It's Sunday morning and I'm desperately trying to relax. I've packed my bike and equipment the night before so there's nothing to do but enjoy my breakfast and get to the venue in good time. But I'm excited. I've been doing some modest yet regular riding and I want to see the results.
On arrival at the car park, a long strip of fire road grass verge, it's pretty full already. It's 9.30am. Venturing out into the sub-zero temperatures I head off to sign in for the race. On the way some familiar faces start popping up and some welcome pre-race banter ensues.
I'm signed-in and have my kit on, the bike has had a quick maintenance check and tyres pressures set. After a 10 minute spin up and down an adjacent fire route I head to the start line. I manage to mix in with a bunch of Timber peeps and wait for the off - more talking and less nerves. There's a pre-start surge as the group bunches for the off.
Then we're off, well everyone else is as they surge past me - including the Timber race heads (and that's pretty much the last I see of them for the race!). There's a good run of fire route before the first section of single track, and it's more congested than the A11 at Elveden when I get there. The only rule of survival is to wedge yourself as far into the pack as possible (whilst still being polite) and look straight ahead. There's a lot of slow drafting and short sprint overtaking as the pack arranges itself into some kind of speed-based order.
About 10 minutes in I take in some fluids. To my great surprise there's a large dollop of mud on the mouth piece of my bladder - after some face pulling and spitting I manage to get over it.
Half way round the first lap or so my drive train sound bad, it's like a derailleur is a couple of notches out of alignment. Then on the final gradients before the finish-line there's a horrible clinking every revolution of the pedals, I had visions of the pedals unscrewing or the chainset disintegrating. Finally Lap 1 is done and I'm feeling surprisingly good.
The second lap is a much easier run, the riders are spread out so it's easier to get into a rhythm. Early on I almost stack my bike. There was a slowish guy, followed by a faster guy but reluctant to overtake and then there was me. I pick my spot and call it on a corner which I can cut through the rough. When I make the move the front wheel washes out - I have no idea how I unclipped so quickly, but an outrigger left foot saved me from a face plant...
Half way round the second lap and I get overtaken by a female racer on the single track- I guess she had a mechanical earlier on. Back on the fire road I catch up to her and actually she's setting a good all-round pace - so I decide to draft... for the rest of the lap. Racing has its perks (it's okay I levelled with my wife!). Towards the end of the lap my impromptu pace maker starts flagging on the climbs and I chug past. My legs are also starting to tire. I know this as my arse is being paddled by the saddle when my legs don't naturally aid the flow through the single track. However I figure out that the noise from my drive chain is actually a thick coating of mud and not a mech problem. Also the clinking noise when I pedal is a buckle on my shorts knocking the cross bar.
I spot a Timber shirt. It looks like Giles - he passed me mid-way through lap 1 where we had a bit of banter. Just when I figure that I can reel him in, he promptly disappears in the distance... maybe not then. My legs start to protest at the riding effort, but I don't want to crack. Trying to flow over singletrack becomes a mental strain and spinning on the fire routes is now just another source of pain. I pass Beanfield (Chris) with some marshals, out with a mechanical (bad luck mate). I also pass Muttley00 (Jon) who's doing the 4 hour (nutter), a good opportunity to exchange some support.
Towards the end of the 3rd lap it looks like I won't be under the 2 hour mark so this is the final few sections. There's a group of riders who I slowly make ground on I figure I'll get with them, ease up slightly then take them on over the final climbs. However a short climb sees me sailing past them anyway.
On the climb before Plumbuster I see Giles again. I draft him for a bit and then pull along side for the final climb towards the finish. This is when I realize he's on a single speed - respect. He grinds up the hill whilst I spin it and conversation aside, when we get to the top, Giles makes a dash for the final corner. For a second there I forgot we were in a race...
I have a quick mental flash of Laurent Fignon winning La Plagne stage in the 1987 Tour de France - then I pick my gear and wind it up, there's no pain now... just the noise of disbelief from Giles as I pip him to the post. This was promptly followed by the words, "You cheeky bar steward" (well that's what I heard...) - from a warm, congratulations speech by the Timber Chairman!
Objectives wise - I enjoyed myself, I finished, I had quite consistent lap times and I finished in the top 90 (66th). 4 for 4