I met up with Shakey and we headed off to do a lap of the course to see what was in store for us? As we did so it began raining a bit. The first climb was half an hour ish of steady fire road climbing. We had an hour allocated in the race so it looked like the timing on climbs wouldn't be an issue?

The first stage was "The Shredder". Neither of us had ever ridden this before so we cruised down to find it was a fast jumpy / bermy type of run that led into the bottom section of The Omega Man via a hairpin left off a short fire road section. Looked like it would be fun at speed and they had taped off the biggest feature: quite a big road gap. Good! The Omega Man half missed out the drop Stu broke his ankle on years back too. Good again!

The link to Stage 2 was fairly short and again fire road. This stage was the first climb from the red route "Rab's Slippy One" but ridden in reverse and with an off piste section down an off camber slope covered in roots. The weather had made this all pretty slippy! The other feature of this stage was that there were several legal shortcuts developing on some of the many hairpins. We'd have to watch out for them in the race.

More fire road climbing took us to Stage 3 which was "Granny Green Luv" from the red route. It is very pedally to start then faster and flowing downhill. I thought it should be fairly straight forward in the race?

The next link section was mostly singletrack. Yay! Stage 4 "The Edge" again started pedally. In fact it was up hill! After a jump it then went through some tight trees that would have those with wide bars struggling (mine just fitted) then got fast and flowing before slowing down towards the end with tighter pedally stuff.

The link to Stage 5 was the longest one. We weren't expecting it to be so far. When we got there we had an hour before we were due to be back at the same point to do the seeding run. As it was only going to be 5 minutes down and half an hour back up we headed down. This stage was pretty much the Ae downhill course with the jumps taken out. It was steep and due to the ongoing rain very muddy and slippy. As we went down slowly I was thinking to myself I was never gonna get down it without a crash when racing! As we got to the final steep bank down into the finish arena I hit the the off camber wet mud of the line with my back brake on and immediately crashed! This amused Shakey and all the others watching below.

The first four stages had been fine but this last one had convinced me I needed to change the crossmark tyre on the rear of my bike and switch from SPDs to flat pedals. We nipped back to the car and I swapped the tyre quickly. Then the trouble began! Much haste, less speed! I was struggling to get my back wheel back in and the toys were nearly out of the pram! Shakey's calming influence and help got it sorted but time was now short. I quickly changed the pedals and my shoes leaving us half an hour to get up the climb. We had done it in that taking it steady earlier so it should be just about ok? Shakey had more time than me but tried to help me by setting a decent pace. I couldn't keep up and just had to get my head own and pedal as best I could. I was racing when I shouldn't need to be! I buried myself but somehow it still took half an hour to reach the top and I missed my start time by about a minute! I thought "B*gger! That's my seeding time shafted then!". I had to wait and set off as the last veteran. Thinking my time was already shafted I just concentrated on getting down without crashing. The flat pedals were a good idea particulary on the off camber slippy switchback sections near the bottom. I was happy to get down to the finish without a crash.

We cleaned our now filthy bikes with our portable washers and got changed before heading back to the finish area to find out our seeding and hence start times. There were delays with the results so we headed off to our respective digs. It was still raining so I was glad I had changed my plans last minute and not camped. I hooked up with some of the Rave Racing boys and stayed in Lenny Henry's favorite hotel.

The next morning I opened the curtains of my hotel room to find it chucking it down. Back at the venue the first thing Shakey and I did was refill our portable washers ready for later. I was not going to be late for my start today and when I arrived I was surprised that I wasn't the first of the Veterans away. They had just used my time from seeding without a penalty. I cruised up the climb and was soon chatting with some of my fellow competitors as we pedalled. Half way up I had to remove my coat as the rain had stopped and I was cooking. At the top with plenty of time to spare I put my coat on for warmth. I was glad I did as it began raining quite hard again.

Soon the first rider was away. The juniors, youths and women were away first followed by us old farts in the veterans (anyone over 40 in this case). Riders set off slowest in seeding first. All the waiting competitors shouted and cheered as each rider set off. The whole atmosphere of the event was great with everyone friendly. It didn't seem long before I was on the start line and then off.

I'll say it here and now. I'm rubbish at racing! The red mist doesn't descend and I tend to ride too far inside my comfort zone. I reckon I'm more often faster on a normal ride with my mates. I definitely was in cruise mode on the first stage so I was surprised when I caught the rider in front with a few hundred yards to go. There wasn't really a safe passing space so I stayed behind him over the last couple of jumps and lost a little time. On the link stage I got chatting to him and discovered he was 60 years old. Top man! Hope I'm still able to do this if/when I get there?

At the start of the second stage someone noticed that one of the queueing women riders had a flat! With only a couple of minutes or so until her start time it was time for a gentlemanly deed. I changed the tube for her with the help of another gentleman who did the pumping. She made her start time.

On this stage I remembered some of the short cuts and caught the rider in front quite quickly. I shouted to ask to come by and he agreed "on the right". I had a go but the trail went up hill for a short while and caught me out. I clipped his back wheel with my front and had to dismount and run up the hill apologising! On another turn I did get past but I had lost a lot of time in my poor first attempt.

On the link to Stage3 there was a massive group of riders all chatting away. I was at the front chatting to Guy Kesteven (from What MTB/MBUK mags) and although we were cruising we pulled away from the group and chatted away the climb.

At the end of the pedally start to Stage 3 I once again caught the man in front. He had stalled going over the tricky rocky feature before the start of the descent. Unfortunately this forced me on to a poor line over it and at the same time the guy behind me caught me resulting in all three of us trying to get through the same narrow gap at once. I let the man behind through and then with appropriate communication managed to pass the man in front a bit further down. Plenty more time lost with my poor overtaking though.

Everybody arrived at the start of Stage 4 pretty early and as it was still raining and everyone was soaked we all got pretty cold waiting to start. Some folk kept warm by pedalling up and down a section of fire road.

Once again on this section I was trying to pass the man in front as the guy behind was trying to pass us both. It got a bit like 4X in one of the berms! I think we all probably lost time? It turned out the reason the guy behind hadn't been on my back wheel on the first stage was he had missed his start time.

Next came the big pedal to the last stage. There were rumours of extra time having been allocated to this link and therefore worries about another long wait getting cold at the top. When we did get to the top the organisers appeared to have adjusted things so that the wait wasn't too bad. It had also finally stopped raining but that wasn't going to make the mudfest in front of us any easier! Chatting to Shakey he told me he had had a big off on Stage 4 and that he too was being caught by the guy behind him on every stage.

I'll admit my tactic for this stage was going to be tortoise rather than hare. Just stay on and get to the bottom. The course had also been changed a bit from the seeding run so I was riding that section on sight. This caused me one problem straight away as I ended up off line heading for a ditch and had to dismount to get back on line. At this point the guy behind had caught me once again. I let him through but then he had an off. He just managed to get back on his bike in front of me with some words of encouragement from me: "Come on!".

Further down I was still not far behind him when he had another off and ripped his seat off! I passed him and went into scooter mode for the off camber, muddy switchbacks. Another rider was now behind me. Told you I was going for tortoise! He went for an overtake on a wide left hand bend and went down hard to my right! A photographer's flash went just as he did so. Should be a good photo? I let it go down the treacherous final slope and zoomed towards the finish line. About two yards from it I felt both wheels slide but I held it up and crossed the line laughing with relief.

I didn't have my camera with me so I tried to get a couple of shots with my phone while I waited for Shakey. Again the atmosphere was good with everyone shaking hands with those they had been racing against and making friends with. I was surprised to see Neil there and he told me he had snapped a pivot on his frame on Stage 1 and had to retire :(

After we were cleaned up we decided we had to get on with the long drive home rather than wait for the results and presentations. We were sure we weren't on any podiums anyway!

All the final results are here. Shakey, mine and the Rave Racing lads are extracted below.

Position Overall Bib Competitor Category Finish Seed run Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 Stage 5
14 61 751 Paul Shakespeare Vet male 20:31 03:43 03:57 03:54 04:27 04:07 04:06
29 126 730 Pete Halls Vet male 22:41 04:14 04:24 04:13 05:04 04:13 04:47
The boys from Rave Racing:
9  53  705  Neil Edgar Vet male  20:19  03:44  03:53  03:49  04:42  03:56  03:59
 15  63  704  Keith Clarke Vet male  20:32  03:51  04:03  03:55  04:38  03:56  04:00
 40  182  722  Bill Chapman Vet male  27:28  06:31  05:24  04:38  05:50  04:50  06:46
 107  225  622  Neil Williams Master male    03:47  14:38 Snapped pivot!


All in all it was a good weekend. A few minor niggles for the organisers to sort out and the weather could have been better? But what do you expect in Scotland?! The mix of down hill, pedally stuff and flowing trail centre stuff was certainly a test of all round ability. I'm looking forward to Kielder next month.