This weekend was the kielder 100, the UK’s only 100mile race. I was keen to do well at this race although I was a little unsure of my fitness over such a long distance as I had not done any real long rides since I separated my shoulder. Instead I was hoping that a racing for the past 3 weekends would bring on my form nicely.
I travelled up to Kielder the Friday before the race, stopping to pick up Rich Rothwell on the way. We arrived at Kielder castle to find swarms of midges intent on eating anything that moved. To protect us from the onslaught we sought shelter in the handily placed pub. Then like true athletes we continued to carbo-load ready for the big day ahead, the pint and burger did just the trick! Then it was off to bed, rich in his pop up tent and me in my luxury van (complete with carpet, sleeping bag and exposure light!).
We woke early the next morning, to be precise and once again began the challenge of eating when you would rather be asleep. Race start was at 6:30 am so we made our way to the start line for 6, just in time to miss the queue and bag a front line spot!
At 6:30 we rolled out into the gloomy mist for the neutralised start. After a couple of miles we turned off up a fire road and the race was on. A strong tempo was set up the first fire road drag and I began to suffer! Cold air, early starts and no warm up make for a grizzly first 15 minutes. Over the top of the first drag 3 riders had split away from the front then a group of 15 or so including me were behind. I decided to follow the wheels and try to save energy, however once I saw a slight gap to 6 riders ahead I put in an effort to make the move. This proved to be a good call was we worked together well and pulled away. Coming into the first feed at about the 20mile point we caught the leaders. I realised that I had dropped one of my bottles though so had to stop and fill up which resulted in another chase and valuable energy wasted. I soon caught on though and was comfy on the back of the elite front group.
However 5 miles later disaster struck. My tactics had been to sit at the back of the group to save energy but riding down an overgrown rutted descent a rider in front had a near crash so I pulled my foot out to stop. As I did my left pedal body separated from the crank and flew into the bushes and my bottle and cage simultaneously rattled lose and fell off. So I had to stop, run back up the trail to find my last bottle, cage and pedal body from in the long grass as the lead group rode away. I wasn’t very happy and thought my race had ended. Luckily I managed to find all the parts and bodge my pedal back together and chase.
Fortunately for me the lead group had splintered up the next drag, although at the time I did not know. I caught Mike Blewit (3rd in 2009) and we rode together for a while making light conversation to pass the time. I figured we would ride the rest of the race together, but I soon gapped him on a climb so decided to push on solo. Ahead I could see Matt Pages white jersey glistening in the sunlight which was breaking through the mist so I put my head down and charged on. I soon caught and passed Matt and before I knew it Neil Crampton was in view (last year’s winner) so I chased hard figuring that he would be good to follow. I caught Neil on the descent from the top of kielder and we soon settled down into a good rhythm. We worked together for about 20miles and crossed into Scotland together. On the open moorlands we could see 3rd place Phil Morris ahead and before we knew it we were together. Up ahead 1st and 2nd place were 10 and 5 minutes ahead.
As we entered Newcastleton we were all hanging. We stopped at the feed and raided the food like a pack of hyenas! At the feed JC caught us and the 4 of us rode away together. On the climb up bloody bush road Phil dropped off and JC cramped and all of a sudden I fancied my chances at a spot on the podium. These soon faded though as we hit the last feed. JC caught up, Neil rode off quickly followed by JC and I started dribbling!
The last 20miles were grim. I plodded on as hard as I could counting the miles on my GPS. At what I thought was 2 miles to go I passed the 5mileto go sign! My heart dropped and the trail rose, straight up a switch back climb. Somehow I made it although I had to dig deep. The last descent could not have come sooner, one more climb and I would have been a jabbering mess at the side of the trail. 8h23minutes after the start I finished in 5th place and somewhat wobbly! I really enjoyed the experience (in retrospect at least!) and will be back next year, this time aiming for the box...