Stories From Last Summer - 2014 Manx 100

With the imminent approach of this year’s Manx 100 I thought it was about time that I gave you a brief run-down on last year’s event, I know Nigel will be keen to get as many people over for the next installment as he can. He seems to be pretty successful so far, in 2014 there were about three times as many entries as there were for the inaugural event of 2013.

One notable absentee was defending champion Richard Rothwell, who, having survived the West Highland Way ‘Race’ intact then broke himself quite badly during a gentle pootle on the road bike. He was ‘quite cross’ (my words, not his! He used slightly different ones…) to miss not only this but also the European 24hr at Finale Ligure. This left the race wide open, although the smart money was on  Jason Miles

Signing on the night before was in the commentary box of the TT race. Even for those of us who are not huge motorbike fans it was pretty exciting to have backstage access to this prestigious venue. It was also pretty exciting to start the race in the pit lane right in front of the Grandstand before we were lead out onto the course and along the start/finish straight.

We followed the police motorbikes along the TT route for a couple of miles before we turned left and left that race-track and head out onto our own. 

In keeping with the previous event this first turn basically found a very big hill and pointed us straight at the top. This sort of thing carried on for more less the whole race, straight up, straight down, then straight back up again. The Isle of Man isn’t huge but it is mostly hilly and as you can see from the course profile there are not many flat bits in the event. In fact at 16,000ft there was over 1,000ft more climbing, and of course descending, than last year. 

I was riding with a good bunch early on, including newly-crowned European 24hr singlespeed champion Jon Hobson and my nemesis from last year Stephen Kelly, but two punctures meant that I lost touch with them after a couple of hours.

I wasn’t the only one struggling though, I was quite surprised about 6hrs in when Jason Miles came hurtling passed me to take 14th place. I had no idea he was even behind me at that point, I wonder when I had overtaken him?

I caught him and Jon again where the course split, the men being separated from the boys as the riders faced the choice of the full 100 miles (actually just over 104) or the shorter 100km routes. I set off down the route taken by the real men, or at least those who still had plenty of time until their ferry departed, while they finished eating and then took the shorter option. It was nice to be able to make the decision at this point, rather than having to commit when entering the race weeks before, full of bravado about the distance and climbing and uncertainty about the weather.

As far as I know Jon is the first, and so far only, person ever to attempt this race on a singlespeed, and he had intended to do the full 100 miles. The fact that he took the 100km option means that the title of first person ever to complete it on one is still up for grabs.

There are time limits on various sections to prevent riders still being out in the middle of nowhere long after darkness has fallen so anyone trying this will need to be pretty rapid, it’s hard enough on a geared bike.

My race took a turn for the worse shortly after the split. Coming down a particularly difficult narrow rocky descent into St. Johns I performed an unplanned frontal dismount and landed on my head and my knee, the latter hurting considerably more as this didn’t benefit from a helmet. The bike landing on me also hurt rather a lot.

It was when I picked it up and climbed back aboard that I realised that I had smashed the screen on my GPS. This didn’t cause any immediate problems, I had a map, although stopping to look at it would of course cost time, but most of the route was signposted.

Something more of a problem came later when I was trying to be clever and save time by not stopping to look at the map. I missed a turning off the Glen Mooar road at Arrassey and instead of turning down into the Lhargan plantation I found myself wandering around some old mine workings. It was quite interesting, looking at the old buildings and the winding gear and suchlike but it was costing me time. I could see other riders on the opposite side of the valley overtaking me at considerable speed as I elected to carry my bike down the sheer sides and up towards the correct path rather than retrace my steps.

I had recognised quite a bit of the course, from the brutal climb of The Baltic to the twisty singletrack of Archallagan and the fantastic descent down from Cronc ny Arrey Laa. However, a lot of the route was new and so my experience from the previous year proved to be of much less help than I was hoping, as my impromptu mine exploration demonstrates. 

In common with last time I had Jo helping me again, meeting me with the car every so often to resupply me with food and drink, although we had brought the small car over as it was cheaper on the ferry than the van so I had no spare bike available.

One thing which was very noticeably different to last year was the weather. We had been very lucky last time and done most of the race in the dry, but this time it started raining heavily shortly after the half way point and then just didn’t stop. The sheltered foresty bits weren’t too bad but the exposed moorlands and hilltops were a little bleak, to say the least.

The route had been very well planned and remained completely rideable, the rain didn’t cause any problems with sinking into bogs and quagmires at all, although it may have made things quite miserable for the helpers and supporters stood out in it waiting for their riders.

The race had two finish lines, which is a little unusual. The timings and results were taken at the end of the track at Kevraigue, where I just beat Guy Whaley in a 5 mile long sprint finish but we then had to ride from there, in a non-competitive fashion, through the centre of Douglas, rejoining the TT course at the famous Quarterhorse Bridge and then finishing at the Grandstand on the start/finish straight with a huge sense of achievement.

We had backstage access to the paddock area again for the post-race tea and cakes and a chance to catch up with everyone else and hear their stories of what had happened out there in the hills.
This year’s event is scheduled for 26 Juy There isn’t much else in the British Isles which is comparable, the West Highland Way ‘Race’ is probably the most similar event, but that isn’t really a race, and the Kielder 100 no longer happens of course. I much prefer the Manx event to Keilder, although the distance is about the same it has over 4,000ft more climbing and takes about 3-4hrs longer, but without feeling like it’s longer if that makes sense, it is so much fun that it takes your mind off the distance. It is physically harder than Keilder was but without the relentless grinding grit much easier on the bikes. It’s just a shame it’s such a pain to get to. This time I did it in a long weekend but if you can make a week of it like I did last time it’s definitely worth doing, it’s only a little island but there is plenty of riding there.
 Scott, Mark and BIlly with Nigel on the TT podium
1.  Scott Cornish
2.  Mark Carey
3.  Bily Stelling
4.  Christopher Purt
5.  Julian Corlett 
6.  Stephen Kelly
7.  Ed Wolstenholme
8.  Ian Wilmshurst
9.  Saul Muldoon
10. John Venables
18. Andrew Howett

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