For whatever reason it has taken me a couple of years to be able to make one of these, something I now regret, what a great event! I can genuinely say that in my 15 odd years of racing bikes this is the most fun race weekend I have ever had! Arriving on Saturday I hooked up Descent-World forum regular David Wilson and his brother Bob for a ride of the course. The trails at Kielder Deadwater trails are good uns, the soil is very sandy underfoot which made things pretty loose and fun, but where they weren't sandy things were reinforced with rocks, rocks and more rocks, personally I was pretty thankful to be running tubeless (cue plug for the guys at Trek and the Bonty Big Earl tyres which were perfect for this sort of event!), I heard stories of some folk getting as many as 17 punctures over the weekend.....it was certainly a pretty lethal combination of high speed and pointy rocks, add in the fact that many folk were trying to run lighter treaded XC tyres on the back and it was always going to be asking for trouble!
Also on Saturday was the prologue, this acted as a seeding run for the Sunday event but also added to your total time overall. The prologue was probably the flattest of the stages on site, fine with me in hindsight as it was where I got my best results of the weekend (it also doubled up as stage 4 and 7 of Sundays race).......still not that much of a strong point with a 139th in the seeding run, well and truly mid table mediocrity in the field of 270. Still, on the bright side it gave me a lie in on Sunday morning, the top boys started leaving out onto course at 8:30 with riders at 30 second intervals from then......so not so bad.
The race was run over 7 timed sections, 3 of which were run twice, not going to go into a full blow by blow account of each stage, so in brief......
Stage 1- Actually run down a climb so flat corners and loads of natural sections cut in to keep things interesting, probably my favourite of the weekend, not that it was reflected in my time.
Stage 2&5- Pedally, fast and rocky, great fun but a bit of a lung burner!!
Stage 3&6- Probably the most challenging of the lot, steep, loose and tight in places, 3 fast drops in a row off the second fire road crossing appeared to be the biggest source of action and punctures over the weekend. Probably my weak point of the weekend!
Stage 4&7- This was the same stage as the prologue, probably my saving grace as I could put my legs to good use and show some of the DH boys how to pedal, I almost hit the heady heights of the top 100 on this stage with a glorious 111th.
For the geeks amongst you, I have stuck the whole thing on my Garmin page if you want a look, stat tastic! http://connect.garmin.com/activity/4334431
The transition stages were not too challenging to get between, which was ok in giving plenty of time to chat, meet new people and generally enjoy riding your bike in beautiful scenery and great weather. I understand they made the transition times a little easier compared to last year, although enjoyable I couldn't help but feel they could have been made a little more of a challenge to get to and from, certainly for the majority there was absolutely no challenge in getting from stage to stage without lots of time to spare. Having said all that, this event was far from easy, in fact at one point while struggling like a pig up one of the climbs I looked in horror at my GPS to see only 13 miles on the clock!! By the end of the event the total mileage was just over 18 miles, which they give you almost 6 hours to complete, I think the toughness came from the fact that of that, there was 7 stages totalling about 25 minutes of timed sections which were ridden at absolutely flat out pace, probably 5 of the 7 stages were reliant as much on your legs as they were gravity to get you down with a quick time, plus elevation gain was a not too shabby 1200m or so over the course of only 18 miles.
At the end of the day I ended up in 155th, disappointed in the result but an absolutely fantastic event and a great format which I can really see as being the future of my competitive riding, sadly there is still not many on the calendar with the 2nd, and last of the season being at Ae in 2 weeks time, again run by the Avalanche Cup team, if you are free I highly recommend it!
Oh, and in case you wondered, the big boys event was won by World Cup regular David Vazquez and the womens by Tracy Moseley. If you want to read a full repo then as always I recommend Descent-World! Not written by me this time but still worth reading. http://www.descent-world.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&Itemid=95&task=view&id=1085
And finally........thanks to Oliver Coats for the images, check out his website at http://www.olivercoats.co.uk/