You know that when you get an email from our friend Steve saying ‘come and do this event with me, it’ll be excellent!’ to read carefully and take note, as it’s guaranteed to be a) painful b) an adventure c) right good fun. So when the email came in saying he’d entered a 4 man team into the Bristol Bikefest and would I be part of it, in a re-creation of our epic 2011 Mont Blanc team, how could I turn it down! Steve’s brother Dom was to join James, Steve and myself in the ‘Old Gits’ team – James and I keeping the average age vaguely respectable, in the 12 hour race at Ashton Court.
As it turned out, Steve broke James, a few days before the race, who injured his knee when they rode the South Downs Way in a day, which was a shame, but we managed to recruit Darren into the team at the last minute, who was happy to do some work, rather than sit in the sun supporting AJ, who was putting us all to shame by riding the 12 hours solo.
The adventure got well under way long before the riding started, the reliable British summer weather turning the camping field into a version of Le Somme, although we (I) enjoyed smugly using Steve’s Landrover to extricate several unfortunate souls and their cars from the slop, before hitting the beer and a wet and wild night under canvas.
So, after not much sleep (well for me anyway!) we woke up to a howling wind, but bright sunshine, and some tasty bacon and sausages for breakfast, broke camp and as I’d been selected to go first, I headed down to the bottom of the hill for the run start. We were supposed to run from the bottom of the hill about 500 metres up to our bikes, then ride to the start and away onto lap 1, but it ended up being chaos, and despite Steve and Dom holding my bike and waving, I couldn’t find them, there were so many bikes and people everywhere! Once I was united with my Epiphany (first race for the new bike), Steve gave me a huge shove forwards and I was away. I guessed that AJ was in the melee too, but I never saw her!
The first lap was a bit crowded, but I settled in quickly on the somewhat mundane, but drying manmade surface of Ashton Court. Passing was a problem early on, but I managed to make up significant ground on the 3 fire road short sharp hills, and got round to hand over to Darren in about 34 mins.
The sun was doing its work now, and despite the ferocious wind we had found a sheltered spot that turned into a perfect suntrap, and the team settled quickly into half hour balls out banzo riding, then an hour sitting in the sunshine, then start to move about and warm up for the next go.
Meanwhile, AJ was clocking up the laps and had slipped into ‘machine’ mode as she took to the lead of the female solo category. Every time she rode past us she looked fresh, confident and comfortable – very impressive.
As the day wore on, the trails dried out significantly, and we learnt the course better. I started to improve lap times, partly due to the field spreading out, meaning passing was easier, getting laps down into the 28 min mark. I learnt to ‘flow’ better, with less braking on the berm turns and less pedalling on the long descents, managing to increase my speed on these sections significantly, although it did occur to me that the manmade trails were more suited to my road bike than my Epiphany!
We each clocked up 4 laps in no time, and found ourselves running in 3rd place in our category, which inspired all of us to keep pushing. Both Dom and Steve were capably holding their own, and we were all proving very consistent, with no incidents or mechanicals between us. All the time, AJ was quietly and quickly circulating and stretching her lead, gaining a lap on her nearest rival.
Dom’s daughter turned up from college nearby for the afternoon, on the premise of supporting the team (Actually it was to get a lift home!) and sat with us as we slowly cooked in the sunshine (well I did anyway!).
As the afternoon turned to evening, Dom was busy plotting how many laps we should get done, and had worked out that if we kept up the current pace we would manage 23, meaning that he would have time for his 6th lap and could run away early!
Having been studying the live timing screen we discovered that we’d dropped to 10th from 3rd, and some quick analysis uncovered the fact that Timelaps had missed a changeover between Steve and Dom, so we were showing a lap less than we’d done. Steve got sent to report it, but no action could be taken at the time (or subsequently, despite appeals).
As we each completed our 5th laps, Steve arrived back looking like he’d left most of himself on the course, and as the realisation that he hadn’t finished yet hit him, he lamely claimed that he wasn’t sure he could do his 6th lap. Needless to say, sympathy was in short supply, so as I set out on my 6th and last lap, he was trying to get those creaky old legs to live again, one last time. We all took inspiration from AJ who had pulled out a lap and a half lead, and continued to just keep going round. Awesome riding!
I completed a good last lap and handed over to Darren, who blasted away, ready to put in a big final lap. He did exactly that and handed over to Steve, who went out on the last lap for the team, having manned up and put in a storming effort meaning we completed 23 laps in 11 hrs 41: 35 and were officially classified 8th. We know we actually came 5th, but we’re not bitter – it was a cracking day racing, results here:
AJ duly cleaned up, winning her category by a huge margin, well done to her, very impressive ride.
All in all, despite the quagmire of mud, wind and rain that greeted us on the Friday eve, we got a top day’s racing in the sun on Saturday. Thanks to each person in the team, we did good!