Strathpuffer regular (he reckons he’s retired now though) Phil Simcock recounts his and Rich Rothwell’s pairs win….
This year was the 10th Anniversary of the Strathpuffer, one of the hardest 24 hour mountain bike endurance events in the world. I’ve ridden the race six times, both in the solo and pairs categories and clocked up over 100 laps of this excellent course. With all this experience of the race, you’d think each year it would get easier. Well it doesn’t! Yes, our organisation and equipment has got better every race to the point that I have Puffer specific kit. And yes, I know every rock, tree route, dip, hole and climb to the point that I could probably ride the route blindfold.
However, the one element of the race you cannot control is the weather and that has a major bearing on this race. Over the last six years I’ve experienced snow, ice, wind, rain and hail, with the temperature being cold but not too cold. This year was different.
The first challenge was just to get to the race. Within ten minutes of leaving home north of Manchester, we were stuck in a hail and lighting storm. Having got through this, we then got caught in a snow storm in the Lakes and then white out conditions going over the A9 past Aviemore. Arriving in Strathpeffer, there was plenty of snow on the ground and the temperature was struggling to reach zero. It would stay like this through to the start of the race.
With snow on the ground, the course was amazing. The snow and ice had filled all the nooks and crannies making for a smooth trail, even over the most rockiest parts. Lap times were slightly slower than last year, but not by much for those riding with ice tyres. The hardest challenge for this years race was dealing with the cold in-between laps. As the afternoon wore on and the darkness drew in, the temperatures dropped and were touching -4/-5 degrees. It was bloody cold, the coldest I had experienced at this race. You returned from a lap with your heart rate racing and a comfortable body temperature, but within minutes you were cold, achingly cold. Riding the pairs race fast means you are only in the pits for 35/40 minutes, so not enough time for a change of clothes. You just have to wrap up as best you can and deal with it. We purposefully make sure the pits not too comfortable, otherwise you would never make it out again. I was starting to question this strategy before we were even a quarter of the way through the race.
This year’s pairs race was full on for the whole race. I paired again with Rich Rothwell and we were both up for a good battle with the other teams, which included the Craig Bowles/Jason Hynd team, riding at the Puffer for the first time. I won’t go into too much detail of the race here as it has been wonderfully described in Rich Rothwell’s Blog. Suffice to say the race consisted of a roller coaster of emotions and can easily be described as ‘Arrrgghhh – Brrrrrr – Repeat’.
Thankfully, the temperature improved slightly during the race which made it slightly more bearable between laps. We had our fair share of mishaps and mechanicals, but we dealt with these well and limited our losses. Having led at the start of the race, we then lost the lead after a couple of hours and were slowly losing time as the race progressed. After about ten hours we had to do something before we lost touch with the leaders (Craig and Jason). So we both pushed hard for a few laps and pulled back the time and after that never looked back. As the second half of the race progressed, we took the lead and continued to gain time for the rest of the race.
Our lead was never enough to relax. A serious mechanical or crash could change things, so we continued to push hard through to the end of the race and ended up securing the win about 30 minutes ahead. This was the hardest pairs race I have took part in and definitely the coldest, which made the win the most satisfying.
As with any endurance race, there are many people that help you compete and succeed. Thanks to Debs for her support in the pits. This is the hardest of all races to provide support for but Debs was amazing and helped us all keep going. Thanks also to Team JMC for their continued support.
You can’t ride a 24hour race in the middle of winter without the best lights on the market. Thanks to USE Exposure for the continued support. There lights just keep getting better and brighter and make the night much more bearable. Thanks also to Maxxis/One Industries for supply of new rubber throughout the season.
So that was the Strathpuffer for another year. Time to retire on a high….