I’d watched the weather forecasts in the run up to Mayhem with a growing sense of resentment toward who or whatever controls the elements. Each day I checked to see if the sun was due to make an appearance and each day I was disappointed. I knew by Thursday that no matter what happened from then on in, the ground would be so saturated that the race would be “wet”.
Now, for many races, “wet” is just something you get on with. In fact a bit of mud can be fun. Not Mountain Mayhem though. If it’s “wet” at Mountain Mayhem it’s shit. Excuse my language, but it really is shit. Not “Tough, so you have to Man Up”, “Just a added bit of technicality” or anything like that, shit. Shit. The combination of a course made up of endless swirls round freshly mowed grass fields and a particular strain of Eastnor soil means any moisture turns the race into a miserable trudge though ankle deep slop that clings to everything.
Take those conditions and apply them to a course that, due to the number of entrants, has to be wide and fairly tame all the way round and you’ve got something that resembles more of a death march than mountain biking when it rains.
Like I said shit. Not the fault of the organisers – there’s not much they can do to the ground conditions where the race takes place, or how technical the course is (and the weather’s certainly out of their hands!) – but not much fun for those wanting to race either.
Despite the knowledge of what was waiting in the Malvern hills I still drove down with Wayne and Angela, hoping for a good race. Maybe something had changed this time. Maybe it would all be better. We arrived and immediately got stuck in the mud, having to be towed into place. Arse.
Squeltching down to the registration tent it transpired that many of the ‘big names’ had decided not to race. As my feet slowly sank into the sodden earth I felt a pang of jealousy. Two things kept me from just packing up and going home; firstly, the whole of Team JMC were there – which meant the social aspect of the weekend would be good and secondly, well, the car and caravan were stuck, so I wasn’t going anywhere!
A half decent night’s sleep (caravans rock, folks!) did little to relight my enthusiasm, but the normal pre race preperations were followed as they always are. Pits sorted. Something to eat. Bikes sorted. Amble down to the start. Get game face on. Wait for the off. It wasn’t raining so I pretended that the bits of the course I hadn’t seen yet were dry and something to look forward to.
The countdown counted down and away we ran. Quite fast. In fact I felt quite good, despite the fact that within a few yards I was coated in mud. I grabbed the bike as we re-entered the arena and tried to just settle down into a rhythm straight away. No heroic opening few hours or anything like that, just sit down and get on with it.
The course was everything I expected. Draggy, slimy, stodgy, awful and I was right up near the front on the first lap! I dreaded to think what it would soon be like, with a few hundred more wheels churning over it.
Nontheless, I got on with riding as well as I could until a momentary lapse in concentration saw me wipe out on an off camber section. Not a big crash, just one of those ‘wheels slip out from under you’ moments, but somehow I managed to land with all me weight on one end of the bars. SNAP. WTF? I leapt up, grabbed the front of the bike to get riding and see what the noise was, only to discover the bars were hanging limply down by the forks, connected only by the cables. Shit.
With the stem seemingly snapped, I shouldered the bike and started trotting along the course towards our pit area. Spectators cheered me on, telling me that despite everything, I was still in 19th overall, which gave me some encouragement to grab my spare bike and try to sprint off up onto the second half of the course.
The spare bike’s drivechain decided that that very moment would be a great time to implode and start slipping cronically. Leaving me with just two gear choices; both in the granny ring. Shit.
Amazingly, by the time I’d frantically span my way back round to the pits on the next lap, the Lurcher was fixed and ready to go. I flung the ScandAl at Wayne, shouting “it needs a whole new drivechain” and did a runner before any sounds of protest could be uttered…
The course conditions changed lap by lap. Some were decidedly wet, others the mud dried slightly into super sticky clay, all were downright awful. Every lap was littered with riders sat at the side of the trail, clawing at wheels locked solid with grass and earth or pawing at mechs twisted and torn off in the mire. Had I not been able to change to a clean bike every single time I rode past the JMC gazebo I have no doubt I would have joined them.
I wasn’t really paying attention to how the race was unfolding around me. I was informed at one point that breaking my bikes had dropped me down to 3rd. Then I’d moved back up into the lead. Then I’d started eeking out a lead, more each lap. frankly I just sat on the bike whenever the course was rideable and trudged miserably up (or down) anything that wasn’t. Getting less and less interested every time a corner revealed no joy, no swoopy sections, no fast blasts, nothing but more dull slogging.
Then it started raining.
Wearing only a summer weight short sleeved jersey (and shorts, obviously) it took approximately thirty seconds to get cold. A whole lap – which were taking around an hour and a half by this point – later I was freezing. With numb hands and no way of getting any heat going thrugh me I flung the bike down at out pit area and stormed off to get changed into a clean race kit.
The pause became my undoing. Lingering for long enough to have a brew, I realised that I wasn’t interested in groveling round the still-deteriorating course any more. It wasn’t worth it. I knew about the prize money. I was aware that I was pulling away without having to push myself. I didn’t care. I looked at Wayne and Angela, still meticulously fettling everything I could need despite the conditions and obvious misery, told them I was going indoors to get warm and called it a day. Eleven and a half hours after I probably should have.
EDIT: I should point out the following:
A) Wayne, Angela and Michael worked tirelessly in the pits on my bikes. they literaly didn’t get a moment to themselves, fixing, rebuilding, washing, fettling, chopping up bits of food and putting on cheery faces whenever I grumbled past. A sterling effort and more than I could have asked for
B) Jase, when faced with a similar position as regards the race, took the bull by the horns, borrowed a fatbike and jolly well had a laugh with it. Ace.
C) The JMC vets team got on with it and slithered their way to 2nd in their category. Awesome stuff!
D) The JMC laydeez team took on Mayhem as their first race and took 6th, in what has to go down as one of the hardest ‘first team race’ efforts ever!
E) I’m not always as miserasble as this blog post would suggest. In fact I’m looking forward to loads more ace races this year already