Carl Hutchings at In2Dust has kindly supplied me with what looks like at least a year’s supply of Squirt Lube. I’ve got a bottle of wax lube in the cellar that I used once many years ago, thought it wasn’t very good so haven’t used it since. Squirt is also a wax lube, but this stuff is different. It really works brilliantly, even in wet and muddy conditions and stays put for a long long time indeed. Perfect for long rides and long hard races. Try it if you don’t believe me – either ask me for a bit or ask them for a sample.
Despite being uncharacteristically organised in the days leading up to the Strathpuffer, an hour before the start I was anything but. For some reason in the previous few hours I was more tense than I’d ever been before the start of a race, which was a shame for the two guys I was sharing a camper van with really. No idea why, but the bottom line was I wasn’t looking forward to the next 24 hours or so at all.
I’d trained hard, I’d spent the last week relatively stress-free and I’d rested well, I’d prepared for riding in the worst the winter weather could throw at me by training in the worst the winter weather could throw at me and my experiences of ‘serious’ 24 hour racing in the past has taught me a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Despite all this, I was feeling like a first-timer. Perhaps the fact that the snowy and icy conditions on the course had been discussed at length on internet forums for the last few days was adding to the usual trepidation, or maybe it was the fact that the original plan of me being supported during the race as usual by Debbie went out of the window last week, or perhaps it was the fact that I couldn’t find a sodding thing in the back of the van when I was trying to get changed with 20 minutes to go….it certainly wasn’t the 17 hours of darkness putting me off – I do about 90% of my training in the dark after all…
I was going to have to start the race and immediately start having words with myself otherwise I’d not even finish if I stayed in this frame of mind.
Following a quick natter with Dave and Phil as we waited for the start, we all commenced the customary run to the start line proper where Budge was waiting with my bike. Budge and Phil were racing as a pair with Phil heading out first. Off up the fireroad climb, passing as many other riders as possible before the singletrack. This first lap was perhaps the hardest – large sections of trail were unrideable due to deep snow and/or fallen riders. I was on the Scandal for this lap, purely because it had the ice tyres fitted – I was pretty sure that there wasn’t going to be too much ice on the course, not enough to need studded tyres anyway, but I was adopting a cautious approach until after the first lap.
Not much ice really, back to the van, sling the number on the Ragley and off I went. This was much better. I was reminded how much faster I was on this bike, helped by the fatter tyres and lighter wheels, but the longer, lower stance of the frame and fork was allowing me to hammer up the first climb much more quickly. Still struggling to get into it all the same.
As each lap came and went. the deep snow disappeared, the entire course became rideable and patches of ice appeared here and there, exposed by the brushing away of the recent blanket of snow by hundreds of tyres and cycling shoes. Every lap the course seemed different in some way – deep snow gave way to hardened mud, large rock slabs lost their layers of slush and ice then later on in the small hours of the morning they became icy again and muddy quagmires in the forest hardened, then softened, then hardened again.
Well over halfway through the race, I started to feel much more positive. Learning from the lads back at the van that I was in 3rd place helped, as did the fact that I was still feeling physically strong. Keep churning out the laps and maintain this to the end. Dave was running in second place and was at least a lap and a half in front, so very unlikely that I’d catch him anyway. Third will be ace. Happy with third. You’re doing really well. Why am I surprised? Do more laps. Keep doing laps. Don’t slow down. Cheer up lad.
This is getting easier. I’m not grumpy any more. In fact I’m feeling pretty bloody aweso–WHAM. The previously-grippy fireroad near the start of the course went downhill a bit, allowing a bit of freewheeling, a gel out of the back pocket and a drink…until about 4am when, following a brief shower of rain, it turned into a lethal sheet of ice. I slid along the ground for 30 or so feet, the bike sliding much further than that. Picking myself up off the ground and checking my backside wasn’t now hanging out of a hole in my tights, I carried on and ignored the pain in my upper thigh, elbow and wrist. Be careful. Don’t break something important now.
Meanwhile, Budge and Phil were having their own battles. Both had ridden into third place in the pairs and were defending their position from the 4th placed team, only around 8 minutes behind. This had been going on since 4 hours into the race. Eventually with only 90 or so minutes of the race to go, they were caught and overtaken, bumping them down into 4th place. Unlucky but an awesome effort to soak up the pressure for so long and remain smooth and consistent.
The sun came up and I started to pootle. I even looked at the scenery once or twice. I’d never been this far north before so I was going to have a good look before I went home and I’m very glad I did.
I finished in 3rd place. Dave in 2nd, Alex Slaven only a few minutes in front of him in 1st place. At the time I quietly vowed never to do this one again…however on reflection I probably will 😉
The original plan involving Debbie and the girls travelling up to the Strathpuffer with me and us taking the caravan has been abandoned due to the probable state of the roads next week and the crazy low temperatures. Oh, and the fact that I don’t think I could get the caravan off the drive anyway at the moment.
So…I’m relying on others for support during the race – Budge and Phil are racing as a pair so they’ll be able to help out plus I’m going to doss in their campervan the night before the race…
…if the race goes ahead that is. Decision time fo the organisers is on Monday. It’s an extreme race anyway, so I reckon it will go ahead as planned but we shall see. I’m spending this weekend preparing and doing some last minute training anyway.
Yesterday’s final big ride before the ‘puffer was a slightly extended regular offroad loop that would normally take me three and a half hours. Due to the snow drifts on the moors it took me more like 5. It was great fun though (in a painful kind of way) – really deep snow is pretty much unrideable but the harder packed stuff is utterly brilliant on 2.4″ wide tyres at low pressure.
It’s fun at first, even for a few days, but this snow is starting to get oooolllld now. There’s more forecast for this week too, just when I need to have one more big week before tapering for the Strathpuffer (which incidentally is under a good foot of snow and is basking in temperatures of minus 15 currently). At least I’ve got some really good ice tyres on the 29er ready for it.
For some reason I thought I’d probably not need ice tyres at the Todmorden cyclocross race today. I figured that any unrideable sectons would be re-routed; after all, how many people actually own a pair of ice tyres in the UK? I took them anyway, hidden in the boot of the car. When I arrived I had a look at the vets race that was going on, nobody seemed to be struggling with the ice. Chipps told me that the dreaded cobbles were not included in today’s racing on the orders of Brithish Cycling…so I left the standard rubber in place. I would need studded tyres today.
I shouldn’t have needed them anyway. What I didn’t know was that I was about to SUCK more than I’ve EVER sucked in a race, EVER. Lap one – crash. Smashed my elbow into the ground. Excellent. Crash again, this time, make sure there are at least 10 specators. In fact, make them people that you know. Get overtaken a few times. Gingerly negotiate the ice covered course, zero traction going up, out of control coming down. I was ace on the flat bits in that I wasn’t being overtaken. I was crashing on every lap. Like I said, I sucked.
After 6 or 7 laps like this my luck was probably running out and so thoughts turned to the race in 2 weeks; the effort, expense and time I’ve poured into it and the fact that an injury today would be a disaster. As a result of my total loss of confidence I started to self-preserve, got slower, got overtaken a bit more then sacked it off. Pants. Great race though; well organised and held together under the circumstances. Chipps and friends did good again.
I joined Phil and Dave afterwards for the ride back home (and Ibuprofen) – the summit of the Bacup Road climb providing a slightly surreal pink snow photo opportunity…
After the disappointing performance of the Schwalbe ice tyres (that were sent back for being crap), I was hoping that the Continental Nordic Spike tyres would be much better, or at least not fall apart, roll off the rim or be so bent that it actually afffected the handling of the bike. I’m happy to say that they’re great.
A bit wider, a bit knobblier (and therefore better in loose/muddy conditions), plenty of metal studs so that I can steer and even brake on ice and basically much better made than the Schwalbes.
Testing them this afternoon involved riding as much scary ice as possible including one or two downhills where the tyres didn’t break away but they were pretty scary bits all the same. Inside I was screaming.