The Kielder 100 was kind of a big deal for me this year. The first two years were ridden almost as afterthoughts on the back of 24hr solo focused summers. This year I have only ridden one 24 solo and, as the season progressed, the thought of seriously targetting Kielder became more appealing. Not least because I had decided after UK24 to change my approach to training. Pretty drastically. Reduced volume and some super high intensity work. Over the last month I’ve had Northumbria University to thank for helping me achieve this; I’ve been involved in some research work, most recently 20k time trials… half an hour on Planet Pain. Being on a lab bike and having your elastic stretched (they know your limit cos they find these things out!) is a killer session that I haven’t managed to replicate anywhere else….
I was also well rested, confident in my kit, and very focused. I felt calm despite a stacked field. Friday night came and I hooked up with Ant and did the usual “I thought my bike was perfectly ready but it still needs an hour of faff” ritual. After a bit of social catch up we then headed to the Calvert Trust for the night along with, amongst others, Andy McClure from Steels who was also riding the next day. Matt Jones had very kindly fitted us in to his Killer Kielder challenge HQ and it was a great relief to have a warm bed before the Kielder 100 as opposed to the usual midge infested / blokes farting all night in the next door tent / cold damp experience that typified the first two years. (Matt is still collecting after completing his epic challenge – for more info go to http://www.justgiving.com/killerkielderchallenge The Calvert Trust is a very worthy cause and do some fantastic work at Kielder).
Anywho, after a good few hours kip, we were up at 4:30…. Grim death. Muesli was forced down protesting throats and super strength coffee created a weak pulse. This is always the hardest part of the Kielder 100…
On the start line the atmosphere was the usual gallows humour as the misty rain seeped to the skin and the midgies nibbled… I caught up with Andy Fellows (Ay-up lights) from Oz who I’d met at 24hr Worlds in Canada. He was probably wondering how he’d ended up in this awful predicament… Dan Treby (Singular) was his usual chipper self (little damps his enthusiasm) and the front rows were full of numerous strong riders including last year’s winner Andrew Cockburn and the pre-race favourite Ben Thomas… And of course competing with Ant (Cannondale / Mt Zoom) in the Vets was always going to be a big ask… This was going to be a tough race.
Off we went. After the long lead out a very big group formed. Mud and grit flew everywhere. In seconds my glasses were caked and I had to suddenly whip them off to avoid running into the next rider. Things calmed slightly and the group lined out.
A short while after we hit a climb. I sensed this was a key moment. One of the guys in front of me was struggling a bit with the pace. Suddenly the front riders ahead of him (including many of the favourites) sprung a substantial gap. Right, split second decision – I jumped out from behind the slowing rider and redlined it. This was the break and I had to make it. A minute or so later I’d bridged the gap and looked back to see only one other rider had come with me. My competition in the Vets class (Ant / Mark Spratt / Adrian Laurence) hadn’t jumped the gap. This was good.
We tanked along working well as a group – sometimes one line, sometimes two but all he while I could feel we were pulling along well. So it continued. Twinges of cramp meant I had to ease of a bit and yo-yoed of the back once or twice. Mechanicals and feed station stops disrupted the group somewhat but a core of eight or so remained.
This gradually broke up further. Andy F dropped off. Andrew C had mechanical problems. Greig Brown punctured. Mike Blewitt had a comedy moment down a grass slope when his brakes totally failed and he had to throw himself off his bike! He saw the funny side though!
Then suddenly I was on my own. Weird. Just can’t really remember what happened! I knew that 4 riders were ahead of me. And not by much. Heading into to Newcastleton I felt great.
Everyone will have had a ‘bad bit’ / mechanical issue (I had given up on worrying about my brakeless / squidgy tyred bike by now) that lost them time. Mine happened in the Newcastleton trails…. Suddenly the world just started spinning. Noooo! I hadn’t eaten in a while and I seriously bonked. Like I just couldn’t push the pedals. At all. I stopped and downed 2 gels / 1 caffeine gel / half a pint of drink. Bugger! It was going to take a good 15 mins for this to kick in. I limped on and finally rejuvenated but I was conscious i’d made a mistake I could be punished for…
Normal service resumed. But then at Lewisburn Tom Stewart (Doncaster Wheelers) flew past me. I had no reply and decided to not risk trying as I had no food left for the last testing climbs. I just wanted to make sure Ant didn’t catch me…. Surely he won’t?…
I’d seen a dark figure at the bottom of a long climb a bit earlier on and for some reason thought it was Andrew C…. On the final climbs I looked again. Shit! The distinctive, “I can smell your blood” head bobbing meant only one thing… it was Ant!
I rode the last two climbs on pure adrenalin. The big descents were super sketchy with virtually no stopping power… Just Don’t Crash!!!! To my great suprise I didn’t! Hurrah! Ant rolled in 40 seconds later. Over 100 ‘eventful’ miles. What an epic race! Giles Drake came in 4 minutes ahead of me and apparently crossed the line and threw up! He went on to race xc the next day! Respect! And what a superbly controlled ride by Ben Thomas – he was in a different class.
I’d won the Vets and placed 5th overall. I’m not going to lie – this was a major result for me in a very strong field. A slight change in focus has paid off and I’m really keen to do more 6 to 8 hour events… Come on race organisers!!!
Ant was the first person to shake my hand. He is a true gent and has been a massive inspiration to me (and countless others no doubt) over the last few years. He has selflessly shared many of his ‘racer’s tricks’ and his sheer do or die approach means he never gives in. This is why, over the last few years, he’s racked up a results sheet that most of us can only dream of.
It’s a real shame one of us had to come in second. I’m just glad that this time, it wasn’t me ; )