The start of the Strathpuffer this time was unusual. It was unusual because nobody was slipping on the ice onto their backside during the run at the start. It was unusual because whilst it was cold, it wasn’t really cold like it should be. It was also unusual (for me at least) in that the pace in the first few laps was very high. So high in fact that I could actually taste blood in my throat during the first lap. I expect to taste blood in the first couple of laps of a cyclocross race, but in a 24 hour race? Crackers.
Keith Forsyth was off in front and was caning it. I was keeping up with him, just. I was riding a singlespeed again – I did ok on it last time after all and while Keith’s full suspension and gears-equipped bike arguably handed him some advantages on the bumpy and rigid fork-unfriendly course, there really was nothing between us for a good few hours.
It was obvious that this kind of pace was unsustainable for the duration. I wasn’t sure if Keith was comfortable with the pace but I knew I’d not see the end of the race if I didn’t ease up a bit. Much to the relief of Debbie (who in fairness had been telling me to slow down for the past 2 hours) I slowed down a little bit and decided to see what would happen. Maintain my second place for a while, occasionally catch Keith on a climb (and cheekily hold his wheel for a bit) and ‘just hang around’.
A few hours of hard riding later and somewhat inevitably, Keith slowed down too. I sat in second place for a few more laps, Debbie keeping an eye on the gap to 3rd place (Guy Martin) and updating me from the pits.
Eventually I lapped Keith while he took an extended break and I set about trying to consolidate the lead and build up a cushion of sorts.
The early pace and the fact that my rigid and quite-tall-geared singlespeed was becoming less of a good idea by the minute meant that I’d not be tearing off into the distance but I knew I just had to maintain the current good pace to stay in the lead. By now Guy had moved into second and while I knew that I wasn’t going to lose out on the climbs, it was obvious that Guy would make up some time on each lap by riding ridiculously fast downhill.
With four or so hours to go and with my back and legs really starting to feel the full effect of a 34:17 gear ratio on a hilly course, I decided that I’d probably done enough to afford myself a nice cup of tea. I sat down, drank my brew and thought about how difficult it had been last year to ride 28 laps, while at the same time contemplating the prospect of riding over 30 today. That didn’t make me feel any better, but I thought I should probably get on with it….
I was still praying while I descended towards the finish line for the final time. I wasn’t 100% certain that I didn’t have to ride another lap, so I’d have to wait to see if there was any cheering going on….
There was. I’d ridden 31 laps in 23-and-a-half hours and that was enough to secure a second consecutive Strathpuffer win.
Thanks as always to kind sponsors Exposure for the amazing lights, Jungle Products for sorting me out with amazing Niner bikes to ride, Mount Zoom for unfeasably lightweight parts for the bikes, 2Pure for the equally-amazing Rolf wheels and to Team JMC for the van and support. Thanks to the organisers of the Strathpuffer for yet again sorting out a truly epic event. Thanks to Dave, Budge, Phil, Rich and Andy who all helped me during the race – all of whom had their own races to contend with, but most of all thanks to Debbie and Angela for travelling all the way to Inverness with us just to spend their weekend in a dark, damp forest while I repeatedly roll up to the pit area and grumpily whinge and moan about being a bit tired/hungry/not hungry/ill/etc. *love*
Same again next year?