Mountain bike and cyclo-cross legend Nick Craig has a trophy cabinet bulging with British national titles including a hat-trick of wins in the classic Three Peaks race, and four wins in the Manx Telecom End2End Mountain Bike Challenge. He was second to Manxman Elliot Baxter in the 2012 End2End, but Nick will be on the start line for the 2013 event on September 8 looking for win number five. Here are his top tips for riders taking up the End2End challenge.
“All riders, but especially first-timers or inexperienced mountain bikers, need to start the race with a realistic target of how long it’s going to take them to complete the course,” says Nick, who rides for Scott UK. “With the first 10 to 15km on the road it’s easy for riders to find themselves in a group which will complete the course two or even three hours faster. Some riders find themselves going into the red zone on the road sections early in the race and gritting their teeth just trying to hang on to a faster group, but it would be better for them to ride at a more comfortable and realistic pace and save their energy for the hilly sections where they will need it most. I would recommend that the road section after the start is used by riders to conserve their energy and to find a group to ride with that matches their own ability level.” The first section, says Nick, is effectively a road race. So, road racing tactics apply in the sense that riders in any group should share the pace-making at the front – especially if there’s a headwind.
Food and water
Loading up with foods high in carbohydrates is important in the days before the race, as is making sure you are well hydrated. “On the day of the race it’s important to have a good high carbohydrate breakfast at least two hours before the start. For riders who know they are going to be on their bike for four, five or six hours it’s important that they eat and drink regularly starting half an hour into the race and then regularly every hour or half hour.” Think carefully about how much energy you will need to consume and use a mixture of energy gels and bars or snacks such as small jam sandwiches or pieces of banana. Also, remember that there are three feed stations along the route where you can top up with water and energy bars.
The bike – hardtail or suspension?
Nick chooses to ride a Scott MTB with suspension. For bikes of equivalent price and quality a machine with suspension will usually be slightly heavier than a hardtail bike – but Nick says that the mixture of terrain in the End2End means that it’s not a course where there is a massive advantage to be gained by using one type of machine or the other. “The End2End has a really nice mix of terrain and there are sections where a hardtail bike would be an advantage, and sections better suited to a suspension bike. But either type is perfectly fine for riding the End2End so my advice is to just ride the bike that you’re most comfortable with.”
Tread carefully – tyres, tubes, and pumps
Nick uses tubeless tyres which allow tyres to be ridden safely at lower pressures than standard tubes and tyres. “I’ll run tubeless tyres at 28psi or even 26psi over cross-country courses. A lot of guys, particularly riders who use their MTB on the road a lot, will tend to run tyres at 45 or 50psi.” It’s worth trying running lower pressures as this offers more grip but always be guided by minimum pressures recommended by the tyre manufacturer and try it before the race to get used to it. The advantage of tubeless tyres is that they can be run below 30psi without too much risk of pinch punctures.
In any MTB race it’s important to be able to make repairs to the bike yourself and prepare for any mechanical mishap. Nick recommends carrying a small ‘survival kit – saddle pack with two inner tubes in case of punctures, tyre levers, a multitool, and a chain splitter or a Power Link to rejoin a broken chain. Riders should also carry a mini hand pump or a CO2 pump – Nick carries both as the hand pump provides a back-up if CO2 systems fail or if gas canisters are used up during the event. “If you’re unlucky enough to get three punctures then you can always tie a knot in one of the tubes where the puncture is and pump it up. This should be OK to get you to the finish in an emergency.” He also carries a piece of an old toothpaste tube which can be used to patch-up cuts in tyres.
“The Manx Telecom End2End MTB Challenge is a great event,” says Nick. “No matter what your finishing time everyone has a story to tell at the end. A little thought and preparation before the event can help you get the most out of the experience and achieve your goal.”
Nick says he is looking forward to returning to ride the End2End thanks to his many friends at Microgaming who have provided great support since his first visit to the race in 2008.
For information about the Manx Telecom End2End Mountain Bike Challenge go to www.manxe2e.org