Well the SAAB Salomon Mountain Mayhem proved to be a bit of a test. It’s being called the UK’s toughest 24hr race ever. A new course (ten miles a lap with around 1600ft of climbing) with some fairly substantial hills in it, a bigger field than ever before and some damp weather thrown in for good measure.
Jed greeted Conrad and I with the news that he’d ridden the course and it was tough and that he’d already had some response to a notice looking for a fourth rider due to make up for Chilly’s absence. A big thanks goes out to Nick Wigston for taking up the honours of the fourth man and putting in some solid laps.
For me it was an opportunity to meet Joe Ingram from IF and some other owners as well as to catch up with some friends and meet some of the people behind IMBA UK too. Chris Leppard was there on his Tinbred complete with Rolhoff hub. I’d been interested to hear how he got on with it in the mud.
So before I knew it time had flown by and it was 2pm. I lead the team out in the le mans style run. Looking back I was probably about six rows back from the start line and although I though I’d had a fairly good run it was a bit intimidating to see a massive snake of riders running ahead and into the bottle neck of the bike pick-up and timing tent of the start/finish area.
Out of the arena, across the river crossing and up the first climb. Bikes riding like a dream, I manage to get a good line on the outside and start making up places. Out and back along the ridgetop of the hill the riders are dodging a flock of errant sheep. Points mean prizes and a few riders take out sheep and a few sheep take out riders, I make it through and it’s big ring time all the way to the first bit of singletrack. It’s becoming clear already who’s over cooked it on the run and is feeling it now.
There’s a big queue of riders some pushing already through the woodland climb but I manage to keep it going and it seems that before I know it I’m on the double track riding up and along the hill top, which eventually spits everyone out into the cornfield which later in the race is to become extremely slippery. At some point it starts raining, but this isn’t too important because along with a big group of riders I’ve just hit the Landrover test track climb and its deep wet mud going everywhere.
The rest of the lap flies by and I ride the lot including the Powerbar climb and it’s only the final grassy climb in the last mile that defeats me – it’s quicker to get off and run pushing the bike than grind up in the granny gear. Down the final descent, through the bombhole and over the two sets of doubles and back into the arena to start lap two.
Much the same riding until the top of the Landrover track this time, where trying to power out of a rut the back end loses traction and I crack my knee on the STIs. That hurt so it’s time to walk the knock off for a bit. Carry on riding, but cramp is beginning to set in, first calves then thighs, by the time the Powerbar climb comes up again it means I have to get off and push, it’s a chance to have a chat with Ben Haworth on the way up.
Rag it down the hardpacked double track on the backside of the hill and make up a load of places passing more cautious riders. Just after the grassy off camber descent and as I’m going into a tight right hander, a rider I’ve just passed finds his progress is brought to a catastrophic end as his rear mech puts itself into his rear wheel.
It’s still raining, but it’s still warm and I can’t help feel that Jed is overdressed for his lap as I come into the arena for the handover. The rapidly deteriorating course is going to see some long lap times for a long time to come. I head back to camp, but get collared by Joe from IF for a few snaps. I’m caked in mud and now there’s no hot water in the showers 😦
Jed does his two. He’s had an off or two and cracked the same knee he’d managed to bang the weekend previously. Whilst Nick is off doing his two, Conrad’s getting ready and I’m cleaning the bike up for another stint. We’re fitting the Stadiums and before I know it Conrad’s off. I wake up from a snooze a bit early. I want to adjust the brakes and then find I have a softening rear tyre. Quick tube change. Get rest of the kit ready, eat some more and then back to bed. Alarm goes off at a quarter past one, Conrad’s due back about 2am
Just getting ready and Conrad’s back at the camp. He’s been suffering from inflammation of the Iris and is having difficulty seeing, his gears aren’t working and later we discover that his bikes fecked (a slightly bent hanger has meant that the rear mech has almost worn through the drive side spokes) and his lights are fading. I throw my kit on and head out, how hard can it be?
The answer is soon obvious. The course has degenerated to a mud fest. Great clumps of clay stop the wheels from turning in the frame and forks and in one lap I have to stop about a dozen times and pull great handfuls from the frame just to keep the wheels turning. Using the gears isn’t really an option. The svelte race bike has become a 50lb monster that’s difficult to pull and push through the quagmire.
The downhills are greasy and at times it’s like riding on ice. The uphills are hard to find traction on and the flat sections vary between being ridable or rutted trails difficult to make out even in the near daylight of Stadiums. I take the biggest spill of the race just entering the off camber section of the hill side. The bike launches me sideways and I roll down the hill before scrambling back to it. Get on ride to the turn. Funny noise coming from somewhere.
Stop to check it out with the head torch and find that the Stadium battery has ejected and I’ve just dragged it for about 500m. Eeek. Seems okay and the lights are still working so I stick it back in the bottle cage and ride to the finish. Not enough energy in either the lights or me for another lap so it’s back to camp. The bike is caked. Jed doesn’t want to go out, so the race is on hold until the morning.
I wake up about 8am and after some discussion Nick takes on the challenge and puts in another lap in the warming weather and on the drying course. Even the sun comes out. The team quota of laps has to be met so when Nick comes back to camp, I’m off out for another couple of laps. They’re great the course is really drying out and becomes noticeably improved with each lap. This is actually good fun.
Conrad is in the arena and hands me a welcome bottle of drink as I pass through the last lap is really good. I end up chatting to Rob towards the end of the lap as we push together up the last hill. He’s a friend of Nigel Harris’ who I know through ifrider.com and I learn that Nige’s race has been cut short by an eye injury. The final descent goes quickly, the Ti Deluxe inspires confidence as I rattle down the lumpy course and into the finish area to shake hands with Pat Adams.
The results can be seen on this page, with a breakdown of the rothar.com team times here. Bizarrely it’s the first 24hr event where I’ve never had to wait in the paddock for an incoming rider and collect the baton and carry on racing. So most of the laps were in effect started from the camp, which was a fair distance from the start finish area. I’m just glad we finished it and all in one piece.
Driving back to Manchester, shortly after an obligatory Burger King stop to rest and refuel, we’re reminded of why getting enough sleep is necessary after these events, as we see a car that’s just been rolled on the northbound M5 embankment. It’s a chilling reminder of the dangers of driving when you’re not 100%.