Dusk Til Dawn, Going Solo

7 10 2008

Before I forget the experience a mini report of ‘going solo’

We had got to Centre Parcs on friday via Bedford station to pick up the family as I’m working in Northampton during the week. As a result the car was stuffed full as was the top box which made for a leisurely journey, check in and then off to Cafe Rouge for leather (well over done steak) and frites before retiring to watch a movie/drink some wine (essential pre-race nerses calming).

Saturday was a lazy start with a quick trip up to Mayday Field and first change of plan when it was clear pitching a tent was not going to be a good idea with the wind – so decided to keep everything in the car. Then I split off from the rest of the family with the aim of practicing a few of the bomb holes whilst the children enjoyed the pools.

Pedalling up from the Parc via the singletrack route I found the course so just started riding it and fell into a nice pace so just carried on. Found some nice lines and the only area of concern was ‘Swamp 2’ which had a few rotten lines and sticky mud. Finally gettting to Tom’s bomb hole I stopped and fretted about the steep drop but then saw the line was to the left – sorted. On to Elevenden bomb hole and again found a decent line around the roots and hauled myself out clean.

At this point I met up with some the Northampton Threads guys, one of which was riding a fully rigid single speed  :wacko:  Back to the chalet and loads of time to check things over, relax and have a bath before returning to the team camp.

Strategy for the start was to hang back, but once we started rolling it was clear that it was going to be possible to move up the field so started moving up once I had warmed up, until of course we got to the first bomb hole and queue whilst everybody went in turn. Probably about 15 mins before my turn and of course during that time I’d chilled down and in the dark missed the exit line and hit the roots making for an untidy exit.

From then on it was pretty smooth with the odd person passing/being passed and the field had started to spread out. One person tried to pass in the tight singletrack, miss timed and was either heading for a tree or me – we touched but not enough to take either of us off. The next bomb hole came up fast and the practise lap paid off the exit was via the rut worn over the years, quick right and back down and up to return to the flow back towards the arena. Just after the 9 mile marker were two fallen trees and having tried to jump when dry during the practise lap I (with most others) took the sensible approach of dismounting rather than try my luck with the line that took you straight into a pot hole unless you got it just right and the logs were now wet

Enter the Swamp, 😀 not enough light and with being dusked by some riders directly behind, tried to remember as much as possible but missed the route which bypassed the worst of it. Once clear of the swamp back to more rhythm sections which exposed the fact I was riding faster than during practise and could do with a lot more air in the shock and more practice at night riding these.

Then of course it was out onto the moorland section, which by then had been well watered and ridden into mud. Crash bang 😀 as I failed to track the ribbon of trail and started to tense up with the result the front tyre took a hit and lost it’s seal (tubeless). The section was narrow and not a good place to be sorting out the bike so pushed a bit to try and find somewhere to stop but it was never ending so in the end just flipped the bike and dragged out the CO2 to reinflate the tyre. At this point Sally and Guy sailed past seeming to be floating along with no problems  :angry:

Back on and deep breaths to calm down before entering into the nice section of singletrack/fireroad which also had the sign saying 4 miles to go! Taking stock I realised a few issues; I had no spare CO2 cylinders so a quick pitstop was sensible even though the plan was to ride doubles. Down the drop, right and short up to the mentalised climb which many seemed to be carrying bikes up in favour of taking the bypass. Job done just so nice fast singletrack and back to the arena with a 1:40 lap time, pop back to the car to restock (stupid not to have carried more cartridges) and back out.

Tom was open so down the side line, round and then get ready for the haul out – clean but at a price of over extending myself briefly so a slow pace for a few minutes then on to the next bomb hole feeling the rain and wind picking up.

Started to notice the Bontrager ACX’s were not a very good mud tyre and a lot of squirm in the mud sections. So this time round the Swamp had got it’s fair share of 2 inchs of rain and was getting worse. The singletrack sections had also suffered and the nightmare started with the mud obscuring the trail, dragging and getting everywhere. Several minor hits where the mud hid roots etc, then I missed one pot hole which hurt as I pulled up, before the moorland section  :angry:

Once clear it was back to nice smooth singletrack, the 4 mile to go marker and the drop in. Starting to look forward to a pit stop and taking it easy on the short climbs before the once sweet singletrack which flowed back to the arena. Except of course it was no longer sweet but rather a series of mud holes to slide hopelessly about.

Second lap over and time to pit. Checking the bike over it was clear that whilst the tyres could clean themselves it was a different story for the frame and drive chain. So engine on to warm up the car, clothes changed and time to think  :ph43r:

By now it was clear that a series of double laps was out of the question, the bike would not survive without practically a full service every lap and more over the level of exhertion required was way above what was sustainable (think St Leonards after rain and a moto x race). A quick phone call to the wife confirmed the weather was going to get worse not better which sealed it for me, one more lap then call it a night.

So setting off again Tom was dispatched with more pain (shoulder injury starting to ache now as well) and then pretty much a repeat of lap 2 except for a short slide and off in the final singletrack section, a drop now lead into a large off camber mud hole. Back to the car, probably around a 1’50” lap time but by then the prospect of a hot bath and warm bed was all that mattered. Ollie asked if I was coming back early in the morning to get a few laps in (would have moved me from 118 to 88) and in a flash I said no – had been thinking about the damage and cost of the grinding mud and by now it was just not worth the extra places.

Security seemed unsurprised with the mud monster driving a car with a ball of mud on the roof, parked and quick pedal to the chalet. Bike left ouzing mud over the lobby but it could stay there until the morning, more important was my appointment with a hot bath and several tins of beer before bed.

Highlight of the next day was my son sprinting around an arial challenge course about 40m in the air then down the longest zip wire I’ve seen. Must say there are too many bike at Centre Parcs, bloody things!

Was it fun? Yes, it demanded a lot #both during and before hand but gave a sense of achievement to have come even 118th out of 170 solo riders. Some of the trails were brilliant even on the last lap, 37 miles in around 4 hours of riding confirm that not all of the route was the claggy and horrible.

Could I have kept going? Yes, but not without cost both financial and pain. The lack of climbs makes D2D pretty unique for endurance racing but it would have meant pushing alot of the mud filled sections as you needed speed to get through them. Having the prospect of jet washing, replacing chain etc and possibly brake pads every lap changed it from a race to bike maintenance marathon – plus I did not have spare chains and only two sets of pads.

Next year? We will see, but I guess I’ll try again 🙂

Submitted by Tony S




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