Sunday, 16 August 2009
Racing; how it ought to be...
What is racing all about? "Why on earth am I doing this?" is a pretty common thought during a race, especially on that first lap when your body is also asking, quite reasonably, "what are you doing and can you please stop it now!" Given the amount of time spent riding around in circles in recent years it's something that's been given a small amount of thought while out there and mostly forgotten as soon as it's over and a cold beer has been pressed into my clammy mitt.
During this weekend's Brighton Big Dog, a fairly obvious answer came to mind (for me at least). It's about friends. Most of my closest friends I know through this World of Bikes and spending time with them is usually the main instigation to enter an event.
As the name would suggest, the Big Dog is held in Brighton, at Stanmer Park to be more precise, somewhere I know for 'cross racing and seriously fun singletrack shown to me as the local trails of some of those afore-mentioned friends. Now, it's not that common in my experience to ride the sort of singletrack pieced together and nurtured over years of night rides and weekends in the context of a race. Those trails are normally ridden by invitation only and it's always especially flattering to be party to that long-accumulated knowledge.
So, the Brighton Big Dog is a race put on by a very enthusiastic group of committed local riders; it's absolutely not for profit as any money made goes behind the bar in a local pub for consumption by anyone who was lucky enough to have entered the race. What a brilliant idea! The format is pretty simple (this is a good thing); it's a 6 hour enduro run from midday (or there abouts), by solos, pairs or threes with a retro class for solos on old bikes. Despite the race being sold out there remained a low-key, fun atmosphere with much cake and tea, the opportunity to sell your old stuff in a bike jumble and the friendliest vibe I've witnessed at a race in a long time.
All run on Those Trails; the 8 mile circuit managed that trick of being fun pretty much all the way round despite having some nasty climbs. Lots of singletrack, sketchy roots, off-camber descents and so many sections that had you thinking, "Ooh, I love this bit..." as you rounded a corner and pointed your tyre at the first knobbly root.
Back to those friends. I drove down on Friday night and met up with a small group of lovely people including VCM riders Phil and Jon, all the way down from Glasgow. We stayed at a campsite near Ditchling and the usual chat, beer and star-gazing ensued. Next morning, bottles and other essentials were muled over to the course by friends as the three VCM boys headed off by bike. It wasn't far to Stanmer park, but within a mile or so we were dragging our hangovers over the Ditchling Beacon which did a great job of waking up the legs! A few miles of pootling and admiration of the rolling hills brought us to the park and yet more friends; hugs, kisses and all-to-brief catchings up and suddenly it's time to ride.
Friends; heckling and hollering through the start/finish, shouting encouragement or open abuse out on the course, a slap on the arse, a brief chat about just how much fun this piece of trail is or to ask, "how many times did you get stung?" (one section was beset by angry wasps who stung many riders on the first lap, but the marshalls very efficiently re-routed the course in time for the second lap and we riders were left mostly unmolested there after).
I'd re-built my old Manitou HT for the occasion and it felt pretty alien to me with it's arse up, head down position and twitchy handling, but once I'd remembered how to ride a 'normal' bike it rode beautifully (if also a bit squeakily). Despite a first lap in which I happily bimbled off the course and down a descent before realising something was up and having to loop back the laps ticked by quickly (in my head if not on the clock). Then all too soon it was over. Little rivals the feeling that you've finished a race, there's a beer in your hand and you can shortly polish off a guilt-free pile of fried calories or two.
Somehow I'd managed to end up in second in the retro class, so a rosette, a kiss from the podium girls (and the bearded Charlie) and a somewhat bemused loiter on the podium ensued.
Jon struggled with a probable bug and still put in six laps to finish well in the solos while Phil rattled round in a three at a frankly silly pace - great to see him back on form. Lisa raced the single lap 'One-derdog' while Gareth, recovering well from injury heckled and drank beer as the strong team-player that he is.
Thankfully, that wasn't the end. After faffage and nosh, it was down to the beach to be met by cheery faces for beer and inane chat into the early hours.
Now that's what racing is all about. Isn't it?
Huge thanks to all those who put this event on. It reminded many of us what racing can and should be.