Race To The End: 2018 Chiller
Today we wind it back to the Chiller 24 race of 2018. This was a year infamous for its horrific weather which consisted of 12 hours of torrential rain that seeped into every corner possible. The quote inside the marque that came above the loud noise battering against the roof came out just as snow fell was as follows: “There is no way this snow can settle on such wet ground.” Joanne Richardson was on timing duties and looked reassured at this weather forecasting knowledge. Little did I know I was talking complete nonsense. The temperature plummeted and froze the ground which was followed by a whiteout and several inches of the good stuff building up. In amongst this drastic change in weather fronts the first aid 4×4 managed to slide off the road backwards near the entrance to the car park. Let’s just say it was an eventful night.
Now keep that maelstrom of weather in your mind as I tell a story of a particular battle that took place amongst it. The prize was top spot in the male solo category, won the year before by Richard Rothwell. Contesting this spot was hot favourite Martin Graham. Martin is a highly talented racer with exceptional speed that can be maintained over a long distance. His feats on rollers have led many to believe he could be the solution to find an alternative energy source. The other person in the frame was Richard Hay who was a the definitive underdog in this contest. Richard had arrived with his son Anthony and would turn out to be incredibly consistent and put the cat amongst the pigeons.
After a safety brief the race started on the big red road just above the car park. It was no surprise that Keith Forsyth set off like a cruise missile and took his usual stance of getting to the front and trying to stay there. Not far behind was Martin who wanted to establish early on that he was quick and put the other racers under pressure. The times say it all: Martin clocked a stunning 44 minutes and Richard second fastest solo at 55. It’s a hard course to get round with some steep hills and rock features which really do push the fitness levels. I don’t think it’s as harsh as the 3 killer steep hills at the puffer but there are some individual sections which compare.
The first half of the race was dominated by Martin and he took a commanding lead. By this point Chris Darroch had retired and took on the role of being Martin’s pit man, tacking along to the timing tent to work out what was doing what and coming up with a strategy. Richard Hay on the other hand had managed to get a spot right next to the marquee so people wintin could see the drama unfolding and how hard they were trying. His wife was there and she did an amazing job of encouraging her husband and son to keep going. After 10 laps Chris had determined there was a big enough lead to take a rest, a thing almost unheard of at the sharp end of a solo race. Naomi Frierich being the only other person I know who’s done it at the Chiller and went on to win.
Could this have been because Richard had been spotted sitting down taking a rest or just because the lead was so commanding? Either way this was the point at which the snow came down hard and it was stick or twist time for riders to really see what they were made of. Some opted for the warmth and comfort of sleeping bags and heated campervans – the extremely talented riders from Bike Radar (great vid here) cracked in the dead of night for example. Richard only stopped for a little while and got back down to the business of riding his bike. Quietly and consistently he chipped away at the gap and whilst Martin and Chris got 40 winks he managed to take the lead in the early hours of the morning. This was about the time his son Anthony was looking in a bad way as he felt the effects of the cold. Shivering uncontrollably his mother and I managed to get him to stop and at least take 5 to try and warm up.
Around 4 in the morning Chris came back into the timing tent to see what was going on. To his horror Martin was no longer in a comfortable position at the top and had in fact been overtaken. I have visions of Martin being dragged out of bed, a coffee thrown in his face and plonked on his bike to get out. He rode like an angered dragon and quickly took back chunks of time. It took 2 or 3 laps to nudge back in the lead by which time the clock was running down towards the finish. Any punctures or problems and the door would have been open for Richard to walk right through it. In the end it all went smoothly and Martin held off the valiant effort of Richard to take the top spot.
Apart from being massively tired from staying up all night, it was a privilege to watch such good racing unfold. This sat alongside the battle that Lisa Scott had to get out and take the solo female title on a single speed whilst being pretty much dead to the world. Or the fact that Andrea Pogson couldn’t stay on her feet when the ice came, Keith Fawcett knocked himself out and had everyone worried or marshal Mick Barker nearly froze to death out on the hills. This is the joy of 24 hour racing, whilst the clock is ticking the event is filled with many stories and dramas all playing out and all interconnected. We are looking forward to getting back to this awesome race on 8th/9th May and there is a sliver of light on the horizon that it could just well happen. Here’s hoping.