To celebrate the first anniversary of my return to racing I travelled all the way home to the UK to race where I started in the annual runners versus riders at Ludlow. You remember, 10 miles of lung-bursting strength sapping agony. You may also remember that I came second last year after leading for most of the race I was caught inside the last mile, thwarted by my lack of descending skills. Anyway, this year I was back, fitter, faster, lighter, and determined to do well.
Here’s how it went…
I attacked right from the start, to be first across the road into Oak Wood. I had a couple of riders show me their front wheel before I pushed on and was first to the top of the ramp with a small lead. Down the ramp towards the fire road and Marc Beaumont (yes, Marc Beaumont the Santa Cruz sponsored World Cup, world class downhiller) comes flying past. I give chase up the fire road. I’m towing John Gilbert (last years winner), and Gary Brain (last years 3rd) behind me. I pass Marc before we reach the first stream crossing and as I line myself up to go through he passes me again. He’s so fast through the stream there’s hardly a splash.
Up through the singletrack towards Chemical Bank I’m on Marc’s wheel. We re-cross the stream and onto the bank. Its far too steep to ride, so with bikes on shoulders, lungs burning and legs stinging we hike our way to the top. At the summit the four of us are clear, Marc, me, John, and Gary, in that order.
Dropping down toward the pipe track Marc opens a gap. I let John through, he knows this descent well and I feel safer tailing him. Gary tails me. By the time we spill out onto the pipe track Marc has a good 30secs lead. Using John to lead me through the rutted section at the start of the pipe track I then chase after Marc. Just before the first of the huge pipe track dips I re-take the lead.
Descending into the first dip as fast as I dare Marc comes past like I’m standing still. Onto the climb out of the dip i’ve lost 10 bike lengths but I’m gaining. I just get back on terms when we’re into the second dip, and I lose another 10. Bikes on shoulders again we stagger out onto the zigzag tarmac climb to the Ridgeway. John is back with me, and we chase Marc together.
On the long Ridgeway climb I leave John, and catch Marc to take the lead again. I’m trying hard now to get enough gap so that I won’t be caught again on the descent to Monstay Farm. At the top of the Ridgeway a quick glance back, I have a good gap, I hope to keep it. Down the rutted frozen Ridgeway to Five Ways is a nightmare. I make a couple of dabs to stay upright. At Five Ways I’m still clear. I mash on hard, down through Monstay Farm as fast as I dare, straight across the road (thanks marshals), and onto the climb of High Vinnals.
High Vinnals is a climb that gets steeper as you go up. Middle ring at first, then Granny, then running. I keep having a sneaky look back. Nobody in sight. As I crest the climb I take a good look back, still clear. Down across Climbing Jack moor, rattling over the frozen ground. Going into the trees for the descent to the Middle Road, still nobody in sight behind. I’m beginning to think I might have it.
Down to the middle road, a 200 metre dash then dive right. Still no one there. Along the rutted frozen track to Sunny Dingle. With 100 metres of track left Marc comes flying past fast, really fast. By the time we cross the fire road and start to race along the valley he’s opened up a 10 second gap! I chase hard along the valley road, and at the hairpin into the stream crossing I’ve caught him.
Back up the ramp I take the lead one more time. As I go past Marc I clang up a gear and push on as hard as I possibly can. I need as much of a buffer as I can before the final downhill dash to the finish. Marc goes up a gear to and tries to respond. At the top of the ramp it is me who has the 10 second lead.
Diving down left, I go as fast as I can, taking as much room as I can. With 300 metres to go Marc squeezes past Rizla close (you couldn’t fit a Rizla in the gap). At the log dismount I’m on his wheel, right on it, but we’re at the line. I’m beaten again!
Analysis– I’m disappointed not to win. If only the circuit had been 300 metres shorter or even 300 metres longer where it flattens out. I’m full of self-recrimination. Surely I could have found another few seconds from somewhere, did I run hard enough here, did I push myself there etc.
However, I’ve only just been beaten by a world class rider at the top of his game. He thanks me for a good hard race. It can only be a handful of riders that can say that they battled with Marc Beaumont man on man. Add to that the fact that the two of us beat the time set by the fastest runners. The first time that the runners have been beat in as long as anyone can remember. Maybe that’s not so bad.
|Gary Brain||1:07 :44|