Aggregate 100 – Tom and James’s debrief, Part 1

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The UK’s first gravel enduro took place this past weekend. The Kinesis Bikes UK Aggregate 100 plotted a course (straight outta?) Cropton, tucked in the North York Moors. Taking in back lanes, gravel tracks across moors full of flowering heather, forest roads and a smattering of boggy death march, the race had it all.
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Not sure what an enduro is? Think of motor rallies. Special stages are timed, and the time over those stages is aggregated. Whoever has the fastest aggregate time wins. You still need to ride between those stages, but are free to take your time and simply enjoying being out in what, in this case, was some spectacular countryside. The format has been popular in mountain bike racing for years now – usually using downhill sections as timed stages.
So, that’s the background. How did it go for our #dirtydropbargoodnessdreamteam of James and me? Well, we arrived on Saturday evening, “fresh” from the Ard Rock Enduro in the Yorkshire Dales. 40km and 2000m of climbing/descending on distinctly non-drop barred bikes left us feeling STOKED for another 100km of racing the next day. Maybe not… Fortunately pints of beer were thrust into hands, and food inhaled. There was a great, intimate atmosphere at the event on Saturday night, with the majority of racers choosing to camp there. Bikes were eyed up, tactics compared and maybe one or two more beers consumed.
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Race Day
I woke up a couple of times during the night to the AdventureVan™ getting gently nudged by what sounded like a few breezy gusts. Meanwhile, next door, James woke up a couple of times in the night to re-peg his tent in what he was able to confirm was a very strong wind. The forecast was for more wind, but a dry and sunny day.
After a hearty breakfast, racers began to congregate around the start, amid the usual excited pre-race chatter…
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It felt strange rolling off the line in a relaxed group. There were no attacks off the front, no need to ride quicker than a “get me around in a reasonable time” pace. I was secretly thankful, as my legs let me knew I’d been riding yesterday. We cruised along beautiful backroads, through small villages. Off road tyres buzzed along rolling tarmac, and the day felt quintessentially English summertime, right down to the gusting wind, which was already making itself known. Despite the early hour, I would have been perfectly happy sitting beside a village cricket pitch, sipping a Pimms and watching the world go by.
Instead, we climbed. Gently away, but climbed. Leaving village halls and churchyards behind, we were flanked by the popping purple of flowering heather, and a pair of Kinesis flags loomed on the horizon. As the road swung to the left, a wide gravel track continued upwards as far as the eye could see. Pausing for a swig of water, James and I girded our loins (more literally in James’s case. His well worn shorts were sporting a sticky tape repair) and crossed the timing strip.
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Stage 1
I’d like to say that we were fully prepared and knew exactly how long the stage was… measuring our effort to the finish line. The truth was, I had no idea whatsoever, other than the stage climbed ‘a bit’ then descended ‘a bit’. The climb was steady enough to remain seated, and I simply pedalled, balancing trying to find the smoothest line with not weaving around too much. Other riders provided perfect quarries to chase. Finally, topping out, the track dropped to the right, wind on my back for the first time that day, the track grew rougher as I picked up speed. Wheels pinged across the tops of bedrock, in the air as much as they were on the ground. Speed tuck engaged, I gathered pace. All well and good until the track became rougher again. ‘Dunk’, as I felt rim against rock. Holding my breath I held fast and tried not to touch the brakes. There was no resulting ‘psssssshhh’. I’d got away with it. Phew. Forearms were beginning to itch with the vibrations and daring to look beyond the ten metres beyond my front wheel I could see the finish way below me. It was at around this point that my bottle ejected itself from the frame to join the many others that littered the track. By the time I realised, I was already 50 metres further along, and there was no way I was going back while against the clock. Plummeting across the finish line with a giggle, I exchanged giddy conversation with wide eyed riders. This gravel lark was a bit fun…
What goes down…
AGG100 Blakey Bank
Blakey Bank is well known to local road riders. It’s short in length, but big in ouch. Averaging 10%, with a few ramps at 20% it was a wake up call after the last few kilometres of freewheeling. Fortunately, there was a treat at the top and a long section of flat cinder-black track to cruise along, refuelling and enjoying the views. Still the wind was ever present, strong enough that riders were visibly leaning to one side, tacking against the most powerful gusts.
Dropping down over more rough terrain, we were spat out on to mellow country roads, and a steady spin to the start of the next stage.
Stage 2
Pulling off the road on to hardpacked forest road, Stage 2 began pleasantly enough. A few hundred metres of flat and gently descending trail quickly transformed into climb. And more climb. Flanked by tall pine tress and with sun beating down on my neck, I toiled away, now cursing the perma-headwind. I had a vague recollection that this stage might be quite long, but to be honest, just wanted to get it done, so didn’t really think to much about how much effort I was putting in. Just keep pedalling. Hairpin after hairpin, still I climbed. Surely near the top, the first hints of cramp tickled my thighs as I grabbed a handful of gears and resorted to spinning. Dry throat, and dusted lips I couldn’t help but smile. I was enjoying this… out of the saddle and time to crank up some more speed… and sat back down again straight away. Legs did NOT like that. And then, finally, I turned the last hairpin to find the finish flags and our first feed station just beyond. Time for lashings of watermelon, sausage rolls and er, whisky…
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PART 2 to follow…

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