Saturday, June 28, 2008

My first Mountain Mayhem :)

Finally I have some time to write my race report for the Mountain Mayhem :)

So this is how it all started: Early in the year Ryan was asked to do the Mayhem with his sponsor, the Torq guys, and since I really wanted to do it too but had no team or sponsor at the time, I signed up with Extra UK who were looking to complete their team with a girl. Ryan and me had heard so much about this biggest 24hour mountain bike race in the world - you'll always find somebody in your club to tell you their story of the race and it really seems to be one of those cult events you just will have to experience at least once in your life.

Unfortunately this event was an early flight followed by a 1.5hour drive, which always is more complicated than just stuffing all your gear and bikes into the boot of your car. So Thursday evening before the race was spent with our more and more efficient packing and preparation routine. When we finally arrived at the beautiful surroundings of Eastnor Castle in England on Friday, there was already quite a few tents pitched and we located the Torq RV to pitch our tent there. We built up our bikes and set off to do a practice lap in bone dry conditions.

The land was beautiful, the weather nice and sunny and the course was amazing. A lot of climb, a lot of virgin single track, off camber single track cut through man high ferns, grassy climbs and fast descents, a few fireroad climbs, woody single track, while not overly technical it had everything you could wish for in a course! The only problem was that my back brake didn't work - air must have gotten into oil cable when Ryan switched the brakes since they were the 'wrong' way round - I didn't want to risk getting confused with them....

After getting my back brake fixed in the free Shimano 'bike clinic' Ryan and me headed to find our B&B. We decided to spend the night in a nice and comfy bed rather than in our tent since we wouldn't be getting much sleep the next day anyway - and besides, we didn't have any matts and only one sleeping bag.... So, we found our B&B and woahhh - the bed was huge! It was bigger than any bed I have ever seen and could comfortably fit 5 people. And since the B&B was situated almost on top of one side of the Malvern Mountains, there was this amazing view over the plains and you could even seen the Welsh mountains in the hazy distance. In the evening we enjoyed a fantastic dinner in this Italian pizza place called Ask! where we sat outside in the back garden, just beautiful.

View from the Malvern Mountains

When we woke up the next morning in our oversized bed, we heard the sound of cars passing in the wet - opening the curtains there was nothing left of the view, instead the whole country was bathed in thick mist and haze and there was some 'spitty' rain. Thank god we had decided to stay in a B&B!

Ryan in front of the super sized bed

Reluctantly we got up and had a nice breakfast before making our way back to Eastnor Castle. I met with my team (Jamie Newall, Jodie Crawforth, Matt Barrett) and our mechanics (Simon and John) and we had our tactical chat. Since this was my first time doing the Mayhem, I said I'd do my 4 laps whenever they wanted me to. So the plan was to send the guys out for a few rotations of one lap per person before my first lap to gain some cushion of time.

We watched the start which is pretty impressive with 625 people running off for their bikes. Since I had lots of time left until it was my turn, I went between the Torq tent where Ryan was preparing and my team tent. Jody was our first guy out and returned disappointed with a puncture that he had almost from the start out - we are blaming Poppy, Jamie's young dog who chews through everything that comes near her snout! While the guys were doing their laps it was pretty uneventful for me. The weather was still misty, sometimes there was a bit of a drizzle. Then Jody had another puncture in his second lap which didn't help the mood since the Scott team and the SiS team were already gaining ground on us.

625 mountain bikers ready to go :) (Photo curtesy of Joolze Dymond)

Finally, it was my turn. I waited at the transition, got my baton, went off like stung by a bee and raced really hard. I was feeling good, going hard, my heartrate was way up and my legs were great. But then, in one of the singletrack bits I flew off my bike - the ground had become a lot slippier since I had done my practice lap the day before! I went back on and cycled on a bit more carefully. In the offcamber section I came off my bike another 2 times and I was having difficulty staying on the bike. I was trying to go too fast and was unprepared for the slippiness, so I just had to slow down to avoid coming off my bike again - I was loosing lots of time on this. I was happy to be out of the off camber part and the rest of the course went well. My lap was the slowest so far in the team with 48 minutes and I was a bit disappointed with my ride. The guys decided that they should now try and make up some time and that I wouldn't ride till the next day.

So I took it easy, had some dinner and hung around Ryan's pit area. With Torq starting so many riders (3 teams of 4 and 2 solo riders) there was always many people hanging about and it was good craic. When it got dark I went to try and get a bit of sleep in our tent. I didn't really sleep and heard that the weather getting worse and worse over night - the wind was howling, the tent sides flapping like crazy and then there was the sound of torrential rain showers coming down. Glad I didn't have to do any night laps myself and curled myself deeper into my sleeping bag!

At 2pm I was curious and had to go out and see how Ryan got on. I went to the Torq van and 'shock': I saw in front of me this person covered from tip to toe in a layer of mud and blood spatters on arms and legs - OH MY GOD! The people coming in from the night laps all looked like they were coming from a war front! I then heard the stories of that the off camber track had completely dissolved and the tracks completely deteriorated - supposedly you couldn't even walk the sections any more but had to slide them! There were stories of people taking more than 3 hours to finish a lap and jesus, you could barely recognize their bikes under all the mud! I felt so sorry for Ryan that I offered to clean Ryan's bike at the Muc-Off area while he was taking a hot shower. The queue for the pressure cleaners was meters long of mud coated people and bikes.... I had to queue for over 45min! Ryan finally came and washed his bike himself so that I could go back to my tent to try and grab another couple of hours of sleep.

I got up at about 4:30 when it was getting bright again to check out how my team had done during the night. They told me the same stories from the night, horrendous weather, trails transformed into huge mudslides, and Jamie had sustained a bad scrape from a person sliding into him and the chain ring of her bike scraping into his calf.

It was time for my next lap and was advised to not even attempt to ride the off camber bit. So I set off for my second lap, negotiating through most of the mud quite well on the way up, better than most people around me (all that bad weather training in Ireland finally giving me an advantage), came down well to the lakes and up the grassy climb - but wait, why can't I turn the wheel any more?? Oh flip! My rear derailleur hanger had snapped! Flip flip flip! I scraped off some of the mud to see what I could do, but there wasn't much hope. I tried to carry my bike, but with all that gunk and mud and grass encrusted on it it weighed a ton. I thought about single speeding my bike, but thought it would take too much time. In addition, this was still a slow lap - people walking, so I just thought I'd do my best and run the other 2/3 of the lap. On all of the uphill muddy and off camber bits I was just as fast as everyone else or even faster, but I lost lots of time on all the flatish or slightly downhill or fireroady bits since the wheels just wouldn't turn easily either because of all the mud. I eventually arrived about 1.5 hours after the start, off which I ran over an hour. This meant that we had only lost about 20min in that lap in comparison to other teams, so not all was lost and we were still in 3rd place.

While our mechanics took care of the bike (thank you soooo much!) the course was drying up quickly because of the strong winds, so the rest of the laps were getting faster and faster again. Then Jody had another puncture, his third! (That's why I run tubeless...). My last 2 laps were good fun, I really enjoyed the now almost dry course and we only had to stay ahead of the 4th mixed team since the Scott and SiS team were so far ahead of us that we had no chance to make up lost time. Finally, at 2pm the race was over with us finishing third, 3 laps behind the first two teams and about 15min ahead of the 4th team (Rivette).

The Elite Mixed team podium

So, this was my first Mayhem experience. I want to thank Extra UK/BMC for letting me ride on their team and for the kind lend of the BMC hardtail. Thanks also to Simon and John for washing our bikes after each lap and fixing them - this made things so much easier. Roll on next year!

Full results can be found here. Photos can be found here, here, here and here.


trio said...

You missed out on so much fun not riding at night! I had the fun of a double night lap!

Mel said...

lol - yeah, I'm a little ambiguous about the night laps - in a way I wish I had experienced it, but I'm also kinda happy I didn't have too.... ;)