Given it is almost a year since any kind of post there is perhaps no surprise that events and any form of racing has not been too frequent. I do have plans for the year ahead however and Dirty Reiver was the first targeted “A” event that I was entered into.
Towards the end of January this year training began in earnest and I have my sights set on a few events, another big one being the Tour du Mont Blanc in July and potentially a few others later in the year. With the focus this year being purely cycling with no running and no swimming planned it is the first year since 2014 (I think!) that I will be training with a specific focus on just cycling. While Tour du Month Blanc cyclo will be the ultimate season aim, Dirty Reiver was the first prioritised event. Given there are very few other cycling events that are remotely competitive over such a long distance I hoped it would prove to be a suitable one.
Dirty Reiver is not a race. There are no prizes, no podium and no points awarded. That doesn’t mean it isn’t competitive however and finishing times are still converted with this year the target time to be a “Highwayman” set at 7hrs 30min. Pre-race this seemed a big ask and especially so given my 2016 time was 8hrs 42min, where I was 7th fastest finisher. Over an hour faster? Really?
I’m not one to hide what training I have done and since January things have been a big improvement on the previous few years where time simply hasn’t allowed for a decent block of training. With a decent self-appointed training plan given and an attempt to procrastinate far less I aimed to improve both high end fitness, mostly using a turbo trainer and Zwift and also getting back some endurance with long riders and killer 2-3hr sessions at a pace just below FTP that hurts like hell. A few long audaxes thrown in and things were pretty good. Organising Battle on the Beach threw a spanner in the works as I knew I would be exhausted from organising that, but that was not something I could control. Body weight is something that I have always struggled to drop and while I have never been too heavy, weight has crept up over the years from a low in 2012 of 58km and more normal race weight from 2009 to 2014 of 60-62kg the last few years I have not been under 63kg and in January the highest in years at 65kg. I really, really struggle to drop weight but after a big effort, to start DR I was back down to 61kg.
Arriving at Kielder I had only just finished building up my new gravel bike, which is a stunning Lauf True Grit. A few custom changes, including very very nice JRA Mahi Mahi carbon disk wheels and an Easton EC90 chainset with XTR cassette. 44t chainring with 11-40t rear which gives closer ratios than the standard SRAM cassette and given there are no super steep hills at DR200, I hoped it would be a good choice. With such a brilliant bike to ride, there was certainly no excuses on that front!
At 7am we rolled out of Kielder and after a short neutralised section the event was under way. As the vehicle pulled off and we were away a large pack was together from the beginning. A few faces I knew, but not all that many and there was even some overseas riders present which I knew would add a bit of spice to the mix. The pace to start was pretty slow, even on the climbs everyone seemed quite happy to be riding as one big group of about 30 riders. No one was particularly keen on taking up the pace early on but given this was a 200km event that is hardly surprising. After 20km or so I pushed at the front for a bit, to see if there might be a reaction and sure enough, people were sticking on my wheels. Riding in a group has its downsides and there were a few crashes. One in particular wasn’t great as a rider in the middle of the pack dropped a bottle and decided to slam his brakes on to stop and pick it up with everyone behind barrelling into him. Not good!
Things were quiet until feed 1 at 45km. I had just spotted James Hayden (Multiple TCR winner) in the group and we had been chatting. He shot through feed 1, almost as if it was an attack – although I think anyone stopped at Feed 1 probably isn’t carrying enough kit/food for the event. From that point things did start to speed up, Dave Powell had a little time out ahead on his own and then just as we were reaching the high point of the event two Dutch riders, Gosse van der Meer (World Cup CX racer) and Stan Godrie, former Dutch national RR champion both attacked. James Hayden jumped across, showing he has some serious power as well as endurance and I eventually managed to get across, although it wasn’t until near the bottom of the descent that I bridged across. For a few KM we rode together, but a small group of around 10 riders behind and pulled together and everything went quiet again. There were a few tactics being played out and the pace was up and down like a yo-yo. The Bombtrack climb, after 70km was the point where Gosse moved clear. Given he was on his own and I knew he was a super strong rider I was happy for him to go. Be my guest, go ride 120km on your own!
The Dutch had a plan however and on the downhill, catching me off-guard Stan pushed ahead to join Gosse. James Hayden was unlucky and punctured on that descent and the only other rider who got with the Dutch was someone I did not know, but who was riding a MTB. The three pushed ahead and had a clear gap. For the next 20km two riders helped me to try and close the gap with big gaps behind forming. At feed 2 one rider stopped and on the very next climb the last rider with me said he would have to drop back. From that point on, 95km into the event I was alone. This just happened to be the toughest part of the route, not because of the terrain but the wind. Lots of more open sections and into a headwind made it really hard work riding solo. The gap went from around 1 minute near the feed 2 up to 2 minutes. At 105km Stan had punctured and Gosse stopped with him to help, getting going just 20 sections in front of me.
Try as I might I was not able to catch Gosse and he rode away and increased the gap, catching back up with the guy on the MTB. I was secretly hoping that he would attack from him as I thought I would have a chance of passing him if he was riding solo, but as the distance pushed on sighting got infrequent until I was not able to see them even with 3 minutes of riding visible ahead. I kept looking behind, knowing that if James Hayden had fixed his puncture quickly he would be a tough one to hold off, but he never appeared. Passing feed 3 at 144km I decided not to stop, hoping I just about had enough to finish, but it would be down to the wire and especially if it was a full 200km. The headwind was a constant annoyance up until we crossed over the dam at 170km. From here there was the “Lauf Timed Stage” but having dug deep for the previous 90km, any chance I had of setting the fastest time was out the window. With the wind now thankfully behind me the final section was fast and also much shorter than I expected as I passed a sign “Kielder Castle 1 mile” at just 185km completed. I pushed a bit harder just incase James or another rider was charging behind, but managed to cross the line to be 3rd back. Official time, 7hrs 3minutes. Well inside the “Highwayman” time but also a bit short on distance with 186km completed. A big portion of this was due to a route diversion required due to unexpected road works within the forestry and I am sure not many will be complaining!
It was a relief to cross the line and I am really happy with how I rode. My legs felt strong throughout and I would have been quite happy to keep going if needed. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was that I did not need to stop at all at any feed stations. The cool weather helped, but given I had only 2 bottles, each with 710ml total fluid intake of 1.4 litres, just 200ml per hour. Anyone (or any company) who says you have to drink x amount per hour is just wrong. Drink when you are thirsty, unless you are in extremely hot (35c+) conditions as your body knows best. Nutrition intake was simple. 12 x TORQ gels and 1 nakd bar, taken every 45 minutes for the first 5 hours, then every 30 minutes. I had originally planned to stop once, guessing I would need more fluid and also expecting to be finishing over 8hrs.
Spares on the bike and especially on an event in such a rural area is very important and although I had no problems at all, I had a good selection if needed:
2 x inner tubes
3 x co2 160x canisters with Lezyne Trigger Speed drive
Lezyne Pressure Drive mini pump
1 x tyre boot
2 x tyre levers
1 x pack glueless patches
Lezyne Carbon 10 multi-tool with chain splitter
Spare chain link
Valve extender (in case I needed to borrow a tube with short valve)
Mobile phone, emergency blanket, lights and other required items.
With Dirty Reiver done I have a week to recover from both Battle on the Beach, which was a huge success and Dirty Reiver. It feels good to be back riding with some fitness and form that I honestly never thought I would get back. My top end speed still needs some work, but with a good endurance base now in place it can form my focus as I look ahead to July and the Tour du Mont Blanc event. Along the way a few other non-targeted events to use as training including the MTB Marathon in Llandovery with the Monster Marathon distance and TINAT 400km Audax in June.