Nick Craig produced a stunning ride to secure back-to-back wins in the Sleepwell Hotels sponsored End to End Challenge on Sunday 13 September.
In near perfect conditions, the former British mountain bike cross-country champion completed the near 70km course (approximately 42 miles) in an amazing time of 2hr 47min 57.8sec to shave more than seven minutes off his winning time of last year on what was arguably a tougher course as the event included the off-road descent of the Sloc (not the road as used last year).
Runner-up was another visiting rider, Neal Crampton of the Crosstrax team, while former winner Elliot Baxter and Paul Kneen led the local charge in third and fourth places respectively.
Such was the size of the field (in the region 850 starters) that it took 2min 50sec for all of the bikes to pass under the giant starting kite close to the Point of Ayre light house.
By that time, the leading bunch was already approaching the first turn at Cranstal and an early break saw local roadies Gian˛ni Epifani and Peter Gage go off the front, the latter man to be replaced by Paul Kneen and three visiting riders as they crested and passed through Bride village.
Nearing Ballaugh on the coastal road Kneen, Epifani and one of the Israeli riders were still off the front and it was Port Erin joiner Kneen who popped over the world famous humped-back-bridge first – cheered on by a huge crowd – approximately 38 minutes after leaving the start line.
TT ace Guy Martin, more used to aviating the bridge at a considerably greater pace in the opposite direction, was in a bunch of around 50 riders following less than two minutes behind.
There was considerable congestion on the initial tarmac climb out of Ballacobb, but with a clear road Kneen managed to lead until he got to the steepest part of the rocky ascent approaching the sheep gate leading on to Slieau Curn where a manual check was made of all the riders’ numbers.
When he slipped off briefly, Scott Cycles professional Nick Craig powered by to immediately seÍt about stamping his authority on the race.
He led from eventual runner-up Crampton at the Brandywell/Sartfield Road crossover, where again a huge crown of spectators had gathered.
Early pacesetter Epifani dropped out of the leading frame when his bike suffered a broken chain shortly before Brandywell.
Meantime, former British Junior Cross Country MTB Champion Elliot Baxter – having made a very steady start and, competing in his first E2E for four years – was placed 12th as he headed on down the fast, rolling Glion Gill stretch (passing the halfway point) and the tough climb to the Beary.
For some time he rode in close company with last year’s leading local Alex Kinvig, but by the time he reached St John’s he had shaken him off and leapfrogged ahead of another couple of riders – including Paul Kneen – in the Beary area.
By the time he hit the Slieau Whallian climb, approaching midday in the heat of a beautiful late summer’s day, Baxter had the third-placed rider firmly in his sights, but leader Craig and second-placed Crampton were out of reach.
Having ‘gelled out’ Kneen hit a bad patch and struggled for a number of miles enabling Kinvig and one of the visiting riders to slip past.
Kneen took on much-needed water at the Eary Cushlin check and got second wind to retake fifth from Kinvig and his riding partner Matthew Denis.
A lot of pre-event work by the Manx Forestry Board workers enabled the excellent Cronk-ny-Arree-Laa descent to the Sloc to be reintroduced and, approaching his home patch, 40 year old Kneen caught and passed a badly cramping Joe Home on the excellent run through George Costain and Stanley Clucas’s fields leading off the technical Carnanas/Ballarock stretch.
By then, race leader Craig was stomping his way up the Howe – a” gruelling final sting in the tail – and he crossed the finish line just short of Cregneash village a shade before 12.48pm. Many competent cyclists would be happy to cover the same distance by road in the time he took to complete the E2E route .
Amazingly he even admitted to getting lost briefly in the closing stages on the final run through the fields towards Ballafesson Chapel.
Fourth last year, Crampton held on well to grab a deserved second place, while Baxter crept in under three hours by only three seconds.
Kneen equalled his pervious best fourth place best finish from 2007, while Lancaster University student Kinvig was the next best of the locals in seventh (the same position as last year but three-quarters of a minute faster), the best of the under-23 men.
Former professional road cyclist Rob Holden produced a typically gritty ride to finish 10th, half-a -minute in front of his brother-in-law, former Island and Laxey footballer Rob Sorby. Other locals in the top-20 included 49 year old Julian Corlett – one of the hard working organising team – in 14th place and Ramsey resident Kale Hawkins in 16th. Again Richard Callow had a very good ride to grab 21st.
The leading female for the second time in three years was visiting rider Jacqueline Easton, 116th in 3.54.54, followed by Hilary Bloor in 152nd and leading local Cayley Ennett of Greeba in 156th (best u23 woman).
Class winners included Tony Aspell (best over-60) and Alicia Corlett (best under 19 woman)
The last official finisher inside the seven hour cut off was airport fireman Dave Pendlebury in 6.57.37 but 12 more weary soles did manage to complete the course.
Article written by John Watterson, a reporter from Isle of Man Newspapers.