Bristol Bikefest is one of those must-do events on the calendar. 13 years old and still going strong. It is a relatively small, but hugely social and fun event. Many years ago it took my cherry as a virgin 12 hour solo rider, back in the day before the groomed trails. A race full of rookie errors, leaving me with bad saddle sores and a pummeled body from racing an alloy hardtail a harsh course. The prep, the bike, the route and the trails may have changed over the years, but what has never changed is the atmosphere, always fun, always sociable, seeing familiar and new faces each year. Included for the first time was the Steve Worland cup, a commemorative race on the Saturday, to remember a much loved and inspiring contributor to the cycle industry who died this year. Keep pedaling Steve.

Paul and the Bikefest team have done an exceptional job each year to put on the event, Paul’s lucky flipflops having kept impending bad weather at bay, nearly every time. Saturday wasn’t so lucky, as racers woke to heavy rain, but the flipflops eventually worked their magic later in the day, the sun finally bathing the race in some warmth. Not being able to make the 12 hour event for the first time in years, I opted for the 6 hour solo sunday race, the less busy option, but no less fun. WIth coaching from Jon Fearne at E3 coaching, he has had a tough challenge to work around my unpredictable illness, constantly modifying the training plan to fit in with the good and bad days.

Sunday racing is much more of a chilled affair, with less riders on course there was little in the way of bottlenecks in the first few laps. And the sun was out, finally, some warmth to top up the fading cyclists’ tan.

There may have had less riders lining up, but it didn’t seem like it as we all ran around each other, some quickly on bikes, in the Le Mans style start. It’s a grand sight, the melee of riders trying to run in stiff soled shoes up the gravel track. Fun chaos as always, with teammates and friends holding bikes. There was no mistaking mine, the bright green kermit green Niner Jet9 RDO, a full suspension for all occasions.

Riders hunkered over bikes, heads down, grunting and breathing rates spiking high in the mad dash up the steeper top half of the gravel climb, all fighting to get onto the first section of singletrack before the crowds to avoid any bottlenecks. Beggar Bush Lane is fast flowing singletrack, with plenty of jumps, berms, twist and turns. Skilled riders can shave seconds off lap times through here. A protruding tree at a 45 degree angle along here is a constant reminder of an early Bikefest, crashing into it, rupturing my AC joint, the bony prominence on the right shoulder a shining example of an AC joint injury!

Not the most skilled ST rider, the exit is where I can open up a little and a chance to munch on some MuleBar (liquorice of course) along the brief flat trail, with limited time to chew and swallow before putting in some speed up the gravel climb. With only 4 brief climbs and fun, winding ST trails inbetween, the course is like a long interval training session! I was just having one of those off days though , so kept it within limits on the first couple of laps to try to get the less than willing body to settle in.

This old dog could do with some singletrack coaching! Watching some riders, envious at just how smooth they roll through the ST twists and turns. The Jet9 RDO aided in keeping the Bontrager XR2 and XR3 tyres gripping for longer, but could I be faster? Overtaking many on the climbs seemed all but wasted as I hear their tyres rolling up behind on ST and descents, waiting for the inevitable shout of ‘can I get through’, pushing me to my limits of confidence in every turn in an attempt to keep ahead until the next climb. The fully may be heavier, but it allows you to be smoother through the choppy sections, staying seated pedaling. Turning the corner after the last incline towards the start/finish was probably the hardest bit, a strong headwind defeating any ambition of a fast ride in! Always great to hear shouts from friends coming through the arena, the loudest always being from MC Matt Carr. Thanks Matt!

I was keeping to a rhythm I knew that I could hold, all too easy to push into the red too often over the tops of every climb. 2 laps on and I was an hour in. No idea on placing, but I was on for 12 laps, all being well. Preferring to eat rather than down gels, it was all too easy to forget on a course like this, with limited sections to have enough time to swallow as opposed to inhaling food.

On lap 3, just before the zig zag descent I caught a glimpse of the eventual old gits solo winner, Ant White, in the opposite direction, seemingly far ahead. I kept to my plan though, to my rhythm, not wanting to force any errors.

Full kudos to the teams on tandems, some of the ST sections would have been super challenging to negotiate and especially inspiring was the tandem effort from Guy Kesteven and his young daughter in the solo 6 hour. She was doing a cracking job of keeping him going. There was an above knee amputee out there too, putting in the laps solo. Great to see so many friends out on course as well.

The sun was holding, the legs were holding, the pit crew were holding out (the gf’s 5 year old doing a grand job of handing out bottles) and the Jet9 RDO fully was taming the trails nicely, saving the aging body from a good beating. The Ergon GS1 grips doing the same for the hands. The lap times weren’t fast, but consistent, just not able to find any more seconds on the ST sections though. Coming in with 5 hours to go, I was on for 2 more laps, then the rain came in. Not heavy, but enough to dampen the course and turn the once grippy trails into an ice rink. The exposed stone just become super slippery, lean the bike as before and it’s down you go. Teetering my way along Beggar Bush Lane and the lower and upper quarry trails on the 11th lap, I was losing precious time. By the time I came back in, the crew had cleared the way for any more laps, but there was 29 minutes left, the rain had stopped, could I make another one? I thought that I would try. The trails were still slippery, almost losing it once or twice. I needed 11 minutes by the time I was far along the lower quarry trail. I had 10. I pushed on hard. The last climb and then the wall of wind. Watching my clock, I knew that I hadn’t made it, by about 30 seconds. Damn. 12 laps, even though 1 didn’t count.

Hearing Paul announce that I had come 2nd, it was a mad dash over to the podium with no clean jersey to wear. Ant won by around 4 minutes, so not so far ahead, but he had had a spill.

Thanks to Bikesoup and the Orbital Racing Collective

It’s always worth the effort for the Bikefest weekend. Get on down if you never done it, it’s a blast. Don’t forget Oktoberfest in October too! www.bike-fest.com