Isn’t it ironic? I am sitting here now, looking out of the window at the fading evening sun after a day of blue skies and gentle winds. 24 hours ago, it was a different story! I was huddled under the Four4th gazebo, listening to the pouring rain and howling wind and trying to work out how long it would be until I would have to put my wet shoes back on and get back out in the mud.
Photographic proof - it was lovely on Friday
Erlestoke 12 has always been a great event for us. The last two years have seen wall to wall sunshine and the low-key, grass roots event has proved loads of fun, and great for the kids. This year was no different, well apart from the rain.
I arrived with my hubby and two kids on Friday night, in the sunshine. We pitched camp, surveyed the surroundings and settled down for a beer and an early night full of optimism. We woke on Saturday morning to the heart sink sound of heavy rain on the tent. The bad weather had a major effect on attendance with the organizers reporting 140 pre-entered riders failing to turn up and on the day entries significantly below expectation.
Roki "Chopper" Read finishing his double lap
By the time the race started the rain had stopped and within the first two laps the course began to dry so the inevitable happened. The predominantly clay soil became a plastacine nightmare. I was riding with the Four4th boys on a mixed team, and for a variety of reasons they opted to double lap at the outset. This meant my first lap was not until about 4.30pm and by this time the course was starting to improve again. To say a dry line appeared was an overstatement but a less wet line was definitely becoming visible. The constant slog and technically difficult single-track was too much for many however with lots of early retirements. With so many good quality events in the calendar it is easy to see why many people quit while they and their bikes were in one piece but it did make for a very quiet race course.
Raring to go and looking nice and clean
By 8pm mild drizzle had become torrential rain and the course changed again, initially becoming quicker as the mud thinned with the new water, and then slowed again as the wet mud got deeper and deeper. I was due out for my final lap at about 10.30pm. Ideal. With a 12pm cut of there was plenty of time for a lap, but not enough for two so despite the appalling weather the pressure was off and I could enjoy it as much as possible. But the deteriorating conditions took their toll on the lap times and as I stood under the Charge tent next to the transition area, staring out into the pitch black night at 10.55pm my team mates made the call that if I didn’t get out by 11pm there was no point in going. At 10.58 we spotted the distinctive green glow of the Four4th Holy Moses lights and I was stripping off for a lap.
You said it was "grippy" out there!!!!
I was wet to the bone by the time I got out of the transition area. The clay soil of the field created a sheet of water on the ground and most of it sprayed into my face as soon as I started peddling. It was a very lonely lap. I saw no one. Literally no one. Now, that is quite scary for a girl rider. There is no way I would ride around my home woods alone in the dark, let alone in the conditions we had last night but there I was. All the Marshals appeared to have packed up and gone home, as had the Red-Bull timers. I suddenly became very aware of the fact if something went wrong, I would have no way of getting out. It made me VERY careful on the descents. At least the red mist kept away all thoughts of murders and rapists that usually occupy my thoughts when out in the dark alone and I actually really enjoyed it. The mud spray had covered my Garmin so I had no idea if I was going to make the midnight cut off or not but I was giving it everything as it was so knowing the time would not have made any difference. I slipped and slid my way round, spending as much time on the floor as I did upright until I reached the final fire road climb and stood up the sprint, only to cramp up in about every muscle I had. Then I heard the cheers from the campsite below and I got a second wind. I flew down the last section of fire road and into the campsite, crossing the line with just a couple of minutes to spare.
A bowl of hot washing up water has never felt so good!
Sense of humour chip reinserted
We finished second in the end, behind the Torq team, both on 14 laps but with the Torq team an amazing 50 minutes ahead. Up until the point we heard the results announced we were completely unaware it was only us and Torq racing. With no results available during or after the race there was no way to check what was going on, or even who we were racing.
Despite the conditions there were some epic achievements. Unfortunately with no published results it is very difficult to be sure of facts but George Budd had a fabulous ride on his fat bike in the Men’s 6 hour category and Iwona Szmyd stomped to victory in the ladies 6 hour. The Lumicycle Mens pair put everyone to shame and proved they are not men but cycling machines, and the fat bike pair (Judy and Roy McNeill) proved they are game for anything but particularly good at drinking beer.
George Budd - depressingly fast despite carrying 90Kg of bike and mud
It was such a shame about the weather. Hats off to the organizers for making the best of it. The course was shortened from the original 8 miles to 6.5miles to take out the worse of the wet stuff. The only thing that really got me was the lack of marshals. I know full well what a miserable job it is sitting in the rain but that is when the marshals are really needed. Oh yeah, and please, when sorting out prizes, spare a little thought for who you are giving prizes to. For the second year in a row I have come away with a men’s cycling top. Obviously it is great to get any prize but I wonder how the men’s team would feel about getting women’s specific clothing as their prize.
Will we be back next year? You bet. And so should you. What’s a little mud between friends?