Montane Kielder 100 Report

Joolze Dymond reports:

The Montane Kielder 100 has rapidly found itself placed high on the iconic shelf after its first outing just one year ago, when 200 riders made the first steps into history marking the UK’s first 100 mile mountain bike race. 365 days later and the appeal had certainly not waned despite tales of hardship, making this event one of the toughest one day races you can find. In fact as soon as the event opened its doors for entries the organisers were overwhelmed by the response, with the allocated 650 places selling out well in advance of the race date, leaving plenty of time for training!

In 2009 riders were faced with damp conditions, encountering more than one Puddle of Doom, making the going sticky to hard. In complete contrast for 2010 the weather gods were looking favourably on the event ensuring dusty, dry trails as far as the eye could see. The race for sub 8 hours discussed amongst many in the lead up to the day was truly on the cards.

An early and misty start...

In just two years, the Montane Kielder 100 has inspired a whole raft of riders, many new to this form of marathon racing but many more returning to ‘better’ their times from the previous year, all keen to take on the tough challenge of racing 100 miles off road. Reigning champion Neal Crampton returned and this year he was joined by a few more of the UK’s top master XC racers, all eager to take the race to another level, along with a healthy smattering of the top names in marathon racing, including the newly crowned 24 hour Solo UK National Champion, Matt Page.

For the endurance specialists 100 miles is just a drop in the ocean, a mere training ride in the hills, for the cross country whippets, it would add up to 5 normal cross country races back to back. So who would the 100 mile circuit that circumnavigated the Kielder trails, dipping over the border to the Scottish 7Stanes and back, with it’s 14,000 feet of climbing, suit better? We would have to wait a few hours to see…

As the cold night slowly slipped into a misty dawn, the hundreds of riders made their weary way from warm beds to the start line in front of Kielder Castle, timing chips activated, ready to get the race of the year under way. Then at approximately 6.30am the lead vehicle, courtesy of Swinnerton Cycles slowly pulled away, towing an impressive brightly decorated train of eager riders unsure of what lay ahead both physically and mentally! A couple of miles later with the forest road awash with riders, the lead vehicle pulled off and the race was on!
Riders quickly disappeared into a bank of sun licked mist, then 30 minutes later emerged where it soon became clear that it was the racing whippets who wanted this one, with 3 of the UK’s top master racers, Andrew Cockburn, Steve James and last years runner up Simon Ernest, already opening up a commanding lead, as the rest of the field tried in vain to get on terms with the early pace setters. As the day progressed the mist dispersed leaving the riders with some breathtaking views as they crested the valleys surrounding the area, with that alone being enough reason to take on this incredibly tough race.
The aim of the day for the majority of riders was to get to the checkpoints before the cut off times. On paper that looked manageable, with an average speed of just 8mph needed to complete each stage. However, the severity of the terrain, with a constant stream of climbing and descending including some pretty technical sections, proved a step too far for many, some who totally underestimated the race and some who just had a nightmare of mechanicals and called it a day. Unfortunately Ernest fell foul to this, with a catalogue of problems proving lady luck had most certainly deserted him causing him to reluctantly quit the race, leaving Cockburn and James riding a fast paced two-up in front, extending their lead from chasers Phil Morris, Josh Ibbett and Neal Crampton.
By the top of the Lonesome Pine Trail, over half way, a 1.5km section of boardwalk wove its stripy way up the hill across the peat bog, leading the riders towards Scotland and the Newcastleton 7Stanes trails. Cockburn was out on his own hitting this section in an awesome sub 4 hours, having left James suffering with chainsuck a few miles back. A few minutes later and James came into view, both riders seemingly starting to suffer the effects of such a fast pace. Further back saw Morris, then Ibbett and Crampton with the who’s who of endurance racing coming through thick and fast.

Obviously the hot food stop at Newcastleton did the trick as Cockburn had his Rock UK Passport stamped and carried on his relentless pace, extending his lead and at times pushing a little bit too much, as with the end in sight on a seemingly untechnical fire road descent he was caught unawares and was pitched into the abrasive surface. Cockburn emerged a few minutes later to cross the line in the awesome time of 7 hours and 57 minutes, a full 20 minutes faster on a harder course than the previous year, dripping in blood, but grinning with the satisfaction of the win a good 15 minutes clear of runner up Steve James, with Neal Crampton beating his previous year’s time settling for 3rd. Mel Alexander took her second win in the event recording a sub 10 hour time. This was an important milestone for Alexander who has only just begun riding again after breaking her pelvis at the World Cup XC race in April.

For some, riding 100 miles off road isn’t challenge enough and restricting themselves to one gear takes them into another dimension. Dan Treby single speeded his way to an impressive 15th spot overall, with a sub 9 hour ride, fighting hard to maintain his singlespeed lead after a nasty crash in Newcastleton. Heather Dawe took the prize for first woman single speeder with an impressive 10 hours 45 minutes. Fastest veteran of the day went to Paul Ashby, clocking a fast 8 hours 37 minutes to take 9th overall. Sally Daw added another important endurance win to an already impressive year taking the win in the women’s veteran race with her 11 hours 34 minutes. Last rider in, Tracy Miles, had snatched a tuna roll to go in Scotland to grind her way to the last checkpoint with one minute to spare and completed the race in over 14 hours in total darkness, so undoubtedly the Lantern Rouge prize provided by Exposure Lights would have been most welcome. Her sterling ride also earned her 3rd spot on the women’s vet podium.

It wasn’t just the race winners that were rewarded with Montane jackets and custom made wooden trophies, the race organisers once again provided an impressive list of spot prizes thanks to their generous sponsors, with random riders going home with Exposure Lights, Juice Lubes and Accelerade energy products. Undoubtedly Nick Bowyer will now be kicking himself for not attending the presentation as his finishing position would have seen him walking away with a holiday worth £1,000 thanks to the ever generous guys at Saddle Skedaddle, however he wasn’t there so the Scottish Coast to Coast trip went instead to Kathy Beresford.

Thanks to the generosity of the riders, SIP Events also managed to raise an incredible £800 for the local school through a raffle that saw Craig Bowles grabbing top prize of a weekend cycling break thanks once again to Saddle Skedaddle.
In total 545 riders started and 347 hardy souls finished, with many taking full advantage of the post race BBQ and pint of Golden Plover to exchange their tales of adventure, emotion, and their lucky escapes and reflect on what many were calling the hardest day on a bike they have ever had. It was undoubtedly a memorable event that will continue to inspire. Watch out for next year’s date, we know it’ll be another winner… (Oh, and don’t mention the midges!)

Many thanks to everyone who made this event happen; from the riders through to the marshals, volunteers and helpers this event wouldn’t happen without their support. Thanks too, to the many generous sponsors, caterers and communities, including title sponsor Montane, plus Accelerade (gels & drinks), Forestry Commissions in England and Scotland, 7Stanes, Rock UK, Saddle Skedaddle, Swinnerton Cycles (Tech Support), Juice Lubes, Exposure Lights, Joolze Dymond, XCRacer.com, Alfresco Catering (for those yummy homemade burgers), The Duke’s Pantry, The Olive Tree Café (Hot grub at Newcastleton), and Allendale Brewery (beer!)

Mel Alexander – Women’s winner

“I decided to re-ride the Montane Klelder 100 before I broke my pelvis, initially with the aim to beat my overall position from last year of 33rd, but due to circumstance the aim for this year was to finish.

The prospect of 10 plus hours of riding after such a long time off the bike was very daunting. I have been back riding for six weeks building up gradually as the pelvis allowed. Managed a four hour ride last week but I really didn’t know whether I was ready to ride for the 100 miles. For the first half of the race I was mentally in a weak place, my legs felt pathetic and I was talking myself out of completing the race. I eventually snapped out of it, found a pace I knew I could sustain without making my legs hurt and plodded on. Made sure I ate lots, took time at the feed stations especially the 65miler one, something I did not do last year and I finished in a much better state for it.

Really glad I finished and even more pleased I was 16 mins quicker than last year (though the conditions were much dryer this year). Nowhere near 33rd, will just have to return another time.

Andrew Cockburn – Open Male Winner 2010

“I didn’t ride the K100 in its first year, but the buzz around the event and its aftermath on the internet and from friends who rode made it sound like an epic undertaking. It was one of the first races on my calendar for 2010. I liked the idea of being able to race one big loop and actually feeling like you have covered a lot of ground. The venue itself was a motivation for me, my first mountain bike race was in Kielder in 1993.

After checking in I headed to the back of the queue and tried my luck at shuffling a bit closer to the leading riders. A few “excuse me’s” and I was 3rd or 4th row, close enough to avoid being blocked in.

As soon as the lead out van pulled away we headed straight up a forest road with Steve James taking it out very hard from the beginning. I sat on his wheel, spinning a low gear to save my legs. He fairly quickly whittled the group of 650 riders down to him, me and Si Ernest. We worked together up to the first bag drop where we stopped to top up supplies. Just as we had finished loading up our pockets a second group arrived that contained Neal, Matt, Phil and others. We left the feed together but on a tricky rutted downhill Steve got a gap and pushed on by himself. The group kept him in sight but didn’t seem to be closing so I decided to bridge across when we hit a soft, grassy piece of single track. After reaching Steve I looked round and could not see anyone else.

I hadn’t planned on getting away this early and was a bit nervous of the distance still to go but I knew Steve and I would work together well and decided to keep pushing to open up a gap. After joining the Deadwater red route, I knew we had a reasonable buffer and barring spectacular blow ups it was probably between the two of us. On the loop beneath Deadwater Fell we continued to share the pace, but on the climb to the start of the bermed decent Steve had mechanical trouble, I eased off slightly to see if he could get back on. He didn’t seem to be making much progress at closing the gap and shouted at me to ride on. This wasn’t in the plan. I was by myself before the first checkpoint and would have to ride the rest of the race alone.

Heading for the border I was feeling rough. The zig zag climb had me grovelling in bottom gear towards the boardwalk, I thought I had started too fast. Passing the Piper I was convinced that I was about to be caught. I pushed hard across the moor but my legs didn’t seem to be following orders. I tried to recover on the long downhill towards Newcastleton but every upward blip felt like a mountain as I was left struggling up even the smallest of climbs.

Heading out of the feed station as I crossed the trail I saw Steve heading out on the loop. The Marshals said that he was in second place so I knew that I had a fairly comfortable lead and just needed to keep going.

From the last checkpoint I thought I knew the route home so I pushed hard up the hill until I reached the singletrack to the finish. I realised that I was close to 8 hours so I pushed hard on the descent, passing riders who had missed the cut-off, who were all great at letting me through. A few minutes later I crossed the line to a great reception and dibbed in to record my time, under 8 hours by a couple of minutes.

I’m now bandaged up so I’m off the bike for a few days. It hasn’t put me off though; I had a great day and really enjoyed the course and the relaxed atmosphere of the whole event. Sitting back with a burger and talking with other riders was a great way to spend an afternoon. I’ll be back next year!”

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