Friday, 28 April 2017

Report: Dirty Reiver - A 200km Gravel Race

A 200km ride on fireroads. That sounds alright doesn't it? It probably would be if those fireroads and gravel tracks were around Sherwood Forest or somewhere else flat, but The Dirty Reiver is held in Kielder Forest, up on the Scottish Borders. It's hilly. 

I was last here in 2012 doing the Kielder 100, a similar event, but using mountain bikes, and as the name suggests, 100 miles. That took me 10 hours 12 minutes, I suffered from a series of bad mechanicals which meant I lost time. That was a hard day out. So with that in the back on my head I kind of knew what the expect from the Dirty Reiver, albeit no singletrack.

In true London Phoenix fashion, we had a good gang, 6 in total. In yet more LP fashion the day before saw new levels of faffing, levels that were higher even than the Ventoux trip (Owen...) as we all prepared our bikes, packed bags with stuff, fiddled with tyre pressure, and in some cases, made a small feast (Owen) The idea was to then ride our fully prepped bikes to Kielder Castle to register and make sure everything worked. Well I changed my entire setting, opting for the following kit:
2016 Eastway Balun C1 (standard)
Alpkit 5L* front bag with straps
Panaracer Gravel King 40c @ 45psi (using tubes)
*This held various items including: Tools, cable ties, chain quick link, brake pads, pump, 2 x tubes, down gilet, waterproof jacket, front and rear light, gels, jelly bunnies (easter init)
Before Set up

Gravel Kings. So good. 

Fuel & Victory Pie 

All ready now with front bag and Gravel Kings. 

Captain Faff.

I had originally been running WTB Nanos which seemed good, but based on a brief gravel trail we rode I felt they would be overkill in their amount of grip, so thankfully, as Mark won a pair of Gravel Kings, I borrowed those. I was also previously using a Medium Alpkit frame bag, a superb bit of kit, but it was perhaps a little too small, so the front bag was used instead.

As with any event I had been watching the weather for the past month. The Borders are notorious for their weather, and last year it was apparently freezing cold, snow, rain, cloud. Basically a miserable day out. Not quite sure how i'd have coped, so I was hoping for a bit of warmth and even dare I say it, sun.

Well, we woke on Saturday morning to clear skies and sunshine. It was what i'd call fresh at about 2 degrees, but was due to warm up throughout the day to around 11, or otherwise known as perfect conditions. A short drive to the start from our accommodation for the 6:45am rider briefing, with first riders off at 7am. Owen, Mark and me had kind of planned on riding the whole thing together, and were sat maybe mid pack waiting to be set of in waves. It was cold, I had a nice cardigan on, there was plenty of nervous chat about tyre pressures... Standard.

7:07am and we were off. A small 1km neutral section along the road until we hit the gravel trails and the timing mats. First section was a climb, followed by another climb, but apart from that, and the final 30km I hadn't really paid much attention to the route. I knew it would be lumpy, and that's all I really needed to know.

The first climb was quite busy, lots of riders and quite a narrow fireroad, We picked our way through the riders until we got to the first climb, long day out after all so didn't want to push it too hard straight away. First descent was probably one of the roughest of the day, there was people stopped at the side of the trail ever 50 yards changing punctures, needless to say I took it pretty steady as the last thing I wanted at this stage was a bloody puncture (especially as I couldn't feel my hands, so god knows how i'd have changed it) I had mentally broke the event down in 50km sections, which was handy, as there was a feed stop every 50km... with the plan to briefly stop at every feed for a bottle refill and refuel. What quickly became apparent over the first 50km is that there were loads of really small climbs, quite steep that really sapped the energy from your legs, as well as the much more sustained efforts of a longer climb. The descents were not exactly a breeze either as you had to constantly stay alert for punctures or off camber sections. 40km in and we had taken it fairly steady upto this point, regrouped a few times at hills and stopped for a piss stop, ow yeah, and a puncture. 
At around 30km in we were joined by a mate from cyclocross, Graham, this spurred the pace on a little and were were flying down a long descent when I didn't see a pot hole. Instant snake bite. Annoying, but a quick 5 min change and we were on our way again as a group (Mark, Owen, Graham and me)

The 50km feed stop (actually 55km) was good, they had cheese scones, what more do you need eh. I exchanged my flatted tube, and after 5 minutes of faffing were were on our way again, this time joined by Tam, and further up the road the two Andys and a few more faces. Looking back this was probably the easiest 50km (main because it was 40km) there were a few climbs, but a huge descent (which was really rough and good fun) across the moors and onto a lovely singletrack TARMAC road. This was a welcome rest from the previous descent, where our bikes and bodies had taken a bit of a battering. At this point it was just Mark and myself, Graham had pushed on at the 50km feedstop, and Owen was letting us get ahead on the climbs, so he could have a clear run and hammer the descents. 

The 100km feedstop was a welcome sight, I had almost run out of water, and needed something that wasn't a jelly rabbit, gel, or flapjack. Crisps were needed. Owen rolled in a few minutes after and we all refuelled and ate. I overheard a few people saying the next 50km wasn't too bad, which was promising... Mark, Graham and I set off again, straight up a long climb, this didn't seem easy, and Graham confirmed the next 50km wasn't easy, bloody great. We dropped down a great rolling descent, and could see riders coming up the other side of the stream, on the Scottish side of the border. We got onto this path, and we're met by a truly horrible service and a slight up hill. I don't think the 3 of us spoke, apart from a few expletives, for the next 15 minutes. It was easily the worse bit of the ride. 

Other riders were becoming fewer and fewer now, we pushed on past the 200km and 130km split, staying on the 200 route... We were getting close to Kielder Castle now, and in a cruel move the route then went past the car and where we started. The next climb was hard, back was hurting, legs were hurting and I needed water. Thankfully the 150km feed stop was at the bottom of a big hill, so we rolled down, and was met by the Pannier CC crew who were manning this feedstation, all I'll say is new potatoes never tasted so good! Stuff of dreams and I must have necked about 10... Thanks guys.  Just a quick stop here as we basically wanted to finish, after all the final 50km was easy... It wasn't. long hill after long hill followed, they probably weren't too bad but I could tell we were all feeling it a little, at each crest we expected to see Kielder Water, but nothing, where is this bloody lake! 

After some pretty rough descents, and few sketchy not concentrating moments we dropped onto the ow so smooth lake trail which went around the lake and to the finish. It was of course "mainly flat" but at this stage any small rise felt like a HC climb. Compared to the rest of the route this felt quite good fun, so nice twisty trails, that said with about 10km to go I was ready to be done. A sharp ride up a tough track to the road saw me loose Mark & Graham's wheel as they chased some bloke on a mountain bike. I got to the road and spun, accepting that for the final 5km I'd be on my own. Thankfully though they waited, never did a few km take so long but we crossed the line and that was it. Done! 

Time was 8:59:21 overall (35th/800) Moving time of 8:29.00. Got to say, pretty pleased with that, I was aiming for sub 10 hours given my previous effort at Kielder 100. Winning time was a rather fast 7:31... 

Looking back over the ride and on Strava the last 100km were alot harder than the first 100km. Cruel. 

Will I do it again? Well yeah probably although I bet it will rain.
Would I change the set up? No, reckon the bike was great, apart from maybe a lighter set of tubeless wheels to avoid snake bites.

Victory meal 

Huge thanks to the organisers, marshals and feed stop people. Excellent event and one that I certainly recommend!

Thanks for reading