Bristol Oktoberfest – Better than Munich…
Aaa, summer. How beautiful while it fleetingly lasts, and how sad to see it go. Still, if there’s one thing to look forward to when the nights grow shorter and the ambient temperature drops, it’s the approach of October, because when the tenth month starts, that means Oktoberfest is not far away.
The Bristol Oktoberfest is the second of two classic annual events held at Ashton Court, a stone’s throw from the mouth of the Severn – an eight hour mountain bike endurance race, there are categories for teams of four, pairs, or (for the truly masochistic) solo entries in male, female and mixed forms, with further subdivisions for single speeds and old git racers. As such, it attracts a wide variety of abilities, including the returning Team NTG MTB, back to have a second crack at the excellent single track on offer after our great (if tough!) endurance debut at June’s Bike Fest.
Instead of putting ourselves through the grinding pre-race endurance test of camping, we set some early-morning alarms and charged down the M5 first thing. An early start, to be fair, but given the fairly grim weather in the build up, it was the better choice – on arrival we were greeted by a cheerful Oktoberfest-hat-type-wearing-type who guided us to park on the access road as the camping field was having some hydration issues. Team captain Jonno stepped up to the batter’s plate first of all, taking his place for the Le Mans style running start amongst the hundreds of other riders – I held his Stanton as the galloping hordes charged back up the hill, with more than a few entrants somehow accidently arriving a little late and giving themselves somewhat less of a distance to run. Strange how that happens.
As nine o’clock passed us by, the race started and a great torrent of riders came sprinting past me, a train that ran for maybe ten minutes before the last stragglers pottered by. Jon got a solid midpack start and battled his way through the traffic to complete lap one in under 43 minutes, a lap quicker than some teams who ended up 20 places or more above us – Steve went after El Capitan and logged an even quicker lap, with Luke putting a great performance in position three and me pottering nervously about on the peripheries as the anchor number four. By the time Luke handed over the team scrunchy, I’d been watching bike racing for almost ninety minutes and was tortured by a mixture of performance anxiety and a sense of gagging to get involved. No matter – time to suck it up and get stuck in.
Job number one was to charge through the rock garden, and I wasn’t in there many seconds before a most welcome experience occurred – I caught someone up. This was a bit of a new one for me, as I spent most of Bike Fest getting out of people’s way, and the rock garden’s not an easy place to pass. Consequentially, as traffic backed up behind the pair of us, I felt the onset of a needless touch of pressure and ran ride on a slick section, out of everyone’s way. Cursing under my breath, I joined the back of the snake as we pedalled out of the woods and into the field that loops up to where the finish line was or Bike Fest – and I overtook a couple more riders. Me! Overtaking people! It was just great.
Ashton Court was every bit as wonderful as it had been earlier in the year, the flowing single track largely impervious to the wet weather – the sole concession to the elements was the rather impressive construction of a wooden bridge over a particularly marshy section of trail, but the track rode really well and was little the worse at the end of eight hours of racing. Team NTG MTB’s one lap stint policy worked well once more, the 5.7 miles round the course plenty for the likes of our legs (although again, there were lunatics doing the whole thing on their own – madness, I tell thee) and working out so that we each had three laps, but by the time I rolled into the transition area for the final lap, we were up against it. In a desperation move, I left the saddle bag, Camelbak and pump at the van to save weight and took off needing to lap about five minutes quicker than I had done all day. I gave it everything, I swear, I left it all out on the track – by the time I
started the last climb, I was done for. Then some clown , with a dazzling sense of humour, shouted out that there were ten seconds left – gritting my teeth, I turned myself inside out over the last 200 metre climb, came close to stacking in front of the crowd on the finish line jump, then had to invest five minutes or so in serious hyperventational recovery mode. I’d missed the cut by, oooo, five minutes or so which made the last minute or so of torture entirely unnecessary. Thanks, Mr Clown Man.
Final climb idiocy aside, Oktoberfest was every bit as much fun as the Bike Fest earlier in the year, with an easygoing atmosphere and plenty of riding on a wonderful course. I said it after Bike Fest and I’ll say it again here – if you’ve never done an event like this, don’t be intimidated, your fellow competitors are all lovely people (even if some of them are much, much quicker ), the track is superb, and you will have a brilliant time. Can I add a proviso? I was a bit fitter for the second race, and it definitely made it more fun, but you absolutely do not have to be Thomas Frischknecht to enjoy it. I was more like Thomas the Tank Engine, and I still survived….