Mudbath mayhem!

The SAAB SALOMAN Mountain Mayhem ‘happened’ once again this weekend and boy will this be one we’ll never forget? 2004’s course was new and challenging, hosted at the home of the vintage and legendary Malvern’s Classic. There were tough climbs for real Mountain Bikers, sweet sections of wooded single track and most importantly, some altitude from which to descend – real ‘big ring no fear’ stuff. Well, that was what it was like when I eventually rode round at the end, after most people had chipped off for the weekend. Those who actually took part in the event have a somewhat different tale to tell…

Picture taken by professional photographer Jools

My contribution was supposed to be purely one of support, plus I felt duty bound to spread the word on the progress of the two TORQ teams live via my weblink. Only a few people knew that I was planning this – good job really, because once the rain had started pissing in through our gazebo and I’d discovered that I’d left my website password at home, the whole thing started to seem like a really bad idea! This was further rammed well and truly home to me when, with head in hands, I glanced up from TORQ WEB-TECH CENTRAL only to see the valuable members of my team stumbling randomly around the camp with empty bowls begging for food. It was bizarrely reminiscent of that old Oliver Twist film where he asks for ‘some more’ merged with the D-day landing in Saving Private Ryan. They were covered in mud, delirious and their desperate gaunt faces and sunken eyes spelled out a clear message: ‘Stop arsing about with your laptop and feed us you f%*$ing w&*ker’.

I’d planned to rotate the catering with some of the young ladies who’d come along to help (wives and partners of the team), but the weather got so bad, that two of them (Kylie and Suzanne) ended up on full time bike cleaning duty. Simon Hansford from the Larkfield Cycles/TORQ team had kindly volunteered to be our mechanic, but nothing could have prepared him for what he was about to take on. Bikes were coming back so clogged with mud that the wheels weren’t turning round. Simon and the girls cleaned and stripped down every single bike after every single lap. Every bike came in looking like it had fallen into a big vat of butter icing and went out spotless. The mud wasn’t the bad bit; it was the grass that had become entangled in the transmission that caused most of the problems. Simon, like me stayed awake all night and all next day making sure the bikes were ready to go. I’d planned in my mind, a few hours sleep whilst my wife cooked for the lads – how wrong could I have been.

So how did we do? I can’t give you all the interesting details, I’ll leave that to those that partook, but we were well cuffed with our performance. Our aim for the elite team was to get a top 5 placing. The winning team got £5K and 5th place would have bought both teams a big curry and a few pints of fine stout. The sport team had a slightly harder prospect of getting in the top 3 if they were to be rewarded financially, plus they were up against some 250 other teams.

The elite team held their 5th place for most of the event – everything was going according to plan, but Steve Price managed to lose all power (in the ‘lighting sense of the word’) in the middle of one of his night laps and lost the best part of 30 minutes. When he turned up at the camp he took some calming down. I think he’d almost killed himself trying to get back, the prospect of letting down his team mates having driven him to do some crazy stuff out there. Anyway, we fed the boy and put him to bed with a hot water bottle and his favourite teddy and he woke up a new man.

The Evans team were right on our tail now, so we couldn’t afford any mistakes or mishaps, but by the time we’d had another puncture, they were breathing down our necks (just 1 minute behind us). With about 2 hours to go (and 2 laps) both teams fielded their strongest riders. Mark Allen (TORQ) set off just under a minute ahead of former TORQ-tuned Steve Farmer (Evans). Mark put in a good lap, but it wasn’t as good as Steve’s, who managed to make up the minute and put another 3 in to us.

It was left to Marcus, our anchor man to get us our lead back, but it wasn’t to be. He rode out of his skin, but so did the Evans guy he was chasing. Marcos didn’t lose any more ground, but didn’t make it up either, so we had to settle for 6th. Still, it’s our best result yet, so perhaps top 5 next year eh? Well done to the Evans team too -It made spectating the last couple of laps damn exciting! Whilst I’m doing my well done’s, congrats go out to the Halfords team containing TORQ-tuned Phil Rayner and Paul Newnham, who got 4th place and enough dosh for a really big curry (I’m sure they’ll spend it on something far less decadent).

As for our Sports team, we’ve never entered a Sports team before, so it was difficult to set a goal for them. One thing’s for sure, now we’ve done it, like with the elite’s, there’s a target to chase. The Sports team had a fab battle with the Pearce Cycles team and got a very creditable 9th place overall. Rather than me waffle on about something I had no experience of, here’s what the guys who did it had to say:

Alex Amey (Sport): “This was all new for me, a team event on a 24 hour basis and arguably the largest race of the U.K. XC calendar – I was positively “fizzing at the bung hole” with anticipation. I hurriedly made the journey from sunny Kent to the Malvern’s, pitched my Roman orgy sized tent (admittedly with help from responsible adults, thanks Theresa and Mike) and hooked up with our spanner man for the weekend, Simon Hansford from Team Larkfield cycles.

With the sun shining and the course gagging to be ridden, we were soon on our way round, down the start straight, through the water splash and up and into the first valley into twisty very British singlish woodland track. Then on to a gravelled fire road section and into a “Stienbeck like” large corn field, so far so good. Quick left and ..well dead stop actually, ‘cos the Eastnor estate is also a popular spot with our four wheeled brethren and they had thoroughly smashed the back doors of the next climb in, with deep tyre troughs from top to bottom. This was the first of three major climbs, which were to break the spirit of many competitors later that weekend, but more of that later.

Picture taken by professional photographer Jools

More woodland single track followed before we climbed for the first time to the high point of the course proceeding via a convoluted journey back down into the main arena area in the valley below. It was at this point that reason left me as we rounded the north side of the start finish area and were presented with the “Powerbar climb”. This looked harsh. Simon and myself dug in and ground up, “Bit cheeky” I quipped, “Fackingbloodyhellimfinishediwillnotlasttwentyfourhours” I thought.

This was turning into quite a tough circuit and we still weren’t done. We were soon robbed on all our mountainous gains by a roaring fire road descent, which while great during the dry day time pre-ride, soon showed its Hyde like qualities during the rain soaked night that followed.

A few dodgy off chamber moments later we were on the last big grind of the day before dropping for the last time into the finish area. Suffice to say I went to bed a little uneasy that night.


Got to say in hindsight we certainly looked like we knew what we were doing. Simon had a tech area set up under one gazebo, and the boys lounged around clad in the orange and black under the Torq stand with the Torq wagons parked up nearby. Two o’clock loomed and we discussed the nights (heavy) rain, would it have much bearing on the course? And would we have to do our hair and make up after each lap? What is a girl to do?

Tommo was off first, holding his own in the Le Mans style run off and laying down a sub-hour first lap. He came back very muddy. Next off was Rob P, again head to toe in shit. Now being a bit of a mucky bastard I was starting to look forward this, so when Simon handed over the team” baton” to me I was off like old nick himself was on my tail.

How quickly things change..overnight the course had become axle deep in heavy mud and I soon found myself shouldering and running through the first wood section ( this was not how I wanted to spend my next five or six laps). Back on the bike, up the fire road and through the corn field (Christ, that was slippery with more casualties than a Normandy beach landing) and round the corner into the Land Rover climb which had now become a slow moving river of filth.

Picture taken by professional photographer Jools

Now things went very pear shaped with chronic chain suck leading to an unfortunate rear mech. ending incident. F$%k, 2 miles in and only the big ring and a couple of sprockets for company. Suffice to say the rest of the lap was more perseverance than performance with the rule book on seated smooth climbing straight down the shitter, replaced by out of the saddle big ring honking.

Finally it ended and I handed over to Tom. First lap and I had lost big time for the team, not a good start.

Back at “Casa Torq” Simon soon went to work on my ruined transmission, while I tried to get my head straight prior to my next outing. It worth noting how quickly time goes under these circumstances as it was soon time to go again, this time ‘lit up’ in preparation for the night laps.

Picture taken by professional photographer Jools

Racing at night is a bit different, throw in a storm and skid-pan surfaces and it becomes a bit of a sick joke, but each and everyone of us went out crashed and scared ourselves until the job was done. There was never any question of anyone missing a turn or holding back, this really was taking one for the team. Personally I felt pretty alone out on the course, and it is difficult to convey the sheer joy of riding out of the woodland as the sun came up with the birds heralding the new morning. Yeah I know.ponce.but I was tripping out on caffeine products, diralite and carb drink.

And then to the morning session. The weather improved dramatically and so did laps times as the course become sweet as cherry pie. Cramp became the order of the day as one by one we finished our final laps and it fell to me to ride the teams last circuit.

Picture taken by professional photographer Jools

To be honest I rode the last half a lap buzzing on adrenaline and nothing short of an ambulance ride was going to slow me down and after rolling over the finish line, cramp knocking, post Pat hand shake I did feel a bit emotional.I know ponce again, but I was very very Donald Ducked!

Big shout out to Simon demon spanner man, the ladies Suzanne and Kylie 24hr non stop bike washers, Sasha for being cook and or Mum, Milly for helping us get things in context and Mr Matt Hart for having a drive and ambition and a bit of faith in our abilities when perhaps we doubted ourselves.

P.S. Don’t use the porta loo three from the left, twenty four hours allows for a lot of race lightening.”


Steve Price (Elite): “Never have I been so low or so high. What a fantastic team effort by all riders and support team. I did not know I was competing until 6 weeks before the off, but nether the less nothing could have prepared me for the conditions the race was run in. My first lap, off third in the team, was ok but not having ridden on a mtb for over year it took some serious adjusting. Added to that, the downpour that had begun on lap one had now ceased and the mud had now turned into the consistency of treacle with the weight of mercury. Any attempt at gathering momentum was laughable and in addition, riding the course blind made gauging any effort near impossible. Lap 2 would be better. Indeed it was, although the lap time was no faster. I was prepared this time and came back to HQ with a smile on my face, however tummy trouble was now brewing…

For lap 3, my night lap, it had rained again and riding was becoming increasingly difficult judging by the comments at HQ. I started confident as I new what to expect having done 24 hours before but nothing prepared me for the horror of light failure. I was halfway round the course when I was plunged into darkness. I had taken a headtorch (powered by 2 x AA batteries) as an emergency light source, which I bound round my now redundant beams, but was very poor and could not be held in one position. I carried on desperately hoping that I could hitch a ride with a similar speed rider to ride behind me, not surprisingly volunteers were not queuing up.

I ran the sticky bits and surfed the downhill stretches with one foot out. Everytime I hit the deck I had to reset the front light. Still I now know what its like to fly as several times I was airborne without any prior warning. Winded and cold I struggled on with my run/ride and technique matters became even more complicated as tummy trouble was overriding any other feeling – I wanted to puke. Should I stop and release the pressure there and then carry on – at least nobody would see me? Bugger it, focus, think of the team. It seemed like an eternity but I soon saw the glow of the arena appearing over the next hill and that meant one last crazy descent and it would soon be over. Made it!

I handed over the relay medallion and legged it to the loo, but my last comedy moment was to come as I tried to remove every layer to get my bib shorts down fuck fuck fuck no lights, wheres the latch, would I make it without embarrasing myself?.only just. Never have I been so glad to sit in a pitch black portaloo with my shorts round my ankles. Back at HQ shaken but not beaten I had three hours to compose myself and try and regain some strength I can safely say I have never felt so low.

The morning laps were going to be a breeze, which indeed they were. I headed out on my fifth and final lap and was buoyed by the fact that I could give it my all, it was nearly over and that we were running fifth and had a time cushion. Bang! Quarter of the way round and I was now on the rim because rocks had become exposed and I had found one at the bottom of a deep trench. Every expletive went through my mind, but I had to stay calm to fix the problem, whipped out the tube and got out the minipump out but horror of horrors the valve adapter was round the wrong way i fumbled with wet hands and winced as I dropped the little rubber seal into the long grass. Found it but how much time had I lost. got pumping put a token pressure in the tyre. It was not enough, but it meant that all my climbing would be fantastic but the rest of the laps descending would be out of the saddle to minimize pinch puncturing again. Made it round the rest of the lap sprinting for all I was worth, but would it be enough to hold our lead?

After 24 hours we lost our fifth position by three minutes and I couldn’t help feeling that my misfortunes had caused us to miss our target and this tainted the feeling of elation that we had actually finished sixth, a best for Torq. All I now had to do was remain awake as I was the passenger for the long drive home and felt duty-bound to provide rubbish conversation to keep my partner Simon awake, I think I managed.”

Simon Turner (Sport): My recollections of the weekend are:

Picture taken by professional photographer Jools

Being really excited before arriving and setting up. Getting slowly more pissed off with the weather as the day went on. Finally it started and it was mayhem! The course seemed pretty well laid out, but all I got to see was the patch of mud in front of my front wheel and the huge globs of mud thrown up in my face. First lap was sticky and slow second lap was the same and then came my night lap from hell. 2 X 10 mins kneeling in ditches with leg locking cramps in quads and hamstrings – pain like I’ve never had. Had to wait till rescued by a passer by.

I was amazed at the ability of Simon to clean and maintain bikes for 24hrs.

Still by morning and after 2hrs sleep it was better and the last two laps were excellent fun, super fast and I could see the vistas not just my wheel! Unlike Matt my legs do hurt today – don’t think I could have gone harder.


Thomas Randall (Sport): “It certainly was mayhem! Running the Le-mans start was crazy – I was nearly shoved in the lake on the run – the first lap was sloppy and wet, the second lap was slippy and muddy, third lap dark, misty and sideways (50% running!), fourth lap sticky and cloggy, fifth lap fast as you like and 90% dry – hooray!

Driving home I had to stop for a kip about 20mins after starting, and when I finally hit the sack and closed my eyes I felt like I was still mud surfing on the bike – A good time was had by all!!”

Matt Hart/Alex Amey/Steve Price/Simon Turner & Tom Randall