Border climb Back to an old hunting ground. The Kielder100 mile MTB race was a favourite event of mine. Having tackled the trails on four different occasions I was looking forward to embracing the sprit of the Gravel racing tag of the Dirty Reiver 200Km event, by riding the Kinesis Tripster on skinny tyres.
Mike Hall would have been here sporting plate #1 and was remembered on the start line and sadly missed. Many riders would go on to #BeMoreMike and go deeper to finish a tough off road ride even if it took them over 15 hours. FULL TIMES
For Kielder the Tripster retained the dodgy old Ultegra shifters for one last time with the 33-50 crank turning an 11-36 XTR cassette via XTR mech. The extra long front cable run to clear bar bags soon to be binned for the TransAm race build.
Despite the Schwalbe G-ones’s proving to be great fun off road I replaced them with some Maxxis Rambler 40mm gravel specific rubber, anticipating some fast drifty downhill turns where the side knobs could save my skin. I’d seen a lot of skin lost in previous Kielder events.
Telling myself no serious race head weekend it was great to get a lift for a change. Shad tours; Big hire van, army ration packs and plenty of beer. This is NOT a race…repeat.
The fantastic dark space of Kielder revealed an amazing night sky but the downside was a frosty campsite when preparing for the 7am start. Thinking it would warm up with the sun out I went for light kit and easily stashed layers, that was the first mistake. It was great to see some old race faces as we shivered on the start line where it was apparent that your actual position at the start didn’t mater. Riders were let off in groups and you could then gently roll down the road to warm up a little before passing the start line and triggering the timing.
The race heads all wanted to get off together though, any chance for a tow into the wind in groups. As I got to the junction at the top of the first climb a big group flashed across it was the lead pack about 20 strong, they had all gone the wrong way. Speaking to Ant White later he said it was lucky that track was a dead end or they could have gone miles the wrong way. I tucked in with them but after a few minutes was being held up on the descent, rocks were flying off riders tyres, then bang! One handily stood up rock direct hit with the front tyre and instant deflation. Mistake 2 not having a clear line of site to avoid the rocks, doh!
Out with the wiggly worms, shove in the hole and drat why didn’t I bring some CO2, probably because I’m not in race mode remember. Pumping up and setting off again a bit to quickly it soon went down again. The steep and rough track wasn’t helping to just get the last part sealed, which would have happened on the flat. Inflating again the pump hose then pulled the valve out, mistake3; bloody Lezyne pump needs throwing in the bin, never have this problem with other road push on pumps.
In frustration of getting going basically I wrecked the valve sealing, dislodged the rim, and wasted so much time. Now shivering again I fitted a tube had a pee and some food, every single rider had now passed me I’d faffed for 27 minutes. Mentally I was broken already, I couldn’t supress the race head, now nursing a less secure tubed front tyre and setting off in isolation I already knew I would be taking the 130Km route.
Rolling now on stiff legs progress felt super slow, was last nights beer kicking in or did I just have no markers to judge by. On the next climb passing riders began, not just the odd one but tens at a time, sometimes quite a job getting through. Passing at speed on the climbs, railing the descents; adrenaline returning this was fun. The Tripster was brilliant and not once did I feel any lack of control, but boy was it biting cold.
The first food station is an in and out trip to Stonehaugh where I assume there is a timing point. Never saw it myself I was concentrating on the plentiful food supplies while drinking the High5 refills. In this weather it’s very doable on one 750ml bottle as the stations are well spread out. From here there are long open sections and a general upward shift. Good surfaces and still passing riders at a good pace, some for the second time as I like a good stop on an event which isn’t a race. (you’d never guess it wasn’t at the finish)
At some point here on the start of the longest downhill stretch there is the roughest section of track. Not getting carried away on the tubed front it was possible to blast, but I played safe and picked through the worst of it. Head to head with a MTB we swapped places a few times, game on and still not overtaken after the puncture. A rather long section of road then delivers you to the 2nd wild feed spot.
At the second food station at just over 4 hours It was nice to chill on the grass and also find some nice choc flapjack and Almond fingers amongst plenty of other food. Meeting Ian Barrington of WildcatGear for a chat was a nice distraction. Gathering a spare tube just in case (good support Panracer) I had the means to go the full distance but the head still said no.
On the stretch doubling back over the Scottish border near Newcastleton from 65 miles, there’s a familiar long drag back into England. The 5 mile Border climb is a open steady gradient I’ve done on every previous race here. Feeling better and finding the bike rolling superbly its no surprise checking Strava I had the 19th best time this year up there. A good indication of what was possible maybe, why did I not believe in myself that it was a good day after all, stupid as I still flew past many riders. Just after the cleaned steep slate section back over the river I finally caught my buddy Mike much to his surprise.
The 130 km option turn came, no hesitation #bemoremike in memory of Mike Hall unfortunately became #BelikeMike my mate, as we had an early date in the pub. After that a long descent at 19mph to the end was fantastic fun as I quickly put some good time into him
Kielder was great, the scores on the doors say I failed. I had a great ride on a bike that’s blown me away again, and did enough to be fun without feeling like a chore. Over a few Guinness (The pub had run out of ale, the mark of a good fun event) me and Mike debated the merits of his non stop ride for a time vs my ride with stoppages taking in the facilities on offer. I know who the loser is, and I know how I’d play this ride again next time too.
Summary: The weather and conditions (apart from the biting cold) were as good as you will ever see for this event, 2016 times are the roughest extreme and 2017 possibly the best. It’s not as tough as the old MTB event and far from a rough course on a CX bike, only the first downhill is a killer. It’s a great weekend away, not just a race for a time. oh and take plenty of warm clothing.