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Salisbury Plain Winter Challenge report

15:06 2nd January 2013 by Bikemagic
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The latest Winter Challenge on Salisbury Plain went as smoothly as ever and also returned to its classic slot at the end of the year, taking place on the 30th December 2012. Plenty of folk showed up as they always do despite the horrendous weather over the Christmas period, and everyone seemed to leave with a smile.

Sean Wratten runs a bike shop locally and plays his part in the event, running a stall, providing the PA system and eating his fair share of the cake selection. He was of course at the event again in 2012 and beamed over this report:

December 30th 2012, Erlestoke camp, Salisbury Plain. The time and venue for the latest edition of the SPAM Winter Challenge. 

Words: Sean Wratten (aka Bertie Maffoon…)
Photos: Duncan Snow (find your own shot and purchase a print/download at MBK Photos)

This event has been running for years. Almost as long as mountain bikes have been in the popular domain. So long in fact that a friend of mine, now old enough to suffer with back problems, remembers having to miss school one Monday after his exertions across an undoubtedly wet and windy Salisbury Plain…

It’s not a ‘race’ as such, but more of a social end to the year and a great way to start on a good foot for 2013. Friends and families alike were present.

It’s pretty popular too. In previous years numbers have exceeded 1000 and it regularly hits the 700 mark, regardless of the weather. What makes it so popular and long lasting? Well it’s not the longest or most technically challenging course. Neither is it a true “race” so doesn’t have a big prize pool to aim for. For me the lure is pretty much at the heart of what has made mountain biking as a pastime so popular. It’s run by SPAM biking, a local club, and creates a friendly, social atmosphere where everyone is welcome. Whether you’re trying to beat last years time, win some bragging rights or, more often than not, you just fancy escaping from the house over Christmas and having a social ride with your mates before heading home for a 5th straight cold turkey lunch, it’s a great meeting. There’s also the draw of riding stretches of the Plain that are normally reserved solely for military training, including riding through the eerie, deserted town of Imber, complete with church and graveyard (and rusty tanks…). Not a place I’d choose for a night ride!

Bikes of all sorts show up at the Winter Challenge and this time round was no exception.

Last weeks’ event was no exception. It was clear that the near biblical rain in the days leading up to the event hadn’t quashed too many peoples appetites as the multitude of entrants rolling up at daybreak were rewarded with clear blue skies. (We’ll gloss over the biting wind and heavy rain saved for later in the day!)

We’ve run the shop stall at the event for probably about 8 years now and it always amazes me the mix of people you get turning up. This year we had the usual mix of industry insiders – a UK bike brand owner, a suspension tuning legend and a plethora of show owners, staff and reps – sorry – area sales managers (they get so touchy If you call them reps!). There were families, bikes clubs and weekend warriors all mixed in with newbie and veteran riders alike. In fact, some of the Winter Challenge veterans were not so long ago the very same newbies coming up to us for their first ever pair of winter gloves and ear warmers, when they first realised that 9am on Salisbury Plain in late December can be a pretty damn cold place.

Conditions weren’t ideal, but pretty much as expected for a Winter Challenge – wind, rain and mud.

How did the event go? Pretty much the same as nearly every year really, money was raised for charity, everyone got muddy, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and everyone seemed to share in the opinion that the aforementioned wind and rain meant they’d earnt their post ride burger, veggie curry or cake. As for who came in 1st, most people didn’t seem to be too interested. This never has been an event where big egos get to swagger around in the “look how quick I am” manner. Not that the quick boys are shunned or ignored, just that most of the riders are just happy to be out doing what they love, just riding.

Was it a success? Definitely. Will I be back next time? Definitely. Although hopefully without the festive flu that stopped me riding this time. And finally would I recommend this event, wholeheartedly yes. Hats off to all the organisers and volunteers for making this one of the best little big events out there and really capturing what an MTB event should be, and that’s anything you want it to be.

One final word has to go to the gallows humour collective, who congregated next to the finish and cheered every time someone came unstuck on the last couple of wet grassy turns. There’s nothing like laughing & ironic cheering to make you feel better as you’ve pretty much slid across the finish line on your arse. No chance for jumping up quickly and hoping no one noticed here!

Just for the record, Ryan Bevis and Jonathon Pugh both completed the 50k in an impressive 1:53:35, Chris Leng came in 1st in the 35k in 1:27:18 and the 25k was won by the unnamed rider no. 68, in a time of 1:12:30. For a full list of results, photos and info check out Spam Winter Challenge.

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