Sunday, 25 September 2011

Un-Racing: The SDW 80mile MaXx Exposure: Disasters & Smiles

I love long rides along the South Downs Way ridge, so the annual Trailbreak MaXx Exposure event is always a highlight in my event calendar. After two punctures and a second place last year, crashing two days before it two years ago resulting in not making the start line and two punctures plus snapped and then twisted chain three years ago and a third place, I was determined for a clean run through the night this time and a solid ride. This was, very much, not how the evening would pan out!

The evening started well, with some friendly chat on the coach to the start, when we arrived the wind was low and it was looking like it would be a calm, warm evening. A stark contract to last year's headwind. The off came around quickly, chips were dibbed and we were away. I got away first and, for the first mile led out the race with James D'Arcy of South Downs Bikes (a previous winner of the event) stuck firmly on my wheel with Charlie Eustace and Wiggle's James Braid a few metres back in 3rd and 4th. This wouldn't carrry on for long when signs for a different event saw James & I stray off course and down a short hill. A wrong turn after barely a mile!
Moments before the start: Lots of nervous riders as bikes are unloaded from the back of the transport lorry
I got back to the course and pushed through the riders that had swarmed past and onto James' wheel as we closed down Charlie, now a few metres clear. We were about to join him when, disaster: phut-phut-phut..... puncture. I jumped off to find a big hole in the sidewall. I'd lost concentration on the trail in my panic to get back to the front and must have clipped a flint. What a stupid mistake. The hole was big enough that it wouldn't heal with the latex in the tyre so I gave up before wasting nay more time and out came the repair kit and I watched as almost every other rider rode past while I put a plug in it and re-inflated my tyre, cursing the very small, weight saving, pump that I'd opted to put on my bike for the evening.

Head down, I set off on the chase again, trying to politely work my way through the field through the narrow climb out of Jevington before I hit the openness of the ridge and had all the width in the world to make up places.

I'd calmed down by now and slowly found my rythmn. As I climbed out of Alfriston the sun was setting and I gradually began to enjoy the ride again. Then, just before the top of the climb, the rear tyre went soft. No matter. Enjoying the evening I located the hole and was happy that air was no longer coming out, the tubeless had worked and I topped the air up and set off. A false dawn, 5minutes later I was repeating the process, reassuring myself that the latex must have healed by now before setting off along the ridge and into sunset determined to catch the leaders, with a long string of riders strung out into the oncoming darkness, red and white lights twinkling, a truly wonderful sight.

At the top of Firle Bostal I got another puncture. Drat and double drat. This was again too large to heal and this time too large to plug. I watched some riders go past me for the 4th time as I got my pump out and popped an innertube into my wheel before setting off, trying not to panic. I caught Lydia Gould of Torq and stopped to exchange a few words. Lydia has a great outlook on riding and racing and I set off, consoled, resolved to remain calm.
After all this kerfuffle, I reached the first feed point in what would turn out to be a lowly 18th place, some 25minutes down on the leaders (well, 25mins down on my expected ETA!). A few local faces said a cheery hello and I set off.

Then the cleat came off my left shoe. My equipment was trying to tell me something. I tightened it up as best I could, after spending what seemed like an eternity cleaning out the bolts, and set off, head up, determined to enjoy the rest of me ride which was, for me, no longer a race. There was no way I could catch the lead group now. Getting a puncture every few hours and then catching the group up is one thing, binning half an hour in the first 90mins is another thing all together.

I rolled past an occasional rider as the field was now spread along the length of the Downs, stopping to exchange a few cheery and mutually supportive words and rolled into the Quest Adventure feed station at the top of Truliegh Hill. The guys recognised me and got me in and out super fast and provided some great, very vocal, cheering and support, I felt momentarily like an F1 driver in the pits.
Quest always provide an excellent check point
The next hour or so passed calmly and in solitude before I slowly began to home in on the next set of lights once I'd passed Chanctonbury. I made it to the Storrington checkpoint to find my friend, Rob Leathley, standing without his usual ride/race partner, Rich Penning. Rob was having one of those days when his legs had forgotten to show up to race, so I resolved to ride the rest of the event with him to make sure both enjoyed the remainder of the evening. I stopped for a flapjack and we were about to set off when I noticed one of the guys from South Downs Bikes, who were manning the stop, had a Specialized 29er Epic Carbon and I had to have a peek. Then they offered me a burger. I couldn't say no After far too long I set off, full and content, in pursuit of Rob. Once I'd caught him we rode on at a steady pace, chatting and carefully picking our lines to be sure of avoiding any punctures.
South Downs Bikes providing BBQ burgers and, consequently, fuelling many happy smiles at halfway

The final large climbs of the night were dispatched amid conversation of bike parts and next year's plans. I was having a ball. The weather was warm I was riding thought the night on some of my favourite trails and someone had turned up in the middle of the night to BBQ me a burger. Fantastic!

We eventually rolled into the final feed station to find Charlie sat, enjoying his second cup of coffee. His evening had not gone to script either so, once we'd all enjoyed some coffee and a blueberry muffin, we rolled out into the night again, now a bunch of three. We had the trails to ourselves now and nattered through the last miles, making plans for winter riding and next year's racing. It was good to catch up with Charlie who has been living all over Europe for a while but has now relocated back to Brighton. Another fast rider to hit the trails with in town.

Imagine our surprise, when we fnally rolled into QECP, to find we'd crossed the line in 6th place! We were well down on James D'Arcy who had won in a time well under 7hrs.

In the end I didn't have the evening I had expected, but I had a fantastic long ride out with a couple of great friends on an amazing night. Once again the MaXx Exposure had proved to be a fantastic night out on the South Downs and I'm definitely pinning it into the calendar for 2012 with a three line whip. See you there!

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