The 2011 MTB race season starts

Wednesday 23rd March 2011

by MikeC

The setting is Whinlatter Forest in the Lake District in late March, which could have provided a very tough challenge with the weather usually being a bit fickle at this time of year. I decided to travel over on the Friday to see a rock band in the area, which provided a great night and a great decision on my part. To counteract my good decision I decided to walk from the gig venue back to the caravan at 11pm…………I will tell you now that road was a lot shorter in the car, I’m convinced!  On the Saturday I drove over to the forest to complete a lap of the North and South Altura trail, the sun was shining and a lot of mountain bikers had ventured to the forest for some fun riding. I knew the race the next day used lots of the purpose built trails so it was good to get a feeling for the slippy rock, or more to the point, know where the lean/speed limits are. Finding these can sometimes be entertaining but other than a few ‘moments’ I managed to stay upright……..just! The rest of the crew (Nick, Sophie, Rich, Helen, Tom, Carol & Mark) arrived around tea time and we headed back to the forest to sign on. Saturday night was spent in the local pub that wouldn’t been out of place in ‘An American Warewolf in London’, the food was top class and I tried my best to abstain from the wine that seemed to be flowing so freely. For our sleeping arrangements Nick had organised some novelty camping ‘pods’, which is basically an oversized wooden tent complete with carpeted floor………luxury.

The weather was not quite as spectacular on the Sunday with low cloud and a stronger wind but the more I race, the less the weather bothers me. The Whinlatter Mountain Bike Challenge is only in it’s third year but already attracts 550 very keen mountain bikers of all abilities. I saw that Rob Jebb’s name was on the start sheet and knew the pace at the front would be quick, very quick. Knowing the various abilities of riders in the event I got myself on the front row and checked out the competition. A group of 8 or so riders set a good pace at the front and I settled into my rhythm. My inclination was right and half way up the first forest road climb Rob hit the front and simply rode away from everyone, leaving the rest to pick up the pieces. One of the things I love about off-road racing is there are no tactics, you ride as hard as you can for the duration of the race and feel suitably spent and satisfied at the end. The course was 31 miles with 6000 feet of climbing with a good dose of rocky, singletrack descending, a really great course but not one to be tackled without some sort of training. A highlight for me was the gargantuan cheers from Sophie, Carol & Helen as I passed them at the bottom of a descent………thanks girls. I made a new friend in Greig Brown who I pulled around the whole of the second lap and was repaid with him jumping me to take 7th, 1 second in-front of my 8th with a 2 hour 33 minutes and 6 seconds, a time and position I’m very happy with. Greig confessed to his hamstring cramping quite badly on the last climb, if I would have known that I would have tried to up the pace! The rest of the crew trickled in over the next hour or so with stoney looking faces that said ‘man that was hard’, no words needed. A great way to start the 2011 MTB race season and 5 suitably tired mountain bikers headed back to the North East for some rest and recovery.

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