One Big Lap In One Little Gear

You know those races where you actually do rather well and yet somehow still come away feeling slightly disappointed? This was one of those.
The Keilder race made it’s return recently and is now a 101km event which attracted about 350 riders. This was helped by the fact that as it was now September spring had finally arrived up in the borders and everyone was keen for a bit of racing in the sunshine, having not seen any for months.

I headed down on the Friday night, had a bit of dinner and then signed-on at the castle. I had to persuade the organisers to let me start at the front with the Elite group, which it turns out has to be done by telling them some recent race results rather than bribing them with beer. I was successful, 11th at the Manx 100 sounds much better than last, as does 3rd at the West Highland Way, which is the last place with which I have been most pleased.
The start line before the race. Note the lovely colour of the sky.
Anyway, the race itself.

I had decided to have a go at racing singlespeed. I hadn’t raced one for a while and quite fancied a change. I also didn’t fancy completely wrecking a bike as happened at the 2011 event and I thought that the singlespeed would be a little more robust. I did put some bouncy forks on specially though. As it turns out a fancy geared full-suss would have been ideal and would have been fine in the dry but I had had to commit a few days before when I packed the van.
We set off from the castle at 7:30am, I hate early mornings, with the first couple of miles being neutralised behind the truck before the course turned to the left up the first climb and the race really began. Despite only having one gear I was fifth as we crested the hill, the added lightness, to misquote Colin Chapman, of the singlespeed helping a lot. I could see Richard Rothwell at the front and for a change I was having no difficulty in keeping up. I knew that he had been ill recently and assume that he had gone straight to the front to try to control the pace rather than letting the other fast boys charge off into the distance. It suited me and I felt good in the chasing pack, not far behind the leading group of four.

Last minute tweaks in front of the castle.
Too many gears, he should have gone for the low-maintainence singlespeed.

I lost a couple of places on the level fireroad section at the top. I had a 32/17 gear on a 26” bike and so getting above about 18mph on the flat was pretty much impossible. Any attempt to do so would leave me looking like Scooby Doo in that brief moment after he spots a ghost but before he starts to run, legs spinning furiously but not actually moving.
I continued, head down and spinning like crazy. I heard a noise in front and looked up, a rider was cartwheeling along the trail, his bike bouncing off in the other direction. It was a wide, flat fireroad, what on earth had he hit? He had picked himself up and grabbed his bike by the time I passed him, his front wheel pringled (pringle: vb. To make a wheel the shape of a popular potato-based snack, my favourite of which are the sour cream and onion flavour) Race over in less than five miles.

I asked the guy next to me what had happened. Apparently he had caught the end of his handlebar in the deer fence to our left and come to a very abrupt stop against it. Quite how he had done this when it was a good two feet from the edge of the track I don’t know.
The course turned to the left and headed downhill, which was where I had to relinquish my spot amongst the leaders and watch as what felt like hundreds of riders, but was probably only a couple of dozen, cruised passed me in their big rings while I was spinning out, tucking my head down to allow gravity to take me up to the dizzy heights of 25mph.

The race continued in pretty much the same vein for miles, I would manage to get passed some people on the climbs and then they and a load more would just stroll passed on the downhills without even looking like they were trying, I would get a couple back on the next climb and then another herd would swamp me on the following descent.
One thing which had occurred to me was that I was leading the singlespeed race. I had started at the front and had been looking at everyone’s bike when they came passed, checking for the presence of gears and had seen no-one else daft enough to only have the one. This was unusual, I’m not used to leading races, even just a race within a race, and certainly not this far in. I had sprinted off the line at a couple of 24hr World Championships (Italy and Australia) just so that I could say that I had, very briefly,  lead a World Champs, but to still be at the front of something after an hour and half was a little odd.

I'm not sure how he's managed to get into his own picture, I
suspect magic.

About five miles from the border I saw someone coming up the singletrack behind me doing that special kind of gear-grinding that only singlespeeders do, being in the wrong gear for pretty much the entire race. He did eventually catch me and so we had a bit of a chat as we rode.
Jim Tipp had finished about twentieth overall and first singlespeed at the infamous 2011 event, the only DNF I have ever had in over 16 year of racing my bike. Well over 75% of the field had DNF’ed that day, if you weren’t there it would be nigh on impossible to describe the conditions, bikes were just disintegrating as we rode along, the endless grinding grit destroying chains, cassettes, chainrings and every single bearing in the entire bike.

He had made it to the end of this, so was clearly not to be underestimated, but I was determined that he was not going to beat me. I saw my chance to get away from him when the course turned a sharp left and headed very steeply up some singletrack, a succession of really tight switchbacks which seemed to go forever. My gear eventually got the better of me, or my legs weren’t strong enough, one of the two, I’ll blame the gear, and so I leapt off and ran the last few hundred yards. I even managed to run passed someone on a geared bike who, although going very slowly, was clearly not going to let the hill defeat him.
Over the summit and there was no sign of my adversary behind me, I had lost him. I kept the pressure on as we headed for the border, making up a few more places on the very slippery boardwalk section, I think it was just fear of braking and locking a wheel on it which made me quicker around it than the others.

The trail on the shores of Keilder Water

Down the next singletrack descent with the border in sight, quite narrow and very rocky, lots of pointy stones, trying to pick my way through the biggest ones to avoid pinch-flatting and oh bugger I have.
I stopped and flipped the bike over, pulling my glove off. These rims are ridiculously tight, it’s a nightmare changing tyres on them. this wasn’t going to be fun. Riders were streaming passed as I got out my tyres levers, and much to my surprise, took the tyre straight off, it is never that easy! Jim came passed as I was putting the new tube in, followed less than a minute later by David Glover who was third singlespeed. The tyre went back on as easily as it had come off. I don’t know how that happened but I wasn’t complaining. I put my gas cartridge on and turned it. Nothing. I did it again. Still nothing.

I looked at the end, it had been pierced OK. Was this a dud or had I picked up a used one by mistake? The sense of relief as my second cartridge worked as enormous. I put the wheel back in, tied the old tube to my frame and set off in pursuit of the two in front of me. The whole episode had cost me 5½ minutes, that was a big gap to close but the pause had given me a chance to get my breath back and I was flying, giving it everything I had, pausing only to dib at the checkpoint as I crossed the border into Scotland.
On the very next fireroad section was an upside-down bike with a rider pumping furiously at the tyre - Jim. That had been easier than I was expecting, and we were now all square at one puncture each, just David to go.

He was a mile further on, sticking a new tube into his tyre.
I only saw four people with punctures all day, it was odd that three of them should have been us singlespeeders, I wonder why?

I pressed on, the feeling of being in the lead again was a huge psychological boost and I was enjoying racing the geared bikes, especially the guy with the bright orange helmet who I must have passed, and been passed by, about a dozen times in the second half of the race and Steven Deas on the monster-cross bike. I think I was having an easier time of it than he was, I only had to contend with my heart going from 3,500bpm while spinning like crazy on the downhills down to about 6bpm as I ground up the climbs. He had rigid forks and had lost all feeling below the elbow, which meant that when he did get to a fireroad where he should have had the advantage he was in too much pain to be able to exploit it as much as he would have liked.
I recognised much of the Scottish part of the race, using the trails at Newcastleton which had played host to both the British and European 24hr Championships over the years. The feed stop and bag drop was at the half way point at the Rock UK venue, I refilled my bottles, grabbed a new tube and spare gas and swallowed a couple of Torq bars. Less than 2 minutes later I was underway again, pushing hard along familiar trails. I had no idea whether Jim was just out of sight around the last corner or was dropping back. I didn’t even know if he had got bike working again but I was having a huge amount of fun going as fast as I could. Why don’t I race singlespeeds more often?

Stuart Goodwin

We left the familiar tracks at the Border Stane and pressed on back towards England, me, Steven on the monster-cross bike and the guy in the bright orange helmet. About four miles from the border we were joined by, you’ve guessed it, Jim. The two of us pulled away from the others, despite their many gears, and the bridge was soon in sight.
A sharp right, foot down as I paused to dab my dibber on the timing device, then back on it and sharp left. This was my chance, the course went very, very steeply uphill. It was only a short climb and would have been doable in a bigger sprocket but looked impossible on an SS. I knew from the earlier very steep hill that I could run faster than him.

I leapt off and went for it, jumping back on at the top and sprinting like crazy. There was 18 miles to go and I was not going to let him beat me, this race was mine for the taking and I was going to have it if it killed me.
I kept the Scooby-Doo impressions up for as long as I could but it does take it’s toll eventually, and I had slowed a little by the time we approached the third and final feed stop. The track climbed uphill and then doubled back on itself, from where I could see Jim less than 100 yards behind me. He looked like he was really trying too. Was this good, did it mean this was as fast as he could go? Was this bad news, did it mean he was going to give it everything he had to attempt to catch me and take the victory? I suspected the latter…

Round the corner and dib at the final timing chip, the marshal there saying “food and water to the right, course to the left”. I desperately needed another bottle refill but didn’t want to waste any time. I headed left and up the hill.
One of the many views which I didn't have time to stop and admire.

Rounding the corner at the top I could see someone down at the bottom, pedalling hard, they were definitely in a dark top but that was as much as could tell from that distance. Was it Jim? Had he stopped for food or was he chasing me?

Sprinting on a singlespeed isn’t easy, or at least going rapidly on one isn’t. With my legs going like crazy I was going as quickly as I could, trying not to look over my shoulder too much but finding it hard not to. I was flat out, passing more riders on geared bikes. We were nearly there, the last 10 miles, I was not going to lose this so close to the end.
The last few miles were huge fun but couldn’t come soon enough. The course was twisty and the trees were dense, I had no idea if Jim was 50 yards or 3 miles behind me so I had no option but to keep pushing, pushing, pushing.

From the final singletrack section I could see the castle below me. Plunging down through the trees there was still no sign of Jim, I was going to do this, I was going to win.
Out of the woods, the finish line in sight, still sprinting, across the line and dib my timing chip, I had done it!

The marshal there handed me a bottle of beer. “Well done mate, good effort. Second singlespeed.”
Hang on a wee moment…

“Second singlespeed, first finished ages ago.”

Jim was the next person across the line, just under four minutes later with David the next singlespeeder, six places and nine minutes behind him.
What must have happened was that Saul Muldoon had sneaked passed me unobserved at some point and disappeared off into the distance, winning the singlespeed category and finishing an impressive 16th overall. I was second, in 41st overall, one place ahead of Jim in both results. I had also just failed to beat the 6hr mark, 6hr00mins33secs.

Still, at least I would get my moment of glory on the podium. I had missed this the last time I had raced at Keilder, I had finished third in the British Endurance Series but they had changed the time of the podiums without telling anyone and I was enjoying a lovely hot shower as they were giving out the trophies. This time I was paying attention, I had a long drive ahead of me but I sat around for four hours, tinkering with my bike and having a chat, listening to Stuart’s tales from the Transcontinental and watching the others, who were staying over to go riding the following day, drink their beers.
Eventually 6:30 came and we all headed up to the castle for the podiums. Tom Wragg, Eddie Addis and Ed Wolstenholme took the top spots in the elite men with Helen Jackson, Sally Ozanne and Hannah Sinclair making up the girl’s podium, Jon Roberts and Dave Hayward taking the wins in their age-groups.

They then called up the winners of the singlespeed, monster-cross and fat-bike categories and that was that.

Still no podium for me then. No-one expects a big prize at an MTB race but a round of applause and maybe a little trophy would have been nice. Oh well, time to head home.
I had a bit of a chat with Jon as I was leaving, it had been an impressive ride from him to beat the 5hrs. It was also nice to find out that someone actually reads these things I write, cheers Jon.

This was supposed to be the picture of Saul, Jim and I on the podium
but obviously that didn't happen, so here's one of Gordon in a cupboard.

Big thank-yous to the usual people, XCRacer/Scimitar,Torq and Mt Zoom. The Exposure lights weren’t needed at this one but their time will come, it’s Relentless next for me.

The pictures are all, apart from the one of Gordon, by Ian Harvey-Read of The Chronicles of Gnarlia, who’s claim to fame is that he was 177th and the last finisher of the 800+ starters at the infamous 2011 event, no shame in that, it was a huge effort just to survive it.

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