(pic: Joolze Dymond)
September 5 is a date that will be etched on many mountain bikers’ minds as a day when enduro history was made and the marathon racing bar raised in the UK as the inaugural Montane Kielder 100 got underway.
Boasting a 100 mile loop that would take riders out of their comfort zones and far beyond, the Montane Kielder 100 race was a race like no other. The idea, inspired by similar events in the USA, was always going to be a challenge to implement in the UK, with no racing allowed on bridleways and the sheer scale of the land involved.
Stepping up to the mark was the Kielder Partnership along with the Forestry Commission who were more than delighted to be part of British history making. And so the trails of Kielder Forest and Newcastleton were utilised to bring the dream of one lap, one rider, one race, 100 miles to life. Montane stepped in early on with their support, along with Accelerade, who provided much needed energy bursts, USE, Singular, Joolze Dymond Photography, Purple Mountain and XCRacer and as they say the rest is now indeed history!
In the outset the organisers were only expecting a smattering of entries, 100 riders at best, expecting just 20 to finish and perhaps maybe just one death along the way. As it was, over double that number actually entered with 200 riders from near and far (some as far away as America and Switzerland making this a truly international race) actually lining up on an early brisk Saturday morning to take on the challenge and see if they could win…
(pic: Joolze Dymond)
It was to be a race not only against each other but also against physical and mental tiredness, not to mention the clock as the tough and unrelenting course took a harsh toll throughout the day. Conditions were ideal – it wasn’t raining for a start and the cool but calm weather saw the race begin in earnest. Wisely the organisers had strategically put into place four cut-offs, with riders expecting to average 8mph to reach each one in plenty of time to continue on.
For many it was a mile too far and as the day wore on the race became a real battle of attrition with rider after rider finding themselves defeated by the task in hand. First casualty of the day came after just two miles as singlespeeder Marty’s freehub exploded, leaving a short but disappointing walk back home watching as the clouds of dust whipped up by the other riders disappeared over the horizon.
The course itself was pieced together with local knowledge from Simon Banks, who threaded the trails effectively around the valleys, weaving this way and that, constantly climbing or descending, hooking up stunning technical singletrack with gruelling, fire track slogs, interspersed with the occasional puddle of doom, which could occasionally swallow a biker whole. One of the many highlights, apart from the much-needed food stations was the epic crossing of the Scottish border, entering reiver country, an area renowned for centuries for raiding, theft, constant fear and misery.
The crossing point was marked with a fanfare from a lone piper along with streams of bunting, Scottish Saltpetres competing with St George crosses. As the riders emerged from the heavy mist they reached for a crossing fee with which to pay the piper thus ensuring smooth passage into Scottish lands. It soon became apparent to all involved that the reiver reputation has long since been replaced by a much friendlier outlook and riders were greeted at the Newcastleton feed station and throughout the race with incredible enthusiasm from local people who volunteered to help.
(pic: Joolze Dymond)
As the race unfolded, all the categories up for grabs in this unique race were close-fought affairs with just a handful of minutes separating the winners from the runners up in most occasions, which in the epic scale of racing for well over eight hours is an incredible achievement for all involved. Right from the start a small band of riders soon made it apparent that they were keen to take the first title in the open men’s field and as such they quickly established a punishing tempo that opened up a considerable lead.
In this compact group were international enduro specialist Ian Leitch, along with elite riders Simon Earnest, Australian Mike Blewitt, Neal Crampton and Keith Jones. By the crossing point this had dwindled down to three, with Crampton taking them into Scotland, closely followed by Blewitt and Earnest. Leitch, having punctured, now found himself in no man’s land as he fought on in fourth spot trying hard to bridge the gap. Finally after nearly eight and a half hours in the saddle at full effort, Neal Crampton crossed the line to take the first 100-mile off road race win after a tough fight. Simon Earnest followed just three minutes later to take second while Mike Blewitt came home after a mechanical problem out on the trail, 11 minutes later in third. Just 35 minutes separated the top eight finishers in the men’s open, a real close call where anything could of happened to upset the balance in the closing stages as riders found their brake blocks being hungrily devoured by rough Kielder grit…
(pic: Joolze Dymond)
In the women’s race, Mel Alexander, fresh from two weeks in the Swiss Alps took control halfway through the race relieving Jenn Hopkins of her early lead. Alexander continued her focused ride to complete the race in just over ten hours. Hopkins claimed second 43 minutes later, while Amy Baron-Hall picked up 3rd with her sterling ride. Her 12:18 doesn’t sound too great in comparison to Hopkins and Alexander but when you factor in that she rode the full distance on a rigid singlespeed it brings it all into perspective! Her epic ride saw her pick up another prize as the first female singlespeeder too. Around 20 or so SSers (Simply Sadistic or single speeders however you want to look at it) took part, making this tough race, even tougher. Paul Errington took the honours in this category after a showdown with Dean Taylor along the way.
In the men’s vets race it was yet another showdown of two closely matched rivals, Michael Powell and National Marathon Champion David Hayward. In fact Hayward was initially reluctant to enter such a daunting race and then he figured he’d have a good outing with Powell to compete against! Thus ensued a ding-dong battle that saw the lead switch and change nearly as much as the terrain. Towards the closing stages of the race it looked like Powell may have at last the upper hand, but it wasn’t to be. With just a handful of miles to go Powell blew, leaving Hayward to surge through to take the win with Powell coming home just three minutes later, just able to hold off James D’Arcy in thirrd.
Janet Prier took just under 12 hours to take her place on the top step of the vet’s women’s podium over an hour ahead of Sally Daw, while Anna Baird fought strongly on to pick up third with just under 14 hours in the saddle. The last prize of the day, a sort of ‘Lantern Rouge’ or in this case the USE Pink Camo light of last place love was awarded to Mike McTimoney, who staggered in dead last, under cover of darkness after 14 overly epic hours on his trusty singlespeed. He very nearly didn’t earn this honour, but being the gentleman he is, he kindly let a young lady finish ahead of him! Just goes to prove that chivalry does pay!
(pic: Joolze Dymond)
Throughout the day a steady stream of riders made their way back to Kielder Castle for a free beer and burger, the area was awash with tales of epic battles both physically, mechanically and mentally won and lost! Consensus was that this was a brilliant event, superbly organised, one that has been missing from the UK calendar and that now established has raised the bar for ultra marathon racing in this country. Riders were also in awe of the support and friendliness of the local communities who helped make it a race to remember for all the right reasons.
200 riders started, 130 riders actually completed the race, no one died. Of those, just 25 finished in less than 10 hours. Plans are already underway by many who entered to come back and do it all again, but faster.
For full results and information about this now legendary race, check out www.kielder100.co.uk