Phil Simcock raced in the Strathpuffer 24 hour pairs category again this year, along with M Steel Cycles’ Richard Rothwell. They did rather well…

Having got 3rd place last year in the pairs, I decided straight after the race to have another crack at it and see if we could win it. Budge decided fairly early that he was unsure whether he would do the Puffer again, so I went on the hunt for a new partner. No one else in Team JMC was up for it, so I had to look outside the inner circle! I managed to ask Rich Rothwell during his post Relentless recovery period, when he was climbing the walls from racing cold turkey. He agreed before thinking of the implications of riding the Strathpuffer as a pair!

I’ve rode the Puffer as a pair twice and solo twice and even though both are horrible, I find the pairs race harder to prepare for, as you have to deal with the cold between laps. There is nothing worse than sat in wet muddy cycling gear in sub zero temperatures, waiting to go back out on the bike, knowing that your legs will be screaming in pain until you warm back up again. Although, I’m sure if I’d just rode it solo again, I would be writing a similar sentence about how I find the solo race much harder!

Anyway, on to the race. Our strategy was one lap on, one lap off until midnight and then do a triple lap each, so we would have the opportunity of a small nap. I was up first and following the short run, I was flying up the fire road, surrounded by a few other riders at the head of the race. The pace was fierce, much faster than I remembered from last year. After the first mile or so, with my heart rate through the roof, I decided to ease off. There were four other riders in the lead group and I recognised most of them from quad teams, so no real competition for the pairs race.

I finished the first lap without any incidents and handed over to Rich. We were leading the pairs race by a few minutes, but this meant nothing as there was a long way to go. The lap times were quicker than last year by about two minutes. It was going to be a hard race if the speed remained this high throughout.

I barely had time to gather my thoughts before Rich turned up having put in an equally fast lap. Off I went again, legs screaming and lungs burning, trying to enjoy the scenery before 17 hours of darkness set in!

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We were doing well. About four hours in and we had a lead of about 15 minutes. But this meant nothing as both of us had mechanicals on consecutive laps, bringing the lead back down to about 6 minutes. If this is how the rest of the race was going to pan out, it was going to be a nightmare.

As we headed in to the night, the first quarter of the race started to take its toll. My legs started to cramp and felt quite painful. I eased off over the next few laps and drank lots of Clif energy drink. This stuff is amazing for curing cramp during a race and worked again on this one. The race was still running at a high pace and I knew that I’d have to do a bit of self preservation if I was going to keep putting in fastish laps through to the end.

During the race, you don’t get to chat much with your racing partner apart from a quick exchange of words at the end of each lap. This was Rich’s first Strathpuffer and he seemed to be enjoying himself. We were both lapping at roughly the same times, which worked really well in terms of balancing the laps and making sure we were both riding and recovering for the same amount of time.

We got past half way and at some point over the last few laps, we had lapped second place and were nearly two laps up on third. The mechanicals had stopped and everything seemed to be running comfortably. Although we knew we couldn’t be complacent as all it would take is a broken bike at the start of a lap and the lead would be lost. At this point we decided to do a double lap rather than a triple. This meant enough time for a change of clothes, some hot food and a 15 minute nap. For me this worked a treat and when I headed back out, I felt re-energised.

One of the hardest elements of the Puffer is the darkness. After 12 hours, it really starts to get you down and you feel it is never going to end. Even when it gets near 8am and you are only 2 hours from the finish, it is still dark, making the last few hours mentally harder. We had got through the night with no more mechanicals (apart from a broken seat post) and managed to increase our lead to two laps. We were still pushing hard into the last few hours when light started to appear in the sky. In our short exchanges between laps, we had decided to ride until the end, to see how many laps we could do.

In the end, we completed 36 laps, a pairs record, and won the race by over two laps. We’d also managed fifth overall, only beaten by four other quad teams. I t was great performance, which wouldn’t have been a success without Rich. He was a great partner who kept the pace high throughout the race. Hopefully we will get the chance to race pairs again in the future.

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The solo race was won again by Jase, my training partner and good mate. It was an awesome performance of true grit, having been pushed hard by Guy Martin and Keith Forsyth. He’s won the solo race twice now to my one solo win, so I might have to go back next year and race solo again 😉 Or I could go with a quad team and try for a win in all three categories!

Big thanks to everyone who helped out over the weekend, especially Debs and Angela who were awesome doing their stuff in the pits. Also thanks to Exposure Lights for the loan of some awesome lights and supplying a lovely plush suspension seat post when mine snapped mid race.

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So that’s the opening race of the season done and dusted. Let’s hope for similar success for Team JMC throughout the year!