Merida 100

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Updated 16 August 2005

The Merida 100 MTB Marathon, Selkirk, Scotland, 31st July 2005

The Merida 100 series originated in Wales but is now expanding, with more rounds than ever this year (including a night time enduro, see report in April DLN) and one round in Selkirk, just south of Edinburgh in the Southern Uplands.

James Peckham had entered this event as well but a chest infection sadly prevented him doing it. I got up to Selkirk on Saturday afternoon, looking nervously at the grey clouds that surrounded the area. It was non-too warm either but Sunday dawned bright and sunny and the temperatures picked up into that magical area of just-right-for-cycling-but-not-too-hot. Id heard reports from last years event about how good the course was although it was listed as being 85km rather than 100km.

At 9.30am riders began lining up outside the event campground, by the time the ride started at 10am, there were 1064 riders gathered, some doing the shorter course options of 50km and 70km. I knew a lot of the riders there and as the ride started out on roads hooked up into little groups of pacing riders. I got into a group of 2 riders in the distinctive blue and white of the RAF CC and another guy who was a friend of a friend and we had a good rhythm going along the first 3 miles of undulating road. Id guessed from previous experience that there would be bottlenecks as the course got into the singletrack sections so we were really motoring initially. There was a sharp left-hander and the road became track and started climbing. The field rapidly began thinning out and by the time we reached the narrower steeper section of track onto the moor above Selkirk, we were up in the top 40 or so and moving well with fewer riders around to slow us down.

The descent off the moor was tight narrow singletrack through the heather, it got a lot steeper and rootier towards the bottom but being in the front few dozen meant that it was still easy going. The course was amazingly dry too, it was a true all weather track and the sun was drying out any remaining damp sections fast. Having never ridden this course before, I didnt know what to expect and I came a cropper on one of the early narrow downhill sections through the woods, right in front of a waiting photographer who captured my fall from grace as the bike slid around on the damp grass. Some of the sections of singletrack were seriously technical and steep; in fact there was a bit of the course that actually used sections of a new National standard Downhill race track with big drops, jumps and bermed corners. By this time, Id eased off the gas a bit and settled down into a steady pace, the field had thinned out and I was almost on my own. One of the drops was a big rolling 40ft chute, you just rolled into it, let the brakes off and the bike slammed into the berm at the bottom, the G-forces whipping you round the corner, compressing the suspension hard and spitting you out the other side. It was like riding a track bike fast into the bends at Manchester or Calshot, feeling the G-forces hit you and glue the bike to the track. There was only one way to go from the bottom of the DH track up. The next 6 miles were almost constantly up, some on fireroad, most on switch-backed singletrack through the trees and foxgloves. The vegetation became sparser and eventually it was just scrubby heather as the ride headed towards the summit of Minch Moor. 6 miles, 1 hour and 1200ft of climbing in one solid lump later, I was at the summit with a few other riders. The view was stunning but we didnt really have time for such luxuries. I stopped for a quick energy gel and a spray of mozzie repellent in a vain attempt to get rid of the persistent midges then hit the track back down. What followed was 6 of the best downhill miles in the UK, combining a bit of everything singletrack through the heather, rocky tracks, big slabs of rock to jump, rooty peaty corners and a stream crossing at the bottom. Id done 36 miles and my arms were aching from the constant pummelling on the last descent. I refuelled at the feed station then started the next bit of track which could really only go in one direction after a 6-mile descent back up. I lost count of the number of false summits on this, it was a just a long and very gradual climb, fully exposed to the sun and with no wind to offer a respite from the heat or the ever-present flies. I made it to the next feed station and stopped briefly; the marshal there said it was only 12km (8 miles) back to the finish. Id been expecting more as my cycle computer was reading just under 40 miles so far so I treated his estimate of distance with caution. The track from here on was quite grassy with constant big undulations although some of the downhill sections were unbelievably fast I hit 36mph on one section, the bike careering over loose rocks and sliding through the grassy corners, I could feel the suspension being worked to the limit. A couple of mud splashes appeared, a photographer conveniently placed by the deepest one to catch the inevitable tumbles but I made it through unscathed and joined the next bit of track, some downhill fireroad which spat me out at the bottom onto a road a mere 300m from the campsite and finish line. A quick sprint with a fellow competitor (which I won!) and we were across the line. I was given a spot prize of a pair of cycling socks for my sprinting efforts at the end!

One of the best enduro courses Ive ever ridden, very tough but a true mountain bikers paradise. I came across the line 124th overall and 39th in the Open Category so it was a great result. 47 miles (76km), 4.55 riding time, 5.19 actual time. Max speed 35.8mph, average 9.5mph, 7000ft of climbing.

 
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