Tight, constrictive singletrack coils it’s way through stunted trees. At bursting point with riders hemmed in nose to tail, each in search of the single point of escape. I am trapped deep within it. Thick, clinging mud pulls at tyres suffocating any speed and drowning any power. Sun beats down through the feeble canopy of leaves above, gently cooking everyone thrashing around in the mire, sweat pours down my nose, dripping into the ground and instantly being churned into new clag for those behind me to flounder in.
The best that technology can offer, hours of preparation and studious contemplation on the perfect set up is lost under a matting of torn grass and plasticine like dirt and in that writhing conga line of racers in the trees race-ready gear shifts have been reduced to gentle, wince accompanied flailings at the bars, awaiting either the growling of reticent gear change or the twisted squealing of a mech giving way and shearing. This isn’t fun.
Back at the park ferme I resist the temptation to fling the bike at the damned ground only because of the number of people staring at me. Accutely aware of the precious race-seconds fading away, I drop to my knees and feign an interest in pulling the grass/mud layer away from the drivechain. After a while I feel I can see enough of it to make adding more lube to the chain worthwhile. More wax added I glance around, searching as much for a reason to stay in the pits as anything else. A swig of some Coke. An energy gel. A fresh bottle added to the bike. Can’t put it off any more. Back up and out onto the course…
I don’t really know how I’m doing in the race. Various people call things out at me each time I pass, but I’m not really listening. My eyes are locked on the bar mounted computer counting down the remaining time as much as they are on the track. The longest 6 hours in history is grinding itself away agonisingly.
Despite the heat from the sun, the mud never leaves. It changes it’s texture repeatedly, from clinging, wet slime that fills any gap to thick, clinging stodge, to a clay like gel, with imprints of tyre tracks and pain etched across it and by my last lap I’ve grown to hate it. Despise it. Cross the line at the end of the race and walk away from it as fast as possible.
Somehow, despite stopping twice in the pits and giving long, protracted and serious thought to just ending the event then and there and coming to a halt out on course to report to friends, in great depth, race inspired nihilism I finish 3rd overall. 2nd in my category (the wrong category, but it doesn’t seem to matter). Smile and wave from the podium done I get the hell out of Dodge.
Scarily, I already know when I’ll be back in those trees…