Monday, 15 June 2015

Race Report: Bristol Bike Fest

I've long since been saying that i'd like to have a crack at a mountain bike endurance race on trail centre type terrain and course. So with that in mind I signed up to the 12 hours Bristol Bike Fest, however keen to share the enjoyment/suffering/glory with somebody else, I fancied a crack at the mixed pairs category, so Lucinda agreed and that was it. Entry in.

My main target for the year when it comes to endurance mountain bike racing is Mountain Mayhem, so with the Bike Fest falling the weekend before Mayhem, some may see this as not ideal prep, I on the other hand, saw this as a great opportunity for me to test my fueling, make sure the bike was nailed, and get used to counting laps and trying to work out if i've got time for another before the finish, all whilst sat in a tent eating cold pasta. Nice. 

Bristol Bike Fest held at Aston Court, a large country estate just a few miles West of Bristol. Aston Court has a purpose built trail (Super Nova) that is 4 miles long, with sections of Red additions. The Bike Fest route used most of the blue, all of the red sections and then some additional fire roads to make 1 lap 5.8 miles, with the aim of the game to ride the course in your pair (or team or solo) as may times as you can before the race finished at 9pm (any laps finished after 9pm are not counted)

We left London on Friday around Lunch time, stopped off at the Rapha Archive store (rude not to eh) and then made our way onto Bristol. When we pulled into the event village and camping I was quite surprised with how small it felt, however there was a great atmosphere, with lots of people sitting out drinking beer and trying to set up tents. Pitch found and tent up, we decided to walk the course, or at least some of it, just to see what the terrain was like, having never ridden here I wasn't sure what to expect and this being Lucinda's second ever mountain bike race, and not only that, but having only been riding a mountain bike since January this year we both thought this would be worthwhile, pointing out any difficult areas, as it happened the course seemed ok, fast and flowing hardpack ground and gravel, with nothing too technical meant this should be fine. After a hearty dinner of cold pasta and warm sauce we headed into the event village/tent for a beer. There was plenty of people milling around, mainly drinking beer and eating chilli, nice relaxed feel. They also had roller racing, with the converted prize of 5 free beers each to fastest male and female rider. Not an opportunity I could turn down, and with that in mind Lucinda and I had a go and set our times, initially with us both topping the leader-board, for now anyway. Time to retire and off to sleep and discuss tactics (just keep riding yeah?) It was as I was putting the bikes away that it started raining, much like the forcast said...

Camp Set up

Start Line

I think it was about 2am, it might have been later, but the rain was lashing it down, for anybody who has never camped in torrential rain, imagine the noise of showing with a plastic bag on your head (yeah, ok) sleep that night, was at best, slightly disturbed. 6am and it was STILL raining, are we really about to do this? Apparently so, and as the 6:30 alarm went off we both woke up, both with a slight look of trepidation, or that might have been hunger, not sure. Breakfast and porridge cooking, bikes prepped, clothes on (how many layer, waterproof, shorts, 3/4? gloves) many questions about what to wear, and we were ready for the 8:30am briefing, and the 9am start time.  The start format was a short run to the bikes with one member of the team/pair opting to run, do their laps then hand over the baton (or in this instance big hair bobble) to the other team member/s. Lucinda and I had agreed for me to do 2 laps, and Lucinda then do 1, and we'll just been doing that till 9pm, easy.

Ready to roll

The start. Quite mad really.

The gun went off and a melee of riders set off up a small fireroad climb to find their bikes. Once on the bike it was time to settle into a rhythem, get used to the bike again (i'd made some changes, namely handle bars now 740mm wide) and just crack on. As with all mass start races the first lap is always very congested, and especially on this course as the first 2 miles offered very little by way of overtaking opportunities, despite this progress was good, and I was maybe in the top 30 riders on the course. The first few miles were great fun, fast and flowy hardpack singletrack which then lead onto a grassy flat section, followed by a fireroad climb, and opportunity that Lucinda and I had identified as prime overtaking opportunity. Reaching the top, there was a small descent, before you were plunged into the darkness of the woods again, still following some of the blue trail, so plenty of tight corners and bumps to navigate over, before the route rose slightly on some very tight and twisty singletrack, again, opening up we were then sent downhill, off the blue route, and onto another very wet fireroad, by this point I was soaking and the earlier effort to try and stay dry and not ride in the  puddles was quite frankly laughable now, I was just going to have to embrace cold wet feet for 12 hours. Upon reaching what I can only assume was the lowest point on the course we were met with a gradual and then steep rooted climb, a section we didn't walk the day before (thankfully). The climb now, on fresh legs and with very few riders having ridden it was fine, however I knew as both the course and legs become tired this would prove to be tough. Climb done, and we reached the next twisty singletrack section on what later became apparent, was my least favorite section of course. This was a tight, twisty section, where I seemed to struggle to find any rhythm, not sure why, probably lack of skillzz, probably the fact it was all slightly up hill. Either way the section after here was great fun, and by now, at around mile 4.5 the riders had thinned out, and I got a clean run at this section, it was, dare I say it, enjoyable. The final 1.5 miles contained a steep climb with loose rocks, roots and no clear line, again, I knew that whilst now, feeling fresh this would be fine, but after 7 hours on the bike i'd probably not feel the same. This climb then brought us back to the edge of the event village, and then straight back down down the only pure "red" section of the course, instantly different to the rest of the course, the rocks were loose and slippy, an overall rougher terrain, with jumps and trail features such as rock gardens and steps built in to make sure you are awake, this then lead into a fast descent with a clearly shorter rocky line, and a smoother line which might not be as quick, I opted for the later, still making sure I did the jumps. The course then went back upto the event village via a long grassy climb and a final fireroad flat section, before a sharp 180 degree turn into the arena. So that's 1 lap done, around 31 minutes including the run, so not bad, only 11.5 more hours to go. 

Out on the second lap I felt great, especially now I knew the course better, and there were less riders, I knew where I could really make up time, and where i'd be best to try and conserve some energy. This lap was however pretty uneventful, well bar the air I got on some of the jumps obviously. Timing wise I was being constant with my previous lap, and aiming to lap at around 30-32 minutes. Final grassy climb done, and few more places gained I pulled into the arena, and the handover area to pass onto Lucinda, she was off, and we were onto our third lap. Neither of use were sure of her lap times, but agreed that a time around 50 minutes would be great,and with that in mind I went back to the tent and grab some food. I'd done less than 12 miles but it was amazing how hungry I felt, plus it was bloody freezing, windy and raining. Nice one June! Back into the handout area and before I know it Lucinda turns up! She'd just racked up a 45 min lap. So now i'm out on another 2 laps, with the aim now to get 5 laps completed before 12, and therefore the potential for 20 in total. 12 noon was also quarter of the way through in terms of time, so a nice milestone. Again, nothing much to report on these laps, my 3rd was around 33 minutes, and 4th slightly slower at 34 minutes, but I still felt good, if not a little damp, and coming into the arena, to slightly heavier rain, Lucinda was there ready to take over and do another lap, and we were in before 12. Back to the tent again and with the weather getting worse it didn't make sense to just have an hour/45 minutes between laps, you just didn't have enough time to get warm and eat anything substantial. With that in mind, i'd made the decision that on my next time out i'd do 4 laps. 4 laps was a bit less than 24 miles, it's not the distance that tends to get to you in races like this, but the fact that you're out doing the same sections, without a break for a number of times. The first lap went well and traffic on the course wasn't that heavy now so posted a good time. The rain now finally stopped, and it was getting slightly warmer, which was a welcome relief, with this however meant the course, in sections, was starting to become slightly sticky, and especially on the long rooty climb towards the back of the course, still progress was good and I came into to complete my 6th lap in just over 33 minutes. Out for another 2 laps now and I looked down to see very little by the way of water, and reaching into my jersey, no gels... (no tools either for that matter) being concious of this I tried to ration the water for this lap, however by the latter half I was feeling dehydrated, and starting to get quite hungry. 7 laps now done and out for the 8th, wasn't really looking forward to this, and wished I had some food, never the less I pushed on, conserving energy in the twisty sections and rolling the bumps, just at the half way point of this 8th lap, I was out of water, not ideal... my pace had dropped a little and after what felt like an age I finally emerged out the woods and onto the second to last climb, I knew from this point it was about 8 minutes till the finish, I crossed the line some 10 minutes later, and clocked a lap time of 37 minutes, my slowest of the race. It was Lucinda's turn for a double lapper now, as she headed out for her two laps I stood in the handover area quite tried, but mainly hungry. Back at the tent and plenty of food and water later (Pork pies, cheese and onion pasty, cheese rolls) I started to feel normal again, thankfully. I waited near the start of the course to see what time Lucinda would come in, and she was still lapping in just under 45 minutes, and off out onto the second lap. Some more food eaten, bike cleaned (a bit) it was time again to wait in the hand over area. A quick handover I was off again, onto another 4 lap stint, but this time with a full bottle of energy drink, and Lucinda to hand out gels after every lap (very useful). The first and second lap were both great, and despite more riders now being on the course, and the rain/drizzle starting again the course was riding quick I was really enjoying the flowing sections of singletrack, I posted a 32 and 33 minute lap, which given this was my 9th and 10th seemed ok, and about what I was targeting. The 3rd and 4th lap of this stint was getting harder though, and the course was starting to take its toll, especially on the hands and back. During my final lap before handover I was starting to plot how many laps we still had to do. I'd worked out Lucinda had one more to do, and me 2 more, maybe, just maybe 3 more... There is always a moment in a endurance race based on laps where you try and work this out, and depending on how sleep deprived you are it might be accurate. Another quick handover to Lucinda for her final lap and she was off, I was off to get more food, a coffee and some energy from somewhere and before I knew it I was back in handover area. Lucinda came in at 7:25pm, that meant i'd have 1 hour 35 minutes to do 3 laps, quite a big ask at the start, let alone now after over 10 hours. Never the less my 13th lap was quick at 32 minutes, still just over an hour to go, it was looking close. 14th lap was however a bit slower, and at 8:28 I was on the final climb, I knew I wouldn't be able to make another, and crossed the line in 34 minutes at 8:32pm. We were done. 19 laps in total. We were tired.

Coming in. 

Going Out

14th lap. 


I was keen to see where we had placed, and upon checking the results, we were confirmed as 5th in our category, and around 60th overall, I reckoned that was pretty awesome! More impressive and surprising was perhaps there was only 5 minutes between 3rd, 4th and 5th. With 2nd and 1st on 22 laps a piece.

Back to the tent to clean up, collect our 5 free beers each, relax and eat. We were done and what a great race and event. Beer hasn't tasted this good for a while. Upon reflection perhaps a tougher course than I had thought, relentless under tyre and wet, slippery conditions meant you couldn't really relax and just power on, you always had to be alert, even in the dry I reckon this would have been a tough course. Reckon Lucinda has the bug now for endurance mountain bike racing as she's already suggest Oktoberfest at Ashton Court again in October...

Thanks for reading if you've come this far. This week i'll be mostly resting ready for Mountain Mayhem and 24 hours of mud and riding.


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