Friday, 17 August 2012

Brighton Big Dog

After missing the event last year it was a welcome return to one of my favourite endurance events mainly due to the laid back feeling of the event...and also it's local for me! One thing you hope for at Stanmer Park though is dry weather and the weather in the week before the event hadn't exactly been what you would call ideal. Lets just say that rain and chalk do not make an ideal combination for riding on as many a rider will know I'm sure, and I have previous experience of ground,sky,ground,sky crashes several years ago in a very wet and muddy S.A.M.S  race at Stanmer when attempting a pass downhill (yes I said downhill and no they hadn't stopped) whilst trying to get a podium place, then crashing big again 10 minutes later when trying to make up places.

This year I was also hoping for a top ten result after last year when I had to have treatment on my shoulder and back during the race meaning I slipped quite a way down the finishers, along with a puncture with less than a kilometre to go meaning I was 30 seconds outside the 6 hours. Stanmer Park really does not like me. Anyway this year I had to be there extra early as my son Finlay was going to have a go at his first mountain bike race at the grand age of 4 years old...about 11 years earlier than my first effort. He was quite insistent that he wanted to do my race but at the risk of him showing me up we settled on the under 8's race.......for him not me!
Big Dog-Little Dog

Number board on and he was under starters orders with the rest of the under 8's. Being the youngest there we decided that he could just do the loop round the arena whilst the older kids disappeared on their loop into the woods. 10 minutes later and 4 laps done with the help of some pushing along the slightly uphill bits and one crash into the marker posts going downhill ( ah good to see he takes after his Dad ), he had completed his first mtb race and was more than happy with his sweets in his goody bag.

Next up was my race and it was the usual frantic scramble for prime position on the start line. I was quite content with being at least under half way from the front as you can make up positions on the opening loop and also I was going to adopt my tried and tested method of keeping it in the middle ring and spinning. The first lap consisted of the usual 'form a queue' at the first few sections of singletrack but it did show a course that was in pretty good shape with a fair amount of grip as long as you avoided the roots on the corners, as I discovered towards the end of that lap.

The course has some very good technical downhill and uphill sections which I was clearing each time, thankfully in the main to swapping my Kenda Small Blocks for my Nevegals and going low on the pressure. This was also my first race proper on the On One Race 29er and I loved it, even with all the twisty singletrack that apparently isn't suited to 29ers. It's taken me a while to get used to riding the 29er but I am a definite big wheeled convert now.

I also discovered during my first lap that the chicken run avoiding the large bombhole near the arena was a much quicker route and so was able to make up places here. I set into a 2 laps per bottle strategy which worked well and made the time tick away. The riders on the course thinned out as the race progressed giving nice clear runs on the technical sections. I had no idea of my race position, only picking up on a comment from the commentator as I come through the arena with about 2 hours to go that I looked strong. Nothing like going for it through the arena then as soon as you are out of sight start grovelling along again!

Making sure you time your last lap right is key at the Big Dog as completed laps only count before the 6 hours are up, so coming in to start a lap a few minutes before the 5 hour mark and having been knocking out consistent sub 50 minute lap times I was quite happy and went for my usual last lap caffeine shot for the last lap rush.

I had been playing cat and mouse with a London Dynamo rider most of the day and decided to put a dig in on one of the uphill grinds to finally try and stay away from him which seemed to stick. Starting to cramp coming out of the woods back across the bridge over the A27 wasn't a good sign but luckily it soon disappeared. Past the point of my puncture the previous year and I was back into the finishing arena for the final time managing to make up enough places on my 7th and last lap to place me in 9th overall in the solo men category.

Happy with my result  as I achieved my target, especially when the top 4 consisted of Ben Thomas, Tim Dunford, George Budd and Josh Ibbet, and even more so that there was about 4 minutes between 9th and 7th. I replenished my surprisingly not too weary body with numerous refills of my Big Dog tea mug and pork burgers ( who needs protein shakes! ) before heading off on a 4 hour drive on holiday to sunny Devon.

Another cracking race by the Morvelo team on a great course with very cheerful marshalls and I look forward to coming back next year! That veteran category is getting ever closer.

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