Kona 100 02

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Updated 18 July 2002

The Kona 100 MTB Endurance Race

James Lyon Race Report

Formerly known as the Schwinn 100, this event has now become one of the must-do endurance races of the year. Held every year in Builth Wells, mid-Wales, it's a single-loop 100km (60 mile) race around the valleys and hills surrounding this little village. Having done the event last year I knew roughly what to expect and I was joined once again by Cliff who had obviously forgotten his comments last year of "Never again". Ross had sensibly decided that he had family commitments that weekend and was unable to make it.

The event was huge; there were an estimated 1700 riders, most doing the full 100K, some on a "fun" 50K loop. By 9am on Sunday morning the start line was packed out as far as the eye could see, in a line about 15 riders wide and several hundred deep. At 10am, the pace car honked it's horn and the race was on…a 6K neutralised roll-out through the village began this scenic jaunt in the woods. The atmosphere was amazing; shopkeepers and residents turned out in force along the streets to cheer everyone along, spirits were high and a few people got a little too into the race too early on by setting off at a storming pace. A few tarmac hills gradually sorted the riders into some sort of order before the first bit of off road, a climb up onto the moor. At this point the weather appeared to be typical Welsh summer…grey and damp. I'd suffered last year in these conditions and wasn't looking forward to repeating the experience. However after an hour or so, the sun began putting in brief appearances until the clouds finally cleared away towards the last third of the race.

I reached the first feed station but didn't bother stopping. The downhill off the moor beckoned and it was a cracker; fast, rocky and with some big rolling drop-offs that earned many a rider a good couple of feet of air. The trail continued undulating for a while, never really flat, always either up or down. The second feed station was at the top of a long fireroad drag, one of those climbs that you think will be over round the next bend but never is. I stopped briefly then set off into the forestry part of the course. This slowed things down considerably as the going got muddy and technical. I hate riding in ruts at the best of times, mainly due to my inability to stay upright for more than 30 seconds at a time - here the course was not only very rutted but also very slippery and I ended up riding with a foot out to act as a stabiliser for a while. I also appeared to have become a meals-on-wheels special for the army of midges that swarmed beneath the trees.

The half-way point of the course was at the bottom of a valley. It had taken me 2hrs 40 min so far. The fantastic technical descent to the bottom of the valley was marred somewhat by the brutally steep granny ring climb out but once up on the moor again we joined some army road which made the going much easier. We descended on road for a while, knobbly tires whirring loudly as they skittered round the bends and I hit 45mph. The third feed station loomed and again I stopped for a while for a banana then set off onto the climb round a large quarry. This went on for ages and the course map became a bit of a blur in my head…fireroad-singletrack-climb-descent all merged into one and I just concentrated on turning the pedals. We reached the army track across the moor, riding through puddles left in the Land Rover ruts. Some of these puddles were only an inch deep, others could have floated a boat. It was difficult to tell which category the puddle fell into until you were knee deep in it thinking, "Hmm, I wish I'd walked round that".

Some more fireroad cruising then we hit the main road and turned off onto the final offroad section. Coming so near the end of the race, this was a killer; five miles of climbing on bumpy grass, gears grinding after the constant soaking in Welsh mud. The miles dragged on. 55. 55.1. 55.2. It seemed never ending but then came the last bit of descending on smooth grass with dips, hollows, jumps and berms. I threw caution (and sanity) to the wind and hurtled down it far too fast for safety, getting air off the whoops and sliding the bike through the corners. A final bit of woodland singletrack, a stream crossing (just to make sure that we were totally wet) and then the welcome words of "1km to finish". I raced another rider the final few hundred yards to the finish, the two of us bunny-hopping ruts and skidding round the corners. I came across the line after 5.39.17 in the saddle, one of the toughest events I've done, but also one of the most enjoyable. I was 52nd out of about 400 in the Open Men category. The weather, for the most part, was good, the competitiveness was also great, and with all riders having stories to tell of their own personal little battles. Cliff rolled across the finish line in 6.40.01, 112th in the Master Men category out of almost 500. There were still riders coming in after over 10 hours, a marathon by anyone's standards.

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