|Cotic X: Ready to roll|
|Registration mugshot. Pic: Endura|
|I am not a number...|
With the best part of 1,000 riders to get across a two or three rider width gateway, there was a decent queue starting, even at 7am on the dot for a 7:30 start. Knowing I was in for a steady, conservative day I lined up near the back, chatted to a couple of riders around me and tried to shake some life into cold fingers under thin summer gloves. I hadn't realised yet that this wouldn't be the only time I cursed my gloves that day, but all I wanted here was slightly thicker ones. I started my Garmin as the start was sounded, but it took a good five minutes to make our way to the gate, hence the discrepancy between the Garmin time and my chip time for the day. We rolled out, down the hill from the castle, along the road for a short while before turning into the forest and onto the first gravel climb of the day.
The first 24km loop of the ride put a couple of things into nice positive focus for me. I was spinning away steadily, plodding along as I do, there were no really steep climbs, just long grinds on fairly decent gravel surfaces, and I was making time up on loads of people! Two reasons mainly: 1) so many people were puncturing, on both climbs and descents, and 2) so many groups of riders faff like crazy at the top of a hill. The first I'd seen before, on the Kielder Cross; whether it's wrong tyre pressures, losing comfort by having them too hard, dropping pressure for comfort but then flatting on rougher sections, it seemed to be unending. I was running 40c Nanos, tubeless, at 35-40psi and didn't have an issue all day, so that was a bonus. The amount of faff from some of the groups around me was amazing though, maybe only to those of us who predominantly ride solo, but it was eye-opening. At the top of every climb, there'd be a group of 5, maybe 10, maybe 20 riders pulled up, some eating, some repairing punctures, some drinking, some off weeing in the trees. I to-ed and fro-ed all day with one group of riders, whose club I won't name, who could have been a pile faster than me if they'd stopped less, they certainly always passed me at a good pace, only for me to overtake them again at the top of the next hill.
|Mamba country: Miles and miles of bugger all.|
I managed to keep hold of all my food and stuck with my gameplan to eat something small every half hour. We dropped out of the forest towards the first cutoff point, at Cranecleugh outdoor centre at 24km, and I glanced at the clock to see how far up on the cutoff times I was - over an hour, as it turned out. No problems, just another climb back into the forest, steady away, spinning the cranks. The roll over to the first Feed Station at 60km was more of the same: Long climb, steady flat, rolling descent, warm air, bright sun. Eat. Drink. Be relatively cheerful if not totally merry. We soon dropped out of the woods for a short tarmac out-and-back to the Feed Station, the marshal at the junction wielding a guitar and serenading us with a bit of Tom Petty as we went past - a burst of Free Fallin’ that raised a smile or two. The musical philosophy continued at the feed stop itself, with The Beatles ‘Within You and Without You’ filling the air serenely as I and a few others stretched tight legs and aching backs on the grass, refilled bottles, munched on some lovely Lemon Drizzle cake and chatted. I ditched the gilet and the arm warmers as the temperature was getting up quite nicely, from 4°c at the start up to 20°c there at Stonehaugh. The knee warmers stayed on - I’d had a couple of niggles with my left knee in the run-up to the event, and the coverage was more psychological than anything. I was an hour and a half ahead of the cutoff here, the only one that would really impact the 130km riders, and feeling pretty damn good, so after a quick word with both Stephen the mechanic and Sarah - another events regular - I was off again.
|Decend! Pic: Stephen Smith @steph3nsmith|
From the next high point came the next longer, rougher descent. Myself and another gent on a gravel bike dropped in at the same time, me having great fun on slightly bigger tubeless tyres, him admitting he was running sealant-filled Slime tubes and they'd worked so far. Chat got interrupted by some of the roughest sections, and I passed the marshal and photographer at the bottom of the hill looking somewhat, shall we say, focussed. As you can see from the pic, my apparently standard angry race face was out in force - thanks Stephen for capturing that one. Truth is, my hands were taking a beating, and my gloves weren't helping. Whether they'd stretched and slipped, whether something was loose, I don't know, but whatever part of the bars I used, I was starting to get hot spots between my thumbs and my index fingers, probably right on the edge of the glove padding. That positioning meant they were sore when I was riding on the hoods and just as bad when I was down on the drops and braking. Just what you need on the rough stuff.
We caught another pair of riders at the bottom of the hill, two friends who'd ridden last year's 130 and were on for the 200 this time out, both on shiny titanium gravel bikes but both taking the mickey out of each others budgetary choices - there's a bit of cost variation between a Salsa Ti Fargo and a Sonder Ti Camino (The former costs pretty much double the latter, for those not in the know), but both looked great and their owners seemed happy with them. The four of us rolled on on the tarmac and farm lanes, passed a happy marshal telling us it was only 5km to the next feed station. We all wondered if he was lying, but it turned out not, and the only thing between us and the 96km feed stop was one more gradual tarmac rise. Hmmm.
|Feed station 2: Bliss.|
|Passport control at the top of Kershope Burn|
|"130k Finisher". That's the important part.|
This was the 200/130km split point, and these two unsavoury characters were our encouragement. Dropping to 130km? Chicken. Heading out for the big kahuna? Hero, have a banana. I chuckled, grinned, high-fived the chicken and spun off towards home, spirits lifted by a bit of daftness. Down Akenshaw Burn and into Lewisburn, back towards the arced Lewisburn Bridge and onto the Lakeside way, relishing the down and the flat. Soon, we were alongside the lake and the Bakethin Weir track, then the North Tyne and definitely homeward bound. An unfamiliar section appeared, and I realise we were headed across the road past Butteryhaugh and the next pop out onto tarmac would mean the final short climb to the castle and the finish. I'd passed a couple of riders on the trail, and myself and two others were in a short, fast train headed for home. We hit the tarmac, and turned right and left, with a good number of spectators near the Anglers Arms and lining the grass up the hill, cheering us and everyone else in. The other two stood up to climb, I stayed sat, upped my cadence and passed them both, slightly to my surprise. A sharp right turn at the top and into the driveway, past the timing point to stop the clock at 8:21:21. I turned and clapped the other two in, gratefully accepted my finisher's beer, badge and Tunnocks Teacake and slumped off into the grass to have a nice long sit down in the shade.
|They had beer and pies. Win.|
|Nearly the end of me, certainly the end of the day.|