Words: Matt Jones
Leading up to the event, my preparation hasn’t been ideal with a house move and 20pint+ stag do in the preceding weeks. The forecast was for downpours on Saturday morning and brightening up in the afternoon so with the prospect of being literally solo i.e. no support crew, this was bad news if anything went wrong and almost certainly soggy bottom throughout!Photo by Rob Barker Images.
The course was identical to the previous year and which suits me due to the short climbs and flowing singletrack which I prefer over the big slogs up. The race started with a le mans style run up a horrible hill where it was a balance between beating the congestion and running further up the hill or getting in the saddle and dodging the runners. I went for mid hill which worked out ok. I managed to get at the front of the start line and didn’t blow up too much before hopping on my steed for the day, my Trek 9.8sl Carbon 29er set up with a USE suspension seatpost.
The first couple of laps inevitably were way too fast and as usual I got caught up amongst the pace of the teams and put in a couple of hard laps early on before settling down in to a more consistent and sustainable pace. You know your going to fast when the pairs teams only start passing you on mass on lap 3! Although the course was the same as last year, the conditions weren’t. A usually fast flat traverse mid point on the course turned in to a proper sloppy bog. Lap after lap I tried to find the fastest line through the road width trail but eventually came to except that one didn’t exist. Coupled with the steep and greasy climb straight after, this section became dreaded throughout the day!Photo by Rob Barker Images.
As I had no support I had no idea where I was all day. The conditions were also a lot slower than previous years so I wasn’t sure if my laps time were respectable or not. I felt pretty good up until about 8hours where (as my lap times tell) I had a bit of a lull as my bike became twice its normal weight with the build up of mud! In any endurance race I find the bit before the final run in (last couple of hours) is always the hardest as you try and work out how many more laps you will have to do. This simple maths is incredibly difficult when your brain and body are both fried! Despite being caked in mud my bike ate up the trails and with the USE post doing its job keeping the rough seated pedalling smooth so I was pretty comfortable all day discounting the stone baked much on every part of me.
I eventually managed to communicate to some mates who were on course at the same time an SOS, I needed help to know where I was as I didn’t want to stop to ask. This was about 5 laps to go I think. My bike desperately needed de-mudding but remarkably the inevitable gear failure never came and I scrapped off as much mud as I could with my hand which made holding on a bit more interesting that normal. Some borrowed lube was about as much TLC the bike got on the day. Oh and about 2 seconds of jet wash from one of the big teams there by some miserable begrudging support crew member. I think the clutch mech did its job and probably reduced the chance of chain suck that I was expecting. I eventually got word from someone on course that I was “somewhere high up” and with (what I thought) would be 1 lap to go my mates told me I was a lap up and 5 minutes. Great, can take it easy now then. Something nagged with me that this couldn’t be quite right. It then turned out when I rolled in again that I wasn’t a lap up and only had 5mins on 2nd at the last look which could have changed significantly after the lap I’d just done. “You’ll have to go out for another lap and you’ll have to smash it as you’ve only got 35mins” the words nobody wants to hear after over 11hours of non-stop riding. By this point I was lapping around 37minutes and starting to cramp/blow myself in to oblivion so managing the cramp whilst pushing hard was a horrid experience.Photo by Rob Barker Images.
After giving myself multiple talkings to, singing to myself and generally trying to get the adrenaline going I managed to get round in around 34????? minutes. Cue falling in a heap on the finish line, probably blacking out for a time as I could swear I could taste champagne, oh no, it was in fact cider I was being sprayed with. The chap in second just missed the cut off as he stopped for a quick cider without realising that he needed to be back in before 9pm so a pretty close run thing in the end. Good job I did go out for another lap to make sure.Job well done!
Treated myself to a 1500 calorie breakfast the next day after the previous evenings dirty american chicken dinner. Exercise to eat!
Thanks to M Steel Cycles for their continued support and recently sorting me out with a new drive chain which did the trick in keeping me running smooth on the day and USE for the bars and seatpost which worked a treated.