In little under two months time I’ll be flying south to Cape Town to race the Absa Cape Epic, a multi stage mountain bike race across wild landscapes covering more than 100km a day.
The trouble is I haven’t ever ridden a mountain bike race before.
I needed to get on and actually race. I’ve raced cyclo-cross and road races for many years, but that meant I had so many questions. Would it be the same, what would the start be like, how much should I wear, will I get hot, what is it like to race with a back pack, what if I get a puncture? I needed a dress rehearsal as soon as possible. Scanning the calendar, the Brass Monkey series would be my earliest chance.
Come judgement day, the weather gods had been good to me. Dry with the sun trying to break through the clouds over Surrey, fairly warm. Ten minutes until the off and folk started to congregate near the start. So I followed like a sheep and joined inconspicuously at the back of the crowd of riders.
A klaxon sounds. The race starts, here we go, heart rate increases.
And, nothing really happens at least at the middle or back of the field. There’s no blast of acceleration and frightening high speed jostle for position. There is a gentle echo of riders clipping into their pedals. We all just edge forward, calmly waiting to cross the line.
That’s how it began and would continue. Respectful of each others own personal fitness and ability as we rode ourselves against headwind and hill. I enjoy it. I liked doing lap after lap, getting my technique better riding each section faster.
Riding with a bag isn’t too bad. Not everyone does it, and it’s not essential to have one.
Stash it all in the pit. Put your waterproof, extra tubes, gels, water bottles and the kitchen sink in your own little area in the pit. Find a space and mark it out with something distinctive so you can find it again during the race.
It’s more of a talk and ride situation. People yell ‘yeehaw’ on the downhills. I was riding with one chap who turned and said “I’ve got nothing left," I didn’t know what to say, but all this chatting and cheering bolsters ones resolve.
Riders are competitive without being rude. Faster riders let you know where they are and ask to pass when you are ready.
People want to help? My saddle slipped mid race. I pulled over in a spacious bit out of the singletrack. Played about with an Allen key. Couple of riders passed me and asked if I needed help. From punctures to chains, everyone is trying to help the competition.
It’s warmer than riding out on the road. I got pretty warm in the trees. Next time I’ll go for a lightweight long sleeve and ditched the knee warmers. Bags make you warmer too.
There is always someone up ahead. There’s always a figure in the distance to spur you on and aim for, ride to them or keep them in your sights.
Do what you can. I raced as many laps as I could in 2 hours. After 1 hour 40minutes I’d ridden two laps. As there was time remaining on the clock, off I went out for another. My final ride time was close to 2hour 30 minutes.
Lovely grub. There was a very efficient little truck selling baked potatoes and a variety of toppings after the race. Good portions too. Mule Bars were handed out left right and centre. And I got handed a free recovery shake as I crossed the line. If I forgot my nutrition, I would have been aright.
You don’t need all the gear. These local mixed ability races had it all from super carbon bling, like my own Scott Spark to aluminium hardtails. Cyclo-cross bikes aren’t permitted.
Be prepared to get off. We started on a nice wide patch of mud, and then weaved into the first single-track section of trees. With so many riders trying to get into a small space, there will be a bit of a traffic jam. Be prepared for a bit of harmless nudging and you’ll need to get off and quickly run. It’ll only happen on the first part of the first lap.
Less to think about. The course is routed for you. No stopping and map reading like a weekend ride. It’s a chance for you to just head out and ride and improve your ability whilst riding at speed.
Mementos. You keep your number. I’ve pinned it to my notice board. Sentimental, I know.
Atmosphere. I stood in the crowd at the start listening to the harmless chit chat. We’re not silent, serious and focused. The atmosphere was filled with fun. It was reassuring for my first race outing.
I rode the Gorrick Brass Monkey Winter Series. Enduro style of race which is a test of stamina and generally lasts longer than 2 hours. Results are posted live as riders come through the finish. You get a smart trophy if make it to the podium. There is a resident photographer to capture you mid race.
Photos © Joolze Dymond. See her Brass Monkeys photo gallery at www.joolzedymond.com