Mountain Mayhem 2014

Gran Fondo Sportful Dolomiti Race
18th June 2014
Church Stretton Marathon & Ironbridge CX
30th June 2014

IMG_1604Mountain Mayhem 2014 ended up being the most incredible and hardest fought race I have ever been a part of. A great course, sunny weather and superb organisation made it a weekend that I will never forget. It has been a yearly pilgrimage for me since 2004 when I started mountain biking, with the exception of last year. For 2013 I was initially down to race solo, but my head wasn’t in the right place after loosing my Dad to cancer a few months before. For 2014 we were back and ready to slog it out in the 4-man team race.

DSC_0320Arriving on site late on Friday and settling into our pit area, which was to service 3 teams. The Pivot Boompods All-Stars, which included myself, Paul Flynn, Richard Penning and Euan Adams also the other teams, Pivot Boompods A-Team and we also shared a pit with Jo Burt, John “Shaggy” Ross and their team plus a few supporters who helped everyone out, including Nia who came to support and took the pictures featured here.

Saturday came and a quick bike check up and tyre change (Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25″ snakeskin front, Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.1″ snakeskin rear) and a practice lap to check everything over. The course seemed great. Mayhem is always a compromise as it attracts so many different riders, but from my view it was fun and challenging in equal measures.

DSC_0347Our starting order had been finalised and I was off 4th, with Rich Penning offering to do the run. At midday the race began and Rich stormed through in the top 5 and finished with a 35 minute lap (including run) to keep us in the running. It was clear right from the gun that our main competition was going to be Salsa and Haibike. Geroge Budd from Salsa was the first rider back into the arena with one of the team of 10 riders with Rich just a few minutes behind. Our strategies were different to Salsa from the start, as we opted to go for single laps while they were doing double laps.

Early on, we kept in check with Salsa, never being more than a few minutes behind and took the lead after a few hours. Our team were lapping around 32-33 minutes and we were very fairly similar and my first lap was a 32:28. George Budd from was lapping faster than all of us, with Al Fairbairn lapping as quick as our fastest laps and this meant whenever these guys were on track, our lead was being cut down or even overtaken. Temperatures were soaring, but most of the course was under trees, which certainly helped but each lap I would come back soaked through in sweat. The track was mostly fast and dry, with just a few wet patches where the water course naturally runs.

DSC_0407On my second lap, I eased off a touch in an effort to keep my legs fresher and although it felt much easier, it was actually only 30 seconds slower. During Saturday the lead was constantly switching, never straying too far away or being very far ahead. It was already turning into an epic race. Late in the evening, Euan had a mechanic issue as his chain bent, causing him to loose a few minutes but this would end up being our only mechanical of the race for either team.

As darkness started to draw in, I had probably the last full daylight lap before we all added Exposure Equinox and Reflex lights ready for the night. We changed strategy in the night, doing double lap stints which would mean that we all got a little extra rest between laps. The course was a little damp in the dark, with polished rocks becoming a bit slippery in places but overall it was still fast and fun. I was pleased that my two night laps were consistent and not too slow, 35:35 and 35:18 while everyone else was holding their own too. I tried to get some sleep after the laps, although that was easier said than done. I didn’t sleep properly, but was able to get some micro sleep action. I was probably still full of adrenaline after the laps and also very aware that I needed to wake up around 2am for the next shift.

It wasn’t easy getting out of the van at 2am, but at least it wasn’t raining and I did have dry kit to get changed into. We realised that the race was really tight and we would have to up our game a bit in order to bring it back. As I started my double lap we were 10 minutes down, which was about the biggest the margin had reached throughout the race. I pushed hard, keeping lap times at 33:42 and 33:04 and pulled the deficit to around 5 minutes, handing over to Rich Penning as dawn set in and the sun was rising around 4am. We reverted back to single laps in the day light, keen to keep our lap times as fast as possible, even if it did mean less rest in between.

It didn’t take long for the course to start drying out again and become incredibly fast, with nice lines formed on the whole of the course. My next lap, around 8am was pretty busy as it seemed like all the teams who had slept during the night all came back out en masse, making overtaking and making progress difficult and frustrating at times although in general other riders were great and most listened to the calls and I got by without any problems. The final 1/3 of the lap was the most difficult, with a few steeper climbs that resulted in lots of people walking up and at times, walking on the only rideable line, or walking up 2 abreast and taking up the whole track and making things even harder for those trying to ride up.

DSC_0409

With the end of the race closing in, we started to calculate what was needed in order to re-gain the lead. Team “directeur sportif”, Rory Hitchens was keeping track of the gap and we worked out approximate lap times and roughly what time we would finish. After a storming race so far, Paul Flynn was struggling with a bad back, so we agreed that he would smash out one final lap and that is exactly what he did, handing over to Euan with the gap down to a handful of seconds.

DSC_0418Euan had been setting consistently fast laps and our teams absolute fastest lap early on and he managed to retake the lead, handing over to me with 90 minutes to go. I pushed out my fastest lap of the race, 32:23, eeeking every possible second out of my legs and handing over to Rich again.

When Rich started his lap everything was in the balance. We had a 2:30 lead, but with George Budd about to start a double lap we knew it was going to be tight. It wasn’t just a race for the finish, but a race to finish laps in before midday. Mayhem rules are different to some, but essentially if you finish a lap before midday, you can (must) do an extra lap. At midday the transition closes and no more laps can be started.

Rich had a storming lap, putting everything into it and handed over to Euan with a ever so slightly slimmer lead. Now Euan had two jobs, to firstly and most importantly stay ahead of George Budd but to also do a lap in under 32 minutes and 30 seconds to allow us to ride one more lap and for George, he needed a super fast lap of 30 minutes and 45 seconds. If both teams missed the midday deadline, then it would be first across the line as the winner. No pressure on Euan then!

DSC_0426The tension was unbearable and everyone was on pins waiting for him to come back in. If Euan made it, then it was my job to finish the race off. If Salsa finished in time too, then I would be racing head to head against Al Fairbairn and we were both stood in transition ready to go. The minutes and seconds were ticking down and no one knew if either rider was going to make it. With less than a minute to go, Euan was spotting tearing into the arena and the finish area met with huge cheers from all the spectators. As he rounded the corner and crossed the line he passed the baton to me with just 26 seconds spare to the end of the race and in so doing, set the teams fastest lap of the race, 31:59.

As I ran to my bike I glanced across to the opposite side of the track to see if I could see or hear George Budd. The pressure and adrenaline sent my heart rate up to 160 bpm before even pedalling. I headed out of the arena with the final 10 second countdown unsure if he had made it or not, so had to push on full gas just in case. It wasn’t until 1km into the course that I was met by Paul Flynn who let me know that George missed out by just 20 seconds or so. I was able to throttle back on the final lap, not take any risks and enjoyed it. The course was clear and that made it fairly quick too despite not trying too hard.

DSC_0459As I crossed the line all the Pivot team were there to greet me and chance to enjoy the moment. It was crazy to think that although we were racing for 24hrs, despite us finishing a lap up on paper, the race was effectively decided by less than a minute. We were chatting the the Salsa guys constantly through the race and it was great to be involved in such a close race with a nice bunch of guys.

Mountain Mayhem 2014 will go down as the best racing experience I have ever had!

A fantastic story in pictures from Gavin Peacock, available here.

Geeky bits:
My Lap times:

Flat out laps:
32:28 (first lap)
33:01 (second lap)
33:06 (third lap)
33:31 (forth lap)
33:42 (eighth lap)
33:04 (ninth lap)
32:23 (tenth lap)
Average: 33:02

Night laps:
34:15 (fifth lap)
35:15 (sixth lap)
35:18 (seventh lap)

Glory lap:
34:23 (eleventh lap)

Overall average lap time:
33:40

Total riding time:
6 hours, 10 minutes, 26 seconds.

Average speed (based on 10.3km lap)
18.3 kph (11.4 mph)