Things we not looking good for this race (ok, it’s “not a race” according to the blurb because the course uses bridleways and stuff you’re not allowed to race on, but come on…it’s a race). I’d spent last week with a horrible cold (number 30 this year I think), I wasn’t getting much sleep due to the howling wind and rain and the party boys in the tent next door and then at 3am the gazebo was torn from the ground and slammed into the side of the tent. Cue me and Deb dashing outside into the darkness to overpower a violent garden party accessory. 25 quid that cost me just 3 days earlier and now it’s all snapped and dead.
Despite all 5 of us cowering from the wind in the tent the morning after, we were quite organised and I was able to eat when I needed to, get myself registered and check bikes over. I wasn’t feeling too confident due to lack of sleep and the almost constant flow of brown sticky stuff emerging from my nose and mouth. The race soon started though and I started to feel better. Even after 4 years the course seemed very familiar and I found myself smiling quite soon in the same way I had done in 2005. It’s SUCH a great course – a mix of bluebell-lined singletrack, rocky bridleways and tough climbs and despite the wet weather it never really got badly damaged (not what I’d call badly damaged anyway – HTN bombhole anyone?).
I saw finally spoke to Simon in person who almost immediately saved me from certain death by shouting “car! car!! CARRRR!!!!!” as I approached a moving vehicle, head-on, distracted by a cow or something. This was on the road section towards the end of my 5th lap – I’ll be the first to admit that it was a very close call. Wake up you pillock.
I went back to the van just after midnight to swap my LED light for the HID after the LED failed near the start of a lap, forcing me to complete it with just the helmet lamp. There was a note inside the van from Deb that said “at 10.23 you were 2nd”. Holy shit. I’ve never been in 2nd place before, certainly never been in a position where I could chase a win…so I understandably got a move on and got the lights swapped over. A quick check at the timing tent and sure enough, I was still in 2nd place.
I saw Dave (riding in a team rider for a change) at the transition who asked if I was still in the lead…on reflection a couple of brake pad issues and the light failure had probably allowed the other guy to take the lead but it was probably a good thing that I had been ignoring the timing tent and was blissfully unaware of my early progress.
For the next 16 hours I was 1 lap behind the eventual winner. Each time I checked the list I was still one lap behind – until the early morning I also had 2 other guys 1 lap behind me so I just had to keep going, short stops to replace bottles and get more food and no slowing down. Not much slowing down anyway I saw Dave a couple of times on the course – at one point he was travelling unfeasibly quickly across a moor – I think he had a gas heater in his tent though so was well motivated for getting round quick.
The sun eventually set and the weather appeared to calm down – the rain clouds cleared and the darkness was quite pleasant. At sunrise I seem to remember it was nice for about 30 mintutes before the sky exploded in a furious melee of hail, wind and freezing cold rain – brake pads immediately expired and I was soaked to the skin again. Back to the van, more pads, more clothes and more food and I’m off again – still one lap behind first place. The lads in 3rd and 4th look like they’ve jacked though.
In the end I ended in 2nd place on 20 laps – the winner, Chris Cooksley, ended on 21. 3rd place got 15, so it really was just the 2 of us in the end. I think a lap is about 10 miles so I’m quite pleased to have ridden an offroad double century too…
Looking forward to Mountain Mayhem, I’m in a pretty good frame of mind for it now. I’ve a list of things that I’ll change and/or improve before then (some food stuff and a couple of changes to the bike setup). I’ve also converted to the way of the rigid 29er. Only built a week before CLIC, the On One Scandal 29er was utterly brilliant. A bit of a boneshaker compared to the titanium softail at times but much, much more capable than I was expecting it to be.
Most importantly, a HUGE thanks to my “support crew” – Deb and Michael. Being sat in a damp tent that the wind is trying to destroy whilst making sure I’ve got enough energy drink to keep me going in a bike race can’t be fun but I heard not one negative comment or moan during the whole weekend, despite my frequent moaning and complaining. Just ACE.