Ming Reports from an epic day on the hills with a charity flavour
“After last year’s success, with a M@ victory, team leader Ash decided he needed more of a challenge so roped me into the team. My pre-race preparations went according to plan with the usual race stress, domestic arguments caused by race stress and finding faults with the race bike on the night before the race, what else could possibly go wrong? Oh it rained, all day Friday, with nearly an inch of rain soaking what were drying trails. WHAT TYRES TO USE?
Race day dawned cold and foggy, the usual prerace rituals of toilet visits and packing and repacking camelbak were performed and then it was off to the station to meet up with Ricky (Baby Gixxer). As we rode up through Stanmer from the railway station to Ditchling, we disappeared into swirling fog.
On arrival at a murky Ditchling we met up with our fellow team mates, Tim, Tez, Ashley, Steve and Rob. Lots of pre-race banter, planning and getting cold ensued as we surveyed our mixed machinery which ranged from ally and steel hard tails, to a carbon bling 29er and carbon full sussers with various ranges of travel from sensible to silly. The plan was for the first person to a gate to hold it open for the rest of the team and minimise stoppage time. As we were starting last we would gradually overhaul the more fun/social orientated racers (hopefully).
Our allotted start time came and with a battle cry we launched into the mists across the top of the Downs. The pace was frenetic and draining to start with (more laps of the car park to warm up next time), the mild down slope adding to speed and the wet surface reducing friction and grip. Puddles and slaloms greeted us as we made our way through the gloom; ghostly figures on horseback in the nearby fields and the occasional dog walker were our only company.
The right turn down to Balmer Down was taken at a far more than sensible pace, “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead”, big ring, little cog, flat out, getting locked in a tractor wheel rut bouncing off the edges I approached the next gate and a 90 degree right turn, brakes howling tyres sliding I arrived sideways and got the gate open just as the rest of the team arrived. Multiple lines through the gate were taken with Ash and Ricky arriving at nearly the same time at very different speeds in a space big enough for only one bicycle. All safely through the next downhill bit was very narrow with ruts, mud and barbed wire fences either side, my tyre choice proved less than optimal as I slithered down, passing Steve with a dropped chain. The descent quickly turned into that nasty muddy zigzag climb towards the A27, we all dismounted, lungs heaving, hearts pounding and pushed up before remounting for another very slithery drop along the field edge with Ricky and Ash setting a tremendous pace towards “the steps of doom” leading down onto the A27.
Over the A27 and up the horror that is Newmarket hill and the plan began to fall apart, conditions for the first half were very muddy due to some engineering work by the railway bridge and some 100 bikes having been through before us. We cleared that and had a quick stop to lose a layer or two as we were all well up to temperature by now and set off again.
One team member began to suffer due to the early pace and began to lag a bit meaning the gate holders began to cool down uncomfortably in the wind across the top of a now rather sunny Newmarket Hill so we became separated with Ricky, Tim, Tez and myself breaking away to try and maintain warmth and Ash (now known as Sir Alex for his motivational speaking skills), Rob and Steve bringing up the rear.
We sped along the top and set a lightning pace down the old concrete road towards Mill Lane. Some fellow racers held the gate open for us as we hit the fields which the cows had nicely mashed up on either side of the next gates which I propped open to watch Ricky, Tim and Tez slide through before the short uphill slog through inches deep mud that turned into power and will sapping, bike destroying clag after a few yards. A bit more pushing and swearing and we arrived at the Mill Lane DH. Down we plummeted at break neck pace and I nearly came to grief on a small drop that I only saw as I arrived at it, luckily my Jedi training kicked in and I managed to get down to the gate in one piece, brakes squealing and tyres protesting.
A brisk spin along the flat bits lead us to Itford Hill and with Tez on his feather light 29er towing me along (aided by a delicious Torq Banoffee Pie gel) we attacked the climb, losing some racers who were trying to latch onto us. I came to a few conclusions here; 29ers climb well, roll even better and Tez even though dying of Man-flu is far fitter than me! Tez with a few kicks could put yards into me before I could start to react and rolling down from Beddingham Hill Radio Masts towards the car park, even trying to slip stream him I was still having to pedal to keep up as he rolled.
The gentle rise from the car park up to Firle Beacon was a hard slog and without Tez’s encouragement I would have sat up and slowed but we were passing racers by the dozen at this point so spurred on we kept pushing. Arriving at Bopeep car park we turned right into the almost-all-the-way gentle downhill to Seaford. The few small climbs along here just seemed to drain any remaining energy out of the legs and the downhill bits were fast and sideways with the track having been cutup badly.
As the bridleway finished we had a short road ride to the finish but Tez kept up the pace and I tucked in behind. As we arrived we checked in and only had a short wait before our team members followed us in with the last rider giving the team our overall completion time.
As the team times were added up a hush descended, Team Muddy@rse was 1st again!
A big thank you to Clint & Lorna Allen, their team and Mr Cycles for a great event and prizes.
We will be back next year, hopefully faster than ever.”