Yep, there’s always one. And there’s been one in the last three races I’ve done. One competitor I mean! Okay, two at Gisburn 12hr pairs…
But then there was Ten @ Kirroughtree. I was totally unprepared having only decided to enter about 48hrs before. Total mud fest but absolutely fantastic course. The organisers had been asked for more natural rooty sections to link the man made stuff…. I expected about 90% man made / 10% natural….. error! The hairy, steep, rooty, slippery shutes came thick and fast… And I had headed out on Crossmarks presuming hard surfaces! The charge into the first singletrack looked like a pack hitting cobbles on a Northern Classic in the rain… bikes and bodies flew everywhere as everybody was hit by their ‘inappropriate’ tyre choices at once! Great fun! The rain got heavier and it turned into ‘one of those races’…. I wasted a load of time faffing on with wheels and tyres whilst trying to contend the race. It was a close fight…. and I came in 2nd. By 2 minutes. Over ten hours. Grrrrr!
Anyway, it was great prep for Bontrager 24 solo. Again, I looked at the weather forecast through light enhancing Oakleys… It’ll be fine! Slight chance of some light showers. No problem! The two weeks leading up to the event were so busy at work that, even if I had had the inclination, I just didn’t have any more time to spend on preparation. My naivety and my busy schedule really didn’t help what turned out to be a kind of ‘Freddy Krueger Goes to the Races’ kind of experience…
It was grey and overcast on the Friday when Charlotte and I pitched up at the lovely Newnham Park. We were soon met by Pit Bitch Extraordinaire, Mr Ian Leitch. A quick lap of the course confirmed why I had decided to make the garguntuan trip from Northumberland to the tropical south… fantastic fun and technical singletrack and the perfect balance of climbing and descending. If the weather stays dry this would be ace…
Hardly slept on the Friday night due to the hammering rain…. it had stopped when we got up but the sky was heavy and foreboding…
The start was very fast. I’d forgotten what a team / mass participation start was like as my last two 24s were the Worlds and the UK24. No teams on the start line. No really ‘elbows out’ close combat, no ‘got to go just that bit too fast to hit the singletrack without getting stuck in a bottleneck’…. This start felt like an xc race! Had to keep the pace high for the first lap till things thinned out.
When they did I had Rob Dean on my shoulder…. surely he wasn’t trying to draft me?(!) Anyway, I ‘thunk thin’, breathed in, and pushed him up the Clif Climb… Each lap he kept coming back to me further up the course but I felt that each time he came back it was just one tree further up the course…. We were joined by Craig Bowles, A rider who I was very wary of from the start. I’ve seen him ride at Bontrager before and know what a strong and well paced rider he is.
I did a bike swap and Craig and Rob went hammering off… took a few minutes to get back to them. Light rain was falling and the course was getting a bit slippery,,,, my spare bike had racier tyres on… round a corner and I lost the front wheel in already skatey mud. I hit the ground hard and lost touch with front (Gerald Tudor was up ahead too). So I settled into a pace.
Caught Rob and went past him…. a bit too easily as I remember. I looked back and saw him slowing up. Later I was told that he had pulled out with broken mech hanger. Really bad luck as I know Rob was primed for Bontrager after some 24hr DNFs earlier in the year.
Anyway, Craig was up and ahead and the weather was getting worse. Proper rain now. I tried to block out memories of horror SITs and Mayhem rides…. surely not again???
The course was turning to porridge. The gap was slowly creeping up around ten minutes. Deja vous was crystalizing…. Into the night I was really struggling motivationally. I was very near to pulling out (something I pride myself in never doing). It wasn’t that I can’t do these bad conditions, far from it, in some respects I like them. The problem was my poor preparation was letting me (and my pit crew) down. I just wasn’t equipped to do a mud fest. No jet wash. Not enough spares. No bad weather strategy. It felt hopeless and I’m embarressed to admit it but I got really down. This was not fun and the win felt out of my reach. Early morning (still raining of course!) and I was having a mechanical issue a lap. I (perhaps irrationally) wanted to stay on my amazing steel Enigma Ego but at the cost of running long pit stops to keep it moving in the ever worsening conditions. Of course the conditions were the same for everyone but I was annoyed with myself for not having a game plan as I have been in this situation before (two weeks earlier in fact at Kirroughtree!) and should have known better.
Anyways, as I always do, I stuck it out. Craig was about forty minutes up I think and I just needed to tap it out for second. And then the flippin sun came out!!!! (Why does that always happen after horror muddy nightss??). It went ballistically hot. I put my toys back in my pram and actually cracked a smile! People were washing their bikes in the river, carefully balancing on rocks with trousers rolled up. I saw my chance and executed the bike equivalent of ‘bombing’ nearly going over the bars I hit the water so fast! Well, it cheered me up and I cleared my own patch of river to splash about in.
So (again!) I was second. Of course I really wanted the win but Craig was very strong and he thoroughly deserved the win. If he continues to knock out rides like that, I think he will be a handful for any UK soloist in 2011. Good luck to one of the nicest endurance riders out there.
What next? Kielder 100 looms…. It’s going to be super competitive this year. A good few of the long haul riders are in there as well as the xc guys who can stretch the distance and the marathon specialists… I got 6th there last year. In retrospect a pretty good result. Following Bontrager I got laid up with a cold…. gave me time to finally prepare my Kielder Weapon of Choice – my Ti Ego…. It’s a thing of beauty and I’ll post some pics very soon.