Saturday, 22 October 2011

Night of the Knobbly Tread - 3rd!?

Very little cycling happened this week for one reason or another, everything was going to be packed into the weekend: a pub lunch/meeting with a title sponsor today followed by an interview with a journalist and the evening would be capped off with my first mountain bike race in a good few years.

Going for something a bit different again I chose a race just down the road at Black Park, the Night of the Knobbly Tread - a low-key, night cross-country race organised by a local club.

For me, there's only one choice of bike for an event and venue like this... the Surly 1x1. Not that I knew much about the venue, but I figured it would be fairly flat and I wasn't wrong.

I arrived at the event in good time and it was a dry, mild night. That's about where my good fortune ran out and the evening turned into a comedy of errors:

Lap 1 - 19m38s: Lining up at the back of the start group I mentioned to friend and event sponsor John Cookson from Exposure Lights that I wasn't sure my MaxxD would last the race as it hadn't had much time to charge. With one minute to go to the start Cookie whipped it off the handlebars and ran off to his van, promising a swish, fully charged Six Pack in exchange. The race started and I rolled up to the line to await his return. Sure enough as the last rider disappeared around the bend at the end of the start straight he returned with said light, snapped it into the handlebar mount and cranked it up to full beam. Hell it was bright!
Now it was time to give chase to the back of the pack and set off spinning like a mad woman on my 32:16 gearing down the fire road, catching the first half dozen stragglers. Into the first section of singletrack and blam! I'm blind! A screeching of breaks! Crack! Straight into a tree! All 2000 lumens were now pointing directly at me and I couldn't see a thing, thankfully the tree had brought me to a relatively safe stop in the darkness. In our haste to get the light onto the bracket we must have nudged it along the bars slightly and the clamp was no longer tight, leaving the heavy light free to swing around the bars. Multi-tool out I tried to tighten it again but couldn't get the position on the bars thanks to the numberboard. The rest of the lap was spent with one hand on the light trying to hold it in a useful position with a number of 'blinding-light/tree interludes' thrown in when the bars required both hands.

Lap 2 - 18m40s: Crossing the line to start my second lap I took a detour to the Exposure stand to once more seek Cookie's assistance to fix the loose bracket problem. The addition of a small section of rubber under the bracket seemed to do the job but also resulted in the end of my glove finger being clamped tightly to the bar! Untighten clamp, release glove, retighten clamp and off I went once again, chasing down the riders I spent the entire first lap passing and re-passing.

Lap 3 - 16m20s: A dream lap. Fast, fun, flowing, singlespeed perfection! With all this light, my renewed zeal for bike racing and the twisting hard-packed singletrack I was glad I'd chosen the 5 lap race as opposed to the 3 laps, this was one grin inducing mountain bike course and I was making up places. Laps four and five, here I come!

Lap 4 - 17m05s: Started as fast as lap 3, bring it on! Unfortunately the evening was getting slightly damp and ground conditions were changing. The lead riders were now starting to lap me and the sound of a couple of quick riders catching me through a tight singletrack section and the shout of a familiar voice to come through was enough to make me move just far enough off the racing line to catch a now slippery off-camber root and lose the back wheel, hitting the ground with a thud. Both riders managed to avoid me as I lay in the middle of the track trying to unclip. It was perhaps this twisting action that aggravated an old knee injury that I used to get when racing singlespeeds regularly a few years back. I should probably have given up after this lap.

Lap 5 - 18m59s: Not wanting to quit such a short race and figuring things couldn't get much worse I carried on to finish the final lap. My knee pain intensified quite quickly on this lap and soon I couldn't put any pressure on it at all, pedalling gently on the easy going sections and using my right leg to pedal through the tougher sections. I limped around the rest of the lap, frustrated that I was unable to enjoy it.

To my surprise I crossed the finish line to be told I was needed on the podium for 3rd place and incredibly was only around 6 minutes behind 2nd. My eventful race was then relayed to an array of friends over a couple of pints in the local pub. Despite everything, it was a very entertaining evening.

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