Deesiders were out in force at the Strathpuffer 24 hour Mountain Bike race in early January - an event that attracts competitors from all over the world and is recognised as one of the 10 toughest Mountain Bike events on the planet.
Mona Petrie competed as female soloist; Duncan Warwick, Ewan Murray, Dave Whitcombe and Duncan McGowan as the "Deeside Deviants"; Ian Wilson, Ian Brown, Pete Kneeshaw along with Ed Bradley from Inverness making up the "Deeside Kittens"; Rachel Chalmers in the Female Quad Team "In the Knick of Time" along with Katy Boocock, Ness and Clarie; and Forbes Duguid along with champion motorcyclist Guy Martin forming "Gairnside Thrashers".
The race starts at 10.00 am on Saturday morning and competitors must start their last lap by 10.00 am on Sunday morning and complete it by 11.00 am.
On the Friday before the event the Deeside camp was set up part way up the main fire track climb with 3 vans , 1 mobile home and a caravan and a giant tent with fired heater and gas barbeques, and lots of good food.
Ian Wilson who had put in some excellent pre-race organisation gave us all a military style pre-race briefing on how the teams should be organised to ensure slick handovers of the dibber and to ensure incoming riders would be well fed and rested and bikes cleaned, checked and fixed. All the puffer virgins took heed of all advice being dished out by the hardy puffer veterans.
The quad teams were going for the optimum format of going for one lap each before handing over to the next guy ensuring you could push it really hard on each lap and then have a good rest.
Each lap of the course is 11km long and consists of a few miles of uphill fire track from the transition area followed by a gnarly rock garden with a couple of narrow wooden bridges to negotiate and a large steep rock slab followed by swooping downhill and towards the end of the lap very thick mud. An interesting route, which suited all-rounders.
Over the years the Strathpuffer has had every possible type of weather condition - gales that blew away tents, iced roads, 2ft of snow the week before the event, temperatures down to minus 10 degrees, rain and hail. This was to be our lucky year with temperatures remaining around 5 deg C and even some sunshine appearing.
Just before 10am on Saturday morning a very excited congregation of hundreds of mountain bikers formed a tunnel of people alongside the uphill fire track just up from the start area to hand over the bikes to the starting riders after the Le Mans style run start. This was truly a sight to behold in the early morning sun and was one of the highlights of the whole event.
The first several laps went by in fine weather without any crashes or bad mechanicals. There were fast early laps notably from Dave Whitcombe (35 mins) and Ian Wilson and Ian Brown (37 mins).
The Deeside Kittens pulled out an early lead over the Deeside Deviants with the Kittens being up in 3rd position out of all Quad teams early on the event.
Ness came back from her first lap to realise she was well within an hour after having been practicing on the course a few days prior to puffer and never lapping faster than about an hour/an hour and a quarter.
Darkness came along at 4pm but the fantastic atmosphere of the event just continued with music pumping out loudly at the transition area and at marshal points around the course, with cheers of encouragement from folk huddled around brazier fires as sparks flew off popping logs and wood smoke scented the air all the way up the fire track climb.
Now was the time for a massive number of powerful helmet and handlebar mounted lights to emerge, and several multiplug sockets were set up in the tent. Thankfully the generator held out all through the night with just a few brief cut-outs.
Thanks to Shelley Farrars fantastic Deeside blog through night and early hours we kept tabs on the race positions and here's a snippet from 7pm: Mona Petrie is flying as female solo, Rachel Chalmers in Girls in the knick of time are 1st fem quad and a respectable 47th in the quads and creeping upwards, Deeside kittens are 6th quad, Deeside deviants 8th quad, 12 minutes later, Forbes Duguid and pal - DTCC/Gairnside thrasher were 4th pair and battling it out with Steve Nutley (TTer extraordinaire) and an Aardvaark.
During the night there were a few crashes for the male quads with Ewan taking a flier on the rock garden and finding himself running through the woods in the dark - without his bike! Pete crashed coming down the chocolate river and bashed his helmet and received help from another biker to get back on his bike.
The teams were digging deep and pushing themselves and bikes to the limit. The abrasive grit of the course was really taking its toll on the bikes, but we were lucky to have Andrew Kneeshaw and Donny straight from a full day in Banchory Cycles to give us help with replacing brake pads, brake cables and drive train components right through the night.
The early hive of activity in the tent quietened down in the early hours of the morning with folk positioning ever close to the space heater.
Tim Mackley and Mark Tandy performed a very attentive job of looking after Mona who was unsurprisingly beginning to look very tired and cold on her brief visits to the tent between laps.
Katy Boocock organiser of the Strathpuffer and member of the female quad team ensured we were all being well fed through the night making folk sandwiches and cups of tea which were very much appreciated. Katy realised during the night that with the speed of their laps they could beat the lap total of her previous winning all female quad team which gave extra incentive for their team.
The Kittens suffered a few mechanicals and punctures through the night and in the early morning but we were all kept inspired by the efforts of Mona who battled on incessantly through the night and only took a prolonged break late in the race. It was an emotional moment for all when Mona hobbled out from the caravan determined to put in a final 20th lap and gain a good overall solo position and seal the female solo title.
As the sun raise around 8am everybody gained renewed energy and going out for a lap in natural light felt fantastic.
Thanks to very consistent laps through the night the Deviants pulled past the Kittens towards the end to finish 5th Quad overall just ahead of the Kittens in 6th place.
Mona finished with a sizeable lead over her nearest female solo rival and with a brilliant 8th solo position overall and the female quad team In the Knick of Time sealed their win.
The Gairnside Thrashers thrashed it through the night and moved up to get a podium position as 3rd placed Pair, another great performance.
Duncan Warwick summed it all up well: "It was an incredible experience. The Deeside village and support was awesome and was a major contributor the performances (like having a 5th rider)".
The Deeside support crew dedicated themselves to the task of maintaining bikes and riders in good order for the whole event in very cold, wet conditions and we couldn't have succeeded without them, so a big thanks to them.
The Strathpuffer is THE best organized, best marshalled and the toughest 24hour MTB endurance race in Scotland/UK which needs to be on the pal mares of any true Mountain Biker.
Ian M. Brown.
The start of the race is a Le Mans style run to your bike which really kicked off the lagging end of a chest infection I'd been battling for a couple of weeks and had me unable to breathe by the time I got to the bike! Not the best of starts, but luckily it calmed down once I started peddling and I was able to get a good first lap in with only 10 seconds separating me from the main solo competition, Jo Caldwell.
With the first couple of laps out the way I really managed to settle down and after lap 4 I started to put a few minutes between me and Jo. At this point I decided to swap off my race hardtail onto my full suspension bike due to the course being quite rough and was fatiguing my lower back, the more upright full suspension really helped. I ended up staying on this bike for the rest of the race as due to the suspension lockout it had no affect on the ups and allowed me to keep the pressure up on the rough sections and the descents.
Once the temperature started to drop as the sun went down, my cough started to flare up again. My pit crew, Tim Mackley and Mark Tandy, decided that the temperature variation caused by coming into our warm tented pit area could be aggravating it. With this in mind they changed strategies, only allowing me to stop for 3 minutes each lap and refuelling out on the course. This meant that I wasn't getting a chance for my legs to seize up or for the hot air to affect my lungs. This strategy worked quite well though I did really want to sit down in the nice warm tent!!
At about 2am I came in for a change of clothes while Tim did a formula 1 style brake pad change on both the front and rear brakes. I headed out once more, but fatigue was starting to set in and each rest stop I was getting so cold that I could not stop shaking. Tim and Mark had to resort to hugging me to try and keep me warm whilst I refuelled! (The lengths a pit crew have to go to!!) My cold was really starting to take its toll now and I was beginning to feel very zapped of energy and sleepy. I had to keep going though as I knew Jo had taken a few hours rest so now was the time to really push and increase my lead.
I managed to keep going until around 6am when I was really starting to struggle with my breathing and I found myself falling asleep on the fire track climb! By this point I had managed to build a 4 lap lead (worth about 4.5 hours) over Jo in second so Mark and Tim decided now was the time to get some rest whilst they monitored the competition. They both carried me off my bike to our caravan and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
They decided to let me sleep on longer as my lead was still secure. Once day light arrived, at around 8am, I was ready to head out once more to ensure my position in the overall top 10. Tim and Mark once again helped carry me out to my bike and I got my final lap in before the finish. I ended up finishing with 20 laps, 1st in category and 8th overall. During the night there was some good competition between the solo women and I ended up being 3 laps ahead of Katie Cheesewright (single speed!) and 4 laps clear of Jo Cardwell in 3rd.
The race was brutal at times but I am chuffed to have completed it. I have my pit crew, Tim Mackley and Mark Tandy, to thank for doing so well, I could not have done it without them! I also need to thank the other Deeside members there for their moral support. My only post race complaint is that I still can't feel all the fingers in my right hand!!