Tough Weekend - Saturday

This year was the fifth running of the now famous Brighton Big Dog. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t discover it until it’s fourth year, I really feel that I have missed out.

The principle is simple, you need three things in order to stage a great race.
1. A good course, in this case on the edge of the South Downs. Nice and twisty, with a chalky surface which drains quite well and with a surprising amount of climbing for a southern course.
2. A great atmosphere. I don’t know how they engineer this but it seems to work. There is a certain buzz in the arena which some other events lack. The spectators were enthusiastic and well catered for with fresh pizzas baked on site, next to the place serving Indian cuisine and with beer on tap. There were deck chairs for them lining the course near the start-finish so they could watch in a rather civilised manner and listen to the expert commentary provided by the irrepressible Matt Carr.
3. A post race party on the beach. Every race should have one of these, but quite frankly not enough do.


Pictures courtesy of www.davehayward.com
Although he has managed to take this one just as I'm hidden behind Mr Carr...
I remember the days when the longer races used to feature nice relaxed starts, everyone would set off gently, just pacing themselves nicely. Not any more. The standard of competition at these events has increased steadily over the years and now to stand any chance at all of a result it’s flat out from the off, at the pointy end of the grid anyway, and then flat out all the way round too. So, off we went at Mach 3, a lap of the arena before heading off up the first climb and then into the forest. Some of the track was familiar to us from last year, although there was a new layout with a few of the familiar sections being run in reverse. There were two climbs which I didn’t recognise, the longest of which was only a couple of minutes but was pretty steep. Fortunately the ground was fairly dry and grip was not an issue.

The first lap was dispatched without incident, although I had no idea where I was in the race. The inclusion of teams and pairs served to up the pace still further but as we could not tell who was who we just had to race everyone. I could see that I was ahead of Chris Thompson which was important because this race was also Round 4 of the British Endurance Series and he was ahead of me in the championship. We had a good battle between us, swapping places back and forth a few times.

It didn’t take the leaders long to be in amongst the backmarkers. I don’t know what it is about southern riders but none of them seem to know their left from their right, making lapping the tailenders somewhat more interesting than it really needed to be. I suspect that because the event is quite relaxed it does attract more than it’s fair share of newcomers as well as the speedmerchants, which is good, we need new people in the sport, but also these people are probably not yet used to being lapped by the rest of us and get a little confused by it all.

Pictures courtesy of www.davehayward.com

My lap times were nice and consistent at 32 or 33 minutes per lap until the seventh lap when it all went a bit wrong. Coming down the first decent there was a good fun little section, down a chute over some roots, missing the tree to the right and the hole to the left, then a swoopy corner to the right and a drop down to the left before a steep little kick up again. Going from decent to climb on a corner like that meant changing about six gears at once, this had gone smoothly on all the previous laps [No mention of not looking where you were going and getting caught up in the tape? Ed]

However, on this occasion, changing so many gears at once caused the bike to have a bit of a hissy fit and throw the chain off behind the cassette and into the wheel. The usual method of brute force and ignorance failed to remove it and after a few minutes I gave up. Fortunately I was fairly near the arena so I left the bike with a photographer and ran back to the van to grab my cassette tool.

I removed the skewer (a Mt Zoom Die Schoenberg, 45g a pair for those who are interested. It survived the whole thing completely unscathed) and attempted to yank the wheel out of the frame. Fitting a chain-whip around a cassette with the chain and mech still there isn’t as easy as one would think, but eventually it was off, the chain was removed, everything was reassembled and I was on my way again. This little escapade had cost me about 10 minutes and 6 places, not good.

It had however given me a bit of a chance to get my breath back and I was able to put the hammer down again for the last couple of hours.

My tenth and final lap was probably the most fun of them all. I had two people right behind me, pushing me really hard. It is amazing how much faster it is possible to go when there is someone breathing down your neck. I managed to get the better of a three way sprint finish, although pretty much the whole lap had felt like a sprint to me.

Chris Thompson was 11th and took the lead in the Endurance Series, Tim Dunford got 2nd in the race behind team-mate Ben Thomas and moved up 2nd in the championship. The problem I had suffered earlier meant that I finished down in 14th and dropped from 4th to 5th place overall, just behind Roy Davies and Mt Zoom’s Ant White, who had taken the win in Veterans category. It is close at the top with only the Gorrick 12 Hour remaining.

So, finally the bit you all wanted to hear about, the party on the beach. As is traditional following the race everyone heads off to the seafront in Brighton for BBQs and beer. This was a lot of fun last year and something to which I was really looking forward. Unfortunately, I had succumbed to peer pressure and agreed to do a 12hr road race near Cambridge the following day. I had a 6am start so I threw the bike back into the van and hit the motorway.



For more pictures from The Big Dog have a look at Dave's gallery
http://www.davehaywardphotos.com/Mountain-Biking/Brighton-BigDog-2013

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