Pair: a set of two things used together or regarded as a unit.
Having missed the 2013 edition to race the classic Grand Raid Cristalp, it was nice to be back on home soil enjoying the fun and fast flowing trails of Minley Manor. There may have been less climbing than the Swiss marathon epic but the relentless course profile and with at least 6 hours of pedalling slated, this was going to be no easy ride in the park.Not sure if this definition entirely fits the bill for defining a pairs team at a 12 hour mountain bike race. Here’s my definition: Ride as hard as the 4 man teams and only get half as much recovery. To be honest I’d forgot how hard it is compared to racing with a team or even solo (although it’s nothing compared to racing a 24 hour event as a pair !) but here I was again for the 3rd time trying to better my pair of 2nd place results in the pairs race at the Gorrick organised Torq In Your Sleep 12 hour MTB race.
I’d enlisted rising XC star Max Suttie to be my partner, fresh off a podium at the latest National XC, 3rd place overall in the series and victory in the Twentyfour12 Torchbearer. I’ve also been supporting Max this year, advising on training and performance so it was a great way to celebrate a successful year. If I’m honest I was worried about letting him down and hoped my endurance would pay dividends later in the race. With the WEMBO 24hour solo worlds just 6 weeks away, and training consisting of plenty of big volume training rides I wasn’t expecting to be able to deliver XC whippet race speed.
Thankfully Max took on the challenge of the first lap melee and deftly manoeuvred himself to the front by the end of the parade lap. He then rocketed around Lap 1 mixing it with plenty of Elite XC racers to arrive back in 6th overall and leading pair. Next my turn, I had the good fortune to start the lap with George Budd and I thought it would be a good idea to try to keep him in sight and use him as motivation. I eased into my pace around the arena field and George slipped away but by the time we hit the twisting root laden singletrack of Olympic Ridge I was up to full speed and back on George’s wheel. The (diesel) engine seemed to be firing well and surprisingly there was plenty of power for accelerations on the open sections and out of the many corners.
The course was a blast including classic Minley tracks like Banksy, Sponge Bob and the resurrected Minley Maze as well as numerous new tracks extending the course out near West Minley Farm with a couple of steep drops, some comparatively long (although hardly alpine) climbs and an abundance of loose loamy singletrack. My personal highlights were the final couple of kilometres, re-joining the old course and blasting through the trees down to the gully, onwards to the lower section of banksy, under the bridge to nowhere (where darkness brought tunes and disco lights) and finally the corkscrewing track along the edge of the campsite. I wasn’t such a fan of the steep ramp of Pheasant Plucker Hill but appreciated the glow sticks which appeared as night fell.
Having leeched myself onto George’s back wheel, my first lap was over in under 36 minutes and straight away I was reminded of one of the greatest challenges of pairs racing. Warm down, food, check the bike and then realise it’s already time to warm up and get over to transition. And repeat. Max had flown around the course building on our lead over the other pairs. I did likewise, again using the team riders to drag me around at a decent pace.
Time was flying by and before we realised it, a third of the race was complete and we had built a heathy lead. Despite worrying about sustaining the pace, Max continued to blast out laps, I kept the lap times consistent and the course was riding better and better, sullied only by a growing layer of dust that covered some of the newer sections. A lot of people were growing increasingly concerned by this dust and the crashes it was causing but to be honest, I was more perplexed by the empty fag packet which had been discarded at the bottom of the Sponge Bob descent – who was the previous owner, an elite racer with a secret habit, someone indulging in a new form of hypoxia training or a downhill demon enjoying the afterglow of a particularly satisfying descent? I guess we’ll never know…
One of the greatest aspects of Torq In Your sleep is the diversity of abilities sharing the event and the course. This can cause problems with overtaking, especially on a track comprised of more than 50% singletrack, but complements all round this year as in the main lap’ees’ and lap’ers’ collaborated effectively to keep everybody moving. One of my most enjoyable laps was spent on Jamie Newall’s wheel as he sliced through lapped riders calling to any female racers; “Hold tight darling, coming through on the right”.
Back to the racing. Up ahead XC animals Issac Pucci of Mountain Trax and Phil Pearce of Banjo Cycles were tearing chunks out of each other, while the Torq Performance Stormtroopers were ready to take advantage of any mishaps. As night fell, Mountain Trax had eked out a lead while the Torq troops mugged the Banjo boys for 2nd. Max and I were still mixing it with the quad and trio teams in the top 10 overall and we’d built ourselves a 15 minute lead over the other pairs. Our rivals Team City College Norfolk and Lumicycle would have to raise their pace significantly to catch us but as it was so tight between them, I was wary that their drag race to the finish could eat into our lead. I also knew the Lumicycle guys would keep consistent all the way to the finish relishing the dark laps so there could be no easy laps for us.
Luckily I love night riding too, and with a strong cup of coffee inside me plus the awesome Exposure Reflex light burning through the darkness ahead, I pressed hard and logged a couple more sub-40 minute laps. Finishing the last of those with only 12 minutes before the midnight cut-off, I headed out for a final blast around the now quiet circuit to secure the win. As it turns out, the Lumicycle pair finished strongly to leapfrog Team CCN and bag P2 but they missed the cut-off so we finished with an extra lap.
Hurrah – victory at last after 3 attempts. Massive thanks to Max Suttie for being a superb teammate. We worked well ‘together’ and definitely won as a ‘unit’, maybe that definition above does apply to pairs mountain bike racing after all. Thanks also to Jo, Cam, Zac and Carol for providing top quality between lap support and the Gorrick crew for putting on another classic event.