What a summer. Five consecutive race wins including BIKE Transalp, a second National Championship and now a third win at the legendary Manx End 2 End!
For us the Manx End 2 End is right up there in terms of importance just behind National Champs. With that win ticked off it was time to focus on our trip to the Isle of Man. It would be a fourth trip across the sea and after winning the title in 2014 and 2015 the pressure was on to get my name on the trophy for a third consecutive time.
With it being our fourth visit we know the island and the course pretty well. The first year we went we got completely lost around the maze of little lanes, now John who supports me knows the place so well he doesn’t need the sat nav. We always enjoy our visits here, everyone is so welcoming, the scenery is amazing, the organisers do a fantastic job, and the course is fantastic. We arrived mid afternoon Friday so had the benefit of some time to practise the important bits on the course. The race starts at the Point of Ayre Visitor Center which is the furthest point north on the island and finishes after 73km and 1500m ascent in Port Erin all the way down on the south coast.
After a quick TV interview with BIKE Channel who were filming the event it was time to race. The programme with be on Sky TV, Virgin Media and Freesat in a few weeks time. There is a long road section to start and during the past few years there’s been a few people try their luck to escape off the front. This year though one of the local teams clearly had a plan and 4 of them attacked hard from the very start, I didn’t recognise any of them so didn’t see the need to chase them down. As it turned out there were a couple of pretty handy people in this breakaway, the pressure was on. Surely though they’d just expend loads of energy on the 20km road section and then blow later in the race?
The breakaway built a 5 minute gap by the end of the road section and were well out of sight. As soon as the route turns offroad it hits the first of several hard climbs, this completely split the race apart with just 4 of us left chasing the 4 person breakaway. All the favourites were in our group of 4. Through the first feed zone and we’d already taken 1 minute 30 off the breakaways lead which put them back in view. By the next feed at St Johns we’d caught the escapees and entered the next climb together.
After this climb came the first of 2 sections of singletrack, these were the parts where I was most worried the riders from the Isle of Man could get a gap because they had the benefit of knowing the trails. First up was the Arrasey Plantation trails which Nick Corlett led down, I followed conservatively in second not wanting to risk a mechanical or crash. Nick got a few bike length gap on me but we were quickly all back together. Up the next climb the group stayed together with the pace feeling pretty controlled. At the top I made sure to lead into the Glen Rushen trails to block any of the locals trying to get a gap, I’d won the event in 2014 from this point so knew it was possible to solo to the finish.
Up the next climb we dropped the group was down to 3; Nick, Elliott Baxter and myself all watching each other like hawks. I knew where I wanted to attack so was happy to wait and see who would pounce first. Nick tried an attack going over the top into the next downhill but I snuck back past to make sure I led through this trail which was very muddy and rutted in between the northshore style wooden bridges which form much of this section.
At the bottom of the penultimate climb Elliott is next to make his move but I’m quickly on the wheel and as he slows I counter attack. This is just like training at home, just 2 more hill reps till the finish, full gas. I get a gap quickly but it stabilises at around 30 seconds, my worry is that there is a massive headwind which Elliott and Nick could use to their benefit if they share the work to catch me. Down the descent and onto the next climb, last effort, this is what I train for 7 days a week, go go go.
I edge out the lead to a minute and can look back from the top of the next climb at Bradda view point and see the rivals chasing in the distance. Now last descent to the beach side finish in Port Erin, no risks, safely does it. Onto the finish straight, I can smile, 3 times winner of the Manx End 2 End.