Strathpuffer, for us, excluding the weeks of bike fettling and part buying, starts on a Wednesday and finishes on a Monday. During this time we ride in the middle of winter non stop for 24 hours round a circuit north of Inverness – that’s the easy bit.
Yorkshire Gold formed in 2013 exclusively to ride The Strathpuffer. Each year we have pushed ourselves through some pretty tough physical and mental challenges.
2013 – The rookie year – thick Ice, rain, one set of ice spikers between 4 and frozen butane gas bottles.
2014 – More prepared – remembered the awning this time and had the luxury of a generator and a gas space heater. I seemed to be never happy with my tyre choice.
2015 – No need for ice spikers – snow on the ground, a mild race with a new wet descent –7th
2016 – Year off – wet and muddy year but hero Ian rides it Solo
2017 – Feeling well prepared, dry, cold, ice spikers, black ice 4th
2018 – The Snow year Transport: Petrol Volvo V70 (Summer tyres) – 3rd
Getting to Strathpeffer involves a multi-stage journey from Sheffield. First leg has an overnight stop in Scarborough to pick up the caravan and the Volvo. What follows is 12 hours of a steady 50 mph tow up to Inverness. Heavy snow when leaving Scarborough and throughout the Cairngorms made for some challenging driving conditions but it was all going to be be worth it come race day.
We’d never had a true snow year, so our hope was that these extreme conditions would stay with us for the race and we weren’t disappointed.
Talk of new sections of the course added a bit of uncertainty, but with the days leading up to the race being consistently below zero degrees we hoped this would prevent it being a churned up mudbath.
On arrival the course had got a thick covering of snow, bringing on it’s own unique nature of unpredictability. This is just what I wanted adding to the excitement. The course conditions became either dry and powdery, leg-sappingly deep slush, or had a thin 6 inch wide compacted snow race-line that if you strayed slightly offline the consequences were you would either fall off or grind to a halt. The plowed fire-roads also had their own form of compacted ice and were fast rolling but usually uphill. There were also many regions of black ice, white ice and odd looking brown ice!
In typical fashion the race started with it’s Le-Man style run which adds the initial bit of comedy as you try to run with cleats on sheet ice whilst also looking for you bike through all of the crowds lining the start area.
The brutal nature of the course is well captured by its Veloviewer profile. From the start you blast the first 4 km which is nearly all uphill ranging between 5 and 8 %. Following on are the techy rock sections, which are broken up by further sharp snow covered fireroad sections. The constant changing of gradients and tight bends is then only briefly rewarded by the fast 2.5km final descent which is always over far too quickly but in nice dry conditions like we had it helps put a long lasting smile on your face.
Our race order has remained largely unchanged over the years with Myself starting, followed by Andy, Tom and finally Ian (Rich in year 1). Opting for the single lap each strategy helps keep the tempo high for those out on track but doesnt help for those off the bike who are trying to get as much rest as possible.
Our start was very positive placing us within the top 10 by the end of the first lap. As the laps went on we all managed to hold our own tempos as other teams began to slow down. By midnight and the early hours we had taken 4th place which soon on lap 17 turned into a satisfying 3rd. Soon, Yorkshire Gold were showing their full strength and consistency putting time between those behind us, a comfortable 20 minute gap.
Throughout the night it got continually colder with temperatures dipping to -9°C but with no wind or snow (and us not actually stopping) it never actually felt cold to be out on the bike. The course held up amazingly well, with the new sections adding new challenges. The new steep climbs made the old familiar steady climbs feel easy and the open snowy corners forced you to remind yourself how to ride a bike properly and keep your fingers off the brakes. I am now a fan of running the Bridge of Thighs section in reverse – I do think we were lucky with the frozen conditions, since anything warmer would have been a bit of a slog.
Heading into the last few hours of the race and the rough calculations showed that it was going to be close to get the last lap in before the clock reached 24 hours. Exactly 10.03 and 30 seconds (the race had started late). My last lap was nothing to be proud of, with me foolishly only eating enough food to recover and not enough to sustain the lap comfortably, resulting in me losing concentration on the final descent, falling 3 times, breaking my shoe, dropping my garmin and front light all requiring a couple of backtracks to retrieve them. Impressively Andy and Tom each managed to pedal out personal bests that resulted in Ian, who had thought he had got away with missing a lap, being the last person to start our final 28th lap.This sealed our 3rd place and closed out a great race with us all doing 7 laps each and standing together on that much sought after podium.
Strathpuffer is a fun weekend, with top organisation, a friendly and supportive atmosphere with some fine Scottish weather. Anyone reading this should consider taking part in this event. “When it come to mountain bike challenges, they don’t come much tougher or more rewarding than the Strathpuffer”
Many thanks to the race organisers and sponsors for putting on the event.
Thanks to Tom’s Parents for lending us the caravan and this year even their car!
Thanks also to VeloViewer for their continued support for my racing.
Respect and acknowledgment to previous Strathpuffer winner Mike Hall. #BeMoreMike