SSUK 2016 – Rain, Mud, Tears, No Gears

I blame Nathan, it’s his fault; it’s always his fault. From his first reply on the Singletrackworld forums regarding my obsolete “tyre-choice for XC” thread, he seemed friendly enough, but I always knew he had ulterior motives, pain! The rising Midlands XC racer, hailing from the Yorkshire motherland, took me under his wing and pushed me through a season of XC, through regionals and the fantastic Friday Night Summer Series (FNSS). We’d talk, I’d pretend I was listening, all the while wondering how many puddings I was going to have to skip to beat him on the next round. We’d talked about the previous years’ SingleSpeed UK  race and somehow ended up in a true gentleman’s agreement; the loser buys the victor 1 beer of his choosing, and the winner gets 1 year of bragging rights.

The scene was set – it was going to be a manic few month’s of training on the singlespeed, trying to keep a race pace whilst spinning furiously, or senselessly mashing on the pedals up the smallest of inclines – it’s true what they say, the only gear you have, is the wrong gear. I’d entered some of the FNSS on the single and at least shown I could pedal for a race without retreating into myself in a bedraggled mess 3/4 round the race, an improvement from the previous year! The time was drawing closer, and the training was starting to taper, there wasn’t much more I could do but stress on what tyres to use again… maybe I should start another thread on STW…..

…the only gear you have, is the wrong gear.

The race itself was at least on home soil, so I had that advantage. Although the track was fresh to me, it seemed somehow to play to my advantage that the local MTB group, Godiva Trailriders, were running the event in their own true style (something affectionately referred to shoddy). The evening’s activities before had ensured that most had, at best, got a few hours sleep before being rudely awakened by a pending race day. There was just enough time to stress about gearing and tyres one last time before the other riders took it upon themselves to explain in their own unique way that I may have been taking this a little too seriously, and prompted me to remember the singlespeed mantra, the only gear you have, is the wrong gear. The weather itself had as yet held off, although the weather reports had suggested otherwise; there was a chance we may have got through this dry. Nope.

Bikes in Trees
If you go down to the woods today…

The race starts in an apparently familiar fashion to those who’d raced singles before; everyone’s bike is taken from them and hidden in and around the start/finish straight leading to a cleated running mass start through brush and bracken trying to dig out your pride and joy. Special mention should be given to the many poor souls trying to find their white On One Inbred amongst the pack. Seeing my rival take off with the first wave of riders to find their bike somewhat left a feeling deep in my gut, although that could have been the swig of Charlie the Bikemongers finest herbal schnapps…

Eventually I caught a glimpse of the niner hidden amongst the brambles; tagged lycra and scratches a plenty, I set off in pursuit.

Initially getting caught behind a group of steadier riders didn’t help the situation, although in these situations its important to remember the spirit of Single Speed UK – it’s not all about the podium on this one. I slowly weaved my way through the pack, taking somewhat ‘choice’ lines to make progress until hitting another bottleneck at the most technical descent on the course, a small kicker of a climb followed by a tight off-camber left-hander over roots and (now extremely sodden) loam. It’s at this point, my lockout decided to bail and dig its own grave in the dirt, never to be seen again….. these climbs were going to be interesting.

It's steeper than it looks with one gear and no lockout!
It’s steeper than it looks with one gear and no lockout!

Fast forward a couple of laps – and even though it wasn’t thought possible, it’s somehow even wetter. The gap between my race target had been slowly closing, in part due to my realisation that I can cut down at least 10-15 seconds of time by downing the beer as fast as humanely possible and jumping back on the bike before it’s even touched my stomach. It may not have necasarily been the best strategy, and may have been the point of blame for at least one over the bars whilst trying to keep the contents of my stomach internal, but it was working, for better or worse. I could see the telltale bright orange Soma in the distance and the gap was closing. A ‘gentlemanly’ pass later and it’s the home stretch, try keep the pace up, try keep the beer down, and try not to bounce too much whilst stamping on the pedals like a madman making the world’s muddiest wine.

At this point in time, it’d be a great place to stick in a few more photos, but seen as all cameras were essentially waterlogged and vision had been reduced to next to zero; there was little point wiping the mud out of your eyes with gloves heavy with clod. A few more brutal climbs later, and I’m defeated. The climbs I’d just about made up before were too slick to maintain any sort of traction, and at this point, any excuse to dismount and meander up the climbs are welcome! (Although this did come at the expense of letting the people already pushing up the hill down, given I got the impression they thought I was one of the crazies on their leaders lap).

As I pulled into the beer stop one last time, searching frantically for the beer fairy and met only with looks of confusion. It looked like the organisers had taken pity on us and called last lap rather than watch us struggle on any further, and once the adrenaline high wore off, a decision that I’m not too ashamed to admit, was bloody brilliant! (Plus the beer had ran out… so there’s that too…)

Was there ever a question on which direction to go?
Was there ever a question on which direction to go? (Photo taken early on in the race clearly!)

All in all, it had been one of the highlights of the racing year, with smiles through grimaced faces all round. Better yet, I’d overtaken my number-one rival for the year – albeit a slightly hollow victory given the fact he’d spannered his arm lowsiding over a rock the week previous, but at this point, I’ll take anything I can get! The number one position of course went to Coventry’s own Steve ‘Dorris’ Day, world champion singlespeed racer, speed freak, and all round one of the nicest guys you can meet on the XC circuit.

The evenings festivities drew to a close with a local brewery supplying the ale, Charlie the Bikemonger’s crazy freebies and the big-ticket raffle, with next year’s event being handed over to the Lake District’s brutal climbs! If you’re a sucker for punishment, you can get more info here. I’d just like to also thank and congratulate everyone from Godiva Trailriders for putting on such a fantastic event, and everyone taking part for making it so memorable… Now if I could only find where I put my gears….

Cold, wet, tired, couldn't be happier
Cold, wet, tired, couldn’t be happier

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