There was never any doubt that I had to ride Bristol Bikefest again this year. Last year’s BBF was my first “proper” competitive race and 2nd place in the solo ss category took me by surprise, whilst giving me the feedback that all this extra riding I was doing was at least having some positive effect! Besides, Bikefest is the unofficial main event of Dreaming Tyres, the marvellous group of Oxford-based riders with whom I ride a lot.
A lot can happen in a year, and I approached Bikefest 2012 with confidence in my ability to ride for 12 hours straight (unlike last year when that particular fact was untested). I’ve also learned a lot about nutrition for long rides, what works and what doesn’t for me, and in fact I think this year I probably took on board about a third of the food that I did at last years event! The resulting lack of stomach ache and requirement for a swift trip to the loo after the race was quite an improvement this time around .
I can’t say I was disappointed to see that last year’s winner of the solo ss class, Dan Treby was racing in the team category for his new sponsor this year. Dan is an incredibly strong rider and even at my best I really wouldn’t fancy my chances against him. Nevertheless, Dan’s previous team Singular Cycles, who seem to have a bottomless pit of strong endurance riders, came up with the goods again in the form of Aidan Harding. I’m sure most people reading this will be familiar with Aidan & his incredible rides in races such as the Tour Divide & Iditarod Invitational, but needless to say I have huge respect for Aidan as a rider and for the work he is doing in bringing a new long distance self supported event to the UK in the form of the EWE. As I develop my riding fitness & “headspace”, I find myself drawn to a similar style of riding, attracted to the challenge of riding and racing “big” routes, “epics” I suppose some would describe them. I’ve only just begun, but my route wish-list is already growing fast! So, despite knowing that it’d be a huge stretch for me to compete closely with him, I was really pleased to have the chance to race against Aidan.
The race itself this year felt a lot more simple logistically than last. I was confident in my fuelling and the fact that I could make the distance. I’d pre-mixed all my drinks & had a good selection of gels & snacks to grab depending on how I was feeling. The new start, designed to avoid the short-cut taken by some in previous years, was a bit of a farce yet again. In the scheme of things though, especially in the context of a 12 hour solo race, it’s of no great consequence.
After perhaps three laps or so, I was surprised to hear a cheery hello from Aidan coming up behind me. I assumed he would be up ahead somewhere already but turns out some idiot moved his bike at the start so he wasted valuable time finding it & then no doubt fighting his way through the traffic. I hung onto Aidan’s rear wheel for most of a good fast lap, with a bit of chit-chat thrown in when pacing permitted. Inevitably, I soon dropped back a bit on one of the climbs into a stiff headwind. Aidan’s pace at that point was just a bit too much for me to sustain long term and I knew I had to be mindful of my own pacing, so I didn’t risk blowing up by chasing him too hard at this point in the race. The next time I was to see Aidan was on the podium!
From then on, I mostly rode my own race. From occasional snippets of feedback from my Dreaming Tyres chums, I knew Graham Phillips wasn’t too far behind so there was certainly no chance to ease up & relax. Graham is an experienced endurance racer, demonstrated by his consistent lap times, and as my mid-race lap times started to slip, his remained strong. I seem to recall a 6 – 8 hour tough bit last year too. Perhaps there’s something going on physically there, I don’t know, but at least this time I knew I could push through it. If I’m honest, I’d had enough mentally after about 7 hours. Riding round in circles like this is an odd thing to do when there are so many great trails out there just waiting to be attempted. Perhaps I was spoilt by the last 12 hour ride I did along the Trans Cambrian Way but I’m still developing as a rider & finding what I enjoy & what motivates me, so riding these very different types of events & trails is a good thing for me right now. Anyway, to be honest Bikefest is about much more than the racing…it’s also the atmosphere, being around other riders and making & meeting friends.
Back to the race, I started to count down the remaining laps, 4, 3, 2…and then the elephant in my room appeared again…asthma. I’ve been troubled with exercise induced asthma since my TCW ride a couple of months ago. If I’m honest it affected me for months before that, but I didn’t know what it was & it only became a major problem at the end of that ride. This time around, I could feel a shortness of breath even just a few laps into the race. It got progressively worse to the point where, on the final lap, any significant effort resulted in the familiar tightening of my chest & an inability to draw breath, which meant I was walking the climbs and taking it easy elsewhere. To put it bluntly, if the race had continued for one more lap, I think I would have had to pull out. I later discovered that my inhaler wasn’t working properly, which certainly wouldn’t have helped! However, tackling this asthma issue is my top priority at the moment & I see it as the biggest single obstacle to achieving my riding goals in the future.
Anyway, I’m really happy to have come second to Aidan, who finished 17 minutes ahead of me in the Solo Singlespeed category. We would have come 5th & 6th overall in the Open Solo class, and I’d have come 1st in the “Old Gits” class, which as of this year I am a member! Not a bad result, and as ever it was a really enjoyable weekend camping & racing with friends. Next year, if it doesn’t clash with the Tour Divide, I reckon I may have a go at a team ride for a bit more fun. Although, I may have said that last year as well!