The Championship Decider - Kielder 100

Bringewood Nationals 2005. The Worlds in Australia 2010. European 24hr 2011. The Worlds in Italy 2012. And of course Keilder 2011. There are some races which go down in history, to be spoken of for years afterwards by those of us who were there. The human mind usually tries to blot out memory of traumatic experiences but unfortunately I could remember ever detail of the race at Keilder last year. Surely this year had to be better.

Well, it started the same. I drove onto the campsite on Friday night and immediately got the van stuck, about 10 feet from the place I got stuck last year. An hour later I parked it properly by the roadside and set off to see who else was around and find some dinner.

Kielder Castle was the race HQ. It looks quite picturesque without us lot there.

This race was to be the decider for the UK Endurance Series. I was still leading (just!) but four of us could still win, and seven of us could still get on the podium. It was going to be close. When the alarm went off at 5:30 the following morning it was still dark. Is it just me or did no-one else know there were two 5:30s? The morning one is much less pleasant than the usual one.

I got a place on about the 4th or 5th row the grid and we stood there waiting for the sun to come up. This year it actually did, things were looking up. I made my way to the front as we followed the lead-out truck from the castle out into the forest. It peeled off and the race was on.

A group of riders came passed me, Ben Thomas, Andy Cockburn, Ant White and unfortunately my main rivals for the championship, Tim Dunford and Ritchie Rothwell. They set a good pace and began to disappear off into the distance, the rest of us trying to keep up.

The pace was much harder than last year, the drier ground allowing us to keep the speed up. A series of small groups began to form, trying to chase down those in front. I have no idea who I was riding with, although I did catch Andrew C at one point as he was recovering from an off.

There was an awful lot of fire-road, all big-ring stuff, more like a road race in places. I had learnt from last year’s debacle with the brake pads and had made two alterations to my strategy. I had swapped to the Alligator sintered pads, provided by the lovely chaps at Mt Zoom, and had brought even more spare sets this year. However, the Alligator pads proved so durable that the spares were completely unnecessary.

There were checkpoints and water stops along the way. I was carrying twice as much Bikefood drink as I would usually, hoping to make it through by stopping at alternate feed stations, with the championship this close every second would count. I sailed through the first one but between there and the second realised that I had a problem, one of my bottles had sprung a leak and I was out of drink. I should be able to cope, but I would have to fill up at every opportunity.

I recognised a lot of the course from last year, the figure of eight near the start, the nice swoopy singletrack where I had nearly come a cropper following the demise of yet another set of brake pads and the fireroad section where Corby had simply vanished beneath the waves of what is quite probably the biggest puddle I have ever seen (if it only size which distinguishes puddle from lake he may have fallen into a lake, if it's a question of permanence then it would probably still count as a puddle)
Anyway, I sailed passed the place where my rear tyre fell apart last year with no problems at all and headed off towards the border. The boardwalk sections across the moors were much fun this year as, with the benefit of a tyre which remained round, I could actually steer, the wind was getting up at the top though so it was slow progress.
After the second board section I was onto unfamiliar territory, one more short moorland section and the border appeared, complete with bagpiper and Joolze hiding in a ditch (I mean a bagpiper was there and in addition Joolze was there hiding in a ditch) Fortunately I didn’t recognise the tune the piper was playing, at the start of the European 24hr a coupe of years ago the piper there was playing Scotland The Brave, a tune which I had going round and round and round and round and round in my head for every single one of the next 24 hours.

I have no idea who these people are.
Talking of the European 24hr, I soon recognised where we were again as we appeared on part of the track used for that event, a nice singletrack section followed by a climb and then a descent down to where the finish line had been. This time there was something even better there: cake! And another chance to top up my rapidly diminishing water supply. Thanks to Juice Lubes for the (remarkably quick) bike service, full chain lube and fork stantion clean in less time than I can eat a doughnut.

We followed the route of the Euros up the first climb to main logging road and then down into the Hidden Valley, a lovely section of singletrack. Upon reaching what I thought was the bottom the course veered away from the track the Euros had used and plunged down another decent. How many times I have been passed that and never seen it? I suppose it’s called the Hidden Valley for a reason.

It wasn’t long before we crossed the border back into England, it felt like we were nearly home, although there was still nearly 3 hours to go.

A lot of the remaining sections were fireroad, all big ring efforts. I had been trying to minimise the time I had spent stopped at the feed stations en route, just topping up the water as and when I could and having as much food as I could cram into my mouth whilst sorting out the water. I don’t think this was quite enough, I could feel the impending bonk coming and had to stop for a quick Mars Bar break at about 9 hours, it’s amazing how quickly a couple of those can get one going again.

As we approached the castle again we were treated to one last piece of singletrack, a lovely fast, swoopy section. I had a fight on my hands as we headed for the finish, Jon Cunningham dived up the inside of me on one of turns. I chased him to the line but just couldn’t get back passed him again.

225 from the 550 starters made it to the end, much improved on last year’s 177 from 800. The sheer horror of last year’s event seemed to have put a lot of people off even attempting it this year! The race had taken me 10hr15min. The road racers reading this may be surprised to hear that 104miles could take so long, but it wasn’t the distance which was the hard part, the total climbing was around 11,638ft, it was not the distance making it so difficult.

I finished the race in 57th place. Although pleased to have survived this year it certainly wasn’t the result I was hoping for. I don’t know why I had been so slow, other than the leaking bottle nothing had gone wrong, no accidents, no mechanical problems, no navigational blunders, I was just slow entirely on merit. This wasn’t looking good for the championship, had I done enough, and of course what had everyone else done? Last year’s winner Ben Thomas had been forced to retire with mechanical problems, no points for him. Graham McConaghy had also not scored. Ritchie Rothwell had taken 8th place and Tim Dunford had put in a fantastic ride to take a narrow win. Both of these had therefore leapfrogged me in the series and demoted me to 3rd.

This left me with an odd feeling, I had just finished 3rd in a national series and yet was slightly disappointed. Although I had only set myself the target of a top 10 at the start of the year and had surpassed that by some distance, having been leading since the 24hr at Easter I had been hoping for a little more. I guess that us racers are never happy unless we are wining things!

The trophy for 3rd place was a nice little glass one with a gold stand, real gold I promise! However, as you can see I am a terrible photographer and glass isn't the easiest thing to take a photograph of...


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