As the rain continues, I knew that my mud tyre was the right choice. The light drizzle and forecast for worse on Saturday meant that when I reached Bedgebury near Tunbridge Wells the car park was not overflowing with riders. It seemed the truly keen had braved the elements to race today.
The first thing that struck me at Bedgebury was the facilities; its the first trail centre I’ve been to, and everything seemed to be there for the mountain bike enthusiast – shops, bike hire, pressure washers (brilliant for a day like this and a hosepipe ban at home) and a well stocked cafe. Parking was a bit on the steep side, I’m used to dumping my motor in a field and not worrying about it, so at £7.50 a car it did sting a little, but the race entry fee was cheaper than most, so it all balanced out across the day.
Unloading the car, I headed up to the course for a nose round. I was on my own today but was expecting a small cheer squad and photographer in the shape of my team mate Simon Tyler and his family. All the photos are by him and I think they’re cracking. Heading to the signup with rain starting again I had know idea how many I’d be up against, but as the Seniors, Juniors, Vets and Women were in the same race I knew there would be enough for a good race. I spotted familiar faces from the Gorrick races, a couple were pretty handy, so the race was going to be on from the gun.
I joined the course and started a sighting lap, knowing the course was shorter than most the lap count was set to about 7 (the race was one hour plus one lap) meant I was able to take it all in pretty quickly. The course was mainly tight winding singl track, with one main section of fire road. It wound around the forest and through the trees constantly switching left and right. It was pretty much pan flat (result) and there weren’t many if any steep sections to get to grips with.
So as I headed back to the car after the lap I felt oddly confident. I adjusted my tyres dropping the pressures to account for the slippery conditions. Even on the sighting lap the trails were already slippy, and by the end of the race they were bond to be a real slop fest. Some riders were heading back to cars to change tyres, realising the conditions were that bad, whilst those running summer tyres looked concerned and were frantically trying to work how to make the best of a less than ideal situation.
As the series of kids races finished we were called up to the start. The usual banter kicked off and as I looked around me there were 20 other racers ready for the off. The one thing I’ve learnt is to never judge a book by its cover on the start line. The gnarled old geezer coughing his guts up next to you might have been racing all his life and still be able to kick your arse every day every week, so I knew that it was still going to be a tough one no matter who stood around me. The commissars called ‘seniors’ to the start, and I was right at the front. He went through the usual instructions, no biting, eye gouging etc and I got ready for the off. Right then, I thought, let’s have it…
Clipped in and away, a much better start than the last race, I was well up and the faster guys were not much ahead of me. Into the first section of single track and the trees came thick and fast. My new setup came into its own and my 70mm stem’s shortness meant I could chuck the bike everywhere I wanted. I got past the rider in front of me as they slowed down and pressed on. This lap was going to be pushing a good gap between me and the riders behind, and halfway round it was working. The fast guys of which I counted about three were away but not to far ahead, I kept them in my sights through the trees and knowing they were that close really got my legs going.
As the laps ticked by I spotted a couple of riders hunting me down, so there was no chance to take the foot off the gas yet. What I was hoping for was that they’d gone too hard too soon and would eventually drop back when they realised they couldn’t bridge the gap. As time went on the gap grew, and at two sections on the course I was able to judge where they were sneaking glances through trees and then pushing harder on the pedals.
The course was soon a mud bath and traction was key, I locked out my suspension using the handlebar control on the Scott, and suddenly felt like I was able to put more power down and keep grip through the now quagmire like corners. I shouted to Simon how long had we been racing (I always find it tricky to tell) as I like to know how long I have to go in terms of my own effort. He shouted back it must have been less than half an hour, and he added the gap was good to the guys behind me. This gave me a real boost. I kept my pace consistent, only really struggling with one corner, covered in just roots and a tight right angle. Even my tyres couldn’t deal with that, so it was a quick jump off and back on, running to keep my speed the same.
With two laps to go, I started picking up back markers, all still in their own race, some shouting at me for a tow (they weren’t joking) and all still loving it. I started to think about where I was in the race, no one had come past me in the hour and I was trying to work out who was ahead. I knew at least three, but in my tired state I had no idea.
The bell rang loud in my ears and as I dived back into the dark pine tree lined single track I knew I was going to place pretty well, but I was also starting to really move. As the laps were short I was able to learn every twist and turn on the course and the final lap felt the sweetest. The deep puddles which became almost like ponds by the end of the race and the now thick sloppy mud just made me grin, I knew I couldn’t get any muddier. I gave every person I passed a little encouragement and almost sliding down the home straight (there was next to no traction left for anyone) I turned left and sprinted for the line.
5th overall and 3rd senior, I had made it onto the little podium that appeared near the Boars On Bikes CC Club house. I was handed an envelope containing real cash and had a photo taken which I will be hunting down online.
After I’d used the very welcome pressure washer, got dry and warm (it took awhile) I sat in the car and smiled. That was brilliant. I’ll be back for more.
See you out riding.
Photos © Simon Tyler