Erlestoke 6 hour (Race Day) – 26th May

6 hour riders chill out in the Red Bull tent while the 12 hour race continues

Race day started bright and early with the sun rapidly turning the tents into ovens. By 7:30 GT/AQR HQ was up and having breakfast. James from A Quick Release (www.aquickrelease.com) had brought their event shelter and that was soon put up as sanctuary from the ever more scorching sun. It was becoming very clear that hydration and sunblock were going to be critical during the race. While standing and admiring our handiwork with the event shelter, Steve Day walked up. It had been him with the creaky caravan last night. He’d pitched it further down the start final straight and decided to leave it there as moving it would be a load of hassle, especially in the heat.

Registration opened at 8 and soon the number boards were on the bikes and Smitty and James were heading off to ride the lap before it got too hot. Pretty soon AndyWho and AmeriKev turned up and we had the full compliment of GTers who’d be racing. Smitty and James came back from their “sighting” lap, with Smitty declaring that he liked the course. Soon a few other AQR riders who’d be using the GT/AQR HQ as their pits turned up and everybody set about arranging their own little bit of space. Twice we had sudden gusts of wing attempt to flatten the event shelter, and we ended up using a workstand to stop it happening again.

All too soon it was the riders briefing in the event arena, which contained the usual stuff. We arrived late so missed the first part, so there was a bit of confusion on if they would be staggering the 6 and 12 together as last year. Immediately the briefing was over riders started lining up at the start, the 6 hour riders and the 12. That answered the staggered start question!

I lined up with Amerikev at the start, kind of mid pack. Quite where to position yourself for a start, is always a tough call. Too far towards the front and you end up with riders streaming past, which I find a real slog mentally. Too far back and it can be a real problem getting past the slower riders. As we waited Steve Day came past us, heading up to the front. I wasn’t sure where AndyWho was (turned out he’d got a puncture, and had to rush back to GT HQ) and James who was doing the first stint for the pairs team had already headed to the front of the field. Now a long 10 minute wait before the start….in the sun……cooking……

The race hadn’t started and I could feel the sweat running down my forehead, “5 minutes” came the shout from the starter. Bloody hell, I’d already drank a quarter of the contents of my drinks bottle. “1 minute”….. then “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”. Slowly we edged forward, then we were off. A lap around the event arena then off onto the course proper. The choice of start position was about right, I was marginally faster than those around me, allowing me to pick them off one by one as my legs got warmed up and I got into a decent rhythm.

Every section of twisty wooded riding has a decent section after that allows overtaking, so there wasn’t many times when I was stuck behind anyone. The one section that I hated on my lap the previous day was worse than I was expecting, as not only was it a bit of a slog terrain wise, ‘The field of doom’ was also in direct sunlight with no breeze. Even at just after midday you could feel the heat reflecting back of the light chalky soil. Do you take it easy and put up with the heat, or attempt to get over it as quick as possible. I opted for the latter, but on the subsequent road climb up ‘Primrose Hill’ I was dripping with sweat.

Some nice ‘bomb hole’ were waiting at the top of the climb, then another open section that caught the breeze, a headwind, probably the only headwind I’ve ever liked…. It was so cooling! Now into some more woods, a bit of climbing but generally the course now headed back down to the event arena. Some of my favorite sections of the course lay in this section, tight, twisty, slightly downhill, perfect for the Mukluk, the extra tyre width giving massive amounts of grip. The front was allowing me to brake so late into corners, and the more front brake I gave it, the more the 6psi in the front tyre compressed and the bigger the contact patch became. It was stunning, I couldn’t believe how hard I could brake! My bottle ran out way before my front end grip did. Soon I popped out at the end of the last wooded section, now just a short concrete section and I’d cross the line at the end of the first lap.

Lap 1 – 00:43:46

I was feeling good, so decided to carry onto lap 2 without stopping. With a lap time of under 45 mins I worked out 7 laps would be possible. Not stopping was probably not the best move as pretty soon into the lap I grabbed my water bottle, had one gulp and it was empty…. Bollocks! I’d still got the field of doom to ride. I decided to try and get over it ASAP again, but this time with no water to drink on Primrose Hill I struggled like hell up the tarmac. The rest of the lap went OK but I was starting to seriously dehydrate. I’d have to stop this time!

Lap 2 – 00:47:14 (no stop)

I allowed myself five minutes at the stop, refilled the drinks bottle, and downed over a litre of water. Heading out again the difference between sitting in the shade and out in bright sunlight was amazing. I’d hardly got out of sight of the arena and I was getting sweat running into my eyes. This would be a constant issue from now on. Once again I rode the field of doom fast, but it really did take it out of me. As soon as you emerged from the woods the heat hit you like opening an oven door. I couldn’t do that again I decided, next time I’d try the nice and steady approach.

Lap 3 – 00:51:48 (-5 mins stop = 46)

The next stop was longer, around 10 minutes. I grabbed some cake as well as the downing a litre of water. My Camelbak was really becoming a pain, it’d soaked up loads of sweat so had increased in weight and I was beginning to get a sore back. I decided to ditch it. Smitty who was waiting for James suggested putting a spare tube in my pocket… have you seen the size of fat bike tube! I decided against it, working on the plan that if I got a flat then I’d be out of the race. The slow approach to the field of doom really didn’t seem to make much difference, I was shot by now and really starting to feel the effects of the heat, plus Steve Day had passed me in the woods prior to the field and by the time I emerged he was miles away. Several times I had the negative voice in my head suggesting I pack in and call it a day. No way did I intend to do that, I would ride to the end!

Lap 4 – 01:01:34 (-10 mins stop = 51)

Before heading out this lap I went for a walk into the event arena with Andy and Kev. They’d completed three laps and were just going to do one more. Halfway round the previous lap I’d worked out that in theory I could still just manage 7 laps, but in reality, with my lap times coming down the chances of doing 3 more were slim. And the thought of almost killing myself and finishing the last lap after the 6pm cutoff (and it not counting) didn’t appeal. I’d fashioned a buff so that it protected the back of my neck from the sun, it may have worked I didn’t feel the effects of the sun so bad, but with tired legs and really backing off the pace, it may have been that. Lap five would be a lap of just spinning the pedals and surviving.

Lap 5 – 01:19:14 (-20 mins stop – 59min)

Getting back to the pits, I gained a bit of energy, only one more to do. With over an hour to complete it I didn’t rush too much till Smitty who was waiting to do their final ‘victory’ lap pointed out that depending on James’s lap he’d probably lap me at just over half way round the lap…. Red rag to a bull and all that….. I was off, I’d put everything I had into this lap, if he did catch me I’d make sure it was as late in the lap as possible. The first half of the lap is a bit of a blur really, I was pushing my tired legs as hard as I could. Getting to Primrose Hill I worked out that I could climb faster by getting off and pushing. While pushing I was using some different muscles, and resting the cycling ones… that was the theory anyway. I drank the contents of my drinks bottle, there would be no slowing down to do that from this point on.

All the way through the first piece of woodland on the way back to the arena I was looking back for Smitty, but nothing. Crossing the road at the bottom of Primrose Hill and dropping into the second set of woods from home I still hadn’t seen him, but then out of the corner of my eye I saw a light blue top that looked like a GT one… I slowed to look again, I shouted “is that you Smitty”… nothing. Looking back and now at a standstill I got a decent view of the mystery rider…. It was him! And I was just standing there! SHIT! PEDAL YOU IDIOT! As the trail snaked around the woods it was hard to tell how fast he was catching me.

I burst out out of the woods and into the bright sunshine, just a 100m dash across a field and into the last wooded section. I looked back just before I got to them, he was just appearing out of the last ones. As I dropped into the last wooded section I’d drifted off line as I’d too busy looking back, the difference between sunlight and shadow blinded me for a second. I almost hit a tree but managed to slow the bike down enough to make the corner. All the bikes momentum was gone, now, on a slightly up section I had to get it moving again. Aggghhhhh!!! Pedal!!

The track snaked through the woods, I kept seeing him out of the corner of my eye…. Then I didn’t see him for what seemed like ages, but was probably only seconds. Has he binned it?….. Should I slow to help him?…….. Shit! No! He’s right behind me! I managed to dig deep and keep him there till we left the woods, but by that point my legs were gone. “Go on Smitty, take it home mate!” as he powered towards the finish and first place. I pretty much rolled it down the concrete road to the last corner then got up on the pedals and fired the Muk at the finish line….. fat wheels can race!

Lap 6 – 01:03:02 (-15 mins stop – 48min)

A superb race on one of the best courses I’ve ridden on.

Back next year for sure….. on the Muk?….. Dunno yet

Finish Time – 05:48:55  (Ride Time – 04:58:27) Finishing position – 47 out of 77

Ride – #88     Bike – ’12 Salsa Mukluk

Miles – 39.1     Total 2012 miles – 1854.4

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