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.
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.
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.
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!).
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 😉