The Montane Kielder 100 has rapidly found itself placed high on the iconic shelf after its first outing just one year ago, when 200 riders made the first steps into history marking the UK’s first 100 mile mountain bike race.
One year later and the appeal had certainly not waned. Despite tales of hardship, the 650 available places for the event sold out well in advance of the race date. While in 2009 riders were faced with damp conditions, encountering more than one Puddle of Doom, this year the weather gods were looking favourably on the event and it was dry and dusty trails all the way. The race for s sub-eight hour time, discussed amongst many in the lead up to the day, was truly on the cards.
In just two years, the Montane Kielder 100 has inspired a whole raft of riders, many new to this form of marathon racing but many more returning to better their times from the previous year, all keen to take on the tough challenge of racing 100 miles off-road.
Reigning champion Neal Crampton returned and this year he was joined by a few more of the UK’s top XC racers, all eager to take the race to another level. Along with a healthy smattering of the top names in marathon racing, including the newly crowned 24 hour Solo UK National Champion, Matt Page.
For the endurance specialists 100 miles is just a drop in the ocean, a mere training ride in the hills. For the cross country whippets, it would add up to five normal cross country races back to back. So who would the 100 mile circuit that circumnavigated the Kielder trails, dipping over the border to the Scottish 7Stanes and back, with it’s 14,000 feet of climbing, suit better? We would have to wait a few hours to see…
As the cold night slowly slipped into a misty dawn, the hundreds of riders made their weary way from warm beds to the start line in front of Kielder Castle, timing chips activated, ready to get the race of the year underway.
At approximately 6.30am the lead vehicle, courtesy of Swinnerton Cycles, slowly pulled away, towing an impressively brightly decorated train of eager riders, each unsure of what lay ahead both physically and mentally. A couple of miles later with the forest road awash with riders, the lead vehicle pulled off and the racing was on.
Riders quickly disappeared into a wall of mist, then 30 minutes later emerged where it soon became clear that it was the racing whippets who wanted this one, with three of the UK’s top master racers, Andrew Cockburn, Steve James and last years runner up Simon Ernest, already opening up a commanding lead. The rest of the field tried in vain to get on terms with the early pace setters. As the day progressed the mist dispersed leaving the riders with some breathtaking views as they crested the valleys surrounding the area, with that alone being enough reason to take on this incredibly tough race.
The aim of the day for the majority of riders was to get to the checkpoints before the cut-off times. On paper that looked manageable, with an average speed of just 8mph needed to complete each stage. However, the severity of the terrain, with a constant stream of climbing and descending including some pretty technical sections, proved a step too far for many, some who totally underestimated the race and some who just had a nightmare of mechanicals and called it a day.
Unfortunately Ernest fell foul to this, with a catalogue of problems proving lady luck had most certainly deserted him causing him to reluctantly quit the race, leaving Cockburn and James riding a fast paced two-up in front, extending their lead from chasers Phil Morris, Josh Ibbett and Neal Crampton.
By the top of the Lonesome Pine Trail, over half distance, a 1.5km section of boardwalk wove its stripy way up the hill across the peat bog, leading the riders towards Scotland and the Newcastleton 7Stanes trails. Cockburn was out on his own hitting this section in under 4 hours, having left James suffering with chainsuck a few miles back. A few minutes later and James came into view, both riders seemingly starting to suffer the effects of such a fast pace. Further back saw Morris, then Ibbett and Crampton with the who’s who of endurance racing coming through thick and fast.
Obviously, the hot food stop at Newcastleton did the trick as Cockburn had his Rock UK Passport stamped and carried on his relentless pace, extending his lead and at times pushing a little bit too much. With the end in sight on a seemingly non-technical fire road descent caught him out and he was pitched off the bike and onto the abrasive surface. Cockburn emerged a few minutes later to cross the line in a time of 7.57, a full 20 minutes Steve James. Neal Crampton beat his previous year’s time and finished third.
Mel Alexander took her second win in the event recording a sub 10 hour time. This was an important milestone for Alexander who has only just begun riding again after breaking her pelvis at the World Cup XC race in April.
For some, riding 100 miles off-road isn’t challenge enough and restricting themselves to one gear takes them into another dimension. Dan Treby single-speeded his way to an impressive 15th spot overall, with a sub 9 hour rides, fighting hard to maintain his singlespeed lead after a nasty crash in Newcastleton.
Heather Dawe took the prize for first woman single speeder with a time of 10 hours 45 minutes. Fastest veteran of the day went to Paul Ashby, clocking a fast 8 hours 37 minutes to take 9th overall. Sally Daw added another important endurance win to an already impressive year taking the win in the women’s veteran race with her 11 hours 34 minutes.
Last rider in, Tracy Miles, had snatched a tuna roll in Scotland to grind her way to the last checkpoint with one minute to spare and completed the race in over 14 hours in total darkness, so undoubtedly the Lantern Rouge prize provided by Exposure Lights would have been most welcome. Her sterling ride also earned her 3rd spot on the women’s vet podium.
It wasn’t just the race winners that were rewarded with Montane jackets and custom made wooden trophies, the race organisers once again provided an impressive list of spot prizes thanks to their generous sponsors, with random riders going home with Exposure Lights, Juice Lubes and Accelerade energy products.
Undoubtedly Nick Bowyer will now be kicking himself for not attending the presentation as his finishing position would have seen him walking away with a holiday worth £1,000 thanks to the ever generous guys at Saddle Skedaddle, however he wasn’t there so the Scottish Coast to Coast trip went instead to Kathy Beresford.
Thanks to the generosity of the riders, SIP Events also managed to raise an incredible £800 for the local school through a raffle that saw Craig Bowles grabbing top prize of a weekend cycling break thanks once again to Saddle Skedaddle.
In total 545 riders started and 347 hardy souls finished, with many taking full advantage of the post-race BBQ and pint of Golden Plover to exchange their tales of adventure, emotion, and their lucky escapes and reflect on what many were calling the hardest day on a bike they have ever had. It was undoubtedly a memorable event that will continue to inspire. Watch out for next year’s date, we know it’ll be another winner.
Many thanks to everyone who made this event happen; from the riders through to the marshals, volunteers and helpers this event wouldn’t happen without their support. Thanks too, to the many generous sponsors, caterers and communities, including title sponsor Montane, plus Accelerade (gels & drinks), Forestry Commissions in England and Scotland, 7Stanes, Rock UK, Saddle Skedaddle, Swinnerton Cycles (Tech Support), Juice Lubes, Exposure Lights, Joolze Dymond, XCRacer.com, Alfresco Catering (for those yummy homemade burgers), The Duke’s Pantry, The Olive Tree Café (Hot grub at Newcastleton), and Allendale Brewery (beer!)