Everything is bigger and better in America (apparently)... they drive bigger cars.. have bigger houses.. eat bigger burgers and until the people at sip-events got to work they had bigger single lap mountain bike races...
Not anymore... Saturday 5th September 2009 saw a historic moment in UK endurance mountain biking... we got our first taste of a 100 mile single lap race.. long had we read tales of Breckinridge, Leadville, Shenandoah and other such races in the states and wondered about these single lap epics... we had even tried to trick ourselves cleverly using our metric system to give us 100km races but there was no getting away from the itch that needed to be scratched.
Paul and Sara at Sip Events made the bold move and their hat was thrown into the ring when the Kielder 100 was announced.. at first it was a rumour.. then a reality.. shrouded in mystery as forums buzzed with speculation as to what the course would be like, how much climbing would there be...
From day one of hearing about this event it was well and truly marked on the calender... no matter what i was riding or how i was riding i needed to be part of this first.
The race day came round quickly... really quickly and before i knew it me and Grace had packed the car and were heading up the M6 to then dart across to almost the middle of the country and dangerously close to the scottish border. The journey was hampered as usual by our wayward sat nav freestyling yet another destination other than the pre programmed... we arrived at the campsite to find friends, Rich and Shona, already there and pitched. No one knew what to expect so the atmosphere was very light hearted... although Ian Leitch and my epic riding partner Rich Rothwell were present no one knew how this race would pan out... too long for cross country riders but almost too short for the endurance experts.
The singlespeed race looked like it might be tough too with Deano and Phil the Horse from Velo Club Moulin ( i really want a jersey guys:) ) present and although i had been riding with Manchester Trev in the week previous and had felt good riding for a few hours is far removed from riding from what we though was going to be at least 8-9 hours. Oh well it would be hellish good training if nothing else.
With a 6.30am race start an early ish night was the order of the day.
I felt like i had the longest nights sleep but maybe as i kept waking up every hour and checking time... i always struggle to sleep before a race or epic ride.. i just feel like i wanna get on and get doing it and I'm wasting time lying in bed... as i got out the tent in the morning it was clear and weather looked okay... dressed and bike sorted we headed upto the line.
The race started with a near 3 mile lead out behind a car before we swung onto a gravel climb.... i took my time and gradually made my way up the field... no way was i gonna stay with he geared race leaders so i played the long game and went for a consistent ride from the start.
I managed to catch upto deano first and we exchanged places a few times before he let me go on my own... next i caught Phil on a steady climb and it looked like he was going for a similar approach to myself and just holding a comfortable pace... the course initially was a mix of fireroad and draggy, boggy singletrack... really hard work.
Just after the 33 mile marker on a fairly sedate descent on fireroad i managed to flat... as i was getting eating alive by midges and changing unfortunately the rear tube ( no quick release on the back of my bike) Deano came past with my good friend Matthew Barton towing him along at a good pace... then a few minutes later Phil gunned it past too...balls... as i got back on my bike i could see Phil nearing the top of the hill i was on making it look too easy where i was making hard work of it.
Out on my own then i kept on trucking till about ten miles later i managed to catch back upto Phil as he had stopped to take snack... that made me feel alot better although the thought of how quick deano had gone past me made me believe i would be lucky to catch him and at that point i considered slowing to wait for friends to catch up and riding rather than racing.. before i could make the decision i was caught up by Rob Dean, Morvelo team rider and recent SITS rider.. the guy is huge.. i mean he is massive! Luckily i managed to stay with him and use him as a great windbreak when we got into headwinds.. He also notified me of the infamous puddle after mile 49 by riding into it and nearly losing his bike... he pulled away on some slow draggy singletrack climbing and as i turned off that onto a fireroad i could make out Deano not far ahead.. things looked promising.
After passing Deano i put in a larger effort on the climbs and got a nice gap... i also got back Rob Dean so had my windbreak for the border crossing into Scotland.
At Newcastleton feed station i took a full fat coke, some cake and one of my SIS caffeine gels... after being dragged into an impromtu photoshoot Deano pulled into the feed station too... we exchanged encouragement and as i left Newcastleton all that caffeine and sugar kicked in and i went for it.. Dropping Rob dean and pulling across to another rider that i stuck with through the amazing flowing 7stanes singletrack descending... my bike although fully rigid handles like a dream and i doubt was any slower than most the other full sus bikes out there... after another climb i found i had pulled away from the riders i was with through the descending and at 70ish miles i found myself alone on a slightly uphill section heading along the valley bottom... this seemed to go on for ever... i then glimpsed a rider just ahead and for a moment i though it was Barton.. until i got closer then i realised it was Barton.. excellent.. company and a fast wheel to pull me to the finish.
It was excellent to ride with Matt as to be fair we haven't ridden together for a long time.. Matt has trained so hard and come though to be a force to be reckoned with on any event that involves extended periods of pain and suffering... as we passed the 80 then the 90 mile marker i started to flag a little.. i had decided to use a hydration pack instead of just filling my pockets and with racing being so close i hadn't been stopping much to get gels/bars out the bag... i stopped and sunk another caffeine gel.. that seemed to work... then with 6ish miles to go i was fading and Barton kindly gave me one of his gels so we didn't have to stop pedalling.
The gels really kicked in with 1 mile to go and i caught Barton back up as he had managed to ride a climb i had to push and i passed him on the descent into the finish.. so i took his gel and a position higher on the finish.. sorry Matt.
Grace was waiting at the finish giving an estimated finish time of 10 hours.. somewhat longer than we had anticipated... more importantly though i took the singlespeed win!!!
I have to say it was the hardest race i have done this year.. maybe ever... anyone that got round that course in the allowed time put in an amazing ride.
Big thanks to Sip Events for such an amazing event... 100 mile single lap race.. a UK first...well marshalled, sign posted and generally organised...
Lets see if Lance turns up next year and tries to complete this lap in 6 hours... let it be known that if he does i will eat my bike.. tyres and all.
Will i be back for next years???... I'd be lying to myself if i said i won't.
Massive thanks to Joolze Dymond for the images (www.joolzedymond.com)