Strathpuffer 24 HR Race
2015 saw the 10th anniversary of the proclaimed toughest mtb race in the UK
– The Strathpuffer 24hr.
Mid-January in the Scottish Highlands, 17 odd hours of darkness, and
whatever the weather wants to throw at the riders around the approx. 11km
lap have built this reputation, and 2015 certainly added to this!
Upon arrival to set up camp on the Friday, the snow and ice on the course
was already causing chaos with many a vehicle getting stuck in pursuit of
the ideal trackside location. (Think Tour de France with camper
vans/gazebos/tents etc lining the route, but then think forest track, snow,
ice and you soon realise that it’s a long, long way from the Tour de
France!) After a few hours queuing until the campervans ahead of us got
pulled/pushed into place, ABC got set up in a pretty ideal location mid-way
up the main fire road climb.
Participation in the majority of the previous 9 ‘puffers’ meant that the
camp set up is pretty second nature now, with gas heating/clothes drying
along with generator for lighting/battery charging and gas stoves for food
prep making things a bit more comfortable within the ABC gazebo! It can be a
bit surreal sitting within the gazebo in the small hours in a T shirt and
shorts when the temperature is below zero outside, but the event is tough
enough without overly suffering between laps as well!
For 2015 the ABC contingent of solo single speed Neil Scott (single speed is
madness in a way, but if you have the legs the course/conditions suit a
single speed), and pairs of Andy Kindness and myself (Mike Milne) were ably
assisted by Mark Smith on mechanic duties and Elizabeth Kindness and Wendy
Milne keeping us fed and watered – big thanks to the 3 of them!
Onto Saturday race day and bikes were fettled with (basically fitting ice
spike tyres) bottles filled and general fluffing about until the 10am ‘Le
mans’ style start. Then the madness began!
Andy got us off to a great start from the run up the first climb where we
tagged and I continued off on the 1st lap sitting within the overall top 20,
where I was joined by Neil midway round the 1st lap. The lap is basically a
long fire road climb into a technical undulating single track until
eventually picking up another fire road, onto a slippy/twisty/muddy single
track descent onto another fire road then the final long single track climb
to a long fast descent all the way to the finish line. However for 2015 a
‘new’ section towards the end of the lap removed the long fast descent,
(which was a bit of a surprise 1st lap!) and added a bit of time and extra
pedalling onto the lap!
Suddenly lap 1 was over, you electronically ‘dib’ at the end of each lap, I
handed the dibber to Andy, Neil continued on and we started the whole
routine again – 23 odd hours to go!
The first few laps were great, a proper crisp winters day, sun glistening
off the snow and ice covered trail. If you’ve never ridden with ice tyres
you’ll not realise how grippy they are, and we wouldn’t have fancied riding
without them but gradually, lap by lap the ‘new’ descent was churning up,
turning snow/ice into mud with deep ruts and puddles appearing as the 800
odd riders continued to lap!
And then all too soon it was dark! This is the proper ‘puffer’. It’s some 17
odd hours until daylight appears again! The course takes on a totally
different feel in the dark. Weird lines appear which you know you shouldn’t
ride, but you do. People seem to disappear during the night, and at times it
feels like you are the only person riding, then in the distance you’ll see
another light and try and chase it down.
Neil was riding fantastic, and appeared to be continually riding with Guy
Martin for a while, sitting comfortably top 5 solo overall. Andy and myself
were plodding in the laps, sitting around 10th pair at around midnight but
we knew that the next 5-6 hours were the hard hours as the body wants to
sleep and the mind starts to play tricks!
Unfortunately Neil had a minor altercation with another rider during the
night which led to an un-preferred line choice. The subsequent large hole he
had to ride into led to a ‘moment’ and subsequent damage to his hand, which
resulted in a prolonged stop at the end of that lap. However after a
‘discussion’ with the ABC support crew he was soon back on his way, no
places lost, but now with a bit of distance between him and 4th and 6th a
bit closer than he’d like!
The small hours continued, lap times were getting slower as fatigue took
over, but Neil had maintained 5th, and Andy and myself had moved upto 7th
pair overall by continually lapping ‘1 lap on 1 lap off’ whilst some other
teams had slowed/taken a break.
Even after 12+ hours the majority of the lap still necessitated ice tyres
with the odd snow shower continuing, but the final descent was now carnage!
Mud/puddles/holes/people crashing and weirdly some bloke at around 3am, in
the middle of no place with a ghetto blaster dancing!
It’s strange around 2-5am. Your body needs food but you can’t face eating!
Your counting down to the 10am finish, and trying to work out how many laps
you have left but basic arithmetic becomes difficult! However as the night
wore on and morning approached I realised that if we did another 2 laps the
team behind us couldn’t catch us but unfortunately we also had no chance of
catching 6th place – giving us a total of 28 laps and 7th pair overall (6th
male pair as we had a mixed pair ahead of us with Scottish Commonwealth
Games mtb rider Lee Craigie the female rider!). Well happy with a top 10 as
this was my aim before the event!
Neil had continued relentlessly on – eventually finishing with a fantastic
24 laps, 5th solo overall, 2nd single speed – chapeaux Neil, just a
2016? Who knows – I’ve said never again for the last few years, but still go
back! Weirdly none of us have really mentioned 2016, we’ll let 2015 fade a
bit before deciding!