Mountain Mayhem 2011

Last year’s Mountain Mayhem solo podium consisted of me in 3rdDave in 2nd and Ant White in 1st place. That was well tidy. I was chuffed. Mayhem is still ‘the’ big endurance race for me and I’m guessing for a lot of other people too.

To ride to a podium place here is A Big Thing. The sheer size and prestige of the event makes it the first race on the list when I’m planning my year’s racing and it’s one of the key races that I want to be in good shape for.

Lining up at the start with Lee and Dave, getting ready for the ‘800 metre run’ to start the race (that somehow ended up being two and a half bloody kilometres), we chatted about how ace it would be to repeat last year’s performance…to arrive on the podium again, in any position… ‘That’d do’, we agreed.

Legging it up the start/finish straight after the crackers-long run I finally reached my bike and set off on my first lap….suddenly I’d start to feel some benefit from my spangly white carbon-soled disco slippers instead of trying to run in them like a penguin….

The course was very much the same as previous years, however some of it had been reversed and swapped about resulting in a lap that felt tougher than last year. Conditions at the start were quite damp so much of the hardpack dusty speed of last year’s race was replaced by extremely slippery mud and plenty of crashes.

Photo: Benji Haworth

At the end of the first lap I asked Phil to swap the tyres on my main bike to mud tyres ready for the next lap. I carried on, crashing, slipping sideways, avoiding other crashes while the showers persisted.

I knew I was doing ok but I didn’t know (or really care) where I was in the race until it got dark – the rain had long-since stopped and gradually the muddy sections of trail started to dry out. I was in 4th place then and about 25 minutes behind Dan Treby in 3rd. I was chipping away at the gap, but I knew I’d have to chip away a bit faster to stand a chance of catching him. Eventually I did catch him and we rode together for a short time; Dan was picking up the pace and I was struggling to keep up – ‘perhaps I’ll just have to accept that he’s the stronger man today and sit in 4th place and wait and see what happens’ I thought, self-preservation instincts starting to kick in.

I slowed down a bit, mainly to make sure I had a chance of finishing the race. I arrived back at our pit and complained about the rigid fork, the course, Dan’s pace, everything really.

Then I ate some tinned Ravioli that Deb had warmed and put in a flask for me. Everything changed right then (no I’m not joking). The comfort of a brief sit down and a few mouthfuls of my favourite food worked wonders. I also knew that Ant and Dave were battling over the lead – unlikely that I was going to catch either of them without something untoward happening but it sounded like a good race was unfolding all the same…

It was time to pull my finger out. I picked up the pace and rode with a renewed sense of optimism. I’m not just accepting 4th place. Not like this, sat on a 4 quid chair with my head bowed. Nope, I’ll do it on the bike, with my head held high, all covered in Heinz tomato sauce. I saw Dan in his pit again. I carried on, faster now. Into 3rd place.

I probably glanced over my shoulder more than I looked forwards for the next few laps….no sign of Dan chasing after me for hours, but then I saw him again, gaining on me.

Disaster. I rode past my pit – Michael was there as usual with a new bottle. I just shouted ‘he’s right behind me’ and carried on up the first climb. Dan was gaining on me. ‘This guy is too bloody strong’ I said to myself, amongst other, more colourful things. He caught me up. I was just about resigned to the fact that I’d been dropped back into 4th when he announced that he’d been sat under a blanket for the last hour or so, drinking tea and eating porridge. The pace of the previous laps had clearly taken its toll on both of us but I’d survived enough to keep going and end up a lap in front. Relief!

Just hang on now in 3rd. Dan may be a lap behind but there was a while to go and the rest has clearly done him good, judging by the speed with which he caught me on a climb and then became a blueish dot, disappearing over the crest of the hill.

Ride to the end and stay consistent. Dave by now had been in the lead but had dropped back into second place by a typically tenacious Ant White. It didn’t matter too much though, because the race was coming to an end, I was maintaining a gap and our ‘wouldn’t it be good if….’ conversation at the start of the race was turning out to be a prophecy. The 2011 Mountain Mayhem solo podium was exactly the same as 2010 😉

Crossing the line, I remembered it was Father’s Day when I was showered with lovingly home-made cards and gifts from Michael and the girls…I think I might have started to cry a bit.

During the race I was doing the pedalling (and crashing and face-pulling) but what really needs to be acknowledged here is the huge amount of effort by a dedicated few going on to keep me fed, (relatively) happy and motivated and to keep the bikes in order. And these guys are supporting two of us racing solo, so a race can involve a total of 40-ish very slick pit stops, two completely separate and sometimes quite complicated set of food needs, a fair amount of grumpiness at times and four bikes (2 each) that are getting thrashed and caked in filth over and over again so they need cleaning, lubricating, maintaining and if the weather changes, tyres need swapping too. Then we need information relaying from the timing tent about our lap times, performance of our nearest rivals so that we know when we need to pick up the pace or when we can afford a ‘safe’ lap.

Michael and Wayne are the ‘full-timers’ but some of the support also comes from Deb (who’s also looking after the kids) and the guys who are actually racing in the team categories as well (Budge, Phil, Andy, et al). In many ways I’m extremely privileged that I can call upon this kind of support as well as the help I receive from my great sponsors. I love all of you (almost as much as I love tinned ravioli).

Gisburn Dirty Dozen 2011

Dave and I won this race last year. It was a hard-fought and in the end, quite a narrow victory. I was expecting more of the same this time – 12 hours is quite ‘short’ for an endurance race, especially in the pairs and there was bound to be enough people in ‘the fast camp’ who would be up for a ding-dong.

It was going to be a near-sprint, in fact; no time for punctures or fannying around, just flat-out laps followed by sitting in a chair, trying not to get too comfy whilst keeping an eye on the clock…as soon as your team mate appears after his lap, jump up, coat off, swap the timing chip and go go go!

Photo – Sportsunday 

Being honest, we were working so hard early on that like fools, we thought that we were winning. We then discovered we were actually 2nd, the pair who were in the lead were tapping out some really quick laps and looked comfortable. Jonny Stenson and Charles Newton-Mason, another pair who were in with a shout of the win, had dropped out very early in the race after a major mechanical so decided to snuggle up together under a duvet and heckle everyone else 😉

We were however mostly staying out of trouble this time (unlike last year’s puncture-fest and ignoring Dave’s crashing this time) and we knew that eventually we’d start to close the gap….or the gap would get bigger….one of the two. ‘Something’ was bound to happen anyway.

At around 6 hours we started to close the gap. The cramps in my calves that had been bothering me since lap 2 and causing me to soft-pedal quite a bit were gone (thank goodness for electrolyte drinks!), our changeovers were getting slicker, Dave was riding as blindingly fast as ever. Just a minute here, a few seconds there, we were closing in. It was a proper race again!

In between laps I was entertained by the efforts and obvious focus of Phil who like last year, was racing solo. Phil had a load of bad luck last year and eventually, against all odds, finished 4th. This year though things just clicked for him and he led the solo race right from the start, eventually riding away from the rest of the solo field to win with a 32 minute gap. Amazing!

Meanwhile, Budge and Andy found themselves in 3rd place in the pairs after hours of consistent laps, chipping away at the pair in front of them and eventually bagging a podium finish. Chapeau!

Once in the lead, Dave and I stayed there and finished with a 10 minute cushion. It was still really bloody close, 10 minutes after 12 hours of racing is nothing. But we’d won.

A good day for everyone in Team JMC colours in fact – all 5 of us had reached the podium.

All that was left now was for us to collect our prizes at the presentation in the pub, tackle the evil that is the Dog and Partridge chilli con carne (a penalty for not beating Budge and Andy by 3 clear laps), have a quick pint, group photo, drive home and get ready for Mountain Mayhem next weekend…..

Rapha CC – The Pennine Night Ride

Marking the end of a reasonably hard ‘overload’ week of long rides, I joined in the fun with the guys from the Rapha Cycle Club (with their impressively large truck and coffee machine) and a few other intrepid cyclists for the Pennine Night Ride. After Dave and Phil arrived at my house we set off into the night towards the Velodrome…

I’m no stranger to riding in the dark and riding through the night and into the daylight of the following day, but still the sight of a group of road cyclists zipping through the urban sprawl from Manchester Velodrome towards the Peak District was a very impressive sight. The thousands of drunken women that had spilled out onto the Manchester streets from the Take That gig at the stadium across the road also seemed impressed. The ones that weren’t sprawled out on the pavement after a few too many Bacardi Breezers anyway….

As we followed the route towards the ‘proper’ hills we were told that the Mottram Moor climb at Stalybridge was the one and only prime of the ride – basically the first one to the top gets a prize….Dave, John and me needed no more encouragement to race to the summit, which was exciting. Somewhat inevitably, Dave took a narrow lead and kept it until the top, winning some kind of ‘Rapha essentials kit’ which we assume includes some gear that the gentleman cyclist should never be without….dunno. He’s not got it yet 😉

The route then included a lot of familiar roads in the Peaks – some brilliant climbs and exhilarating descents, a slightly surreal climb and subsequent re-grouping outside the Cat And Fiddle Pub at 3am, a close call in the form of a sheep in the road that caused a locked-up rear wheel on the descent of the Cat and Fiddle, another Rapha coffee machine coffee stop near Buxton (the strongest coffee ever), one of the finest sunrises I’ve ever seen and a return to the Velodrome though the near-deserted streets of Levenshulme…only the early-morning zombies were up and about, keeping us entertained as they staggered around, doing weird stuff like shouting at carrier bags…..


A seaside daft ride

9 hours…that’ll take us to about 7pm…plenty of time at 7pm….hmmm we’re going to need to stop soon for some food. Keep it short and we’re still in with a chance of getting to Bridlington by 8:00pm. No, we’re going a little bit slower than we were due to this surprise headwind…better make our ETA 9pm. It’s ok, we’ll still be in time….just….

I wasn’t thinking about it being dark when we arrived in Bridlington at the end of our ‘Way Of The Roses In A Day Daft Ride’ – a coast-to-coast, 170 mile, Morecambe to Bridlington (mostly) road route, newly-unveiled by Sustrans. I had some lights with me anyway.

I wasn’t bothered about the expiry time of my pay and display ticket in the car, left at the end of the route at 6:30am the same day. I’d bought an all-day ticket.

I wasn’t even bothered about the fact that I left my house at 4:15am to meet Dave in Bridlington to then go to the start of the ride in Morecambe in his car. Even though my eyes were stinging a bit.

I didn’t get at all worried when Dave’s GPS packed in after 90 miles as the route was really well signposted, all the way across the very hilly first 90-odd miles through the Yorkshire Dales and the remainder of the route across the relatively flat but very twisty (and windy) 80 miles to the North Sea coast.

I was however genuinely concerned that if we didn’t keep up our quick pace and get to the end before long, the chippy would be shut. And that would have been an utter disaster.

We made it, obviously, then had a large bag of chips each on the prom.

(Then we drove back to Dave’s car, left in Morecambe 11 hours earlier; 11 hours that including stops for pasties, photos next to statues of Roman emperors and map checking.)