Kielder Chiller 24 2019
What is the Kielder Chiller 24? It’s race 1 of the Frontier XC Series and a tough winter 24 hour mountain bike race consisting of riders doing as many short circuit laps as they can within 24 hours. With the previous 2 years it’s fast gained a fierce reputation as one of the hardest 24 gigs on the circuit. A reputation almost exclusively gained due to the harsh weather. Kielder is a Dark Skies area that sits 200m above sea level and frankly has it’s own weather system as it straddles the Lake to the west, Borders to the north and Cheviots to the East. There is a good reason why they built a very large reservoir here! It’s in this secluded setting that hardy bikers gather to battle it out on hard wearing trails.
With another excellent Strathpuffer been and gone there were three weeks to go until the big weekend at Kielder. Preparations throughout the year had gone well with regular atkeholdermeetings to go over plans. The primary focus is nearly always on safety but incremental modifications are always made based on previous years to try and improve things. This would be the first year for live timing as the transition area shifted near The Bike Place. A huge achievement given the complete lack of comms in this remote area. The course was altered to reduce the amount of bike breaking gloopy sections. Solid tarmac parking areas were increased. Live music added going in to the night. This was combined with incredible ongoing support from Team Cycles, Chilli-Technology, Pedalling Squares and Steely Eyed Clothing who donated a huge amount of prizes for winners.
The big issue and hop topic of discussion every year is weather. Forecasts were checked and rechecked a week out with disbelief that it all looked rather pleasant. Then on the Wednesday before the race a yellow weather warning was issued as if some mtb God had ordained it necessary because the Chiller was coming soon. High winds and outraguously torrential rain made event setup very hard work and it’s amazing that the marquee stayed upright. The same can’t be said for the trees as a few came down on a new technical red section but it was an easy loop to remove. As an example of how heavy the rain was, on Friday morning there was 7.8mm in an hour and turned the river into a lake. Fingers were firmly crossed for the situation to die down as the hours went on.
New for 2019 was for participants to be able to set up the evening before the event and this had a huge uptake. Great to see so many familiar faces as they tentatively put up frames of marquees but left off the covers as the winds were too strong. There were two talks being held at the castle by Richard Rothwell and Richard Wilson about long distance rides they had completed last year. These were well attended and it was great to see so many like minded bikers listening intently or asking questions. Those not in the talk could probably be found in the local pub getting in some serious carb loading before the big day.
The winds picked up even further on Friday night and those staying on the course had to endure a serious buffeting. All the kit managed to stay in place and after a quick recce ride it was confirmed that all systems were good to go for the scheduled 11am start. Predictions were that winds would die down in the early afternoon but until then the riders would have to suck it up. Strong riders were here in the form of winter 24 hour royalty Keith Forsyth, local hitman Rich Rothwell, Nigel Smith, Amy Hickman, Donna Waring, Phil Glaze, Steven Deas and many more. It’s safe to say that to get on the top spot this year you’d need to earn it and leave it all out on the track.
Marshals in place, comms checked and after a quick safety briefing it was a short walk to the starting area. Nervous people checked water bottles, gears, brakes and clothing as the tense wait for the start lingered in the air. 11am and they’re off! Following a quad for 800m it was obvious a few riders were opting to start strongly. i-cycles and Fishface Cycles were stuck like glue with mixed pairs rider David Gobby following up close behind. Feeling their way around the course the pace was so fast it was barely believable and first back in to the tent was Fishface Cycles. In the solos Liam Glen banged out a stunning lap and Emily Greaves was closely followed by Megan Wilson and Sam Redgate for the women. The game was afoot.
2019 would see a significant change to the course. You’ve already read about one technical red section being removed due to fallen trees. There were two other changes. In previous years there has been a long out-and-back on cut-up forest tracks which tend to get rutty, muddy and are a large contribution to destroying bikes. This was replaced by the introduction of a black run that is traditionally reserved for enduro events. After multiple rides it was decided that a slightly mad middle section should be avoided and a chicken run was inserted. The rest was rollable but plenty challenging enough. Going fast would mean people would be airbourne for sure! The other change came at the end of the lap. A very little used skills lap created a tight and technical maze through the trees and took a lot of riders back to school to keep them on their toes.
Daylight hours were spent with riders getting to grips with the intricacies of the ride. Push here, be careful there, reserve energy here. 1300 feet of climbing per every 6.2 gruelling miles had everyone planning ahead on how to get through the long haul. The winds did indeed drop off and just before darkness fell there was a brief moment when the sun kissed Kielder and the riders saw the the sheer beauty of the rugged and remote landscape. They soaked in some rays before darkness enveloped all and the temperature plummeted back south below zero.
In the solos Liam Glen was surprising all by keeping favourite Nigel Smith at arms length and Emily Greaves eeked out a few minutes every lap. Fishface had the female pairs in the bag, David Gobby/Amy Hickman were on fire in the mixed pairs and Rich Rothwell/Stu Copperthwaite predictably took a stranglehold on the mens pairs top spot. Team JMC were making strong progress at the front of the female quads and with a timely introduction of blistering laps by Phil Simcock they had a substantial lead on the mixed quads as well. The biggest battle was heating up in the mens quads. i-cycles had only 3 men available and were being narrowly beaten by a very strong looking Fishface squad.
Fast forward to the early hours of the morning. The live music from Brassworks Cycles own Patrick Carr had been and gone, the music now turned down so as to not disturb nearby houses. Legs had been churning for 12 hours plus and the strain was beginning to show. Many seasoned riders call this the witching hour. Riders can break either physically or mentally. Some will go to bed to regain strength and return in the morning. Others have had strategies in their heads from the get-go.
Between the hours of 2am and 7am the big shifts were made. Take a look at Tom Hodgkinson for example, setting off at a steady pace but maintaining it throughout he’d finished his first lap down the ranking but now every lap he was moving up a spot. Eventually he hunted down Chris Rudd and claimed 2nd for himself behind Nigel Smith as Liam Glen had pulled out around midnight. Chris Rudd was on the edge of his physical abilities but hanging in to the podium places despite being completely self supported. In the female solos Megan kept up the pressure on Emily Greaves and neither blinked as the laps kept ticking over.
Battle Royale was well under way with the male quads. Having one person less was eventually beginning to strain the i-cycle power houses and slowly enough Fishface were eeking out a lead. Fishface had some exceptional riders with Phil Glaze in particular taking all 5 of the top fastest laps of anyone. When Steven Deas or Cowe clawed back 4 or 5 minutes it was then cancelled out by a blistring lap from one of the big Fishface hitters.
One story that nearly didn’t happen at the front epitomises 24 hour racing. Male pairs Keith Fawcett and Chris Craig were lying in 5th with Keith looking to have shot his load on the edge of falling in to a deep sleep. Motivation had fallen as the teams in front were steadily putting on laps to maintain the lead. Keith was then physically dragged out of his sleep and forced to go out. This happened twice and amazingly they moved up to 3rd place overall. It just goes to show that you never know what can happen if you just keep moving.
Between 7am and 8am the skies gradually became lighter and those lucky enough to be out on the course witnessed a dramatic sunrise with a fantastic inversion filling the valley below them. The natural body clock dragged itself out of its nocturnal slumber and spirits were raised as sunlight filled the skies. The constant use of trails had created a clear racing line and after so much practice people were starting to let rip on the down hill sections. A lot of the more keen riders were frequently getting things sideways in mid air.
By this time a lot of the top spots had been pretty much secured. Nigel Smith was a comfortable lap ahead and measured his efforts to keep Tom at arms length whilst third place Chris Rudd put everything he had into getting on to the podium. Fishface had gained enough of a lead on i-cycle to be confident but not worry free as one mechanical could turn the tables completely. No mechanicals blighted their race and they took the top spot for the newly made Ben Forsyth Trophy – a tribute to the son of Keith Forsyth who sadly lost his life last year. Team JMC dusted off some final laps but were never really troubled in the mixed quads. Meanwhile in the female category Emily Greaves just couldn’t ease off the pace as Megan kept up the pressure right to the end.
The race has a strict 24 hour cut off so any laps completed after this time don’t count. The likes of Richard Rothwell went out and smashed out two more high speed laps just for fun. Others were desperately needing the laps and took on the challenge to get back before the clock ran down. The most tightly contested spot was Chris Darroch and David Blair who finished with just 7 seconds between them, David taking the V40 category spot. It’s incredible that after 24 hours of hard racing a position can be decided by just a few seconds.
Final results were:
Female Quads: Team JMC
Mixed Quads – Team JMC
Male Quads – Fishface Cycles – Ben Forsyth Trophy
Female Pairs – Fishface Cycles
Mixed Pairs – David Gobby/ Amy Hickman
Male Pairs – Richard Rothwell/ Stu Copperthwaite
Female Solo – Emily Greaves
V40 Female – Emily Greaves
V60 Female – Andrea Pogson
Fat bike Female – Andrea Pogson
SS Female – Donna Waring
Fat bike male – Crispin Hoult
SS male – Richie Scott
Male Solo – Nigel Smith
V40 Male – David Blair
V50 Male – Richard Wilson
V60 Male – Ian Cooper
Fastest Male – Phil Glaze – Alex Maclennan Trophy
Fastest Female – Karen Price
With the racing done and dusted there was an hour to kill before presentations so everyone packed up and grabbed a quick bite to eat at the local cafe. Trophies and assorted goodies were dished out and it was delightful to see the pride on peoples faces for a job well done. Although there are always things to improve on the general feedback has been exceptionally positive. The new course was given a massive thumbs up with many comments mentioning “the best 24 hour course I’ve ever done” which is high praise indeed. It’s hard to overlook the relatively good weather as a massive contributing factor in all this.
That was it for another year. A fantastic and competitive race had been and gone and the pressure cooker of the event could now dissipate into the cool air of Kielder as people went home. The larger picture is what events such as these do for the local economy. The bike shop had one of its best days of trade as did the cafe, the local pub had plenty of riders in it, the fuel station was used, Spar shop for supplies, B&B’s were sold out in the area and on and on. The trails of Kielder have hopefully been highlighted as a destination in their own right and can gain some of the spotlight that shines so brightly on near neighbours Glentress and Innerliethen. Active tourism is to be applauded in all its forms. When all is done and dusted you can strip away the intricacies of the occasion and it come down to just one thing: the simple joy of riding your bike. Looking forward to next year already.