The Manx 100-And-A-Bit

I had never been to the Isle of Man before so this would be a new experience for me. I like racing in new places in general and abroad in particular (yes, it is abroad, I went on a boat to get there so that counts as abroad.)

The ferry was 2am on the Friday night, I did manage to get a little sleep on it. I made my way up to the start at the Point of Ayre, the most northeasterly part of the island by early evening on the Saturday and spent a while preparing the bike and chatting to my fellow competitors before getting a relatively early night. It had been lovely and dry for weeks and what I had seen of the island so far had been dry and dusty. It was the end of the driest July since 1825 so obviously it was too much to hope for a dry race and sure enough just as we turned in the rain began lashing down hard, blocking the view of the sea and bouncing off the roof of the van.

Not a bad place to start a race

I was rudely awakened by my alarm at 6am (I didn’t know there was a six o’clock in the morning as well!) The rain had ceased and we were greeted with a fine mist to start the race.
We all gathered at the furthest point near the foghorns and at 7am the race began.

Richie Rothwell took an immediate lead and sped off down the road. I tried to stick with him and the two of us rode together for a while, opening up quite a gap over the rest of the field. As strangers to the island the plan was to go out hard, open an early lead and hope the others would think we were really fast, give us up for lost and then concentrate on fighting amongst themselves for third.

10 Miles in and it's close at the front.
Leader Rothwell pursued by Howett, Jones, Renshaw and Corlett

However, by the bottom of Sky Hill a group of five riders had caught us. Ritchie and Matt Jones took off at the front and I dropped behind the others as we climbed up through the forest and out onto the open moorland. Heading straight up a hill by the most direct, and of course steepest, route would become something of a trait of this race. After briefly touching the TT Course, at Sulby Straight for those who know it, we again headed straight up a hill, up through Ohio Plantation and then again across open moorland towards the Mountain Box, another famous TT landmark.

We emerged at the top of the hill onto the TT Course. I only found out about a week prior to travelling that the island has no speed limit outside the built-up areas, but this was also mentioned to us before the start, a motorbike doing 190mph can be upon you a lot sooner than expected. Anyway, we crossed the track and headed off down the hill on the other side.

Not a lot of flat bits on the island...

There was a lovely little section here, quite a steep drop down the grass, navigating through the boulders. Had I been equipped with a dropper post I would probably have pressed the button here but with an ISP one just has to hold on and hope for the best. I made it down fine, the rear wheel waving around in the air. Lifting the bike over the wall at the bottom it was good to see both of my pursuers carrying their bikes down, looking rather unsteady as they did so.

The first time I saw my support crew was in Laxey, a brief pause to resupply with Bikefood and a Mars bar before climbing up out of the village and back onto the moors, back passed Stephen Kelly and Les Corran, who had overtaken me while I was eating. I was to see plenty of these guys during the next few hours. The climb to the top of Injebreck was interesting to say the least. Not especially steep, but relentless, just on and on and on, up into the mist. It was quite a dense mist, almost congealing into rain but not quite. I was missing the worst of the weather at this time, my helpers were waiting just over the summit at Sartfell Plantation and were having difficulty even seeing through the torrential downpour there as they attempted to work out from which direction I should be appearing.

Les Corran and myself

Another brief pause to swap bottles, during which Stephen and Les both came passed me again, and then off down a road section, heading down towards Druidale. I didn’t see a lot of traffic on the road sections during the race but I can confirm that a Yeti ASR-C can corner a lot quicker than a BMW Z4 Coupe. For once it was a BMW driver who had specified mirrors on his options list and he let me passed to continue chasing down the others. The lamb in the middle of the road was a little less obliging at getting out of the way, waiting patiently in the middle of the road until he had chance to see which side I would go and then running into my path at the last possible moment. Collision narrowly avoided I headed on up the next climb to Slieau Dhoo into the sunshine, the bad weather having evaporated over the last two miles, it was sunshine all the way to the finish.

I must have acquired a pinch-flat on the descent from Slieu Curn as on one of the very few flat, fast sections, from Ballaugh to Kirk Michael, I felt my rear tyre squirming around. A quick change of inner tube cost me about 3 minutes but cost me two places, Stephen and Les yet again. Every time I thought I was getting away from them they would reappear. I refuelled again in Kirk Michael and headed off up the hill which is known as ‘The Baltic’ (I don’t know why).

All riders had been given a satellite-tracking device so that the race organisers could keep an eye on who was where. It was somewhere around here that, unbeknownst to me, mine stopped working. The idea was good, there was a website where organisers and supporters, and indeed fans, were we to have any, could log on and follow our progress. However, the devices themselves probably need to be a little more robust to withstand a mountain-bike race.

Anyway, we had been told about The Baltic. It began innocently enough, a little opening between two buildings in the village, but once out of the village and above the radio masts it began to get properly steep, a series of false summits after false summit. I passed Stephen and Les yet again and eventually reached the top and began a fantastic descent down the other side. It reminded me of the Peak District at it’s best, the same sort of peaty and rocky ground, huge fun in the dry, mile after mile of fast rolling hills with the odd little kick up here and there.

We touched briefly on St. Johns and then climbed up again before turning back into the village. This was an interesting section, the ground just disappeared as we rounded the corner and we then plunged down into a gully. This was the hardest part of the course by far, despite it being a downhill section. The bottom of the gully was lined with large-ish rocks which moved around as one rode over them making steering rather difficult. I managed to remain attached to my bike but Stephen had caught me again on this section.

We rode together for a short while but I eventually managed to get away from him as we headed along the river to Kirk Patrick and over Slieau Whallian and passed the finish line of the 100km race, although this was still not yet 2/3 distance for us.

The next section was not very good for me., I managed to get lost twice. I was the only rider riding without a GPS system to help me. This hadn’t been a problem up until here as the course had been well signed. However, I don’t know if the signs in this section were not up to their usual standard of visibility or if I was starting to get tired and beginning to miss things. The course was not the usual taped, signed and marshalled racetrack, it was a proper explore of the island and despite the signs we were expected to be capable of finding our way around. I just needed to pay a little more attention. I wasn’t really sure where I was in the race any more either, had anyone got passed me while I was off course or retracing my steps? Had I overtaken anyone if they had got even more lost? No idea.

Winner Ritchie Rothwell looking like he is really enjoying himself

There followed some lovely forest sections before we made our way up to Cringle and the ‘Unclimbable Climb’, which has apparently now been climbed but has retained it’s title. Nine hours into the race my legs just didn’t have it in them to attempt to become the second person to manage this feat. By the 85 mile mark I was absolutely knackered, my legs had gone and my upper-body strength had completely deserted me, lifting the bike over gates and fences it felt like the weight had doubled since I set off. I was no longer in racing mode and was happy just to ride to the finish.

The descent down the Pipeline was a lot of fun, the bike barely touching the ground as the water bars sent us skywards but the climb out of the bottom of the valley was a killer. While making my way up through the woods I heard a gate banging way down below me on the valley floor. Stephen was back. Hopefully he hadn’t seen me through the trees.

Somehow, having him right behind me again made my second wind appear and I was back in race mode! I made good progress on the climb up Eary Cushin and gave it full beans on the descent down the other side, another fast swoopy section. He caught me briefly just before Port Erin but I lost him again as we entered the town. That was surprisingly good fun, slipstreaming a van as we approached the 30 limit, darting past him as he slowed for it and then racing a little Mazda sports car through the back streets. I’m fairly sure it wasn’t in the event, but chasing people is always fun. The final climb was a real sting in the tail but still no sign of Stephen behind me and down the final descent to the finish line at The Sound, the most south-westerly point of the island. Waiting for me were my support crew obviously, Vince the photographer, Nigel the organiser and a small crowd of other people, including Stephen. Bugger. How had that happened?! It turned out he had taken the more direct route along the seafront while I had been racing cars through the side streets. I’ll know what to do next year! Les arrived about 50 minutes later. It was an impressive ride from him, he had crashed heavily in the first 20 miles and had completed most of the race with a large amount of blood running all down his leg, he had done well to keep up with us for so long.

Fairly pleasant finish line too

So it was 6th for me. I’m very pleased with that result and, more importantly, had thoroughly enjoyed the race. 100.90 miles (and my extra bits) and 15,335ft of climbing in 11hrs48min.

Results - Top 10
1. Richard Rothwell
2. Paul Renshaw
3. Julian Corlett
4. Matthew Jones
5. Stephen Kelly
6. Andrew Howett
7. Les Corran
8. Steve Wood
9. Derek McNutt
10. Adrian Beale

I would like to say a big thank-you to a few people, Mt Zoom and Bikefood as always, but especially this time to Jo, Paula and Mike without whom...

And a big thank-you to Vincent Campbell for the pictures.

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