29th June 2013, Leanachan Forest, Fort William, Scotland: 10 Under the Ben (10h solo)
I had previously raced 10 Under the Ben two years ago with Mike Coward as senior pairs. We finished in 2nd place behind elite rider pairing Rab Wardell and Rob Friel in extreme heavy rain. It’s always the toughest venues and most extreme suffering your remember most. The location is the Scottish mountain capital, at the foot of the UK’s highest mountain. With No Fuss as event organisers it’s always going to be hard with good techy trails. I knew the course and potentially the weather would be tough, but also that my fitness had improved. Another two 2nd places running up to the event gave me the confidence to test myself. A 9am start means an early rise which wasn’t helped by swarms of midgies waiting outside the van for me to emerge. As a result, my planned fast start was not preceded by an adequate warmup. Also, being part of the inaugural fat tyre weekend and fair weather meant entries were higher than usual, the grid started at 8.40am. In my midgie dodge haste a necessary pre race cuppa was missed, so I decided to try a caffeine gel on the start line. As we rolled off everything went to plan, legs were good, head was good, I was attacking the leading vets pairs and feeling confident. I was also leading the vets 10h solo cat ahead of Jason Miles (2012 world elite 24h silver medal). Around 2h later Jason cruised past, we exchanged a few words, then I started to suffer. Then I suffered a bit more. I had frustrating ghost shifts whenever it got steep, later I found out the rear mech had been clipped, lifted and trapped in the frame. Nevertheless, Paula and Olivia shouted lots of encouragement and helped with fast pits, despite Paula being run over by a competitor when handing me a bottle. I learned a lot about my pace and how to suffer for 8h. In the end I finished 2nd Vet and 3rd overall solo behind Greig Brown and Jason Miles. Two of the best endurance riders in the country, I believe Greig has won every one so far.
Look at those narrow bars! 10 Under the Ben, 2nd Vets 10h solo
27th July 2013, Newnham Park, Plymouth, Devon: Bontrager TwentyFour12 (12h solo)
When planning this event, part of the motivation was redemption for the previous year’s monsoon. It’s now my favourite race due to the friendly family festival atmosphere. The organisers had yurt tents with guest speakers, live bands, lots of trade/food stands. Competitor’s teams had lined throughout the course with barbeques and firepits waving cowbells and glow sticks. Various marshall’s had themes such as 80s rock or electronica blaring out throughout the night, with fairy lights and Halloween themes in the trees. There was even an ice cream van handing out ice lollies to competitors. The main event was preceded by kids 12min and 24min races on singletrack around the arena. Olivias face on finishing and receiving a handmade gold medal made me a very proud dad. The weather was 30˚ the week before making the awesome singletrack trails dry and dusty. Fortunately it was around 20˚ for the event. Exposure lights supported the event and were very helpful in providing a generous deal for a MaxxD to support my Toro. It saves valuable time in pits with cable free lights which clip and go. Despite the 9h drive down, I felt fresh and knew I had form. After Fort William I decided to pace myself, not worrying about anyone else. I had only one bike for the 12h so was always cautious of any issues occurring, and not taking risks. The descents were similar to Guisborough woods rooty trails and caught out a few at night. Although it hurt at times I was in a happy place and lived for the moment. In the end I won the vets category by a comfortable margin. Again I was 3rd overall solo, this time behind Tim Dunford (current 12h European and British Champ) and Ajay Pandit (multiple Nepalese and Yakatak champ). My winning prize included an Exposure Joystick which I swapped for a Diablo. It’s no coincidence that the top endurance racers all use Exposure lights, which is further helped by their attendance for technical support, sales and hire at the start line of the major events.
My new favourite event. Bontrager TwentyFour12, Winner vets 12h Solo
21st September 2013, Margam Park, Port Talbot, Wales (8h solo)
With the Kielder 100 being cancelled, I was looking for a similar endurance event in preparation for Relentless 24 in October. I also wanted a new challenge from five consecutive years at the 3 peaks cyclocross race. The Margam Madness has the option of 4h or 8h endurance on a very hilly, natural singletrack course. Camping is within a deer park which had Olivia ecstatic due to stags rutting round the campervan throughout our 2 night stay. The entries were fairly low, with a selection of big hitters in attendance such as Matt Page, Tim Dunford and Mark Spratt. Unfortunately, a dream singletrack course developed into a mudfest due to persistent rain. Thanks to Bikescene I had changed from an SWorks Epic 26er to the 29er version. However, I had not fully tested the new setup, including a -17˚ stem. Due to a long drive down the night before, and having not pre ridden I started the race steadily. On the first lap, my assumptions that those ahead knew the way led me off course and chasing from the back of the field. The second lap as I pressed to catch up tape had been moved off the fireroad and I went the wrong way again. I had to back track then ask fellow competitor’s where to go. It was suggested that either hillwalkers or stags had moved the tape aside. It was frustrating to say the least. In the mist it was difficult to see anyone although a very large red stag around 6ft away was a startling experience. Arriving at the pit I asked where I was placed, amazingly I was still leading the vets cat by 60 seconds. I decided to drive the pace more out of frustration than planning. I got to experience the new limits of a 29er and enjoyed the extra stability and rolling speed. I was able to stop just after 7h with a comfortable win in the vets 8h solo category. Again, I finished 3rd overall, this time behind Chris Cowling and Andrew Cockburn. Event organiser Gareth Hayes clearly knows how to design a great course, the weather in Wales can’t be helped though. I hope to support more of his events in future.
Stuck in a Rut: Muddy Misty Margam Madness, Winner vets 8h solo
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