Kielder. The land of the long white rain cloud. God’s very own water catcher. Sitting in my van at 7am watching the happy rain bounce excitedly and merrily on the van bonnet. The droplets spinning and tumbling with a two fingered salute are slowly being taken out of focus due to the front window steaming up. This is forcing me to wind the window down to get some air in and unfortunately water. As I peered over into the next car like some sort of weirdo licking the window pane the occupants were also scrunching their noses up at the outside pee-a-thon and contemplating stepping out.
As a break in the rain clouds gave us, the staying in the car mob, a chance to venture out, get bike, check kit, faff for their country and really get ready for a gruelling 101km race that will grind the life out of them. This always confuses me about the weather around these parts. I can do a long training ride from my home (Langholm) and into this place they call Waterworld and I will always encounter rain. Not to worry as I rolled down to the start. Everyone is in the same boat (an ark) and no one is drowning (yet).
As ever the front of the race is crammed with the top elite riders that look fast, are fast and ooze racing class. My aim is to try and get as close as I can to the front and attack. Not just for 5 miles but to attack from the start to the finish. If I blow up then so be it, I have tried. But I want to hunt down targets all day. Reel them in and spit them out. I want the last 10 miles to hurt. I want to taste the pain and blood. I want my legs to scream for mercy as I pass some bystanders and cross myself in pity for them. Big chain bossing, the fight is on.
Round 1 – and we are off and after a long lead out behind a 4×4, the whippets are set lose. As I raise my heart rate to overdrive they disappear into the Brigadoon mist and I am left to my own devices to finish in a respectable time. I drift in and out of a group that has been spat out from the front and we swap pleasantries and places as the miles tick away. The course is a mix of fire road, man-made trails and some tricky wee off-piste sections that join up the course. As I cleared the first Kielder section and hit the red lonesome pine trail that takes you to Newcastleton I was feeling good. My plan was to only stop for a bottle fill, so as I got to Newcastleton I filled up at the feed station and forged ahead. That’s when my luck changed from OK you are going well and feeling good, to bad.
As I hit a small climb I could feel my front wheel wandering. I stopped and discovered that I had a flat. Running tubeless I quickly blew it up again and carried on. But half a mile down the road it was flat again!! Bugger as I took the front wheel off and searched the dark abyss that was the inside of my dark and muddy tyre. No sealant was my first discovery; my second was a small hole that I figured would be the nemesis of my tyre. I decided then just to whack a tube in and get on with it. After a fury of he-man pump action heroics with my pump (as I only had one C02 cartridge left) I was back on track and trying to claw back some time. As I tackled the hidden valley on the Newcastleton red my front tyre went down rapidly again. Another puncture!! I scrambled about in my backpack and found my last tube. I checked my tyre for any debris then inserted my last rubber hope. I used my last C02 and remounted praying the puncture gods not to visit me again. As I just finished the snaking singletrack and started the red stane climb my front tyre started to wander again. No way, it can’t be. It can. As the failing tyre and inner tube acted out their last swan song I just dropped the bike and nearly cried. This is not happening. What the f**k. Ohhh I could crush a grape! As my bike lay in the mud wounded and frail I just grabbed a stick and started to hit the front wheel in a Basil Fawlty moment. The only solution that my depressed and small brain could come up with was to refit the tubeless setup and just get around the course by pumping the tyre up every time it went flat.
The last 30 miles was filled with ride hard, stop and pump up the tyre, ride hard, stop and pump up the tyre, ride hard stop and refit the tyre that had come off due to the rocky singletrack , ride hard , stop and pump up the tyre.
As I super limped into the final dib and finish my tyre was done, I was done and to top the day off I had some super crap chainsuck for the last 20 miles so every turn was in my big ring. No big ring bossing when the climbs kept on coming and coming and my flat tyre just kept on going down and down. My optimism at the start had been flattened but my love of riding bikes hasn’t.
I got around in 6:23 and was 54th. Not what I was aiming for but I know what is in my tank and I was happy at my feeding regime. It is what it is. What happened was out of my control and to be fair I was out on my bike getting the chance to race some of the best riders in the country. If that can’t wet my lips for another go at this biking malarkey then take my bikes and burn them. I am lucky I can go and ride my bike tomorrow and the next day. Some people can’t or sadly are not here to do so. Suck it up big boy and move on to the next one.
My tyre……….after the race I found two big slices in the Nobby Nic. That’s where the air was escaping from. On my double puncture one was a snake bite and the other was a thorn. Ah the joys!