Red Bull 2002

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Updated 23 July 2002

The Red Bull 24hr Mountain Mayhem 2002 - James Lyons

The most popular endurance mountain bike race on the UK calendar without a doubt, the 5th Annual Red Bull race returned to Sandwell Valley Park, Birmingham on the weekend of 22nd-23rd June. It's always held on the weekend closest to the summer solstice and once again the weather played ball…coolish and slightly overcast on the Saturday but with gorgeous sunshine on the Sunday.

De Laune had two teams this year, imaginatively named 'A' and 'B' consisting of James' Lett and Lyon, Ross Fryer and Steve Price in the A team and Andrew King, Cliff Steele, Simon Pamplin and Malcolm Fawcett in the B team. Doing a sterling job in the helping stakes were Carol, Tig and Bill. Ross, Malcolm and Cliff arrived in the van on Friday; I'd been there since Thursday so we had our campsite in good order fairly quickly. The rest of the teams showed up on Saturday morning.

The race starts at 2pm on Saturday and goes right through until 2pm on Sunday. The format is fairly simple…there must be a team member out on the course at all times and each team member must ride at least 2 laps. Apart from that the planning is up to you. The suburbs of Birmingham aren't renowned for their mountains but the course designers had set out a 10 mile lap consisting of bumpy grass climbs and descents, a little bit of tarmac and a lot of singletrack. The course also managed to contain a surprising amount of climbing…the altimeter on my cycle computer recorded 700ft (200m) per lap.

The race starts with a LeMans style run to the bikes…anyone who has ever seen 400 mountain bikers sprinting half a mile to where their bike is held by a team member will understand the "Mayhem" part of the title. Steve Price was volunteered to run for our team and put in a great start, getting out onto the course well up with the leaders. He came through in just over 45 minutes and handed over to me. Lap times throughout the race were very consistent between all the team members, all of the A team averaging about 44 minutes per 10-mile lap, although James Lett turned in a blisteringly quick sub-41 minute lap early on. Up until nightfall everything was going well, in fact De Laune A was in the lead for most of that time. The dark hours however are what can make and break the race for many. There's not many incentives to climb out of a warm sleeping bag at 2am and thrash round a course that you've already ridden so many times you can almost do it blindfold. Steve and I took the "early" shift from 10pm ish through till about 1.30am when James Lett and Ross took over riding duties. Riding at night brings a whole new meaning to mountain biking. You're riding through a tunnel of light, there's no peripheral vision, no scenery to look at and everything feels twice as fast. Unfortunately things weren't actually twice as fast with the result that we lost the lead to Team Pedal-On sometime in the small hours.

A lot of mountain bikers adopt the "If I can't see it, it can't hurt me" approach to night riding, sadly trees and rocks are just as hard at night as they are at any other time and I witnessed a couple of very funny incidences where riders in front of me rode through bushes they didn't know were there. I didn't have any of these problems…I had a phenomenally bright 40W head-torch which, from a distance looked like a small alien spacecraft moving along about 5 foot from the ground. James Lett borrowed it for a lap and couldn't believe how much faster he went…riders would move out of the way without you even asking!

Dawn arrived and I was woken up from sleep by a mixture of the dawn chorus and riders changing gear 2 yards from my tent as they rode past. There was a battle royal going on for first place now, with Team Pedal On edging ahead, then being pulled back, and then edging ahead again. Meanwhile, 3rd place was being keenly contested as well with both the Army CC and Arctic RC chasing hard. Lap times now were faster as riders put in more of an effort as the end drew near. I came through into the arena 5 minutes before the bell and James Lett went out for the final lap. The team that had been chasing us so hard failed to make the 2pm cut-off, which put them a lap down on us. Out of the 188 Sport Men teams only 2 had done 33 laps; Team Pedal-On in 1st place and De Laune A in 2nd place, less than 8 minutes behind after 24 hours of racing. Two hours later, the team was stood on the podium. An amazing achievement and an amazing feeling as well.

Team B managed to get a very creditable 24th place in spite of Cliff trying to demolish his bike and Malcolm taking his own sweet time to get to the handover area!

None of this would have been possible without the help and support from Tig, who kept track of two teams for 24 hours and organised all the riders to be in the right place at the right time, Carol who cooked up some fantastic food and kept the campsite in order and Bill who cleaned and lubed all the bikes after every lap ready for their next thrashing.

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