Brighton Big Dog is a highlight of the British MTB calendar, a fun filled event with fantastic trails, busy arena, great atmosphere tasty cakes and beer... If you've not been before put the 2019 date in your diary. It was great to be back after missing the event last year so I could race European Championships in Slovakia. After winning 5 years in a row from 2012 to 2016 I was keen to get my name back on the trophy but competition was hot with other ex Big Dog winners and new challengers ready to battle. This year my fiancée Pippa was there to hand up bottles, an extra bit of motivation. A few of my sponsors were at the event including Exposure Lights, USE Components, Lezyne, Simplon and Rotor so I was keen to put on a good show.
The arena was buzzing by the start time at midday with legends Matt Carr and Rory Hitchens on the microphones getting the crowd going. Time to focus, 6 hard hours of racing ahead, let's win back that trophy. Bang goes the gun, I slot in third wheel behind some of the riders doing the 4 person team category. Few corners in it's almost race over, the rider in front snaps his chain, I slam on the brakes and swerve to avoid the carnage as he flies over the handlebars. I’m awake now! I stay with another of the team category riders at the front of the race to see if any other solo riders could handle the pace. Alex Welburn, a solo rider is on the wheel, he's a strong rider so I'd need to be alert. Alex is working hard to keep up on the climbs but carrying good speed on the bumpy singletrack descent.
We stay with the leading team category riders until lap 3 when I back off to reserve some energy for later. The circuit has some super steep climbs, I needed the 50t sprocket on my cassette a lot! There were many people walking, cramping, swearing before the top of these climbs but the marshals were there cheering every lap. There was even a guy playing the drums on the first climb, always made me smile. I had a bit of banter with the drummer asking why he got a lunch break and I didn't, he said I got mine at 6pm when the race finished!
Lap 5 Alex let a gap open through the arena, I didn't up the pace immediately but wasn't going to wait for him. Top of the main climb I was still out in front so decided to press on and win the race. 2 minutes quicker on that lap than the previous 2! The legs felt strong and my knee injury from 3 weeks ago wasn’t giving me any grief.
Once on my own I starting pacing myself by setting timing points around the circuit, it's something I've done many times and really helps set consistent lap times. Overtaking is tricky around Stanmar Park as there's so much singletrack so that kept me on my toes but otherwise it's easy to start switching off and thinking about other things as you get tired which can be dangerous. My standard nutrition strategy of 400 to 500ml of energy drink every lap (lap times 30 to 36 minutes), a gel every 40 minutes, swapping to a caffeinated drink and a gel around 4 to 5 hours in worked a treat even if the tummy doesn't thank me afterwards. I had 7 coaching clients at the event, each time I saw them I'd remind them of their nutrition, it's so crucial when you're riding an event this long (6 hours), burning thousands of calories and sweating in the heat. It was fun to race the same circuit as so many coaching clients and to see their success. Well done everyone.
I opted to ride my Simplon Razorblade hardtail; aka the mountain goat! It was rougher than I remembered on the descents but the Razorblade has really compliant seatstays which kept me comfortable and minimises the fatigue. With the wet slippery conditions making the clay soil like ice I opted to ride the Schwalbe Rocket Ron's at 22psi, they hooked up great giving me confidence.
I was opening up a lead steadily over Alex and was now looking at the clock and doing the sums. Laps have to be completed within the 6 hours, any completed after that time won't count. I didn't want to have to do a 10th lap but coming into the arena I had 39 minute left, laps were taking me 36 minutes and I didn't know the size of the gap to Alex so out I went for another lap. It’s all good training again I guess! Alex didn't head out again, he wouldn't have made it round in time. My final lap was actually one of the best, the course was almost empty so I could enjoy the trails. Using my timing points I knew I was running on schedule. Last climb done, safely down the descent, the win was mine. Big cheers from the crowd. Big smiles from me. I love this race. Big Dog champion again. Woof woof.