Whyte King & Queen of the Hill – Ben Balfour’s race reportAugust 30, 2018
Chain reactions and lessons learned
Saturday morning started off in Alpine Bikes with me attempting to fix my bike. With it sorted and in tip top condition with a fully stretched chain and bled brakes I set off; at the early time of 12 o’clock. With everyone coming down off the hill looking puzzled at my clean kit I felt it best to pick the pace up. I went through the stages forgetting the last as soon as I got to the next. Lucky for me I had brought my go pro to look over the footage that evening. Not so lucky I forgot to do that!
I was one of the last riders to practice the stages meaning they would be in the same condition for race day – or so I thought until I saw the forecast for the heavy rain that night. I managed to crash at the very end of the last stage with a set of skin gloves on. Apart from that practice was insane fun! I felt so stoked at the end of the day and I was ready to race – or so I thought..
I woke up on Sunday looking forward to riding some fresh trails some of which I’d only ridden once before until I looked out the window at the rain. Today was gonna be spicy. Stage one was down New York New York which had recently had some work done to it. I felt stiff as usual and it has only occurred to me now I should probably do some proper warm ups before my first stage. I felt I put a solid run down apart from wanting to feel a bit looser.
As I lined up for stage two I felt pretty calm trying to remember the course then shortly remembering I hadn’t actually ridden it in practice. Good idea… There was a sprint at the start that was gonna be fun. 3.. 2.. 1.. I put the power down and heard an almighty crunch. Had I run over an adder?
The pedals went slack as I looked down to realise I was missing a chain. Adrenaline and stupidity told me to leave my chain behind. I quickly realised I was going to have to get down this stage somehow. In an attempt to pick up speed I decided to kick off the ground with my foot. Which got me nowhere. The clock was ticking, and frustration was high. I managed to pick up enough speed in the forest to get overtaken by Tom Wilson on a flat section. I knew I’d lost 20 seconds of time now. I managed to stick on his tail on the techy section until I came around a tight corner that I didn’t expect. I managed to get my wheel stuck on the wrong side of the tree which was just what I needed. From that stage I had lost 26 seconds from winning pace which I needed to make up. When I got to the bottom I realised what a good Idea it had been to have left my chain at the top. By this time my chain had been ridden into the mud by about 20 riders and the marshal couldn’t see it.
TweedLove Race teammate Calum Johnson kindly gave me a chain link for my non-existent chain. As I doggy paddled along to the event village I realised this would be the end of my race. I was going to miss my stage times and get a time penalty. On the plus side I think I got everyone I passed going up to stage one pretty stoked on how muddy they were about to get. After kindly getting my chain fixed for free by the guys at the Shimano tent, I had a generous 15 minutes to get to the top of the next stage. I started sprinting up until I realised I would need a motor bike to reach it to the top in time. Now I was riding on my own I had time to reflect and I decided I would carry on riding for the fun of it.
After remembering there was a food station at the bottom of stage three I was pretty keen to get to the bottom. I managed to stay supper loose down jawbone, almost too loose in some sections. I also sampled every cake at the food stall to keep me going for the last two stages. Barts Trail on stage four was pretty scary but I managed to put in a solid run. The final stage was amazing fun especially the new last new corners. Overall I managed to take second; 0.3 seconds off the win with a time penalty of 5 minutes which bumped me down to 8th. Ill probably take from this race that you need to fix your bike before practice day ideally, and check your chain stretch. But that’s racing.
Photo: Ian Linton