A thorough roasting was on the cards at this year’s Bristol Bikefest in the sweltering heat. I’ve done quite a few of these now over the years and been lucky enough to stand on the box for all but one of those. With some newly renovated trails to smash around I was looking forward to getting stuck in.
Obligatory hand nerve injury update: my wonky hand has been a lot better so although losing quite a bit of strength I’m back on track now in terms of re-strengthening and getting some harder rides in.
I’ve been helping out with some Trail Advocacy stuff of late in Bristol which has been headed up by the dudes at Pedal Progression. I work for the City Council so I’ve tried to share my knowledge of the dark side with the gang to help smoothly navigate the complexities of trying to maintain and improve the trails at Ashton Court. Read all about it here and chuck a few quid in if you value riding in Bristol!
The group had done an amazing job of getting together loads of tombola prizes to help raise funds and they hauled in £1500 over the weekend! Massive thanks to all the volunteers involved in this whole thing who are creating a legacy for our kids to have rad trails to ride in Bristol in the future.
On to the racing then…
8 hours was going to be a long time in 30c heat. The advantage of getting a bit older is that for most racing situations I’ve been there done that before to some extent now. Memories of chundering a couple of hours in to a 12 hour race here years ago reminded me of the importance of hydration and not eating too much solid food! I came packing over 8 litres of Torq energy drink for the 8 hour solo event I had entered. I also made sure I drank lots in the hours before. My plan was to stick entirely to energy gels to avoid ‘stomach soup’ where solid food just doesn’t have enough liquid around it to digest causing stomach cramps and making it really hard to breath.
The Le Mans style start I imagine is a great spectator sport with the mega avalanche theme tune banging out to set riders off to, I bloody hate it though as it’s a guaranteed redline on the heart rate from the start! The Le Mans line up however was a good chance to catch up with some familiar faces on the start line as we all nervously inched forward to our baking destiny.
The course took in lots of the newly surfaced sections that thanks to all the volunteers and the skills of Architrail were running brilliantly. Ironically despite being my local trail centre I had only ridden these a couple of times so it was great to properly attack the new stuff. Full attack is where you appreciate the design a lot more and the thought that goes in to creating doubles which would normally be rollers at leisure speed, fun for all abilities! A nice fast downhill blast through some more natural rooted woods just before the start/finish mixed things up a bit as well, a super course with some short punchy climbs to boot.
After the initial carnage I reined it back to try and drop the heart rate and keep the temperature in check. I am no fan of the heat and have been known to heat acclimatise for certain races to help which would have been handy for this one as well. The closest I got was going 10 minutes in the car minus aircon the week beforehand.
I felt decent and was loving squeezing every last second out of the descents, utilising some of the tips I got from the skills coaching I did with Pedal Progression to pump and save energy whilst keeping speed. I found myself sat in a fairly clear pocket between the front teams and the rest which was nice to have some clear trail to myself. Unlike previous years the atmosphere on course was totally brilliant with riders being super courteous to each other and I didn’t see any issues like I had done previously, top marks all.
I knew it was going to happen at some point in the heat but at about 4 hours in at peak heat I started to get stomach cramp. I couldn’t physically drink any more and was being careful with my gel intake but my body does not like extreme effort and heat in equal measure. My stomach was tight and I couldn’t breathe properly. I backed off for a couple of laps and delicately managed the effort/cramp dynamic. It’s like trying to drive on the rev limiter with a sensitive accelerator, or driving through an average speed control area trying to maximise speed without going over the limit, a skill that I’ve got better at but is really easy to tip in the wrong direction. Stomach cramps eventually subsided as the heat declined thank god but it was now time for the leg cramps to begin. I had watched some of Stormzy’s Glasto set the night before and had his ‘Shut Up’ tune in my head all day. This came in pretty handy at this point “shut up legs”.
Everyone was suffering the same I told myself and towards the back end of the race I got word I was probably 3rd or 2nd but they might have missed a couple of my laps so who knows! In these situations there is nothing else to do other than unleash whatever is left assuming that someone is just in front or behind. I’ve heard too many stories of people sitting up then getting over taken in the last lap as they didn’t know the gaps around them. As I had saved the rest of the family the trauma of standing around for 8 hours I was super solo but a couple of familiar trackside faces including Rach Eaton were able to feed me a bit of info which was handy towards the death if nothing else for some nice cheery support.
I had to stop a couple of times for a short re-inflate of a rear tyre with a dodgy valve issue but fortunately I didn’t lose much time so otherwise the bike was running well. I pumped out a couple of last fast laps and got the effort/cramp very nearly wrong having to jump off the bike and stretch for a bit at one point.
It felt bloody good to leave nothing out there and eventually roll in second. My Team JMC buddy Lee Eaton had also smashed out a couple of quick laps to grab 3rd spot on the last lap!
It was great feeling to have race where I couldn’t have done any more, something that is always more important to me that any other prize. On the 30 minute drive home I cranked up Stormzy on loop repeat for a celebratory micro rave cave. Good times.