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Mark McPhilips @ Trans Scotland 2007

Day 7: Glentress Time Trial; 10km, 400m climbing


I already knew that I could no longer finish in the Top Ten but I was still determined to do my best. The time trial had an unusual start. The first 1.5km was downhill. Therefore, it was unsurprising that I had caught my 30-second man by the end of the descent. Unfortunately, I did not have the legs to pass on the next fire track climb. Some singletrack and tricky stuff in and around the skills area near the Buzzards Car Park allowed me to close the gap again before the BIG climb of the time trial started. Once on the BIG climb it was all about damage limitation. I knew I had to start steady and then when within sight of the top put in a tortuous effort over the top and into the first few hundred metres of the descent. This tactic generally works well in a XC race so I adopted it on this event too.

Mak getting wet at Trans Scotland 2007

So, it was no surprise when my minute man Jay Horton passed me on the climb like an express train. This guy was seriously hurting himself I could even hear his breathing above my own very laboured breathing. He was quickly out of sight and I was determined to push a pace so no one else would catch me.

At the top, I was expecting to be sent down spooky wood (a high-speed BMX style descent). It was a shock to be sent down a firebreak with a high concentration of evil off camber tree roots. I was picking my way down this trail very slowly. I started to worry I might be losing time to other riders on a downhill! Suddenly a glow ahead is helping me pick a better line through these routes. Yes! I have started to catch up with Jay!

the MTBers 10th Oct 2007

The glow takes a ninety-degree turn left and starts going uphill. I am confused but I follow the light. An emergency gear change is pulled off without dropping my chain. This element of luck allows me to ride up this steep muddy bank. I can now see Jay getting closer. He has not been so lucky and is running frantically up the hill. From here to the finish I figure most of the course must be undulating. Jay has proven this week that he is a better climber than I am. On the flat, we were similar and on the downhill’s I had the edge. My plan was simple. Stick as close to Jay as possible. So, I followed Jay and his glow through the darkness.

The bright lights of the finish kick-started the ‘cinema eyes’ experience. Natural racing instincts drew us into a sprint finish despite the time trial status. Jay won the sprint. I reached over and shook his hand, then perversely thanked him for pushing me so hard!

Burgers! Burgers! Burgers! I sat down with Dan and his gang. Burgers were consumed in great numbers and they had never tasted so good. Once again everyone was buzzing the pain was over. Tomorrow was just going to be one big ride with your mates.

Day 7: Peebles to Selkirk; 70km, 2350m climbing

I woke up this morning and I felt great. The pressure was off. In theory today was a day to relax, enjoy the ride and soak up the scenery. Dan had mentioned the idea of ‘Honours Day’ earlier on in the week. In theory, the last stage could be raced in true TransRockies/TransAlp style to get a genuine feel of what it is like to ride hard after 6 days of racing. The honour of course would go to primarily the first home out of everyone but more importantly the first home out of all your mates.

All week I had been saying I was not interested in racing ‘Honours Day’ but unlike last year in the TransWales I still had something in the tank. Game on!

The first 20km followed the black route at Glentress. This meant the first 6 to 8km was all climbing. A steady start was required as it was going to be a long day. I let Dan set the pace on the climb. Pretty quickly, the rest of the gang slipped of our wheels leaving me, Dan and Jack (a TransRockie veteran, exceptional XC racer and the unknown quantity for the day. He had largely kept his fitness and skills hidden away all week while enjoying a much more low key season after the hardship of the previous year when he finished 5th in the TransRockies).

Jack was the first to jump. I waited; it was Dan I wanted to beat. Then Dan went too. I decided not to go straight after him, as there was still too much climbing left. I kept him in sight instead using any eases in gradient to close the gap. We emerged out of the forest; there was now about 1.5km to the top and a 200m gap to Dan and another 200m to Jack.

Now it is my turn. I lock out my fork and start sprinting for the top. I catch Dan and we both quickly catch Jack. All three of us are now in full on racing mode. Formula one tactics, late braking and protecting the racing line emerge on the tight singletrack descent we have started. Britney Spears ‘Hit me Baby One More Time’ is one of the signature downhills at Glentress and luckily one I am well practiced at.

I am at the back of our group of three when we catch two more riders in front. I recognise them as Polaris hard men Steve Heading and Bryan Singleton. In XC racing, you quickly realise that the best time to pass any rider is just as you catch them. Unaware of your presence they have not yet started riding defensively.

Jack looks hesitant probably because strictly speaking this is not a XC race. I dive for the inside line and put in a few monster pedal strokes. Four riders are now on my right and my current line would result in me T-boning the lead rider. I put another half-pedal stroke in, to surge half a bike length clear. I then brake hard and late, the other riders quickly reappear in my vision. My handlebar clips the lead riders bars luckily we both stay upright. I sprint away and shout out an apology. I have the gap and Jack and Dan are now briefly boxed in.

The Duelling Banjos in my head heralded the start of Deliverance (see pic on left). One of the few downhills in the UK where you really are thankful if you are riding a full suspension bike. At some point on ‘Britney Spears’ Dan and Jack looked down the valley to see a Marin Mount Vision carry some lunatic in a deep aero tuck through the berms, bridges and stream crossings safely.

I eventually emerged from my tuck on the main road to Peebles! I was thirsty, no surprise really, today I had gone lightweight. One water bottle to be topped up at the feed-stations and a handful of gels/energy bars. These could be supplemented by more of the same and a sandwich at the halfway point.

I am still riding on my own. I can see no one in front and no one behind. After 10km, I spot Gavin from Extreme-Endurance on a fire track climb. A third of the way up I turn onto a singletrack climb. Gavin is clearly daydreaming and has missed the turn. I shout out as loud as I can. He turns around and is now back on course.

Having Gavin behind pushes my pace up to something a bit more uncomfortable. I arrive at the lunch stop in good time. Now it is the long climb up to Minch Moor. This climb finished me in the Spring Polaris. I pass my Polaris low point where two scallys in tracksuits had passed me. Today I was in charge. I change up a gear and then another in an attempt to banish that painful memory.

Mentally the summit of the Minch Moor means the remaining kilometres are undulating at worst and downhill at best J. Today was turning out to be one of the best days I had ever had on a bike. Everything was perfect! The weather, my mood, the way I was riding, the scenery, and the amazing feelings were coming from all directions. I think sport psychologists call it a ‘peak flow’ experience and the best elite athletes can access this state at will. I have to make do with it visiting occasionally and making the most of it while it lasts.

I keep on giggling and holding incoherent conversations with myself. I only snap out of it when my rear tyre starts to squirm around more than expected. A puncture! My first of the week. The peak flow quickly retreats yet strangely, I feel lucky to puncture today. This fact is reinforced when Gavin emerges on the horizon. His chance of a good result had been ruined after puncturing in every time trial!

Gavin races by after first checking everything is OK. A few minutes later, I am ready to roll. I continue to ride in a euphoric haze; suddenly Selkirk Rugby club and the TransScotland village appeared on my right. Excitement, sadness, happiness and finally as I cross the line a deep sense of achievement. I have finished the Trans Scotland!

For the record, on honours day I came 10th overall but that is not the point. The TransScotland is about the whole experience of taking part and finishing. Today Selkirk was my Champs Elysée.