Sometimes Racing In The Rain Is Fun

You can tell who isn’t local. Waiting near the start line in Keilder Castle for the second running of the Keilder 101 there were a number of people wearing midge nets. Honestly, if you think that’s a lot of midges you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, as our American friends would say. Do they have midges in America? I know the Norwegians have them but they would of course say Du har ikke sett noe ennå!

The best way to avoid a midge is to ride away from it, they really struggle with a moving target. Luckily we had 101km of racing ahead of us, perfect for evading them.

Last year I had taken second place in the Singlespeeds, a race within a race, which was a little disappointing as I thought I had won and was quite excited about that until someone pointed out that Saul Muldoon had already finished. This did however earn me a place on the front row of the start line for this year’s race. The start itself was neutralised behind a truck for a couple of miles and, since no overtaking was allowed there, I was able to keep up with the fast boys for a while - last year’s overall winner Tom Wragg, European 24hr Champion Matt Jones and Ritchie Rothwell who had just ridden from Newcastle to Skye. Skye, nå det er mye mygg!

The calm before the storm

Once the race proper began the quick riders on their geared bikes shot passed me and disappeared off into the distance, much the same as last year really. My little legs were spinning like crazy but I was topping out at about 18mph and just couldn’t match them.

I settled in with the chasing pack, enjoying the riding as the rain eased up. Despite the overnight rain the trails were in pretty good shape, I had been dreading a repeat of the infamous 100 miles race of 2011, the only DNF I have ever had, but the route this time appeared to have been much more carefully chosen. Despite all the water around it wasn’t the bike killer it had been previously.

About 7 miles into the race Matt Livesey came passed me, which was annoying as he was also on a singlespeed and this meant that he had now taken the lead from me. He was followed a very short time later by Dave Glover, not only a singlespeeder but also on a MonsterCross bike, two niches in one for him.

Dave proved fairly simple to get back passed. About ten minutes later at the bottom of a lovely swoopy, rocky descent I saw a group of four or five riders just setting off again. It turns out that they had stopped to pick someone up - Dave’s rigid forks and tiny tyres had left him at the mercy of Lady Luck and he had performed a frontal dismount and then applied his helmet-brake. He looked a little dazed but was otherwise unhurt so we left him to it.

Perfect for a singlespeed...

The other riders seem to be quite a friendly bunch at Keilder, I don’t know why they should be more chatty here than elsewhere but they are and it’s quite nice. I was struggling a wee bit in the first half of the race and it was nice to have people to talk to. I had been riding with the two leading ladies for quite a while, Marie Meldrum (who eventually finished third, but still won her age-group, after puncturing) and Helen Jackson (who took the win just ahead of Sally Hall), but lost them when I got too hot and stopped to faff with my jacket. Actually, I had to stop and faff with it twice, once to take it off and once to run back and fetch it when it bounced out of my pocket. I could explain why it did that but it’s not terribly interesting, it’s all to do with how I locked the van earlier in the morning and a spoke key.

I was then joined by Ritchie Scott, who was also quite chatty. He told me a little about his trip to the 24hr World Champs in Weaverville and seemed impressed that I was a riding a singlespeed. Actually, a lot of people seemed impressed with the singlespeed. I don’t know why, I guess it’s just a question of perceptions. Us singlespeeders really aren’t the superhumans we seem to be viewed as (apart from Brett Belchambers and Steve Day obviously but they are in a different league to me) it really isn’t as bad as you think. There you go, “not as bad as you think”, that’s a ringing endorsement. I would encourage everyone to try one, they really are a lot of fun.  I had a lot of people asking me after the race how my knees were, they were fine, no problems there at all, although my case of ‘Singlespeed-hand’ seemed to have spread up both lower arms to my elbows…

Slippery when wet

Anyway, Ritchie and I crossed the border together having survived the incredibly slippery boardwalk section intact and headed off towards Newcastleton. I was familiar with a lot of this part of the route from when it used to host the UK and European 24hr championships. They guys from Rock UK had set up the second feed stop there which also included the bag drop, to which I had sent a supply of Torq bars and gels and a dry base layer and pair of gloves. The latter weren’t actually required, the former were crammed into my pocket while the marshal refilled my bottle and I swallowed a banana.

As we left the feed stop I could see that the trailfairies at Newcastleton have been busy, this part of the trail was all new and there were many others branching off from the lines were taking, I will have to come back and explore properly on day. We rejoined the 24hr route, up the old logging road, over the river, up the hill and along the fireroad to the lovely singletrack section by the Trail-Head, winding our way down through the trees to the Hidden Valley. Three hours into the race I was finally up to speed and starting to pass people, it always takes me a while to get warmed up, and this was one of those races where I just felt better and better as I went along, I felt quicker after 3hrs than I did at the start!

Having left Ritchey behind at the feed stop I was without anyone to chat to for quite a while, just a brief exchange as I passed people, but I got company again as we crossed the border and headed back into England. It’s always fun racing across a border, I don’t know why but it just feels special. A bit like riding through the night until dawn but a little easier to do… I had a brief chat with Jim, the guy I had been racing last year. He had wimped out of riding a singlespeed this year and was on a half-fat geared hardtail. Actually, that only had gears at the back, there was a single ring at the front; half-fat, half geared, best to work up to these things gradually.

The only part which wasn't rideable on a singlespeed
Looks a like most of the geared riders struggled too...

The long, slightly downhill fireroad section was the only place where I felt that a singlespeed was a bit of a liability, I was spinning like crazy but not really making much progress and was losing a lot of the places I had just won back. I wasn’t losing as many as I expected to though, the current fashion for single rings seemed to be limiting a few of the geared riders’ top speeds as well. 34/10 may well be quicker than the 32/17 I was using but it’s no match for a good old fashioned 3x9 with 44/11. Still, that’s progress for you.

We eventually cleared the fireroads and returned to the lovely undulating singletrack where the singlespeed felt surprisingly at home. I was really enjoying myself, the course was really enjoyable to ride and in the latter stages of the race I was overtaking people again, which is always fun.

I was having so much fun in fact that I didn’t even realise that the race was nearly finished. I was chasing two riders down through a lovely set of switchbacks, then out of the trees onto a fireroad, sprinting like crazy as I tried to keep up. There was a marshal with a timing device ahead of us, we all barrelled up to him, dibbed as quickly as we could and shot off again as the other marshal leapt in front of us, this is the finish, race over.

This year I knew that I was second in the singlespeeds, this wasn’t a surprise like it was last year when I thought I had won until I was told otherwise. I had however gone seven minutes faster than last time despite the weather. That’s odd in itself, I am normally terrible in the rain, I generally don’t enjoy it and struggle to steer on wet roots and end up crashing into trees as a result but this race had been really good. The course was great, and the fact that it was one very big lap meant that it didn’t have the volume of traffic passing over it to chew it all up so it remained pretty weather-proof throughout

I headed back up to the Castle to check in, where I swapped my timing chip for food and drink, which was very welcome. I also, finally, got to stand on the podium here. In 2012 I had finished third in the British Endurance Series, of which the Keilder 100 race was the last, but was in the shower when they did podiums and last year it was only the winner of the singlespeeds who go to stand on it. It is surprisingly satisfying for such a small block of wood.
Matt Liversy, singlespeed winner on the top step, Rob Haworth,
Fatbike winner on the second and me on the third
Tom Wragg had retained his title, ahead of Adam Nolan and Ed Shoot with Matt Jones in fourth. Mat Liveseyhad won the singlespeeds, in 12th overall with me second and 23rd overall. Robert Haworth took the win in the fatbike class, and won… a fatbike. Very nice of Genesis to be giving them away, it looks a lot of fun (it was actually a spot-prize but just by sheer coincidence ended up going to someone who already had one!)

And finally, being a bike race, I couldn’t leave without having a minor van incident. It pales into insignificance compared to the fuel pump which died in northern France on the way back from the European 24hr earlier this year. I had managed to get stuck in the campsite at both the 2011 and 2012 races, in exactly the same spot, so this year I parked elsewhere. This didn’t help and I got the van stuck yet again. I had to be rescued by a very helpful chap called Dave who had a lot of hair and a Volvo which wasn’t stuck.

I would like to say a huge thank-you to Torq, Mt Zoom and Exposure Lights. Yes, I know it wasn't dark during the race but when you arrive at the venue well after dark and have to do all your faffing in the pitch black a Verso head torch is rather useful.

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