Gorrick MTB Enduro 2006

Today was my first big aim of the year, with the Gorrick Enduro MTB race. This was a special goal for me for several reasons; firstly I have been riding Gorrick events since their first race (which was my second ever) 14 years ago, yet despite numerous placings over the years, I have only won one, when I was a junior, back in 1995. Secondly the Enduro takes place in what I consider 'my woods' - well, the forest behind my house anyway. And finally, having done this race in the previous two years, I had a third place (2004, would have been second if I hadn't broken my chain on the last lap) and a second place (last year, when the course was over-long and the race took eight hours; I had enough drink for six....), so really wanted to win it this time around.

In the last two additions I had ridden over with a bag full of bottles, then left them at the side of the track, having to stop every two laps to collect fresh drink. This time I didn't want to have that loss of momentum and time, so my mate Dan agreed to come down and act as support crew for me. Last year the event was blessed with incredible hot weather - temperatures in the upper 20s and blazing sunshine. Today was very different - temperatures during the race were between 6 and 10 degrees, with overcast skies and a few drops of rain early on. But still people were racing in shorts and short sleeves! I had knee warmers, arm warmers and a thermal, and was just warm enough....

Last year's winner was absent, but multiple winner from previous years, Jamie Newall was there, along with several other quality riders. In the last two additions a lead group has formed on the first lap, then gradually been whittled down as riders blew and packed; the attrition rate is normally pretty high. The main event is a 7 lap race, with each lap set at around 10 miles, with a mixture of technical singletrack, steep climbs and fast fireroads. There are also races over 5,4,3 and 2 laps, so over 400 riders on the course at the same time during the day.

The 7 lap event was due to start at 8:30 today. It got put back a few minutes, but soon enough we were underway. Jamie lead up the first hill, but he wasn't going fast enough, so I went past, which also meant I could lead into the first singletrack section. With such a long course and the early start, there is no pre-riding of the route, so being first man meant I had to pay attention to the markings to stay on track; I failed at one point and went off course briefly, but jumped back over the tapes and carried on. Jamie and I pulled ahead on the first half a lap, with one rider able to stay within sight behind. But when I told Jamie to come through on the fireroad, we slowed down a lot; but I didn't want to drag him along all the way. Therefore I attacked on the next bit of singletrack, which also happened to be one of my favorite sections in the forest, where I have often timed myself during training. I was able to open up a bit of a gap, meaning that on the next fireroad part he didn't have the advantage of my slipstream. I hadn't intended to try and take the lead so early in such a long race, but figured I might as well press on for a bit, to see if I could get a decent gap. At the end of the first lap (run off in 44 minutes - so quick that Dan wasn't ready and missed handing a bottle up!), I had 20 seconds, and pushed on. Another lap down, and I had increased my advantage to 2 minutes. I was already catching a lot of the 5 lappers, who had started a bit behind us - but when I warned them I was coming through they were very good at getting out of the way. My mind kept trying to wander, but I stayed focused and concentrated - with so much technical riding it was important to keep paying full attention to the trail, and to eating and drinking. I was still feeling good after three laps, though the gap had only increased a little, to 2:10. I'm used to riding to heartrate in races, but in the first few minutes today the chest strap had slipped down to my waist, so I had to pace it totally on feel. Fortunately I was able to remember the 12hr in NZ a month ago, where I had been able to maintain a high pace (though not quite this high!) for 7 hours - hopefully my fitness would hold out today. Four laps, and my advantage was up to 3:30. Starting to feel it now though. My lap times were slowing a little. I got lucky as I came through at the end of lap five, as the two lap race started just behind me - so I had the faster rides to take pace from a little, and Jamie would have the slower riders to get past. I was feeling pretty sick now - always a problem with trying to eat during long events, and on the verge of blowing. I just had to maintain the best pace I could and keep going. 5 minute lead now. But with mountain biking you can never relax until the end - anything can happen; a crash or a mechanical problem. I tried to shift cleanly, so as not to risk breaking the chain, and to keep riding smoothly and to stay focused. The last lap was tough, but I knew I just had to hold on for that final 50 minutes. With great relief I crossed the line to take my first senior Gorrick win - 118km (according to my computer) in 5 hours 35 minutes. Hurrah!

The bonus this year is that the event was sponsored by electronics firm Sagem, who had provided a range of spot prizes, plus a prize for fastest in the 7 lapper - which was a 28" LCD HD TV! Fortunate that Dan drove us over this year, as I would have had trouble riding home with that.... Anyone want to buy a tele?