Mountain Mayhem 2014

I’d sort of sleepwalked my way to the start line of this year’s Mountain Mayhem. This isn’t one of those “I did good even without training” bullshit claims but I have to say that I wasn’t 100% physically before the race; I’d done some training but not loads and no properly long training rides (a lack of time meant I was getting by on short, intense workouts). While I wasn’t ‘fat’ I wasn’t as lean as I’d normally be before one of these things so I tried to make up for my various actual and perceived shortcomings by spending the week before the race methodically preparing my bikes, lights, food and other equipment.

The Niner Air9 Carbon and the Santa Cruz Highball Carbon, kitted out with Mount Zoom kit, are the best bikes I’ve ever ridden, bar none, in any endurance or XC race and Exposure have sorted me out with enough lighting firepower to make the darkness of the night laps completely insignificant. I knew I had the right kit, I just needed to make sure I made the most of it.

I ate all the right things and got a good 10 hours sleep most nights in the preceding couple of weeks. I might have been setting a slightly less-than-perfect example when it came to training but I was avoiding making matters worse by avoiding any last-minute stress. Getting my head in the right place.

I also knew that with Deb, Angela, Wayne and the rest of the Team JMC extended family (we had two mixed teams racing and Dave was also in the solo category) that the level of support and encouragement I’d have available would be the very best any 24 hour racer could wish for.

The weather, unusually for Mountain Mayhem in recent times, was also going to be good. Sunny. Dry. Not muddy. Fantastic!

The weather was the defining factor of my race and not all of that turned out to be positive.

The start came and went as usual with its almost-chaotic run and frantic grabbing of bikes as everyone tries as hard as possible not to get caught up in the inevitable queues that build up at narrow or tricky parts of the course. Thankfully, this time, I got away cleanly and wasn’t held up.

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Photo: Beerbiker Roy

I had to take it fairly steady as the sun was very hot and I was quite soon feeling quite wobbly. I don’t perform brilliantly in very warm conditions but I knew that as long as I didn’t push too hard and I remembered to drink plenty, I should be ok.

The lap was just short of 7 miles long and while the total ascent was a not-too-scary 300 metres, it all seemed to be in the final couple of miles. The last couple of climbs were particularly steep and in places quite slippery so I reckoned that the race would be won or lost in this small section of the course.

I knew I’d be up near the front somewhere after the first few laps, but I wasn’t completely certain and neither was Deb. Not that it mattered – there was hours and hours left yet. I kept drinking fluids and kept tapping out the laps, self-perpetuating feelings of satisfaction at ‘keeping things neat and tidy’ pushing me forward.

Around six hours in, I was told I was in second place but not too far from Richard Dunnett in 1st. I was told that I was gaining ground on him, slowly but surely. I figured I’d probably be able to go a bit faster once the sun set anyway and decided that taking the lead by midnight would be a good plan.

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photo: Andy Carter

The sun set and I started to feel better – the course started to get slippery in places but the infernal heat soon disappeared. I eventually caught Richard at about 10pm, we exchanged pleasantries and off I went. Then, almost immediately, he caught me again. More effort needed. I had to try to build up a gap before the sun reappeared as I knew that once it did, it was going to start to batter me again and there was a chance that I’d slow down…or worse.

I think I managed to build up a gap of 37 minutes by the time the sun reappeared, which was about three-quarters of a lap. While the dawn always brings brief feelings of being energised after hours of riding in darkness, any optimism was soon vapourised by the ever-increasing and renewed intensity of the sun. Looking back, my lap times weren’t that badly affected in the sunlight, I just had to put more effort in to stay consistent and that in itself creates extra stress.  I didn’t know for certain if I had enough in the tank to increase my effort for the remainder of the race but I knew I absolutely had to do something because Richard was going to be closing in if I slowed down.

25 laps ridden and I was still hours from the end. I started to do the maths and concluded that I could be caught if I had a mishap or a couple of ‘bad laps’. I know how positivity gives way to slight feelings of impending failure, leading to despair. I continued to resist the urge to stop and chat at the Team JMC pit and instead I accepted handed-up bottles from Deb without stopping (my estimate is that my total stopped time in the whole race must have only been 10 or so minutes). Ride positive, think positive. One leads to the other and negativity is kept to a minimum. I’m not going to be caught…ignore the pain until the end….do you want to win this or not? Of course you do. Get on with it.

The temperature continued to rise and with it, so did the effort needed just to maintain the same pace. I made sure I rode the whole lap, politely picking my way through exhausted riders pushing bikes up the steep climbs.

4 hours left…the gap was down to 19 minutes. This wasn’t an ideal situation and it’s debateable whether I actually had the upper hand at this point – even though 19 minutes is a significant lead the thought of having to ride faster after 20 hours of racing is somehow worse than actually doing it. I had to defend my lead though, but my perception was that it was getting smaller….

With 90 minutes or so of the race left, I started to regain my belief. I knew that a puncture or a snapped chain would be game over but hoped that all that bad luck would have been used up in Bristol a couple of weeks ago. My lead was about 14 minutes by this point and I seriously didn’t know if I could take any more of the intense heat of the sun. The hotter it got though, the harder I rode. By now I was covered from head to toe in a thick layer of brown dust. The last 3 laps were the ones that would empty the tank. Ride everything. Big ring as much as you can. I was having this. I knew Richard would be thinking the same.

I stopped at the end of my 33rd and final lap at the top of the last climb, knowing that if Richard didn’t appear in 5 or 6 minutes, I could cruise to the finish line with the win.

He didn’t.

I did.

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Photo: Lee Eaton

To say that I’m chuffed about winning Mountain Mayhem would be one of my biggest-ever understatements, especially after being chased, Benny Hill-style all the way to the end by a very strong and consistent Richard Dunnett. To receive my winner’s trophy from Princess Anne herself really was the icing on the cake (I’m no royal fan or owt but BLIMMIN’ PRINCESS ANNE for crying out loud!).

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Royal Photo Correspondent: Wayne

The victory though, wasn’t just down to me. It was down to the army of people who look after me, put up with me and give me things to make this happen. Not that massive long list again – you know who you are 😉

 

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Bristol Bikefest 2014

“Goin’ on up to the spirit in the sky (spirrritinthskiiieeee)….what’s where I wanna go when I die (whennIdieee)….”

Grr. I’ve always hated that bloody Doctor and the Medics thing. They were playing at an 80s music festival at the other end of Ashton Court estate while the Bristol Bikefest was on. I could hear The Doctor and his by-now-presumably-very-old medics belting out their one and only hit while I was trying to mend my snapped chain, halfway around a lap in the 12 hour pairs race.

Dave and I had been going well after a pretty slow first lap which followed my chaotic start in a melee of bodies and bicycles, which followed a Le-Mans-style run up a gravelly hill. We’d clawed our way back from 9th or something to 4th and were now on a charge, tapping out quick and consistent lap times with smooth handovers.

We dropped, like we’d landed in the wrong square in a game of snakes and ladders, right back to 8th due to the amount of time we lost while I made a pig’s ear of mending a broken chain.

No big deal, we’d crack on and climb right back again. Which we did. Within a handful of laps we were back to 4th again and were on our way to the podium places.

Next thing I know I’m stood at the changeover area, waiting for Dave…

5 minutes. Maybe he’s been caught in a load of traffic.

10 minutes. Hmmm. Hope he’s ok…

15 minutes. Bloody hell…

20 minutes…there he is. Dave breathlessly explains, as I’m turning around to run to my bike, that he’s had two punctures and has had to run over half of the 6 mile lap.

No big deal, we’d crack on and climb right back again. Which we did.

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We were soon climbing back up the leaderboard, Phil doing a sterling job of giving us updates and treating our bikes with tickle of a jetwash and a loving, lubricated caress.

Back up to 4th. 15 minutes behind 3rd place and pulling back time on each lap. It was a tall order, we only had 3 or so hours of the race left.

We ran out of time and finished in 4th place.

Sometimes winning nothing can be satisfying too. A lot of guys would have decided earlier on that it just wasn’t their day, packed up and saved their legs for another battle but I’m proud that we showed what we’re made of, didn’t slow down and kept our chins up.

I can’t get that song out of my head though.

The Sunday had a more relaxed vibe, for me at least. I was supposed to be “racing” on a tandem with Guy, but something happened between the end of the TT and Saturday afternoon which meant that he couldn’t get to Bristol in time. No matter, Chipps bravely stepped up to the plate and rode the 6 hour race, on the front. Chipps knows how to ride a tandem so I was in safe hands (2 crashes notwithstanding). The TV cameraman filmed us anyway….

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We rode carefully for a couple of laps, listened to Johnny Hates Jazz (I think) playing their set at the 80s festival and gradually got the hang of things. Apart from a couple of chainring-threatening rocks, we rode the lot. The Ashton Court course is VERY narrow and twisty in a lot of places so I’m nothing but impressed with Chipps’ skills as I sat at the back, leaning into turns as best I could.

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From the third lap (and the crucial second cup of tea stop) onwards, we were properly flowing and I was getting the hang of the pedalling. Our lap times were only a few minutes slower than my lap times in the Saturday 12 hour race where I had fresh legs and a carbon race bike (and I wasn’t stopping mid-lap for a cuppa) and our efforts earned us 2nd place on the podium! We were very chuffed as you can imagine 🙂

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Chorlton Water Park Midweek XC

I don’t get chance to race at many of the local XC races for one reason or another. I’m almost always away somewhere or recovering from some stupidly-long race when they take place so when I get chance, I make sure I make the effort and support the event.

Having lived in Manchester all my life, I’ve never been to Chorlton Water Park. I was born 3 miles away from it too. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed, so yesterday’s race was also a voyage of discovery (ok, maybe that’s overstating it a bit). I saw dozens of people I only ever see at races, in fact I think I only ever see a lot of the folk I saw yesterday at Hit the North. A serious race for some but dead friendly for everyone.

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The race got underway and I started with a good 40 people in front of me (too much chatting on my way to the start you see). No problem, this was a good thing. I needed to get some “overtaking on singletrack” practice in before the Bristol Bikefest which isn’t known for it’s overtaking opportunities. Sure enough, the race got underway, I immediately got into oxygen debt and I played the “wait for it…wait for it…GO!” overtaking game for the next hour. I even caught a snot rocket on the shoulder while following someone who should really have checked his trajectory beforehand (cheers).

The race was also a chance to check that all is well with the bike I’ll be riding this weekend in the 12 hour pairs race with Dave. The Niner Air9 Carbon that I haven’t ridden in anger since last October when various (now replaced) components simultaneously disintegrated during the final lap of the race. The fork’s been tuned and serviced by Loco Tuning as well, so I was keen to give that some hammer.

It took me all of half a lap to get comfortable with the bike again, it really is a bike that feels like I’ve been riding since birth. And the fork genuinely feels better than it did when I bought it.

So I rode around for 5 laps of the relatively flat and therefore silly-fast course, turned myself inside out, had a few little battles with other riders, overtook a satisfying number, finished in 12th place, picked up my free can of pop at the end and was home before anyone noticed 🙂

Support your local events! Use em or lose em! etc…

The merry merry mad manic month of May

It’s been a hectic week and a bit. Me and Dave popped (if you can call a 700 mile round trip a ‘pop’) up to Fort William to test ride and help Spook and Frazer with the layout of the course for October’s World 24 hour champs. Things are shaping up nicely and the course is going to be memorable…

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While we were there we went out for a couple of rides on the West Highland Way (not all of it!), saw plenty of deer and had our eyes popped out by the breathtaking views up there. It really is an incredible part of the world and a properly inspiring place to hold a World Championship race.

A massive thanks to Frazer and Spook for looking after us while we were up there 🙂

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We then came back in the middle of the night a couple of days later and then met up again a day after that to race the first MTB race ever held on the Isle of Anglesey.

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 (photo: John Davies)

Anglesey is a place I know very well – it was practically my second home in my childhood and early teens and to this day my parents spend half of their time there, so it would have been rude not to take part.

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The race was held at Parys Mountain – a disused copper mine and while the field wasn’t the largest I’ve been part of, the potential here for some quality racing is huge. Dave and I raced around the course and quickly opened up a gap to 3rd place. We were both getting ourselves ready for a final ‘all or nothing’ lap and Dave hit a rock and punctured both tyres. It didn’t matter though, we both received vouchers for our efforts and finished in 1st and 3rd place.

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 (photo: John Davies)

After the race, Dave dashed off home and I spent the rest of the day with my folks, Debbie and the kids, building sandcastles and eating barbecue food. A quick drive home and then we’re off again the day after to a mayday festival in the weird old village that Deb grew up in – I rode there and demonstrated my “having a babywipe bath in the back of the car” technique on arrival.

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They’re got a maypole in the village that’s so tall, they can’t use it as a maypole. They’re dead clever in Yorkshire 😉

Then the day after that, we dragged the caravan back up to Scotland for a few days relaxing, playing on the beach, flying the kite and toasting marshmallows on a bonfire. Luckily Scotland appeared to be one of the hottest and sunniest places on earth last week so we struck it lucky. I even managed to fit in a few bike rides, including 4 laps of the incredible red route at Kirroughtree. The only negatives in the whole week were my rear brake suddenly leaking fluid all over the place (resulting in a 5:15pm search of Stranraer for tools) and one of my fillings falling out after an altercation with a dangerous Murray Mint.

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The fun doesn’t end there – next weekend is the Bristol Bikefest. On Saturday, Dave and I will be racing in the pairs category (we’ve not raced a 12 hour pairs since Gisburn) and then the day after I’ll be one half of a tandem pair in the 6 hour Sunday race with Guy Martin, in front of a TV camera. Neither of us have ridden a tandem before so it all promises to be exciting and unpredictable. Up to now there’s a couple of other tandems in the race, the riders of those do know what they’re doing.

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The tandem belongs to Chipps and he’s very kindly pulled out all the stops to get it built ready for us to race on. It’s MEGA. Hope Technology have supplied an amazingly-powerful set of M4 brakes for it too, which is probably a good thing…