‘Heavy rain forecast between 13:00 to 18:00 yellow warning in place’
Hit The North 6 was to be defined by that short sentence on met office weather, as with all rides it’s hard to visualise a forecast until you’re actually in it or in this case when you’re covered in the result of it.
Mud. With a capital ‘M’. If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from this years event it’s that rain in Manchester is no joke and that when the Beeb says heavy rain in the North West they damn well mean it.
Driving to the event I knew I was in for something special as the rain bounced off the road and windscreen, there’s a certain masochistic pleasure to be had from being out in this weather, one we mountain bikers share with cyclo-cross riders and energetic dogs everywhere. Taking place at Phillips Park in Prestwich as it has done for the past ten years, Hit The North 6 promised to be a memorable event.
I arrived a little early and met up with Budge of Team JMC down at the sign on, JMC are the colours I ride for as well as Bikeshak of course. By that time the rain was really starting to come down, after setting up I was already soaked through despite my waterproofs and the path leading up to the gateway by the river crossing was suddenly a river itself!
After making it back to the van and getting changed I went for a steady sighting lap and it was immediately obvious this was going to be a slog, there were some fast gravel sections but in between were muddy sections that would become bogs after two hours of over a hundred riders ploughing through them.
On the start line I opted to be up near the front (orange helmet in the foreground) to avoid the backlog as we hit the first monster climb, waiting for the gun my wheels were already sinking into the mud and I had to keep pulling them back out with a satisfying ‘shhucck’ sound.
A front start was a very wise choice, that first climb was a brute that had riders walking or crawling in their lowest gear but more so once at the top you turned right back around and hit ‘That Descent’ which when on it you were getting to the bottom, bike or no. Looking down this immense muddy hill all you see is riders falling on every line, the only thing to do is hit it and hope for the best.
The first couple of laps were a blistering pace set by the big hitters of the race, I managed to get myself into a little grupetto (a small group chasing the lead group) which helped me pace the start of the race and get a nice covering from back wheel spray. Having not done this sort of high intensity riding for a while my legs were starting to strain at the end of lap two, not good, cockney knees up style leg slapping kept the cramp at bay but only briefly.
Lap two was to be a watershed moment of the race too as that’s when my brake pads had completely dissolved, after riding through a flowy section of trail and reaching for the rear brake to scrub some speed before the water crossing the lever came right back to the bar! Some furious pumping re-set the pistons but I knew I’d be on metal before long.
As we neared the tail end of the race I was starting to fade quite badly, the long muddy slogs between faster sections were draining my reserves with no real respite on the course. I was taking the descents well though and making time by straight lining the more technical sections whilst others struggled in the mud. On any other day I think a good 10-20 riders would have beat me on fitness alone.
I was watching the time count on the Garmin near two hours, I could feel the mud lying heavy on my face, my bike sounding like it was slowly disintegrating and despite two gels and bottles of energy drink my reserves were done. Other riders were struggling too, there were multiple crashes on the last lap as fatigue got the better of many punishing mistakes in the extremely challenging conditions.
One rider on ‘That Descent’ actually took out a sapling tree failing to stop with worn out pads.
I was utterly relieved to see the finish line for the final time, shouting my number as the mud covered it completely, I honestly don’t think my brakes would have lasted another lap, or my gears.
I can honestly say Hit The North 6 was one of those races that will stick with me, like all challenging rides that push you and your gear to the limit, it’s these rides that are little defining moments in your cycling life just because you can say ‘Yea I remember HTN in 2019…’ and share that comradery with the riders who were there. I think we’ll all agree it was brilliantly horrible, like a happy dog freshly rolled in a muddy puddle.
A huge shout out to Jason Miles, the Marshals and Organisers who made HTN6 happen. No mean feat in a very public place near a city but to do it in that weather was nothing short of heroic.
Why do it? Well, it beats the Trafford Centre on a rainy Saturday…