Mountain Mayhem had left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth – both literally and as far as racing on a good, exciting course went. I knew the day after, even as I was still unpacking mud plastered clothing, that I needed a good ride on a good course to restore my faith in mtb racing…and myself.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and, although whatever ailed me at Mayhem was obviously still lurking, I was leaping at the chance to race up in Fort William. It was too good an opportunity to miss; previous races there (OK, Relentless24 a few times) had always offered a great fun course that remained rideable even when the rain came down. A course that had plenty of exciting parts, technical sections, flat out fast bits and a high ‘grin factor’ all the way round. This could be just what the doctor ordered!
The logistics of getting from home to the race site, while myself, Jason and Wayne all had work until Friday evening required a ‘through-the-night’ drive through the Highlands, which was bizarre with the midsummer sun never really setting. I spent quite a bit of the journey staring out of the window trying to remember why I don’t really ride up in Scotland that much during the summer.
30 seconds after arriving at the car park I rediscovered the reason. Or, more accurately, the reason rediscovered me and began feasting on my blood. Bloody midges. Billions of the buggers. Pop up tents were popped and dived into, both for a few hours kip before the usual pre-race faffing would take place and as somewhere to hide from the miniature vampire army hovering around any exposed flesh.
Race day dawned (well, it hadn’t really got dark the night before, so it actually dawned several weeks earlier in my mind), brightly and breakfast was eaten out of the back of the van while several citronella candles did sweet FA to temper the fury of the mini beasties, in fact at one point I was sure I was being lifted off the ground by them
Bikes were set up amid frantic “get off me ya bastads” arm flailing and heading over to the start line was left until the last minute in order to conserve what little blood remained in my veins. Unsurprisingly this meant we started a little further back down the pack than usual, but the race soon sorted itself out thanks to a fireroad based first few miles (no need for a bit of fell running in unsuitable shoes here!) and some great riding from everyone in the tighter sections – everyone knew how to overtake/be overtaken.
As my speed increased, so did the smile on my face. The course flowed brilliantly. there seemed to be more descending than climbing – but what climbs there were (quite a few as it turns out) were rideable, some were ‘get your head down’ bashers, some were steeper, switchback laden and tricky enough to require some concentration but all were worth it for the descents that followed.
…at least they were from my 2nd lap onwards. The 1st lap saw me go over the bars of the Ragley TD1 a couple of times as the bike that had felt overkill at Mayhem was suddenly waaaay too twitchy and low down at the front for the drops on the course. An early pit stop was called for as Wayne took the fast rolling Rolf wheels off the TD1 and stuck the on the Scandal – it’s suss fork, riser bars and slightly slacker head angle offering me a bit more control on the downhills that required crash netting and padding wrapped around magnetic trees.
The foray into the pits and the crashes beforehand had cost me the best part of 15minutes, so once back out I set about working my way back in to the ‘sharp end’ of the race. I felt good. The course rode really well, with enough exciting parts to have me constantly thinking “oh good, I’m nearly at [insert exciting bit here], I’ll push on and see how quickly I can ride it” and it seemed to have the desired effect. I moved back up into the podium places even though my rear brake needed a few minutes of lever pulling to get any sort of power out of it (always check your brakes kids…and bleed them when they need it instead of putting it off, forgetting about it and then finding yourself endo-ing down every steep drop as it comes back to haunt you!).
After settling into a rhythm for a couple of laps the almost inevitable happened and I began to feel queasy, just as I had at Mayhem and just as I had continued to do each time I rode a bike after that. Because I was enjoying just riding the bike I dropped the pace down to ‘cruising speed’ and hoped I could carry on through feeling rough.
Although, at the back of my mind, I knew I was now a slow moving sitting duck to everyone behind me (which is a horrible feeling, especially when you aren’t worn out, just ill), I kept smiling in between bouts of, well, looking ill and tried to keep myself in a positive state of mind. I dropped back from 2nd to 4th in the overall standings, but rode on as much as possible and crossed the line, 10hrs after it all kicked off, feeling like a small victory had been won.
I’d raced, on a course good enough to test me, keep me entertained and, occasionally scare the sh-t out of me (and my one working brake!) and I’d not given up, when my innards had. It turned out I’d even got 2nd in the “senior” category, so ended up standing on a podium after all!
Jase put in a sterling effort, racing to 2nd overall and 1st in the vets, so we packed up the van feeling like the smash and grab weekend had been a success. Even more so when the chips and gravy we stopped for on the way home went down well. Chips are for winners.
Congrats go to Greig Brown for basically riding away from everyone else in the race and winning while looking comfortable – 4 times in a row is pretty damn impressive. You still need to do a 24hr to be classed as truly hard though
And a big thanks to the No Fuss guys for setting up an event that restored my faith in MTBs as the best way to race a bike. It was ace
Results are here, BTW.