Church Stretton Marathon & Ironbridge CX

Mountain Mayhem 2014
23rd June 2014
My little backpacking adventure – Part 1
16th July 2014

Last weekend was another double-header of events, the combination of a summer CX race held within Ironbridge Victorian village and the MTB Marathon series at Church Stretton.
I knew a little about the CX before hand, but only decided to enter late in the week. Although it was fairly close to Church Stretton where I was camping, it was an awkward 8:15pm start time, which proved a little challenging to plan around.

The Ironbridge CX event has been going for a few years and sounded like a fun event. A summer evening with a course laid out around a victorian village museum. It was very family friendly with kids racing, stalls and funfair open and even a bar to keep spectators thirsts quenched. Racing where starting all through the evening, but I was down to race the Senior event at 8:15. I had taken my Pivot LES MTB and had a spare set of wheels with CX tyres fitted, but after a practice lap decided to keep the MTB tyres on. After watching the end of the Brazil v Chile match in the van I headed down to the start line ready for the off, just as the light rain was easing off. It made the course a little more slick, but since I was on my MTB I didn’t think it would matter too much.

The start was frantic, but I found myself at the front of the race, before being overtaken almost immediately afterwards. The start loop was straight forward, with a steep, mostly rideable dirt climb and then a few faster stretches with some twisty stuff in between the buildings. I managed to hold onto second all the way round and stayed in touch with the junior rider who was leading, but then we came to “the steps”.

I am not much of a runner even when I train a bit, so during the summer with no training I am pretty useless. The steps were about 100-150m long, perhaps 60-80 steps in total and fairly steep towards the top. As the rider ahead danced up them, I proceeded to hold everyone behind up as I limped up. I must have lost 20 seconds at least and no doubt everyone behind was cursing me. From there on the 50 minute race was a mixture of having a blast on the riding sections and then dropping back on the steps, or the flat section immediately afterwards. As the race went passed 30 minutes I had lost several places and was very frustrated by having to limp up the steps each lap, so decided to forget about the actual “race” bit and just have fun. Riding a MTB was absolutely fine, probably quicker than a CX bike simply because of one rocky section that could easily have punctured a narrow tyre where as the MTB could just plough across it.

In the end the race was won by Dan Wells, a good MTB and CX rider with me finishing about 1/2 lap back, but smiling. Straight after the race it was a dash back to camp at Church Stretton and a chance to cook some food and head to sleep ready for the marathon the following day.

A lie in by race day standards, 8am was a nice leisurely wake up call, but still gave me plenty of time to get prepared in time for the 10am “race” start.
A look around at the start and it was clear that lots of fast riders were here, which would make things interesting. Nick Craig for Scott as well as Dieter Droger, nearly a full compliment of Mountain Trax riders and several of the TORQ performance team, among others.

It didn’t take long for things to unfold, a few hundred meters on the tarmac before taking a sharp left and heading up a long tarmac climb where the pace was increased. It wasn’t until we hit the gravel that riders started to move ahead, the change in pace started by the younger Mountain Trax riders. Around 10 riders made a small break, but I was unable to push myself to stay with them and followed in what would become the second group. A brilliant descent off the Long Mynd then turned into a horrible, steep, rocky climb where I seemed to go backwards pretty quickly. By the top I had lost the 2nd group, but still had them in eyesight. I was joined by Mark Spratt and he helped me up the pace and we slowly got back on track and on the next long descent I managed to tag back on.

The middle section was pretty mellow, both in pace and terrain as our group swelled from 3 to 5 and then up to 6 at one point, before decreasing back down to 4 as we passed through a feed station near the 50km split. The 4 of us made decent progress, but the speed was far from race pace and everyone was nice enough to wait as we went through several gates on the route towards Eastridge. After a brutal start to the route, we had several KM of small lanes, which allowed some recovery and helped increase the pace significantly. Heading into Eastridge was quite a shock, as I had not ridden there before.

The trail was steep in places, littered with roots and it would have been very easy to have come off on the way down. I was being pretty cautious, not taking too many risks but riding everything. Towards the end of the Eastridge section James Williams came by, increasing the speed a little and put a small gap between us, but a feed station came almost immediately after and we both stopped to sample the banana cake, which was rather yummy!

From that point we had around 15km to the finish I decided to up the tempo and see what was left in the tank. James dropped off and I soon caught back to Mark Chamberlain who had been in our group, but didn’t need to stop at the feed. I tried to push the pace again, but Mark stuck with me as we came to the point where the 50km riders rejoined. We passed a few irate drivers, who were stuck behind a caravan which in turn was being slowed by having to pass all the riders ahead on a very narrow mountain road climb.