The return of Mountain Mayhem 24 was well received in the mountain biking world. One of the more accessible gigs with a preference for warm weather, family friendly approach and first class organisation it’s guaranteed to attract a crowd. Being “down south” it also becomes an easy travels for a large population base. All the signs were good and it didn’t take long for my partner Georgina Hinton-Lewis and myself to get entered as a mixed pair.
Preparation was OK leading up to the event. We’d finished 3rd in the mixed pairs at the Lewis Burn 8 which was a good shake-down for what to expect but ultimately the pace was just too fast for us to compete. Georgina’s background is as a very good ultra runner so the engine is a strong diesel with plenty of potential for longer duration events. Could this be converted to mountain biking? Unfortunately in the months leading up to the event she had suffered badly with a hairline fracture of the pelvis but with weeks to spare her recovery looked to be on the up and was back running with speed.
For myself I had the privilege of riding with Keith Forsyth 2 weeks prior to Mayhem where we took the win for male pairs at the Osprey 12. In the time between that and Mayhem my body took a dip with low energy levels and I never managed to turn a wheel. On the Friday of our departure to head to Mayhem the corner had been turned and the body seemed ready to take on the challenge of a big event.
Due to some commitments we had a late start to set off and with a remarkable magnetism for bad luck we suffered delay after delay and ended up arriving at the closed gates of the event at nearly 2am. Luckily we bumped in to some late night marshals who let us on the field via a different gate and soon we had rocked up, found a place and decided the best strategy was to just get some sleep in whilst we could.
My partner for the weekend is an annoyingly early riser. One of those people who is impossibly positive when it takes me a couple of hours just to drag my mind out of its sleep induced slumber. Thoughts turned to fuel with some good eating going in to prepare the body for later exertions. No coffees this early, save them for later. Bikes were checked over to make sure tyre pressures were fine, gears were changing and suitable spares were to hand. I noticed some issues with my bottom bracket and headset but it was too late to worry about it now.
The event site looked amazing. Big numbers were crammed in to the field but it was all laid out so that corridors were made for easy access in and out. Vendors lined either side of the main tracked area with loads of food options available. The central transition area was perfectly laid out with metal fencing lining the way and riders would have to go down one side before turning 180 degrees and getting over the start/finish line to complete another lap. A commentator was updating everyone through a great PA system about event tit bits.
It’s mid morning and we pick up our race numbers which seem like a final affirmation that this is all very real. A wander around and we see some familiar faces: a fellow teacher for Georgina, JMC members Andrew and Sally Burgess, Ticker, Chris Rudd, Phil and Jaqui Simcock plus a host of others. Ben Soanes saved the day with my van by having exactly the right socket set needed to fix my problem. Rothwell was down with his family and looked a good bet to be at the sharp end of the male pairs category.
It wasn’t clear online just how many mixed pairs we were up against so once the timing link was made live we could see that there were 9 pairs of us racing. Looking down the list only Bella Fasta with Julie Taylor-Food and Ian Godber looked familiar. They were fast and consitent and showed what the standard of rider would be like at this event. To get something out of this race it was going to take some effort.
The weather had been pretty miserable for weeks. Following a dry summer the heavens had opened for weeks and the forecast was not good. Then out of nowhere comes a sun kissed Saturday just in time for the race start. The thermometer sat above 20 degrees come race start at midday and personally I was dreading riding for so long if the temperature was going to be so high. Electrolytes were pre loaded and prepped for later as well.
The start of the race consists of a pretty long run to spread the field out. The faster riders all set off like maniacs and those wanting to take it easy walked slowly out of the blocks. Riders then picked up their bikes, walked them to the start line and set off. Our plan was to take it easy and be consistent with an eye on the long term rather than mixing it early doors. What’s that story about best laid plans?
Georgina stuck to the plan and put in 2 steady laps that were within seconds of each other. In fact every one of her 13 laps were within a few minutes of each other and highlights just how well judged she is when metering out effort. Her partner on the other hand, erm, threw the plan out of the window and blitz off way too quick. All very predictable! The laps were relatively short so we opted for doing 2 laps each before switching.
With no one supporting us we had to fix our own bikes, lube the chain, make all our own food etc. We had some great fuel from Mountain Fuel with the jellies, sachets for drinks and the new bars. I’m a ceoliac and Georgina is vegan so it was great for us to share food suitable for both. Hot soup during the night was awesome and I finally reached for the coffee at around 2 or 3am. As Naomi Frieriech always says: leave caffeine as late as possible but once you’re on it, stay on it!
8 laps in and we’d been putting in some fast times and yet we set in 6th position. It crossed my mind that we couldn’t sustain this pace and so we might have to accept that we weren’t going to get near the sharp end. We’d discussed on the way down that our plan was to “just keep going” and look to make progress as darkness fell. Top rider Rich Rothwell, every the sage on these things, always says that the races are won in The Witching Hour. Can you keep going when everything is telling you to stop and rest.
Thus the plan was proving fruitful. The early fast pace of the people in front had caught up with them and for whatever reason they had taken a time out and we jumped to 3rd place at around 1am, 13 hours in to the event. At our next switch over we chatted over our plan, make hay whilst the sun shine and try and distance ourselves from anyone below before they get back on the track. Ahead of us the front 2 were locked in a battle for the lead and were consistently putting in faster times than us.
6am and both our energy levels were low. Our usual switchover conflab concluded that one more lap each and we’d probably be secure in 3rd place. We were both drained of energy but the overnight riding had done the damage on our opponents and our podium spot was secure. My last 3 laps were done on empty legs and I had regretted the early fast pace. Georgina similarly was running on low batteries so we retreated to the van to rest whilst checking the phone. If we needed to go out and do another lap we would have done it but it the end we had plenty of time in hand so showers and a change of clothes it was.
It was fantastic watching everyone finish on the final lap. Solo riders looked out on their feet. The usual fantastic pacing of strategist Tom Hodgkinson went out th window as he chased down the leader for half the race before pulling out. Chris Rudd once again banged out lap after lap and I did my last lap pretty much side by side with busted legs. He then did another 5 hours! Respect.
With the riding all done and dusted we could reflect on the course. Relatively short it involved a mix of grassy field edges linked up with walking trails or natural, muddy trails in the trees. It was hot and dry so the course ran perfectly. Bikes took a hammering with all the small rutty bumps. There were 3 bastard climbs (no other way of describing them) and from lap 3 onwards most sensible people decided to walk them each time. The hardcore riders managed to get up each time so hats off to them. It’s worth noting that a view shred by pretty much everyone is that this course would be an absolute nightmare if it rained.
We hung around for presentations and it was great to be on the podium. Fair play to the people in front of us. Ian and Julie were in good form but the lady from chrisruddcoaching was blowing everyone away lap after lap. Shibden CC cleaned up on some team categories and Team JMC had some riders take top spots also. With fantastic weather the weekend had been an undeniable success and it’s great to see another 24 hour gig on the circuit. This would make an excellent first 24 hour race as it’s far more accessible and achievable than a Chiller 24 or Puffer. Keep your eyes open for next year.
Final word goes to my riding partner Georgina. You have to spend a full weekend with someone at a race like this and I couldn’t have asked for an easier person to spend time with. She’s very determined, easy going and good company. After the race there were a few “never again” comments being made but by the time we had finished the long journey home there was already a possibility of another crack. Back to running in the short term though.
A great weekend all round with a great result. The third podium of the year and one more race to go. Relentless in October will be male pairs with David Gobby so it’ll be a massive effort to add to that haul. It won’t be for lack of trying though.