Before I go any further, let’s get this out the way right now: DO THE BLOODY MANX100 NEXT YEAR!
I’ll return to that point in a while.
For the second time, I found myself making the incredibly expensive and arduos journey to the Isle of Man, this time with Charlotte and James in tow. Oh, hang on a minute… It was an easy drive on the M6 to Heysham where we dumped the car and jumped on the ferry as foot passengers at £40 return. Actually a very relaxing journey. SO BLOODY ENTER THE MANX100 NEXT YEAR! NO EXCUSES!
At the ferry we hooked up with Rob Friel who I’d identified as the man to beat. A stretch target indeed, but I knew the course suited me and, despite a mild virus developing on the Friday, I felt confident of putting in a good challenge. Two weeks prior I’d ridden 200 miles at a steady lick on the road with Greig Brown and a fantastic bunch of Strathclyde locals, so I knew my endurance was in place.
We were met off the boat by Lisa, Nigel’s wife and ferried up to the Isle of Man TT Grandstand for sign on and a chat with Nigel and other locals. A fantastic bunch of people who do this cos they love it and are passionate about the island. Another very good reason to BLOODY ENTER THE MANX100 NEXT YEAR!
Saturday’s weather was perfect. Breezy but warm and sunny. But we all new what was coming… Sunday’s weather was forecast to be horrendous. And it didn’t disappoint.
Well, intially it flattered to deceive. Sunday morning was warm (ish) and cloudy with some tantalising breaks in the grey. How long would it last? Fortunately, till late morning. Every minute it didn’t rain felt like a Get Out of Jail Free card. Rob and I rode off the front together and enjoyed some incredible Lake District like trails, stunning scenery and panoramas of the Irish Sea. Just a few more reasons to BLOODY ENTER… ETC. ETC….
The weather closed in. Spots of rain. The wind was whipping up. The cloud stuck to the hills and fell, turning into isolating and disorinetating mist. We winched up the lower slopes of The Baltic, a sea level to top climb into a now howling gale force headwind. Leaving the road section, the climb runs up a wind funneling gulley of loose and scrabbly stones. This was really tough. The conditions made an already tough climb only just rideable. And it’s very long. I felt like my aerobic system was slowly being tightened in a vice. Looking at Rob confirmed it wasn’t just me feeling the pressure. Colour had gone from his face and he looked slightly stunned. Riding this together was a massive positive. This was really tough day. Complimentary riding styles and good conversation helped us keep our heads up and minds focused.
After dropping off the tops disaster struck. My tyre split and the bead left the rim. Heck, not now! Not here! Rob kindly offered to stay and help but in a very short space of time it was apparent that neither of us could stand in this exposed rain lashed spot for too long. Hypothermia was literally minutes away. I urged him to go on; this was a race after all. And besides, he recognised that it was too cold for him to stay still – he had fewer spare clothes than me. Rob continued. I frantically pumped away to try and get the split to reseal and the tyre bead to bite. It just wouldn’t hold. the last thing I wanted to do was put a tube in cos (a) I hate riding with tubes (b) this usually simple operation would have been nigh on impossible in these conditions. So I pumped up the tyre and rode for a minute. Stoppped. Pumped it up again. Rode….Mind reeling I just wasn’t sure what to do…. After several stop / starts the tyre eventually held air and sat wonkily on the rim. But it was up and staying up! The relief was almost worth the panic!
Getting going again the impact of the Baltic climb, the cold, and the exposure hit home; I was absolutely frozen and traversing a windswept moor in about 20 metres visibility. I hid behind a wall to gather my thoughts and add any spare clothes I had in my bag, no easy task as my hands were now completely numb.
Things got better. Dropping out of the clouds the rain eased slightly and the temperature rose. I decided to pick things up and set chase after Rob. I felt pretty good and relieved to be away from the highest ground. Several miles later I was told I was only ten minutes back. This was good progress and I pushed on. Then, at one of the final checkpoints I was told this had crept up to twenty mins. Perhaps I’d pushed too hard in my chase. More likely Rob’s strength and endurance had truly kicked in and he was nailing it. Either way, the adrenaline left my body; ten minutes down – possible. Twenty minutes down – highly improbable. I sat up to cruise in. Just get back with no more dramas. I was pleased to get through perhaps the toughest day I’ve ever had on a bike and roll in to the TT pits in second. Local Julian Corlett took a very strong third.
Both Rob and I had chatted about the ‘issue’ of ‘concluding’ this race as we rode over half way neck and neck. Who knows? It would have made an exciting end to an already ‘fun packed’ day had a decisive move been made. Over that duration a tight finish would always be unlikely but we pushed each other on and it was a shame that a mechanical interrupted a highly engaging bit of friendly competition. Well done to him for a solid ride and well earned win.
My return to this race was a special as the first attempt. It was great to catch up with Nigel and his family. Massive thanks to him and his team for laying this on. San Kapil was his usual ever enthusastic self and we all met up for post race pizzas and some stunned recollections of a truly ridiculous day. Would you remember just another woodland singletrack lapped race? Or would this day be etched in our memories as one of the toughest, most extreme, most unique races we’ve ever taken part in? DO THE BLOODY MANX100 NEXT YEAR!