Sunday 8 January saw the welcome return of the legendary Salisbury Plain Challenge. After a year off in 2005, the winter enduro returned under new management as the SPAM Winter Challenge, complete with largely new 30 and 55km courses. The most obvious changes were the replacement of the traditional road start by a grassy slope and the move from a one big lap to two smaller ones on the long course. Both these changes will have made the running of the event considerably more straightforward, and while the off-road start didn’t seem to spread people out as much as usual and the long course had lost a little of its epic feel, the new arrangement made up for it with some considerable stretches of singletrack and easier bail-out options should conditions prove too much.
Ah, conditions. The Challenge has always gone one of two ways. Either it’s ludicrously cold and crisp, and everything’s frozen solid and fast rolling, making for an actually fairly easy time of it assuming that you can keep yourself warm enough. Or it’s wet, soft and draggy. This time around it promised to be the former but turned out to be the latter, but the uninspiring weather on the day (grey, chilly, drizzle) didn’t dissuade a huge 1,104 riders from coming to the line. The big numbers exceeded the organisers’ expectations, leading to a short delay while the late arrivals were sorted out, but soon everyone was off.
One of the disadvantages of the two-lap format was that some of the bits that were a bit soft on lap one where really quite draggy on lap two, and the ever-thickening mud led to a fair few mechanicals (including an end to the BM assault thanks to a rear mech suicide at 40km). But an impressive 476 riders completed the 55km course, with Sam Humphreys arriving home first in a terrifyingly fast 2:28:40. On the shorter 30km route, 413 riders finished, 412 of them behind Rob Lee (1:45:01).
Big respect to everyone who finished, it wasn’t even remotely easy. Organising club SPAM did a great job of reviving the event, we look forward to having another go next year…
The Winter Challenge is a non-competitive ride, but the organisers know that everyone wants to know how fast (or otherwise) they’ve gone – everyone’s times are on www.spambiking.co.uk.