Race winner Ben Thomas (TORQ Performance) talks to MarathonMTB.com at the finish.
The Montane Kielder 100 is still a rare beast within the United Kingdom. At 100 miles, it is long. Not being lap based makes it stand apart. And being 100% competitive puts the biggest distinction in. This is a quality Mountain Bike Marathon – run in an area that can easily dish out trying conditions. The first year was bleak. Lots of water on the trail, cold temperatures, rain and wind. 2010 was cool and dry, with many who had returned finding the course somewhat rougher than 2009 – but faster. 2011 had a return to 2009 conditions, although a few more degrees were traded in at the cost of almost non-stop rain and wind. More than 200 entrants didn’t even sign on for the start. They clearly weren’t up to the 100 mile challenge, for one reason or another.
The Scottish Borders is an amazing part of the world. Rugged beauty is combined with inclement weather, fresh air and countless opportunities for outdoor pursuits. Then there are the midges. It is often note that Scottish tourism would be a far bigger industry if it wasn’t for this small but persistent insect. Gratefully, as rain moved in on Kielder during the rider meeting (held curiously at9pm on Friday, limiting competitors sleeping hours), the midge abated.
At 6:30am on Saturday, the field of riders were in the start chute at Kielder Castle. There was a fine drizzle, but the forecast suggested worse conditions before they got better. Jackets and gilets were worn or stowed. Ant White (MT Zoom/Cannondale) admitted to covering his body with a layer of vaseline to add an extra element of protection!
The 500+ rider field rolled out under the watch of photographer Joolz Dymond, who rode in the lead out vehicle. The pace varied a little, and there was even a small crash partway back. Race favourites shuffled towards the front, pleasantries were swapped, and perhaps allegiances were formed. 100 miles is a long way, it’s useful to have friends.
After a couple of quick right hand turns, the shout of ‘Go’ was yelled and it was on. Not full on, but perhaps at least 80% on. Fine mud and grit was soon covering the faces and bodies of riders. The lead group stayed together and marked each other with tenacity. Soon enough a split was forming, containing many from our predictions: Tim Dunford (AW Cycles), Ben Thomas (TORQ Performance), Stephen Davies (AW Cycles), Andrew Cockburn (Columbia – Bike Food), Andy Fellows (AY-UP Lights), Mike Blewitt (MarathonMTB.com), Giles Drake (Team Elite), Rich Rothwell (M Steels/Enigma/Exposure), Tom Stewart (Doncaster Wheelers) and Greig Brown. Just under half of these riders were pulling good turns consistently, although everyone had a go. Sitting in was painful due to the grit that was forced into eyes, and pelted into your skin.
Like many long Mountain Bike Marathons, the Kielder 100 uses a lot of firetrail, but also forestry trails and singletrack. Some were faster, some wetter, some muddier. A few sections of boggy and wet grassy forest trails slowed the pace, but the effort was high in the front group. Perhaps these higher efforts in the first 1.5hrs would take their toll later.
Gradually, riders succumbed to mechanical problems, the conditions, the pace, or just couldn’t put up with 100 miles of all of the above. And so it became a race of attrition. Ben Thomas said that soon after the first feed zone they were down to just a few riders, and that soon after the half way mark he was on his own. Andy Fellows had been strong and highly active early on, but was at the mercy of the elements when the race was up higher. It was a day that would reward those who could manage their bike and bodies.
At a little over 8 hours, Ben Thomas was seen descending down the final singletrack to the finish. Not a new course record, but only a few minutes off – and in drastically different conditions from last year. Ben had a huge gap to 2nd place Tim Dunford. Third place went to a surprise Tom Stewart, disbelieving that he could place third after needing so much time to get new brake pads in! Rich Rothwell rolled in for the first Vet Male, and 5th overall. He was closely followed by Ant White in 6th, taking 2nd place in the Vets. These two were 50 seconds apart officially, but due to the odd ‘dibbing’ transponder system, this doesn’t show how close they actually were. Not everyone was too concerned aboutplacing a small transponder in a device after crossing the finish line. Msot needed food, water, clothes, or in the case of Giles Drake – a good vomit.
Mel Alexander proved to be the most succesful Kielder 100 racer of all time, taking her third win in a row, in front of Lisa Kamphausen. However, over a post race lasagne, Mel was lamenting the lack of women who come to race the event. Sally Bigham (Topeak Ergon) has mentioned racing, perhaps she will turn up and place top 5 overall in 2012?
Riders were still rolling in by sundown. The conditions were truly testing. Many riders were chewing through their brake pads earlier than expected. Flat tyres were common on the sharp rocks. Chain suck was a common problem. The time cuts were strictly enforced, although for those riding a smart and conservative race, there were unfortunate instances of being stopped a little shy of the race time. Not all marshal’s watches had been synchronised it seems. It’s a long way to travel, and a long way to race to be told you missed a cut off – when your own bike computer (and those around you) says otherwise.
The Kielder 100 is a challenge for all who attempt it. Fast or slow, lucky or unlucky – it’s not easy for anyone. The figures don’t lie. With only 177 finishers this year, anyone who earnt a thermal finishers mug should be proud. Talk in the pub was already about ‘next year’ in the evening.
Scott Cornish, one of hundreds of racers who Did Not Finish, looks back on how his morning went.
Full results are available online here