I’ll throw myself into every single ditch on this god damn course. Every single one. I don’t care. Sure it hurts. My hands are burning cold, the snow piled deep to either side of the narrow groove cut into the winter has managed to work it’s way past several well thought out layers and is battling for supremacy against the blood in my fingers. My feet are long gone, just sodden lumps at the end of legs that are bearing the scarlet bruises from a thousand previous falls and the hours have torn away at my mental state to the point where even adding up how much time I’ve left to ride is beyond me.
I’m feeling good.
The back end kicks out as sheet ice, hidden under tyre-worn snow, tries to spit me into the undergrowth. No brakes. Hold the slide or bin it. Snap the front end into line and fight back. Duck down low over the bars, force the front end into the thin line of filthy brown slush so hard the earth itself should give way underneath.
Ice and grit burst up from the front tyre, arcing straight into my face. A barrage of sharp-cold pinpricks, each shocking as it hits. Exhilarating and focussing as I begin to lose the battle and suddenly rapidly run out of width in the singletrack.
My left foot slaps the ground as the course bends round and begins to drop, providing momentary balance, enough to stay safe and upright as I hit a rut narrow enough for the Racing Ralph up front to float right over the top of.
One down. One small victory. One corner.
A chance to pedal as the trail rises upwards gives a chance to, for at least the tenth time this lap, reassess how the race is going. A decent start, speedwise. Any thoughts of riding a smooth, clean race gone by the time the first technical section had been passed and in their place a sort of strange lack of self preservation. I’ve crashed, wiped out, overshot so many corners with one foot scraping across the rocks and entered so many snowbanks face first I’m defying the odds. Like standing tall in the face of a hurricane and giggling as Dorothy’s house comes hurtling towards me…I’m certainly not in Kansas right now.
This ‘strategy’ is both paying off and costing me dear. I’ve got somewhere in the region of 7hours left to go (like I said, I can’t do the maths at this point) and I’m sat in a ragged but dogged 2nd place, with enough fast lap times to look decent on any results board, but it’s taken it’s toll on the bikes.
I’ve punctured 3 times, luckily far enough into the lap each time to be able to nurse the bike back to the pits and fix it in the relative comfort of the main marquee. The rear wheel on the 2nd bike seems to be floating freely along the axle as the bearings give up the ghost, it’s bottom bracket isn’t fairing much better and I’m killing brake pads in the dirt at the rate of a set a lap.
Springs too, which is a more pressing problem – as the last of the brake pad gets torn apart by the gritty rotor the springs are getting dragged in as well and shredded. In fact I’m nearly out of them.
That’s ok though. Angela jokingly mentioned not braking as I left the pits on the Ragley. She wasn’t being totally serious, but she’s pretty much summed up the idea behind the next few laps. How much can I get away with. The course has battered me, torn at me, changed in character over and over again as deep snow turned to slush, turned to mud, dried to stodge and froze to gripless ice but it’s not finished me off.
It’s gone from pristine white, soft snow carpeted and stretching off for miles in every direction across vistas worthy of picture postcards, through low down dirty, dusk filtered dirt, jabbing at wheels from underneath grime filled puddles to uncaring and harsh darkness, spitting at you on every bend.
It’s been epic and, quite frankly, that’s what I’ve thrown back at it. I’ve given it no respect and it’s taken everything it can, but I’m still going and I’ll crash on every corner if I have to, throw myself into every ditch if that’s what it takes. I’m coming out on top. Even if I have to stay off the brakes.
Top of the last descent.
Three quick flicks of the finger on the shifter and haul legs round as the chain leaps across the cassette. Dive back into the saddle and flick the shifter again as the speed builds up. The course bucks and swoops. All you can see is what you’ve lit up, what your lights pierce into the darkness is what you get to work with. Shapes loom at you from either side as you drop into the trees, faster and faster. Branches feel like they’re inches from your face and rocks seem to leap out at your wheels.
Stop pedalling, skip the bike over the waterbar and start to drift the bike into the right hander. Nervously press on the bars as the tyres skitter across semi frozen mud. Hold the line, skip again over another waterbar, angling itself to bite deep at the front wheel if you’ve lost your nerve and tried to brake and throw yourself hard right to the edge of the trail, away from the ice but so close to the trunks of the trees you can smell the damp wood as you skim past each one.
The trail drops. Lean back and trace the line left by innumerable other tyres, flowing left and right in the light that never seems to stretch far enough into the distance. The tyres growl as infinitesimally small lapses in concentration have them scuffing the ridges of snow lining the route. Bright white guidelines to either side of the slush that snap and weave in front of you as the light hits them, occasionally broken where someone has lost the flow and slid out into the blackness.
Deep breath and wince as another waterbar, still partially hidden, hammers into the rims. Try not to over compensate as the front tyre loses grip and swerves off right. Aaah you little fuck, can’t hold it.
The snow seems to roar as the bike lurches into it, bars twisted as far as possible to regain some semblance of control, foot thrown out and dabbing furiously, vanishing into the powder each time as I grind to a near standstill before forcing myself back onto the clear line.
Crank back up to speed, little shake of the head and grin.
This is Daft.
I’ll get it next lap. Nail it.
The results and lap times are up on ‘tinternet here so you can see, in detail, exactly where I buggered it up and let Alex Slavin get away (fair do’s to Alex – he rode a great race and thoroughly deserved the win…this time )