Red Bull Reflections.

Team TORQ FITNESS have been there, done it and now we’re having a little kip and resting our flaked-out pins. After Scott and James had bullied me into doing this thing, dragging me kicking and screaming out of my comfortable retirement, they’d send smug little e-mails and articulate the odd sarchy phrase as we conversed by telephone. I just ignored them. In fact it wasn’t until I was being woken up at 3am to ride my second night lap (I think I’d collapsed into a pile of Jaffa Cakes and bananas) that it all came flooding back. I then remembered what Scott had said to me soon after he’d twisted my arm into doing it. “You’ve got absolutely no idea what you’ve let yourself in for mate,” he said with Jasper Carrot wit (and voice)…

I have to say that Red Bull Mountain Mayhem is the hardest and most demanding thing I have ever done on a bike, both physically and mentally. Why? It’s not just a case of each team member riding continually for 6 hours, which quite frankly is done and out of the way – you start and then you finish. In the case of most teams, the 6 hours of work was split up into relatively short intense bursts. I can only speak for myself, but every time I left the arena to do another lap, I pushed it as hard as I could with 100% focus, because my team were relying on me and I didn’t want the ‘old has-been’ to let them down. This meant that I did 8 time-trial efforts in 24 hours with about 2 hours of broken sleep. Don’t get me wrong, those soloists that did the full 24 hours on there own, I just cannot conceive the enormity of it – respect, but I’d choose a straight 6-hour ride over what we did any day.

I knew that if we stuck to our nutritional strategy, even an old dog like me would have the energy to do it – the rest was purely psychological. We had a fantastic team cook called Sarah (James’ sister) who pre-prepared meals to the coaches specification and waited on us hand and foot. We couldn’t have done it without her. The strategy was to eat, eat, eat and then eat some more. We all had stomach problems at one time or another, just due to the volume of food and intensity of exercise, but we kept going. At one point, all I could stomach were boiled sweets, but I knew I had to keep the carb calories going in.

The course was dry thank god, but there were a couple of bits I would have quite happily had removed. Firstly, there was this short section where soft tree bark had been laid on the path. What was that all about? It was like riding along a sandy beach. Then you hit this hard gravel section, the elevation increased and yet you were gearing-up and riding faster? Then there was the much talked about ‘field of treacle’. I hated that for the same reasons. It was a slight uphill drag across a field with loads of tiny divots in. This upset your rhythm and reduced your pace to a crawl. The rest of the course was wicked. Fantastic twisting singletrack and one really top decent through a wooded section (as long as you kept your head down). The lap was a shade less than 11 miles in total.

Anyway, we finished 10th overall in the Elite category, which we were chuffed to bits with, considering that Phil was the only official ‘Elite’ rider on our team. If you did the Red Bull Mountain Mayhem as part of a team CONGRATULATIONS! – I know what you went through. If you did it solo, then I can’t even guess what you endured and won’t even try.

Here’s what the other boys had to say:

JAMES DUCKER: There’s nothing to describe the pain encountered when getting up at half past 3 in the morning to bash out yet another 10-mile time trial over freshly ploughed meadows, having already repeated the exercise 4 times in the last 12 hours. Well … maybe it’s a little less painful than the next lap, or the next … or the one after?

The course, although not too technical, was fast and fun to ride at night as well as day. Night riding adds a new dimension: FEAR. Fear that the shadow cast by your light is not a ditch and fear that the sharp turn is not closer than you think. The bubble of light cast by your 20-watt lamp is surprisingly mesmerizing when your mind is focused on racing.

The feeling of personal achievement, or maybe the surprised reaction someone gives you when you tell him or her what you’ve done, is the addictive bug that brought me back to complete my third Red Bull Mountain Mayhem event. Endurance, stamina, determination, drive and companionship are some of the characteristics required by someone attempting such a feat.

The red bull is surely a unique event where the world’s novices can race with the worlds best, you can rub shoulders with Gary Fisher, see a bloke ride a lap in a little black dress (ed. Whatever turns you on I suppose – don’t worry, I won’t mention ‘the fury funnel’) and chat to other like minded enthusiasts from across this green grassy land. Can’t wait until next year can you Matt?

Don’t mention the fury funnel! (ed. Don’t worry, I won’t)

SCOTT O’NEIL: So that’s Mountain Mayhem over for another year, and wow what a race it was indeed. The sun stayed out and the rain stayed away, allowing the cycling suntans to get a top up in with the bargain.

This was my third Red Bull event, but the first since I started training ‘properly’ and what a difference sports science made. Right from the start nutrition had been placed high on the agenda (but ask James about his Muffin confusion). But our strategy of forced feeding, aided by our trusty soigneur Sarah, led us to victory (well tenth anyhow).

At 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon I found myself at the front end of a group of 400 odd cyclists, some serious about the impending pain, others such as the guy in full Viking battle dress not quite so serious. The run was ok and I entered the arena in the first fifty or so riders. However halfway around the first lap my front tyre split after losing an argument with a couple of rocks, so I ended up riding the second half of the last lap on the front rim alone… great! The looks I got from other riders as I overtook them with no front tyre were worth the entry fee alone (ed. He still owes me a tenner). The rest of the ‘first half’ went really well including sitting on Gary Fisher’s wheel for a lap, the rest of the team were knocking out really fast laps.

I have always thought that the real test with this race has been the early morning laps, the first twelve hours of the race are done on adrenaline. The second half of the race sorts the wheat from the chaff. Last year I hit the wall big style and had to miss out a lap, as a result I was very aware of blowing. Fortunately the hard winters training and the nutrition heavy race plan all paid off. Although my laps were all over the place I never really felt the pain as I have done in previous years. However Matt decided that he was going to make sure that I hurt for roping him into the race. He and Phil put two blinding laps in just to make sure that at seven minutes to two o’clock I had to go out and do it all over again. Be warned boys – I’ll get you back (ed. The mind boggles!).

Overall a great weekend that really showed that the correct training and strategy really does pay off.

PHIL RAYNER: Our team of Scott, James, Matt and myself had decided to try and make a race of the Red Bull instead of riding it in bra’s and wigs (ed. Phil took quite some persuading too). This made it really tough mentally more than physically. I was ready for all the riding bits, but not all the bits in between that no one had told me about. Nutrition – having to eat and drink as many carbs as you could get down when you really didn’t feel like it any more. Sleep (what’s that?) – trying to grab some sleep and not getting any till 5 minutes before you had to get up. Then getting changed again into damp clothes and rushing to the start for your hand over just does your head in (ed. And sometimes not making it in time for the handover eh Phil).

In a way the Red Bull is kind of like doing interval sessions. The 2hr 15min rest seems to take about the same time as the 45-minute lap though. A huge thanks must go out to Sarah who looked after us all weekend doing our cooking and getting us up to go out again and probably lots of things that I didn’t realize were being done without complaining once – THANKS (ed. ‘OOOhhh Matron’).

Well I may do it again next year, but a comedy name and a costume may be in order.

Words by Matt Hart/Scott O’Neil/James Ducker/Phil Rayner


Picture below: Scott O’Neil on final lap