The tag line for this event has been “One Lap, One Rider, One Adventure, One hundred miles”, to which we decided should probably be added “100 million midges”. This was a big aim for me and Si for the year, after we first met up at the event in 2009. I was hoping (possibly against hope) that my big training block through August would put enough speed into me that i could play the role of domestique for Si, and take the pressure off for the opening stint of the race, before crawling around to finish myself. The shape of last year’s race suggested that road racing tactics would be the order of the day, with an elite group forming early on and working together towards the finish, where it would be a case of every man for himself. 100miles is a long way to ride alone!
Really, my story should start the weekend before the actual race, when both Si and I independently did our own “dry run” rides – carrying all the mandatory kit we would have to carry over the border, and checking out that our bikes and bodies worked for such a long event. The two of us learned a few things needed to be fixed, i discovered that my middle ring didn’t work with a new chain (ahem – spot which gears i always use!) and that my cables were shot after a season’s use, and Si had similar issues with chains, cassette and new chainset. We both sorted things out and made sure that everything was good for race day though.
Sometime in the middle of the week, it became clear that the weather forecast was going to be a diametric opposite of last year’s biblical weather (if i’d lived in Kielder last year, i would have been building an ark), and that dry, fast riding was going to be the order of the day. For reasons that, looking back are not quite clear to me now, i decided that this meant i should go for the fastest tyres i had – a pair of furious freds that have been sitting in the shed waiting for the call up to duty for about 18 months. They’d be perfect for the job, right? Everything else was set, and a quick pootle around the local trails on Thursday confirmed that my bike worked flawlessly. I had a few days hard-earned rest after a block of 25hrs of riding in 10 days, and was as ready as i could be.
Rachel and I arrived mid-afternoon on the Friday, ready to get an early night in order for me to still be compos mentis at 5am the following morning. Simon turned up a little later, having survived, but only just, the endless traffic on the drive up, and we had a catch up before i hit the trails to try and ride the journey out of my legs. I went up the start loop, and then slipped off onto a middling part of the course, which involved climbing through a load of rushes. I couldn’t believe i had gone the right way, but a regular stream of orange arrows on the ground convinced me otherwise. I pedalled back along the route, still unable to find a line in amongst the bushes, and now with little red pin pricks on my arms from an altercation with a gorse bush.
Time for a quick dinner or two, and then it was time to set the alarm for the most antisocial time i’ve seen aside from my endless work trips to Germany. Before i knew it, it was time to shovel down the cereal, put on my lovely banana-yellow kit and head up to the start. Si and I headed up in tandem, and did our best to be dignified whilst trying to hurdle the barriers, bike in hand. All too soon, the pace van was gently rolling out from the start, with Joolze in the back of the Swinnerton’s van taking photos from the reclining pose of a Roman emperor. We did our best to feature in the photos, staying near the front ready for the turn onto the gravel road that signalled the end of the neutralised section. As soon as the van rolled away, Steve James (Moda) took up the pace, making it decidedly uncomfortable for everyone. I was determined to last in the front group this year, and not do my instant disappearing act of 2009, but i was a little concerned seeing heart rates that could be confused for a good roasting temperature so early on in such a long race.
Over the top of the first climb, someone let the wheel go in front, and there was no way i was up for closing the gap – Matt Page came past, and pulled us back together, and that was me out the back. Once you are on your own in such a race, you know it won’t be long before company is at hand again; one group caught me, but the pace was no more gentle than up front, and so it wasn’t until Ant White caught me on his own that i had some decent tempo company. We rode more or less together, until i took a turn onto a fire road to see Si standing by the trail fighting with a foam canister. I was the good team mate, and helped him get his tyre up, and then cleaned up the general mess that the two of us had made in trying to get his wheel to take some air. I carried on in chase mode, and soon had Tony Morris (Evans) for company. The two of us passed the time, weighing up the puddles that were still in the route, and deciding that discretion was the better part of valour (if they were still there, they **had** to be deep we thought). I stopped at the tech zone to get some air, as my rear tyre had slowly been running out of air, and luckily went completely flat right as i reached the road crossing. Up the rough climb to the bloody bush road, i found myself alone again, and wishing for company to share the pain of the rattles before the nice, smooth boardwalk started.
Over the border, i once again realised that i’d forgotten to put any change into my pockets to drop into the wee man’s sporren, and worried that i might be getting myself a reputation for being tight. Ho hum. Then it was time for the super-fast descent to Newcastleton, where i punctured the rear again (stupid freds) and gave my poor riding companion a face full of latex sealant. What a way to make friends and influence people. By the time i got to the feed, i was running seriously low on energy – i’d decided to do the race “alpine style” and not have any feed bags with the intention of grabbing gels at the feed stations instead to save on faff. Unfortunately, the poor people i harassed at the first two feeds didn’t have any gels to give me, only crisps, jaffa cakes and haribo – not really pocketable foodstuffs. So it wasn’t until feed 3 when i piled in the millionaire shortbreads and filled my bottle with cans of coke. Paul Davis (SIP events and race organiser) let me know that my friend Andrew Cockburn (Cambridge CC) was leading the race from the front, and that Si hadn’t been through. I had two sips of my tea, and then hit the trails again, with a tube in the rear tyre courtesy of swinnertons.
The remaining course is something of a blur, more hypoglycaemic than speed, i remember really enjoying my coke water bottle, wanting to find a nice comfy bush to sleep in shortly after seeing the 90 mile marker, and even finding the energy to chuckle when i worked out where Sara had hidden the extra miles in her course (hint, the course markings went from 90 miles gone, to 5 miles to go – there were more than 5 miles between these signs!). I was convinced i had blown my doors, but seemed to be doing my old trick of gaining on people towards the finish, and was surprised and pleased to see i’d caught Adi Scott (Corley Cycles) who really had blown. I did my best to put distance between him and me, and in so doing also caught the second singlespeeder, also leaving him behind. I felt good, and was looking forward to the final rough descent down to the finishing line, when disaster struck in the form of another puncture. I was down to my final tube, which i duly put in and gassed up, only to have it go straight down again thanks to a small hole near the valve stem. Bummer.
I walked down the final hill, being passed by all the people i had caught and some more, and feeling a bit dejected to not be riding what was some of the best descending on the whole course. As i crossed the line, bike on shoulder to the confusion of the assembled throng, i mumbled something about trying a new means of transport as cycling wasn’t really working for me anymore, and then headed slowly up the hill to get my post-race beer, which i felt i’d more than earned. A bit disappointed, but then i know i could have done much better had i made a sensible tyre choice, and i felt like i would have beaten myself of last year, but more than anything i want to do this event again, the sooner the better. Next year...there’s always next year!
1. Andrew Cockburn (Cambridge CC)
2. Steven James (Moda UK)
3. Neal Crampton (Crosstrax)
27. Chris Pedder (AW Cycles)