What better way to celebrate the longest weekend of 2019 than ride a 24hr MTB race? How about riding it with a teammate and the support of the Stayer Cycles shop crew?
Mountain Mayhem runs at Marston Lodge, Northamptonshire, over the weekend of the 21/22 of June on a new course made specifically for the event. A loop of just over 9km that skims fields and ploughs through woodland with 250m of climbing smuggled in to keep things interesting. Ride it as a team of 5, a pair (our choice) or solo, with one team mate on the course at any time on whatever mountain bike you like and keep lapping until the clock stops. Easy.
The Stayer team pair rocked up on friday evening filled with a mix of apprehension (me) and naked ambition (Joe) to find a full-on festival atmosphere. Driving through the largest collection of gazebos and VW T5 campervans ever assembled on a single field, we settled on one of the few remaining spots and pitched our modest 2-and-a-half man tent. The first of our gang to arrive, we hastily marked out our pitch with some boots and blankets before heading off to nearby Market Harborough for the evenings supplies. The local Aldi rewarded our lack of preparation with bread and cheese, filled pasta and a host of camping bargains from the centre isle. We returned to find Joe’s friends had arrived and found us amidst the sea of more well kitted-out campsites. But once we’d pitched our new £8 solar-powered stake lights and camping chairs and fired up the stove, we too were feeling pretty smug and ready for weekends riding.
The sun woke those of us sleeping in tents pretty early on Saturday. We hadn’t been up long before the Stayer Cycles support crew turned up, a dream team made up of Framebuilder/chef Sam, Wheelbuilder/voice-of-reason Judith & head of HR/canine mascot Nola. Our camp then transformed into a serious-looking affair, with a proper gazebo, a kitchen station and a bike stand. One of our teams’ sponsors Perky Blenders had come through with some excellent coffee they had described as ‘different with every sip’. Ideal 24hr race fuel. In turn we gave the bikes a once-over, changed into some serious-looking lycra and rolled out for a sighting lap before the morning rider briefing.
The course was surprisingly varied, with a mixture of steady and sharp climbs, woodland singletrack with a vicious A-line decent. Laps looked to be about 30mins for a quick one, so we perhaps naively planned to do 3 before handing over to the other.
The informal rider briefing gave us a full view of the variety of riders and steeds taking part. XC carbon whippets bumped bars with fat bikes and 90s rigid throwbacks. A quick run through of proceedings, a couple of group cheers, and we sloughed off back to camp to faff nervously. Joe opted for the first shift, which included a Le Mans style running start. The rest of the Stayer crew watched on as he weaved and (politely) elbowed his way up to the 2nd or 3rd row. A quick and rowdy crowd countdown and we were off!
The first few laps were a mixture of over-enthusiastic accelerations, shouts of ‘rider back’ and ‘on your left/right’ and getting used to a course that had precious little rest. I was feeling superbly smug I’d nicked the bell from my town bike and delighted at its every use. The third lap of each shift kicked harder than we would have liked, and after 6 hours most of the adrenaline had worn off, replaced with a steady grim determination. The sun was properly out, and bottle handups from the Sam and Judith were a total godsend. In our downtime, we were treated to the full support crew service back at camp with a seemingly endless supply of food, coffee and encouragement. 9 hours in, with 3 x 3 lap shifts each under our belts, we decided to regroup and have a chat about our night riding strategy. We were sitting a comfortable 4th in our category, but happy to sacrifice time for a reassessment and some dinner. All agreed that although the pace we were keeping was great, it was also laughably unsustainable, and it might be best if we got some sleep through the darkest part of the night. While Joe headed back out for a couple of night laps, I got a headstart on some much-needed kip. The whole campsite seemed to have settled down for the night, with the notable exception of the trackside Retro bikes pitch, who valiantly kept up a party atmosphere well into the small hours. Occasionally stirred by the buzzing of a freehub as a weary rider rolled back through camp, we slept pretty well.
My 3:15am alarm wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, although it took me a good 15 minutes to pull my shit together, strap on my lights and head back out to the course. Cool but not cold, I did one lap in the dark before the sun started to rise, and before long the lights became unnecessary. Photographers began to dot the higher wooded sections of the course, the knackered riders backlit by a glorious sunrise that made even those of us barely dragging ourselves around look like heroes. 3 laps into my morning stint, I rolled up to the handover pen to see no sign of Joe, so thought I may as well truck on for another and test how slowly I could totter up the climbs. 1 unexpectedly peaceful lap later, I rolled into camp to find Sam making breakfast and Joe still yet to emerge from the tent. Coffee had never tasted better, and confident I’d put in a decent effort I turned in as Joe shuffled out. We’d slipped a fair few places overnight and were both happy to settle for however many laps our legs had left.
I woke half an hour later to find Joe back at camp and looking pretty resigned. With 3 hours left to ride, he’d decided to cut his losses and and listen to his aching back and increasingly unstable knee. I could hardly blame him. My heels of my hands were bruised and blisters were blossoming on my palms. And, well, my backside hurt. Agreeing to concede defeat was a bitter pill, but after a shower and some more breakfast the decision started looking like the right one, a feeling that didn’t change all that much as we packed up and rolled back down the M1.
There are definitely some takeaways from the experience. Ours are as follows: