This Saturday was the first race of the year. I was particularly looking forward to it because I have been going so well recently, had a great run in, and, well, was just itching for a race! It was the first leg of the Kielder Marathon Series, which I won last year. So, with a big target on my back and a great new sponsor, (M Steels Cycles) the mix of adrenaline combined with a desire to do a good job meant I had the perfect balance of pre-race nervous energy.
On the start line was Chris Murley who has won the series in the past and I know to be a strong rider. My strategy was simple for this race: I wanted to get out in front even if it really hurt and see how long I could keep it together. The Kielder Marathon races are normally won in around 2.5 hrs so with three laps, I felt this strategy would be the best approach.
The lead car dropped off and I rode as hard as possible to get into the first excellent section of singletrack in front. As I expected Chris was on my wheel. We took in some of the best sections of the Kielder trails in the first 20 minutes. I noticed with my Top Fuel I was gaining ground over Chris on his hardtail, both on the technical climbs and the rough descents. I inched away and then put in some some substantial time on the big downhills. I was feeling super strong and kept the pace high.
I found out later that I had put about 4 mins lead in on the first lap and I was not going to slow… Then, the disaster vortex opened…. I split a Stan-ed tyre. Just as I was finishing putting a tube in and Chris went pass me. A big effort was needed. I downed a caffeine gel, (thought it was better taken now than saved for the last lap!) I caught him and put on my best, ”this is my comfortable pace, honest” face and built another slender lead.
And then I punctured again. Bollocks! Chris rode up to me and gave me his only spare tube! (We weren’t too far from transition) What an incredibly sporting thing to do! I saw him sail off into the distance and another rider passed me. I was starting to panic now….
Through transition L2 and I heard I was about 5 mins back. Do-able? I was feeling very good physically but it seemed a big ask, despite the 1hr+ laps. I got my answer about half a mile into L3… another bloody puncture!!!! A big thorn this time. I had no spare tube, there was latex everywhere…. I felt the adrenaline leave my body like water from a tap. The frustration was just too great and I pulled out. The first time I have ever pulled out of a race and it felt terrible. Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory as they say. And well done to Chris for pulling through and taking the win.
Anyway, whilst the laps were probably a bit long for most of the punters, (Chris finished in 3hr 20 ish) I personally thought it was the best Kielder Marathon course so far. Lots of technical interest, some long climbs, and some spectacular views on a back drop of cold, clear, blue sky.
And this was the first time I’ve ridden the Top Fuel properly dialed in. I wanted to wait for some quality riding (rather than snow, ice and/or deep mud) to really come to some conclusions on the ride….
This bike absolutely flies over rough ground both uphill and downhill! It was really noticeable at Kielder where it simply flew up rough climbs and was ultra stable, (perhaps due to the long wheelbase) on fast rough descents.
The tapered steerer fork and HUGE headtube add incredible steering accracy:
Rocker link also provides a stiff rear end and a very supple ride:
10 spd XT Dyna-Sys shifts beautifully and, with a dinner plate size cassette, you can ride in the middle ring up some pretty steep pitches. Apparently this optimises suspension efficiency. Whilst I have no other Dyna-Sys bike to compare against, the suspension action felt very effective right through the middle ring range.
Whilst always being suspicious of hyperbole and acronyms, (often the same thing!) one thing I am certain of is the effectiveness of the ABP feature (Active Braking Pivot). It greatly reduces brake jack and ’skip’ when braking late into rough or rippled corners. The traction advantage is very noticeable.
However, I would say my favourite feature of the bike is the front and rear lockouts which just sit beside the grips. Just a nudge from the inside of your index finger is enough to release them and it is incredibly intuitive, becoming as natural as going through the gears. Simple but ergonomically perfect.
I’ve also had the bike Body Fitted and revised my set-up substantially. Took a while to get used to but I am genuinely feeling MUCH more efficient and if the two hours of Kielder I managed are anything to go by, many pieces of the jigsaw are falling in to place. I’m not one to come out with How Good I Am Going to Be This Season type blurb but I am feeling like a different rider and I’ve got a full sus that really suits my riding style. Alongside my lovely Enigma hardtails, (for smooth courses and bad conditions) and some great support from M Steels, I have great kit and back up for the year.
So, despite Saturday’s disappointment positivity reigns! I love training and racing and for many, many reasons, I think 2011 is going to be the best year ever!