20 years of Mayhem came to an end this June, but endurance mountain bike racing seems to be stronger than ever…
Mountain Mayhem has become a part of the Summer over the years – like Wimbledon or the British Grand Prix, the annual 24 hour mountain bike race known fondly as Mayhem has had its magnetic effect upon the Summer rain for 20 years now and looking back at old result sheets I appear six times over the years.
2004 was my first attempt at solo 24 hour racing in the red and yellow of the original Evans Cycles Race Team – We had four teams that year and I was hooked from the start – I’d read about the original Red Bull sponsored race in Mountain Biking UK and I had to have a crack at it, managing a 41st position on what I thought at the time was training, but in actual fact was not nearly enough pre-race miles. My abiding memory of the event was finding a rider sitting down in the woods, in the dark, crying and when I asked if she was okay, she said, “I don’t even know why I’m crying” – brutal weather may have had something to do with it!
So then in 2006 in the new green and gold kit I made my return to the solo category and completed twice the amount of laps of the Eastnor Castle venue but bizarrely finished in a lower position overall due to the races booming popularity. It was then four years before I returned to race at Eastnor, this time in the Open Team category with Cotswold Outdoor sponsoring us. In 2011 I went solo again, this time with some help from Kona (my Rohloff equipped Kona A full sus is still one of my favourite ever bikes) and managed a much better result in the now 200 strong category.
2012 saw me racing again for a team – this time with my Kona bikes from the year before but with the support of the local bike shop (Wildside). Onto 2017 and the last ever Mayhem which I reckoned really had to be raced solo. I decided that in the spirit of Mayhem I’d do no training and spend the week before riding hundreds of miles and eating pub dinners. This seemed like a great idea until about 48 hours before the race when you start to remember just how hard a 24 solo really is and began to force as much pasta as I could find down my neck.
Race day came and I busied myself with some last minute tyre and cassette changes before another ton of pasta and the customary riders briefing which I spent on a sofa in the Leyzyne tent trying to stay cool in the 30 degree heat. Mayhem always starts with a LeMans style run to the bikes, which you can’t avoid as a solo – my running isn’t terrible but I won’t miss the run starts! Once I was on the bike I started attacking the first 5 laps – it’s easy to go too fast but at the same time it’s nice to put time into your competitors whilst you’re fresh. I was second for a while before settling into third position but the top ten (which was my goal for the event) was really pretty close for the first six hours.
After a change of shorts and as much food as I could force down whilst changing I was back out and working hard. The temperature had been intense (even more so for the helpers, stuck in the full sun in the pits), but I’d been really good at keeping on top of my hydration so I was feeling good. As the Four4th Lights went on the heat finally dropped enough to comfortably ride through the night. At midnight I stopped for a bowl of pasta and a stretch – it was all of 20 minutes but put me down from 2nd to fifth or sixth, however it helped my morale and the next five laps went by in a breeze. Previously I’ve struggled in the 2nd part of the night but this year as the sun rose again through the mist I was feeling relatively okay.
At about 7am I had my final stop for breakfast and another pair of shorts and then started doing the maths about where it may be possible to finish – I was pretty sure I had a couple of riders close behind and my helper was telling me I could still catch 3rd so it was all a bit tight in the top ten – I just decided to get on with riding! Now looking at the lap times I think Pip and the Leyzyne guys were being a bit optimistic about me catching 3rd, but it did get me working hard and as the day started to warm up I was riding faster and faster laps whilst forcing pretty much as many Torq gels down as I could! Eventually, my last lap was my second fastest of the whole race, but annoyingly I missed the chance to go out for one more lap by 12 minutes, therefore ending the race on the same number of laps as the 3rd placed rider! It would have been mega to get on the podium at the last ever Mayhem, but I’d started out hoping for a top ten with no training and so I guess it worked out well in the end!
Six days later I was racing again at Bedgebury – this time a six hour race in the tight and twisty BFCC race course. The lap is about 3km long so ironically we’d be fitting in about the same amount of laps that I managed at the Mayhem 24 race! I was hanging from the week before and knew I’d suffer as the race went on so I decided to attack early on and try and break the competition which included a rider I know quite well from ‘Cross in the winter. I also knew that he would know just how tired I was from the week before so a battle of mind games began.
The first three hours went to plan and I slowly turned the screw on Jon, taking a handful of seconds per lap, but I was focusing too much on racing and not enough on drinking and eating. I’d been about two or three minutes ahead at one point but by the halfway point this was down to less than a minute. The next hour was cat and mouse between the two of us and Jon was playing it well, changing the pace and forcing me to work – with two hours to go he’d played me like a fish, as he rode past we silently looked at one another and settled in for the final stretch.
It wasn’t the time to be despondent as I still had to beat the teams and also defend 2nd place in the solos! Over the next two hours I re-learned lessons I’ve learned again and again in racing and also just how much further you can push your body than you’ imagine – everything was hurting now; legs, forearms, shoulders, back, feet – but somehow you always find a way to push on through the pain. I guess my fear of stopping is bigger than my fear of hurting and that’s when you really know what makes you tick. I caught the 3rd placed rider for a lap on the final lap and stayed within a couple of minutes of Jon who controlled the race beautifully – a well deserved win for him and a happy podium for me.
Cheers to Pat for 20 years of Mayhem, Rory and the guys at Leyzyne/Reynolds for all the help and support, Del at Four4th for the spare batteries and the best lights on the market, BFCC for a brilliant race in our backyard at Bedgebury, all the competition, but most of all to Pip for standing in basically an oven for 24 hours and then basically a shower for another 6 handing me food and drink whilst I described various pain to her on a lap by lap basis! As Rory pointed out, “solo racing is a team sport!”
Photos by Glen Whittington, Pip Jenkins, Rory Hitchins and Ben Stewart.
Glen rides for the Southborough & District Wheelers. He races mountain bikes, road bikes, TT and ‘cross at local and national level. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, Scott Sports, The Velo House, and the.æight.bicycle.cømpany. Glen runs The Velo House with Olly, a coffee shop, workshop and bike shop welcoming all cyclists and non-cyclists, based at 5 St.Johns Road, Tunbridge Wells, TN4 9TN – 01892 554 505 – email@example.com. He also contributes to Simpson Mag @eightbikeco #aeightracer