So, this was it, my first race as a sponsored rider. I was at Mountain Mayhem, the biggest race in UK endurance racing, and riding for Leisure Lakes. This was a big deal and I was about to meet the guy who had put the team together for the first time. I needn’t have been worried. Matt, the engine behind the team and Dave, his friend and fourth team rider who would join Gavin and I for the weekend, were both as enthusiastic and friendly as they were fast. Matt and Dave were also looking to Gavin and I to lead the weekend’s logistics using our previous endurance racing experience. The weekend turned out to be a complete blast, a few tricky moments to overcome, were overcome and we were more than happy with our first showing. I think I’m going to enjoy “being a sponsored rider”, I loved the added pressure and excitement it brought. It made the satisfaction of finishing and success even greater.
The plan for the weekend was down to Gavin and I. We split into two pairs, the aim being to ride single laps: 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4- etc. until the early hours then pair up; 1-2-1-2-3-4-3-4 to allow each pair to get some sleep, before returning to 1-2-3-4 for the final push through sunrise to the finish. Simple.
First of all though, we had to do our team photoshoot! First up were the Gravity Enduro team, these guys had been racing around the UK and Europe at gravity endure for Leisure lakes pretty successfully for a few years so fancied their chances against us newcomers. Add in three more teams put together by the satellite stores and it was very much game on. We didn’t just have to place well, we needed to make sure we beat the other teams, and beat them convincingly, to earn our billing, this was altogether more serious. The first rule of any form of competition is “beat your team mate”!
Looking "natural" for the camera, erm.... more practice required
Matt, "The Boss" Chester
Gavin, trying not to look upset at being told to pose with my bike as it looks faster than his
Dave, last but certainly not least with that hair
The wrong tyres
The race start came around all too soon and Gavin was up first, as the only person who was willing to admit that he ran for fun, then it was me, so we could show Dave and Matt the ropes. We stuck to our plan and quickly set ourselves up in the top 5, but with a handful of minutes covering first through to tenth, the pressure was definitely on. I made my first mistake on lap 1, listening to someone else’s advice and popping narrow mud tyres on my bike for “the massive unrideable section through the woods” which turned out to be about 30m long a and resulted in me being shaken to pieces for the rest of the 8 mile lap with skinny tyres pumped up hard. Race tyres re-fitted, my race continued at both a faster and much more comfortable pace.
The pressure was also on from our pit neighbours, the Gravity Endurance team who, despite being left behind at the start had dug deep and were keeping the pressure on, also lurking around the top ten, a few places below us. They had some speed, and definitely some bike handling skills, but how long would they last. They claimed the full race, we begged to differ, the banter was healthy but definitely upped the ante; this was fun.
Night came and Gavin and I did our double stint and handed over to Matt and Dave to get a couple of hours of much needed rest. Dave and Matt were proving to be a fiercely competitive as Gavin and I so we left them to it. When we got up to go again, I looked at the scoreboard, we’d dropped to 7th. Disaster! What had happened?
Dave and Matt, discussing the season's chic way to wear the baton perhaps?
I caught up with Dave, on his way back from his lap and realised that, no, we weren’t 7th, the other Leisure Lakes team were 7th, still, and that we had dropped off the leaderboard altogether. Bugger. Dave explained that they’d missed a changeover and lost a bunch of time while Matt waited in transition. Then, deciding too much time was lost already, headed out for a second lap tired and without food or drink and consequently lost yet more time and when he got back Dave then had to do a double lap to compensate. We were now well behind, time to dig deep. Gavin and I gave it all the beans, there was no way we’d let the others beat us.
Dave: Making sure we looked good on our way to the finish
As dawn came we reappeared in the top 10.The Enduro boys were now starting to lag and we passed them as we attacked the race. Then it was my turn to go out, we were now just a couple of minutes down on lapping the Enduro boys, but they switched their order to put their strongest rider out ahead of me to try and prevent us gaining the bragging rights. Suddenly, and despite their being a few hours left, this was a 1-lap race!
Hunting down the others
I used all my maturity and race experience to decide, in a split second that the only sensible plan was to go full throttle until I caught him and then see what I had left, hoping (probably against all common sense) that he’d be pacing the lap sensibly and not flying out the blocks like it was his last lap, to hold me off. Then, only 10mins into the lap, I could see him. But it was just one of the Cheltenham store guys, I paused to breathe briefly and exchange encouraging cheers before dropping the hammer once more in pursuit of my quarry. Ten seconds later I turned a corner and there he was.
I couldn't catch him by the top of the climb, and entered the singletrack still down on him, but I had 29er wheels on my Superfly, vs. the 26” nonsense on his Santa Cruz. The bike flew and, halfway through the section I caught him. He hadn't seen me and seemed unaware of my presence. I stopped a few metres back to catch my breath and, when I’d done so, lunged on the pedals and with an “on your right” dived underneath him as fast as I could to prevent him grabbing my back wheel. I received a couple of choice words about my parentage as I went past and buried my head, determined to get a gap, I emerged from the trees a few metres up and now had a couple of hundred metres before the biggest descent on the lap to try and hold him off. I've never descended as fast! I pedalled down the hill putting absolute trust in the bike, it was a propped do or die moment. A significant climb awaited me after this and shortly afterwards a second, and I was confident of stretching any lead there, but I just had to stay ahead. I dared to look back as I started the climb. I needn't have worried, my Kamikaze tactics had paid off, he was almost out of sight. Woo-Hoo!
I got back from the lap to a small Leisure Lakes crowd and declared I’d passed him, choosing to ignore the fact I still had at least one more lap to do, but appeared to have jelly for legs.
Matt, working hard for every second from start to finish
Tired, but happy, a good day's work
The other guys stepped up and, seeing them go for it and pump in the lap times was enough for me to keep it going until the end. We managed to haul our way back to 5th place in the end and were pretty chuffed with the whole affair, none of us had come in the top 20 at Mayhem before. We'd given everything out on the course and it showed, we were tired and delighted in equal measure. I think I'm going to enjoy racing with these guys :-)