It doesn’t matter what the weather forecast says, or what people who are in Strathpeffer for days before the race say – the fact is, nobody can predict the weather at the Strathpuffer. You just have to think how you’re going to prepare, spend loads of cash on stuff you probably (or even hopefully) won’t need and always, always pack at least one studded ice tyre.
This year’s Strathpuffer was a case in point. All week it was rain this…mud that…I’d fitted mud tyres and had packed waterproof baggy shorts. I think most people taking part were braced for a slop-fest.
What actually happened is that almost the entire course was covered in black ice and that thick, solid type of ice that polar bears used to stand on to sell mints. Rumours quickly spread of 12 broken collarbones in the first lap.
Good job I had that ice tyre fitted to the front wheel and I was equally glad that Sofia had managed to get one too.
Sofia Christiansen was my mixed pairs team-mate and I knew she’d been training hard for this. We both had – neither of us were here to make up the numbers but once the race got underway it was clear that something wasn’t right. I couldn’t stop coughing, but put that down to the cold temperatures. I was struggling to breathe at times too, but put that down to all the cycling I was doing. Then the vomiting and the cramp started. I’m pretty good at vomiting on the move and don’t normally need to stop to do it. This time was no exception but the bike needed a good wipe down at the end of each lap.
I don’t know what was causing the puking. Perhaps I was coming down with something…
It made for an exciting race though. Sofia was super-consistent in her lap times and was as focused as I knew she was going to be. I’d then set off on either a good lap or a not-so-good lap and the lead must have changed hands between us and two other pairs repeatedly throughout the night. I wasn’t really sure how all of this was going to end up and while I wanted to put in a Big Move and create a gap, I didn’t really have the legs (or head, or guts, or lungs) for that.
Eventually though, a 2 minute gap was just enough for us to build on and that soon became 18 minutes (then a blip back to 12 minutes or something) then 18 again, then things became uncertain again…
Sofia arrived at the changeover point pedalling with one leg. Her knee was knackered. I said I’d ride my lap, if she still couldn’t pedal we’d decide what we were going to do.
It was then that I remembered what happened in Kielder a couple of years ago, when I raced in the pairs with Phil, crashed, broke my face and forced him to ride the remaining few hours of the race on his own. There was no conceivable way that I could drop out because Sof was unlucky enough to pick up a race-ending injury, so unless Sof’s knee had miraculously mended itself, I was on my own to defend our slender lead for 5 hours.
I finished the lap. There was Deb, Sofia, Ben, Sam and Ailsa. I thought I’d have a moan and a whinge for effect. “Get me gels, lights and water here for the end of this next lap”.
The rest of the race was spent mostly crashing as a patch of light rain passed over the forest and turned whatever rideable line that existed into a skating rink. My lap times were silly-slow by now but as I finished my final lap, Deb greeted me not with a bottle and a gel, but with a tell-tale bacon sandwich. We’d won the mixed pairs category with a 35-ish minute gap.
Chuffed! Relieved. And now, I have the flu! Awesome. I thought I was coming down with something.
MASSIVE thanks to…
Euan and the Forestry guys, Sam and Ben from the Breakpad bike shop for the relentless spannering and bike cleaning, Ailsa for lentil soup and motivational abuse, Deb for doing what only Deb can do behind the scenes in races like this and Sofia for being a nails-tough team mate.