I'm struggling to remember the last time I raced in such atrociously muddy conditions. There was Mountain Mayhem a few years ago of course, yes that was pretty miserable, and that race down in Plymouth a few years before, but as I sit here still picking mud out of my eyes and listen to the washing machine making some truly terrible sounds, last weekends Gorrick 100 enduro easily tops them all.
It shouldn't have been this way. With sunny weather all week and blue skies on Saturday, it was leading towards a memorable race. But after a thunderous night of rain smashing against the windows and waking to yet more rain, the race was memorable for completely different reasons.
After just one lap, the course turned into a mudbath. Trails were demolished as more and more riders poured onto the course with the later starting categories, with thick gloop soon coating every inch of rider and bike. In a classic case of last minute preparation, I only unpacked my race bike following the recent Cape Epic on Saturday night, so it was little surprise when the rear brake, desperately in need of a bleed, died halfway through the first lap.
Relying on the front brake solely, the few downhill's were tricky indeed, and I had to use as much of the berms and trails as possible to haul the bike around the corners without heaving on the one anchor too much. A couple of laps later, and the front brake lever was now bouncing off the handlebars, and the going got really dicey!
I thought I was alone in this increasingly desperate situation, but at the end of my fourth lap, pulling over in the feed zone to grab a fresh bottle and swap the empty gel wrappers in my jersey pockets for some new ones, three of the Mule Bar Strudel team riders came over and explained how their brake pads had also died and resulted in them having no choice but to pull out. This was when I first realised how much the conditions were taking the toll on other riders beside myself. Phew, I thought, I wasn't alone I also learnt that many of the top guys had pulled out after just two laps. This was a crazy, I couldn't help muttering to myself.
Thinking there might be a podium finish in the offing, if I could just make it through another three laps, I rolled off. It seemed madness: the brakes were now completely useless and offered absolutely sod all retardation. Needless to say, I didn't get very far. The first downhill section of my fifth lap, a curvy singletrack trail weaving between trees and over and around wet roots, was my demise. I managed to negotiate the fast right hander towards the bottom, careered around with way too much speed, buttocks tightly clenched as the tyres skipped and slipped over some rather large roots, and with too much speed for the next left hander, I bailed into a massive bank and was dumped firmly onto the ground. Game over. Realising continuing would be a futile exercise, and my feet and hands now numb from the cold, I bravely rolled back to the car park!
Never have I before taken part in an event where the dropout rate has been so staggeringly high. As crazy as it sounds, not one male or female rider managed to complete all of the seven laps that they set out to do, the best managing a still impressive six. Competitors in the other categories reported similar tales of woe, left to count the cost of the repair job.
However, despite all this, it was still an enjoyable event, and the course was actually riding really well (aside from a few properly gloopy spots) with the singletrack in the later sections rolling impressively well. People were still smiling at the end, and most seemed to have enjoyed what riding they had managed. Respect to all the riders who braved the conditions and lined up on the start, and rode as much as each could manage before their bikes flagged under the strain of all that mud.
Next year will be dry, right...
All photos © Joolze Dymond - www.joolzedymond.com