With the lack of MTB events happening in the last year and with the UK 24-Hour Champs looming I wanted to pack in some race efforts in the lead up. In the absence of much other than short XC races I found a couple of MTB sportives to test the legs. First up was the Mendip Murmuration on my doorstep and a few weeks later the Bucks Off Road Sportive.

Coming off the back of a couple of false starts in the Gorrick Series with illness and generally being pretty worn down, I was keen to crack on in these ones despite not actually being races but, as with pretty much every single sportive I’ve done, they do in fact have people giving it full beans. Obviously within the realms of the ‘don’t be a dick’ rule you can usually spend most of these rides at race effort safely.

First up was the Mendips Murmuration run by Channel Events. A shortened 25 mile route with some big climbs across a long stretch on the Mendip Ridge was definitely going to get the heart rate up. It was a sign on and start setup but those who looked like they were keen to crack on lingered around to be quick to get going. Of course I was one of said keeners and left after about 20 others. Quickly passing these folks up on towards the trig point I was feeling decent. A bit of a faff stop trying to get my power meter calibrated (lols) and a bit of a nav error meant a fellow keener chap emerged behind at speed. He was rocking the t-shirt/baggy shorts ‘I’m not here to race’ look but the bike and lack of baggage strapped to him gave the game away. After I held open the first gate for him he then didn’t do likewise at the next as it shut in my face, his intent was clear!  The route diverted at one point into absolutely shitty cow slop bog which we thought must be wrong despite the signs so we ended up trekking round allowing another lycra warrior to catch up and we headed out to Crook Peak together. The awesome rocky descent on the other side of the peak caused a slight rip in my tyre and I hadn’t topped up the sealant recently so it wouldn’t seal and was too awkward to get a plug in.

The ‘race’ was gone at that point and I was cursing my luck again. I pulled out my Tubilito lightweight tube which after a lot of faffing turned out to come with a bonus pre-split in it making it unusable! I waited until someone kindly donated me a tube, the whole thing taking ages and me once again being pretty pissed off. With the lack of events it really stung to yet again not be able to do a full ride how I’d want. I ploughed on and really did enjoy the route despite the woes. My spirits had been lifted by epic scenery and some trails I hadn’t ridden before. Just before the last couple of miles disaster struck again when inevitably a final slap in the face was to come when my front tyre started going down as well! Pumping it up didn’t work but I couldn’t see anything in the tyre and didn’t have the will to open up a full investigation. It turned out afterwards that the valve had taken a rock strike and was leaking air… so after a 20 minute dehydrated walk to the end I was thoroughly fed up! Will be back next year though as the course was great taking in some of the best of the Mendips natural trails and views. A big slap of cake at the end cheered me up a bit.

After moping around for a bit the week after I pulled myself together and looked forward to other events ahead. Balancing everything at the moment and finding the motivation and time has been tricky. Strangely I have kept motivated though despite the setbacks. In many ways I have to have so much more motivation now than even when I’ve trained many more hours in a week. So it’s harder to take when that doesn’t result in delivering what you want through other factors. Man can’t race his bike as much as he wants, to the level he wants too, boo hoo, first world problems I know….GET A GRIP.

So grip was taken and next event was the Bucks Off Road Sportive a few weeks later. Sandwiched in between was 175 miles in the Cotswolds testing a new route but I’ll cover that another time.

It was a bit of a trek for me to drive over 2 hours there and back to the start at Rickmansworth. I do feel a bit guilty about this sort of journey just to ride a bike. Maybe we could do more to organise lift shares to these things?

Rob who I knew from racing together at other events had dropped me a message to see about riding together at the event which sounded good so long as we were ‘giving it the beans’ I said. We headed off together from another staggered start and gradually picked off those in front.  Some well stocked feed stations on route were welcome in between the fast rolling terrain which was mostly easy bridleway stuff but the odd more technical rocky section. Despite navigating walkers, horses and other countryside folk (and gates) we were motoring on at about 13.5mph average! Helped by a bit of time-trialling on the road the speed felt decent, which was good after I’d had a big weekend before in the Cotswolds. At last an event happening without body or bike mechanicals, ace! Rob managed to smash his knee into some gravel late on in the ride but he carried on with his battle wound. I must admit to having looked over my shoulder a couple of times, couldn’t help it! We made it to HQ as the first riders back which, although it’s not a race, did feel like a decent effort in a field of 100. It was quite a relief really as it’s been a difficult few months. Hopefully the bad luck is out of the way.

I’m now working with Lee Eaton at Transition Cycle Coaching to be in the best possible shape for UK 24hr Champs. Using the upcoming Vittoria MTB Marathon as a stepping stone, I’m hoping we can get to the UK Champs in decent fettle. Keeping healthy will be my primary focus though (and sleeping) as the impact of getting these wrong is way more than missing the odd ride or two.