In its 19th year Mountain Mayhem, sponsored for the last two years by Go Outdoors, is one of, if not the largest event of its kind in Britain. Run by the indefatigable Pat Adams, who doesn't sleep it seems for 4 days constantly surveying the event from the wheel of his Kia Sportage to make sure every one is okay, the event has a party feel possibly a festival feel.
Gatcombe is not open to the public usually and apart from the famous horse trials this is one of the only events to take part here. Set in the rolling Gloucestershire countryside it's a perfect slice of middle England and being an Afan rider I was confident I'd be within my skill levels. I watched a few videos of laps from last year on the web and saw nothing to worry me. Bit rooty but nothing I couldn't deal with. So I set about servicing my hardtail got my camping gear together and set off listening to Wales v England at the European Championships on the way. Crossing the bridge as Bale scored it felt like a good omen. I sadly lost signal around Petty France so have no idea what the final score was.
With plenty of bike related stores, The Dare 2b tricks team, a good bar with Stroud Brewery and a number of food stalls then there is plenty to do pre race and for non-racing supporters during the event. If I have a gripe it's that the food, as always at these events, is way way too expensive. We've spent out on bike parts we don't need to be fleeced for a bacon butty. Go Outdoors also provided a store with some basic camping essentials, bike components and this years official jersey. The store was staffed by keen cyclists who were also riding as team of ten themselves and it was this team that I was lucky enough to be invited to ride for.
Night before the race I still hadn't been able to get a practise lap in and although my teammates told me how muddy it was I thought I'm Welsh I can cope with mud. That done we set about the most important task pre race, picking our own nick names. Obviously with my long flowing locks and Scandinavian DNA then I was Thor and my first lap was to be the first night lap. Bring it on. My morning practice lap dented my confidence somewhat not helped by discovering I'd cocked up my rear brake and didn't have a bleed kit to fix it. Borrowing a top secret prototype full sus I set out.
This wasn't mud, this was modelling clay. The non muddy bits were slippery chalk and the videos had lied. There were 2 very technical descents. However a flowing piece of single track near a lake that felt like Afan cheered me up as did cleaning the final climb back to the campsite. I'd be alright.
As I waited in the change over area I still felt good. With 2000 lumens strapped to my helmet seeing wasn't going to be a problem and sprinting out of the arena I felt the adrenaline surge through my veins. Then a bunch of real racers flew past me, and more, and yet more. My fitness wasn't a problem but my bike handling was shocking. Not surprising really as I've not really been on a mountain bike since I rode in Gothenburg but even so really bad. Paranoid I was becoming a mobile road block I spent more time worrying about holding people up than riding my own race. As the mud got worse and the chalk slicker my confidence ebbed away.
My objective became just to get around safe and complete the lap. Reducing the team losses and making sure this counted. Finally hitting the last climb but having to push due to having no traction I was cheered by a shout from the supporters of one team "Go on man your pushing like a demon". Cracking up with laughter I swung my leg back over got up the climb and rode through the part of the course through the camp. Full 2000 lumens blazing and enjoying the shouts of encouragement I sped back overtaking about 8 riders and passed the baton on to Pingu and his singlespeed. Time for a few hours sleep I'd be back out at 6.
At 6am I waited for Baldrick in the changeover promising myself I'd make a better fist of my second lap. I didn't, although I cleaned the climb somehow I managed to go slower. I have no idea how but the lesson learnt is although I'm fit and judging by the waistlines fitter than a lot of the riders there, without the right skills and head fitness has it's limits. My riding was awful but after each lap I was buzzing. It really was fun and enjoyable. Again on the 2nd lap I made sure I overtook a load in the final section and even got into time trial position. The roadie has to show his mettle afterall.
So my team GoTen came 5th in our class. My 2 laps counted and I'm happy I contributed something. If I'm invited back next year I'll practise a lot more so to Miss maple, The Big L, Baldrick, Shakespeare, Pingu, Cheap Speed, Chopper, Bri and Duncan (sorry couldn't remember your nickname) thank you. It was fun.
Many in the cycling industry predicted with the growth of the Mamil and the huge growth of road cycling in the UK that mountain biking and events such as Mountain Mayhem would die out. Nearly two thousand participants at this event would disagree and with people like Pat involved then I think the future is in safe hands. Anyway excuse me I really need to shave my legs now but I'm still a Mayhemer.