suits me more. I had a good race and finished 6th, I was happy with my performance as I had improved since the previous round.
Next it was back up North to the Scottish Cross Country (SXC) race at Dunoon. This was great fun as I was racing with some of my best friends and there is always a great atmosphere at SXC events. Returning to Dalby, I had a good idea of the course and was excited to race on it again, as it is a World Cup course with some tricky technical features. I had a tight battle for 5th place but lost out on one of the long, steep climbs but I still finished in 6th place, which was by no means a disappointment.
The weekend after it was back to Scotland for the SXC at Cathkin Braes, a course built for the 2014 Commonwealth Games which was later going to host the British Championships. I’ve always had good races at Cathkin but the “Cathkin Curse” came to haunt me. My race began well as I was in 2nd place after lap one but then on the descents my chain kept coming off and it did this for the rest of the race which allowed two other girls to catch me so in the end I finished in 4th place.
There was a two week break before the next cross country race so I decided to compete at the mini downhill at the Fort William World Cup, which is so much fun and a great weekend of racing and watching the pros. It was my fourth time competing in this event and was looking for my forth win, which I achieved by over 6 seconds.
I then competed in the PMBA Enduro at KIrroughtree. I wasn’t really expecting much as there was some tough, grown up, competition there and I was riding my XC race ‘hardtail’, not really ideal for Enduro racing. I really enjoyed it and was stoked to finish in 2nd place out of 19 women and 2nd place in the hardtail category (men included) which was a complete surprise. I also got to ride with my teammate Roz Newman which is always fun.
Back to the cross country again and it was time for one of the most important races of the season, the British XC Championships. As it was going to be held at Cathkin Braes I was hoping that I had taken my turn at the “Cathkin Curse”. It’s always cool to get to race on a course which has been raced on by the pros. Unfortunately, I was gridded on the second row but I got a good start and managed to get into the singletrack in second place, the rest of my race went well and I finished up in 4th place which I was absolutely delighted about.
A couple of weeks later I was back at Cathkin Braes for the British Inter-regional MTB Championship, which consists of 5 different events. I represented Scotland West. I finished 4th overall and my team finished 2nd behind Scotland East.
Then before I knew it, it was the final round of the British Cross Country Series at Cannock Chase, a classic round that has been used for the last few years. It is a perfect cross country course and I really enjoy it as a course and venue. The competition was high and I knew I would have to have a good race to finish where I wanted to. Thankfully I had a great race and finished in 5th place. This left me in 5th place in the series which I was happy about, as I am only a first year in my category.
On the 12th of August I travelled to Austria to represent Scotland at the European Youth MTB Championships with two other Scottish teams and some of our parents and coaches. There were five days of racing against 76 of the top girls in Europe. My highlight result would have to be finishing 11th in the skills and 25th in the XCO combined. The racing was great and the whole experience is one I’ll never forget.
Thanks to all the effort the parents put into making this happen and just getting us there and back.
After a couple of weeks riding at home it was back up North to the final round of the SXC but there was also an enduro the day before at the same venue. It was the first enduro race I got to do on my new enduro bike. My stages went well with only minor mistakes. I won my category and also got fastest women’s time overall. I was quite tired after doing the enduro the day before but I had a great XC race and was really happy with my result, finishing in 2nd place.
Continuing with racing some enduros I raced the PMBA series finale at Grizdale, Cumbria. The trails were challenging and fun but extremely wet and muddy. I really loved racing the trials. I had a small crash on stage 4 but I was hoping I hadn’t lost too much time. In the end I finished 2nd which was so cool especially because there is only one women’s category.
I then competed in the final round of the British Enduro Series at Innerleithen. I wasn’t sure what to except but I soon realized that the trails where amazing but also very challenging. After day one having raced two of the stages I was leading the open women’s category by just over a minute. This gave me a confidence boost and was excited about racing day two. Day two couldn’t have gone much better. I had clear runs on all of the remaining stages. Once all the riders were in I saw that I had increased my lead and was over the moon, also to find out that I come 3rd in 3 of the stages in the women’s elite category. It was a great experience and would love to do it again…
And finally I would like to say a massive THANK YOU to:-
Female Riders Race Team, Next Level Bikes, my Parents, Paul Newham at Scottish Cycling.
Dumfries & Galloway Council and The Holywood Trust for financial help and anyone else who has helped me through this year.