Monday, 17 September 2012

ABZ Mates Race - The Last Of The Year

Sporting number 19 on a fetching polka dot paper plate.

When the details of the final ABZ Mates Race landed in my in-box I had the same feeling of eager excitement before the usual feeling of disappointment as I realised I wouldn't be able to make it. But no! Unlike the previous four races, I could make this one and I certainly wouldn't let anything spoil it this time! (Up until now, the closest I had come was event three but cross-threading the bottom bracket into the frame the day before ended the race before it had begun.)

So, after a week commuting to work, I finished teaching on the Friday afternoon and skipped joyfully out of the building with the bike already in the car and a pile of kit waiting in the kitchen, alongside my hearty carb and protein rich dinner. There was little time to check the bike over, let alone wash it and so I finally arrived at the forest car park at Scotly, Banchory, with some bike, some tools, some clothing and some beer all loaded into the boot.

I had no idea what to expect. The race was described as somewhere between XC and DH and this was to be the enduro one. I had made the decision that what I lacked in speed going down, I'd make up for on the climbs. (I'm feeling pretty fit at the moment.) I quickly lubed and checked the bike and changed to the SPD pedals. Sorted my seat height and made sure my computer was working. The race was to be self-timed.

Bad choice!

I am here, at the back somewhere! Start of night stage 1
The event was really well organised and began fiercely sharp at 18:30 hours prompt. It was here I learnt that the pedal up to the top was not timed and so we could take it easy. Not really what I wanted to hear as I was all set to race up like a greyhound out of the cage... well, a slightly bigger and heavier greyhound! There was little point in wasting all that pent up energy and so I took the opportunity to chat to the other riders, most of whom had been attending the races from the start and some had even been trail building for it.

I arrived at the start of stage one and as I waited in line to go, I felt a little like a child at the top of the steepest flume at the swimming pool; trying to act like I'm not over excited or bricking it with nerves. After all, it's just a mates race. I was both excited and bricking it. I was also now regretting my decision to clip in to the pedals!

So, saddle down, timer started and I was off. The trail was a combination of steep, grassy, pine forest singletrack with sections that had obviously been dug down, steepened with boulders and rocks added for fun. Every drop or jump was complete with a technical, rooty landing with a sprinkling of boulders just to finish a rider off if maiming by tree stump wasn't enough. It certainly had me focusing very hard on what I wanted to hit and what I wanted to avoid!

Stage 2 was worse with a couple of bails and a saddle that turned and twisted as a stick got caught in the chainrings causing the chain to slip badly. To make matters worse there was the ever familiar metallic 'ting' from the back wheel. With no branch poking out of the back wheel, I could only assume a broken spoke.

Luckily I made it to the bottom and furthermore my bike was not broken as I had feared. I sorted the seat, removed the 'bike salad' from the rear mech and checked the spokes. All intact. It was time for burger, beer and interaction with fellow bikers. We also had to wait for darkness so that we could do the whole thing again, in the dark!

I found that although eversoslightly slower, my runs in the dark were much smoother. Perhaps because I was not distracted by every scary obstacle coming my way but also because I had resigned myself to taking it easy for self preservation rather than bloody-minded competitiveness. I found the flow, chilled out and had a pretty good ride.

All in all it was a fantastic night with a good bunch of people who were just up for riding and having fun. There was no geeky bike comparisons, no showy bike fashions. Just a mix of people all having a laugh. After everyone had contributed to the prize pile, the winners were announced. I wasn't first! I did still get a prize. I think I was third last and got a handy map measurer as a souvenir of the evening.

I really hope that the folks organising it with polka-dot number boards from the back of their van do it again next year. I loved it. The racing. The feeling of being slightly out of my depth. And the fact that I could just bowl up by myself and be accepted and encouraged like everyone else. Happy days.

Series winner with trophy

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