Montane Kielder 100: Relentless rain tests competitors' reserves

David Arthur David Arthur

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

I suspect with the amount of grit that was removed by the hundreds of riders that took part in the iconic Montane Kielder 100 this year, that the mountains of Kielder and Newcastleton will one day be mere bumps!

For once the weather forecasters got it right. Rain and lots of it all day was forecast for the third edition of the Montane Kielder 100 and it came in bucket loads. But rather than dampen the enthusiasm of the 600 riders who lined up in the early hours of the morning, facing the hundred mile challenge, it just added to the camaraderie and stoical outlook that this challenging event has become associated with.

As the darkness of night melted into the early morning light it was soon time to get the race underway. By 6.30am the riders were off, a brightly coloured parade of lycra, flowing effortlessly down the forest drive, brightening up the gloom, patiently following the lead out car, eager to get into the race proper.

Vying for position at the front of this impressive sight were last years defending champion Andrew Cockburn, joined by a few more elite riders, Ben Thomas and Giles Drake, plus the grand old men of endurance racing, Rich Rothwell and Ant White. It was going to be a tough day in the hills in more ways than one!

As the lead car pulled away, the pace upped and rider after rider quickly disappeared into the thick forest and eerie mist. The race soon turned into a battle of survival for many. Rain combined with the gritty Kielder soil quickly condemned many brakes pads to history. There followed a rush of comedy dismounts as descents became more dreaded than ascents but luckily there was usually a soft fern border to take the strain.

For some it was a step too far and the trickle of riders unable to complete the task in hand soon became a flood as the lack of braking power combined with various grit related mechanicals, punctures and the continuous rain began to compound the task of reaching the cut-off points in the allotted time. They tried. They all tried so hard.

It was hard to distinguish anyone, with everything coated in a fine layer of brown slurry but out in front the fast boys had got their groove on, with a notable pack of class act riders containing Andrew Cockburn (Columbia – Bike Food), Tim Dunford (AW Cycles), Ben Thomas (TORQ Performance), Steve James (AW Cycles), Andy Fellows (AY-UP Lights), Mike Blewitt (MarathonMTB.com), Giles Drake (Team Elite), Rich Rothwell (M Steels/Enigma/Exposure), Tom Stewart (Doncaster Wheelers) and Greig Brown working hard together as a lead group.

Gradually as the miles fell away so the pack diminished as mechanicals and the pace began to take their toll.  Ben Thomas was now forging through with Drake and Cockburn for company.  He soon found himself out in front and going for home alone as bikes gave in to the relentless conditions and claimed his rivals one by one, arriving at the specially designed finish arch and welcoming red carpet in just over 8 hours, impressive in such harsh conditions and just outside the course record.

All eyes were now on who would take second, the field being blown apart. Cockburn was nursing home a broken frame still racked up 10th, while Drake out of braking power and nearly out of juice snapped up 4th.

Tim Dunford came crashing through, his lips virtually matching his blue kit to take 2nd, while 3rd place went to a surprised Tom Stewart. The race for 5th also turned into the race for the coveted Veterans title, with new Vets Rich Rothwell and Ant White both eager to get their hands on the trophy.

Having spent far too much of his time in runner up position to Ant over the years Rich was determined this was all going to change. Over the hundred miles these two close friends and racing rivals battled all the way, with Rothwell bagging the win just 50 secs ahead of White.

An impressive number of ladies entered both categories but in the Open field none really gave Mel Alexander (XCRacer.com) the challenge she craved. Her time may have been her slowest yet, but she still managed a comfortable lead over second placed Lisa Kamphausen (WXC) to take her 3rd consecutive win.

The Veteran ladies also had a close race with Ruth Thompson just getting the better of Anne Woods (Saddle Skedaddle) by mere minutes, nothing in the grand scale of 100 miles!

With an amazing 18th spot in 9 hrs & 44 mins came Steve Day first of the crazy singlespeeders, staking his claim on the top step of the winners podium.

Riders kept arriving as the day began to wind down, all covered in the same shade of brown, all with the thousand yard stare, all relieved to have finished and delighted to be greeted with a free beer and hot food; finishers or not, it was all well deserved.

Tales abounded, of daring do, of close encounters with trees and soft landings in ferns, of brake pads destroyed and the variety of techniques used to slow themselves down, all eager to relate tales of adventure, challenge and of overcoming adversity.

Tech station mechanics were hailed as heroes, repairing seemingly unrepairable bikes and cramming available brake pads into an array of callipers. The Montane Kielder 100 could indeed be viewed as the ultimate challenge. Despite the hardship of the 3rd year, many will no doubt be back to try and conquer the beast – to better their time or for many the aim will be to just survive and complete the full distance.

Congratulations to everyone who started, no matter where you finished you are all winners. Rest assured this race will never be easy, but the challenge will always be there, whether mental or physical for riders to push themselves further than they ever imagined. Talk is already underway of next year’s race, let’s hope the weather is more generous…

Thanks to all our supporters, sponsors and everyone involved and of course our volunteers without whom we couldn’t put on such a fantastic event.

Ben Thomas, Open Gentlemen Winner 2011, talks about his ride:

The weather most definitely played its part. I was told that last year riders were covering up with suncream, not goretex like this year! It was hard but thoroughly enjoyable, I loved it. There was a big group, about 15, of us to start with, we rode together for about 35 miles, then by 50 miles it was down to just 3 of us, Me, Giles Drake & Andrew Cockburn.

Crossing into Scotland I managed to get a tiny gap, but Drake caught me again and we rode together for a bit until he had to stop to sort his brakes out. So for the last 30 miles I was out there on my own.

I wore my brakes down right to the backing plate, I knew if I stopped I’d probably be caught so I just kept going. When I saw the 1 mile to go I was so relieved, all the way I’d been looking over my shoulder thinking I was going to be caught, I was going slower and slower, but luckily there wasn’t anyone there.

I was so relieved when I finished that champagne tasted so good!

Can’t wait to come back next year and see how close I can get to that 7 hours, its so much more exciting doing that one big lap than going round in circles for hours on end, hopefully the weather will be kinder.

Mel Alexander, Open Ladies Winner 2011. Here’s here report:

Something was missing for me, I didn’t have the usual desire to hurt myself and push myself hard. I’m really pleased to finish and to win (especially with the great prize and prize money) but afterwards regretted not pushing harder, as I finished in my slowest time out of the 3 events.

There is something that attracts me to the challenge but I can’t put it in words. I wouldn’t say it’s enjoyment, it’s more the challenge. It is tough especially when conditions were as bad as they were this year.

Maybe three times is enough, I’ll see how I feel next year. Paul and Sara as usual did a brilliant job in organising the Montane Kielder 100 and I really appreciated the last 2 miles of singletrack which they had spent days smoothing out earlier in the year.

Rich Rothwell, Veteran Gentlemen Winner 2011, comments on his win:

The Montane 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 targeting the hundred became more appealing.

I 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. It’s a real shame one of us had to come in second. I’m just glad that this time, it wasn’t me.

Anne Woods: 2nd Veteran Lady. Survived to tell her story:

Survived and finished! It was rather wet and muddy only 180 people finished, I came in 173. Dare I say I even enjoyed it and am even considering entering next year, but I wasn’t saying that Saturday evening.

For more details about this unique event please visit – www.kielder100.com

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