23hours 40minutes into the race and the gap is down to 20 seconds. Andrew Cockburn is out on the course, chasing hard, Chris Aucote right in front of him. Chris has the lead, but he looks exhausted. Half a lap to go…
We had arrived at Eastnor Castle for the Mountain Mayhem race on the Friday evening full of hope for a good result but full of dread after having seen the forecast, 24 hours in that much rain would be really unpleasant. Unfortunately Shergie was also full of something nasty acquired from an Indian restaurant in Worcester. He threw most of it up, several times, and then retired for an early night. Not great race preparation.
We all awoke early on Saturday morning, well all of us except Shergie who still had some more sleeping to do and a lot of fluid to drink. Andy C volunteered to head out for a lap of the course to assess the suitability of his tyres. He was back after only half a lap to fit something with a lot more bite. It was decided that as he is the fastest rider it would make sense to send him out first so that he could fight his way through the pack and get us somewhere near the front straight away.
We knew the start would be a Le Mans style running affair but had no idea it would be that long, we were expecting a mad dash around the arena. As the rest of us watched the crowd of riders running (does that make sense?) back along the side of the lake some 5 minutes later it did occur to us that we should have sent our runner out for lap 1, we’ll know for next time!
Exactly 1 hour after the start Andy C crossed the line to hand over to Andy H, who then put in a 56 minute lap and 59 minutes later Steve handed over to Abi.
We must of course say a big thank-you to Abi Greenaway at this point, on loan from Charge Bikes, she had volunteered to (for which ‘been roped in to’) stand in for our injured Clara less than a week before the race, so had almost no preparation, but did very well indeed, and somehow managed to put up with us lot for an entire weekend.
The rain came and went a few times over the course of Saturday afternoon, but the blue skies in between meant the course didn’t have chance to become the water-logged quagmire we had all been dreading, and by dinner time it had ceased completely.
We were camped at the bottom of the final descent, which gave us a good view of the ambulance as it made it’s way up the hill. A course-modification robbed the descent of most of the speed, but the new chicane meant that the ambulance was not required again on this part of the course. There was a little hump in the track right by our camp, riders overtaking on the right-hand side of the course were flying through the air inches from our gazebo. We were wondering how long it would be before one of them came crashing through the cooking area but despite a number of very near misses this never happened.
Darkness began to creep up on us around 9:30, the wooded sections becoming dark a good half hour before the moorland sections. It was the first time those of the team who hadn’t raced the European 24hr solo event at Newcastleton had seen our new lights, Full Beam had again stepped in to provide us with several sets. The amount of light they can put out attracted a fair bit of attention in the pits, but since there were fewer switch-backs on this course we received fewer complaints from other riders we had dazzled.
We didn’t adopt any clever tactics during the night, just sticking with the 1 lap on, 3 laps off routine. This gave plenty of time for a rider to clean and lube the lube the bike, have a bite to eat and then grab an hour and a half sleep before being woken and sent back out into the cold, and it did get surprisingly cold for mid-June.
When dawn came we could start to think seriously about our position, having all made it through the night in one piece. At 4:30am we were in 6th, 11 minutes ahead of Cookson Cycles, who were a mere 13 seconds ahead of Salsa, it was looking like it would be a close race. With nearly 8 hours to go this was a far from comfortably margin. Andy C went out for a lap, and just about managed to peg the gap, as did Andy H. Steve then had a slightly slow lap, and the gap to Cooksons was down to just 4 minutes, it was getting closer. The course was starting to dry considerably, we even spotted some dust on parts of it, not at all what was forecast. The pace was beginning to pick up as a result, most unusual for this stage of a race.
By lap 20 Cooksons had passed us and Salsa were right behind. Andy C went out for his next lap and from somewhere pulled out a stunning 49 minute time, putting us 40 seconds ahead of Cookson. Andy H followed this with his quickest lap of the race, leaving us just 1m4s behind Cookson but now over 5 minutes ahead of Salsa.
Steve then put in his fastest lap, returning to the pits with the good news that this was still a close race and the bad news (for Andy C anyway) that we were in 8th place, with 6th place only 2m28s ahead of us, no pressure there then! Although it was Abi’s turn to go out again she had graciously declined the glory-lap to allow our fastest man back out for one last effort.
We all made our way to the half way point to cheer him on, heading up the climb he was up to 7th, 20 seconds behind Salsa’s man. Cookson had dropped back and this was turning into a two-horse race. All three teams were gaining rapidly on Ergon but they were 18 minutes up the road at this point, there just wouldn’t be enough time to catch them.
We headed over to the finish line to watch the finale, the result still hanging in the balance, but Andy C had pulled out his fastest lap of the race just when it really mattered and we took 6th place by the narrowest of margins.
How to satify a post-race salt-craving. Sometimes pringles just won't do!
For the full story of the race in the Open Men category have a look at here, and no doubt the full story of the food poisoning on Shergie's blog.
We must also say a big well done to Ant White, the man who now supplies us with some lovely MtZoom gadgets, for another dominant win in the solo race.

Top 10 Mixed Elite teams:

29 laps
29 laps
27 laps
26 laps
Cycle Coaching Wales
24 laps
Ergon 24
24 laps
Colombia-Bikefood-Pronghorn Racing
24 laps
Salsa Racing Team
24 laps
Cookson Cycles
22 laps
21 laps

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