The showers at Selkirk Rugby Club are highly recommended. To get the maximum amount of pleasure, I’d suggest a good weeks worth of riding before hand though – one that takes a twisting and challenging route over high hill tops, along stoney drovers roads, forest tracks, through bogs and in and out of winding singletrack.
So, to pick up where I left off mid-week, it was all to play for in the lower ranks of the top 10 solo’s:
Special Stage #3 – Heavy rain over night had made the trails really quite slippy at Mabie. With the times quite tight between me and Charlie (Eustace), we’d been quietly psyching each other up (or out) in advance of this one. I didn’t feel too bad and was confident of being able to close the gap of 20 seconds between us. The reality was different. The legs were heavy after special stage the previous day, and although I could see Charlie in the far distance at one point, he stretched his lead (rather smugly) by 16 seconds. The 4th night time special stage at Glentress on Friday was going to be the last opportunity for me to close the gap.
The link stage for the remainder of Day 5 saw us return to the Forest of Ae and then over to Moffat. An uneventful link stage really, though I did enjoy the descent down The Face again in Ae.
Day 6 – The route map for Stage 6 looked tough – A 65km route from Moffat to Peebles topped over 1900m of ascent with hardly any road. As if that wasn’t enough, we also had the 4th special stage in the evening. To make matters worse, the time cut off was only 6 hours for the day. The Southern Upland Way formed the majority of the days route, and I took an easy pace on the steady climbs in the morning. When I reached the half way lunch stop after 3 hours, I realised I was going to need to get a move on if I was going to make it back in time. The climbs were endless, and as the minutes constantly ticked by I was forced to ride just a little bit faster than I was comfortable with. The up side of the endless climb was a scorching descent off Kirkhope Law into Peebles. A short loop through Glentress Forest saw me arrive at the campsite with 30 mins to spare against the cut off. I was attentive to the fact that Charlie was behind me, and with the risk of time penalties affecting his position, he must have had to work hard too to come in just 10 minutes before the cut off.
At the beginning of the week I said to a few people “Oh, this is just training for Mountain Mayhem”. Who was I trying to kid? Its a race. There are places at stake and I don’t yield easily. The place that mattered tonight was 8th – only 35 seconds away from my 9th position. I looked at the starting line up – Charlie was starting off 30 seconds ahead of me. I needed to not only catch him, but pass him too, which wouldn’t be easy. I studied the course profile carefully – two notable climbs, the biggest being 2.5km long, 4km into the stage. I checked the time gap between me and Charlie again, and then looked at the guys just behind me. Crikey, I couldn’t afford to make a mistake either as there was three guys within 75 seconds of me. Well, there’s nothing like a bit of pressure I suppose…
Special Stage #4 – The first section of the course flowed fast – I railed into the berms and was on the power straight out of the other end and on to the first fire road climb. As I rounded the bottom corner and saw the hill stretch out before me I could see Charlie in the distance. My legs felt good, all things considered, but I was careful not to red line things too much. The first piece of hand-cut singletrack was tight, rooty and required a high degree of precision to get down in one piece. I came out at the bottom of the 2.5km climb, Charlie still visible but no closer in the distance. The singletrack hairpin climb that followed were where I made up the time. I took several yards out of Charlie on each one and by the time we topped out on the fireroad I was on his tail. Pausing to catch my breath a bit I tried to overtake, but Charlie cut me off, so I hung back a few metres and launched a short sprint down his opposite side. I’d got a gap and pushed it as hard as I could manage through the next section. Once at the top all I had to do was get down without any mistakes. I had a couple of close calls on the descent, but looking behind me I couldn’t see any lights. This was good. A short sharp climb off the fireroad saw me catch my 1 minute man, an RAF rider, who I followed at considerable pace right to the finish. I was buzzing when I got over the line. Forty seconds later Charlie rolled in, and we shook hands briefly. I’d posted the 7th fastest solo time, and come within 4 seconds of the very fast Andy Cathcart. More importantly, I’d bagged 8th place.
Stage 7 – A straightforward stage back to Selkirk via Glentress’s and Innerleithen’s finest trails was all that was required today. A fast group of riders went out on the singletrack and I soon found myself riding mostly on my own, except for the passing and re-passing of Matt and Shaggy on their singlespeeds. Shaggy churned his (seemingly) massive gear up the Minch Moor climb in an impressive fashion, shortly followed by Matt. We continued to exchange places and hold gates for each other most of the way back to Selkirk. Crossing the line after 4 hours and 7 minutes for the 52km, I’d racked up a total of 525km in 34 hours and 37 minutes in the past 7 days.
At a local level, Matt Scrase placed a very respectable 3rd in the Solo Vets, and Alan Gardner flew the Brecon Wheelers flag from a well earned (and well defended) 16th place. Al’s night lap nearly went badly wrong when his light bracket failed and he finished on just a head torch. His time of 35:13 still beating a lot of people with a much better view of the trail.
The atmosphere at the event was brilliant, and all the competition (especially between me and Charlie) was friendly at heart (though he insisted we have a rematch at Newham Park in July). I’ve met lots of new people who I hope I see again at future races. I’ve hopefully got a bit fitter (if you’re reading this, Dave 😉 ), and certainly better at racing on very technical trails. I’ve got lots of pictures posted up here which hopefully reflects well on the type of riding we did.