Si's bit (shamelessly stolen from our AW report!)
The Bontrager 24/12 event has been a favourite of mine for a few years, mainly because it gives race heads an opportunity to have some fun and let our hair down. After the disappointment of the National Championships this was just what I needed. The AW Cycles Team was made of the usual misfits and vagrants: Simon Ernest (Thundercat), Chris Pedder (Penfold), Jon Pybus (Maverick) and ‘ringer’ Toby Rose (Tits McGee) – nicknames are required for this event.
Friday was travel day. I rocked up at Pybus Farm and discussed tactics and Maverick’s history of trampolining with his parents, Tits was next to show up and joined in. Man of the moment showed up brandishing cookies. The AW van was loaded up and the road trip began, early trepidation regarding travelling to the South West on the day schools broke up was not required, the drive was trouble free and we made Plymouth in good time…which meant we put up tents in darkness.
We awoke on race day to find a posh motor home next to the van indicating Penfold had arrived. Penfold’s partner (Dr Rachel Fenton) collected empty coffee cups and a short while later we were sipping americanos and discussing tactics under the easy-up. Race order was first agenda item: Thundercat, Maverick, Tits then Penfold. Inevitably tyres crept in as well, however all voted for laziness: ride what tyres were on the wheels. Next up was who would lend Maverick a) a towel, b) a toothbrush and c) socks. No one volunteered so we pre rode the course. The team seemed happy with the course, tyres and bikes and so it was down to relaxing before the start.
With twenty minutes to spare I lined up on the front row of the grid (perfect), over the following 15 minutes more riders squeezed onto the front row until the organiser decided enough was enough and banished all others to the back of the grid. The privileged (or special) few were pulled forward from the front row to give them a head start (me included), the countdown started, the gun fired and I leapt into the lead. Well second position. Myself and Ben Thomas (Torq) nailed the opening laps and then tagged in our partners. And so it went on….
Fast forward 12 hours and Tits McGee roared down the last hill, through the flying mud and mist, with useless lights on his bike to bring the team home in 3rd 12 hour team. Only 30 minutes separated us from 1st place. As expected a superb event had been delivered, weather on the whole was good, and Team AW Cycles came home with a podium result…a perfect weekend.
The Pedder Perspective
After Si’s initial flyer, which i have to admit made me rather nervous (the usual worries of “oh no, team handbrake again!”), aided no doubt by our shouting “encouragement” at the top of our lungs from the bottom of the final hill, it was time for our other national medallist to take over. Still sporting the unwashed, furry-toothed look, but without the arm supports that he has made his own, Maverick (“you’re dangerous maverick!”) took to the trails. It became clear that Jon’s early season was all about getting a season’s worth of crashing out of the way in two months, as he ripped around in a similar time to Si, leaving us very much in touch with the Torq guys; it was already shaping up to be an interesting race.
Tits McGee and I were very much aware that the pressure was on us now, we both had the modest aim of trying not to lose too much time to the Torq guys, and trying not to let the Moda composite who were behind us catch us up. Unfortunately, we failed and were back to 3rd place when it was time to hand over to Simon again. The weather was proving perfect though, the grey skies meant that it was the perfect temperature to ride a mountain bike race, and the dreaded Devon microclimate that had inundated the course during the week was keeping its moist fingers off the trails. The course, although a little damp in places was riding really fast, and was a great mixture of the best bits that Newnham had to offer – it was only later that we came to really appreciate just what a good course it was.
Si & Jon put out a couple of double laps that put us back up to second place, but alas not enough that Tits and I couldn’t work our magic – as the sun started to set we were still battling tooth and nail for second place. And then the rain started to come down. Actually, it started like being in a cloud, it wasn’t so much rain as thick mist, thick enough that a mouth full of it made you want to chew. For me, it brought back memories of the small hours of the morning the previous year, when only fatboy slim had got me through, but somehow it was mentally so much easier being in a team of four and approaching the end already. So much easier that I decided I would go out and do a double lap, partly to relive past glories, and partly so I wouldn’t have to put on minging wet kit and do a single lap again.
With the rain set in, and parts of the course cutting up badly, I made the foolish decision to go for just the weight-weenie helmet light, and nothing else. For the first lap, it seemed like a great decision; what I couldn’t see off the racing line didn’t bother me on it, and I felt like I was actually riding the technical stuff faster. By the time the gathering dark began to swamp my 240 lumens under the shade of the trees on my second lap, it was too late to do anything about it! Thankfully, the mud was becoming thicker and fuller in consistency, which meant i couldn’t really get up enough speed to do any damage anyway!
I slip-slid my way down the final hillside to further shouts of “Penfold”, and before i knew it i was in transition handing back over to Si for his last lap. The gap to second had grown rather, and i think we all realised at this point that, barring disaster, we’d be third; now we could just cruise around and take in the atmosphere. I got back to the camp to find Maverick and Tits taping lights to various appendages, ready for their final outings, and we had just enough time to switch stuff over to Jon’s bike from mine before it was time for him to take on one final shift in the night. I had a quick wash under a tap, anticipating our post-race wander down to the arena to take listen to the live band and meet up with friends old and new.
Once Mr McGee had come in, his white and purple kit somewhat stained and unrecognisable, we celebrated our third place with a trip to the burger bar, although i had a strange fancy for a rather more continental crepe! We had a wander, a surreal conversation about radio4 and several beers before the tiredness hit us, and one by one we hit the hay.
More eating, slouching and borrowing of towels come the morning, and before we knew it we were up on the podium collecting our rather nice bonty bottle cages, provided by the man himself. The first trip to the podium of the year for me. Next time, i want to play more of an integral part in us being there!
1st Team Torq
2nd Team Swinnerton Cycles/Moda/Hope aggregate team
3rd Team AW Cycles