MacAvalanche 2012 pt 1:snow,sunburn,29er death wish action.

Who would race the punishing MacAvalanche on a fully rigid 29er? Ace Mad Dog Woodley, that’s who!

Part one, and Mad Dog attempts the seeding race with a frozen rear hub!

Words and photos: MacAce Mad Dog Woodley

I believe Noel Coward penned a song for people like me, “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” I decided to race test a 29er, but I don’t have access to the latest gear and bikes so had to wing it a bit.

So on Friday night I get confirmed to race, very early Saturday morning I head off to Glen Coe for the 2nd Mac-Avalanche and we are getting more snow this time. As it turns out I hate riding in snow, last year was like riding through wet marbles, and this year will be my second attempt at riding in snow. I can’t win this event, I am not even a contender, it’s a unique mountain race in the UK and attracts a very broad mix of riders and racers, and No Fuss events try to keep things on the laid back side.

Mad dog Ace Woodley and his Surly Karate Monkey 29er.

There was an element of pre-event planning to this for me, first off I checked with Frazer about racing my bike, if he said “NO” then it wouldn’t have happened, also we where hoping to have a Surly Moonlander snow/sand bike to keep me company, but the dates clashed and Charlie the bike monger was abroad for the SSEC, and I also ran the plan past Surly as well. In short Pat Campbell Jenner is doing the Megavalanche on a 29er so I will do the Macca on one as well, just my bike was not really suitable for the task in hand. I like a bit of adventure, and it was.

Setting up in Glencoe carpark.

The sun was out all the way up, I stopped at Hamilton services near Glasgow and the excitement started as you could see the snow capped peaks on the horizon, I was going beyond what I saw, it wasn’t until you go through Crianlarich and through the snow gates that you got full effect as you climb up onto the moor. I was surprised at how many riders where already kitted up and waiting for the chairlift to open, lots of people on lots of big bikes, I was worried now.

I tend to take Frazer some beers from England, got them out the car, dropped one, smashed, picked up the glass and sliced through the top of my thumb…not a good start. Bleed all over the car and find the first aid kit, then go to sign in, leave remaining beers and have breakfast. I only went for a coffee and bacon roll as a bit nervous, I go to change my dressing while I wait for food, come back and Spook has eaten it, it’s going to be one of those weekends, maybe I should go home now.

Spook and Skullers doing some flag erecting on the lower slope, the uplift is in full swing, the track layout has changed to last year. I go and build the rigid raider, armour up and hit the lift.

Emergency energy gel taped to the bars.

It’s when you near the end of lift one you see the summit come into view, oh boy, really scared now, not as much snow cover as I thought but loads more than last year. It’s sunny, a gentle breeze over the mountain.

Ride across the plateau and chairlift two. This will be the start for seeding runs later today. The plan is to keep riders off the snow slopes to keep them in good condition for Sunday. I saddle up and see what trauma lies ahead. More peat bog this year, this is so random, submerged rocks, big holes even 29″ wheels get stuck as I find out when I go in up to the front axle and go over the bars, we loop out and back to the top of the first chairlift, then we join the rocky horror of the Glen Coe DH track, scary, loose rocks, I roll through and follow the gates.

The track is marked like a ski run, taped up red pole gateways to aim for and go through. We exit the DH track and head out across the old army road/jeep track rough rutted rocky muddy slushy few hundred meters then drop back onto the moorland and thread your way through the gates and holes and bogs, so many wheel stopping ruts, I am able to hack up high on off camber bits to stay out of ruts, the grip of wagon wheels is welcome. The moor becomes track again and not much different to the DH track, not as groomed, the top of the final descent makes me pucker up, the last 400 metres are not so steep, still rough I find the smooth lines and make it down. Then go and check the brakes.

The double takes I get as I ride through the car park are something else, couple of lads ask if I am in the right place…then one of them recognises me “you’re that nutter that does the world cup track on a hardtail”, yep, I confirm that and the mood swings to “you know what you’re doing then” then loads of questions, do the brakes work, how rough is it etc. etc., no one wants to get passed by me, I expect to come last, others are finding it hard going on big bikes, the rigid raider has dumped a ton of pressure on them.

The uplift shuts to riders at 11.45, pre-race brief 12.30 random group selection for seeding. Race day will see Class A, B, C, and Ladies. Where you place in seeding sorts your final Class, so top third of seeding groups will form Class A race. First group is called and we head up.

A roll in start, several in my group have or do race world cups…crap. On top of this the cold weather has affected the grease in my freewheel, it’s gone thick and stuck the pawls down. I try spinning the cranks both ways trying to generate some heat to free them up, but it’s not working, mechanicals can hit anyone anytime, I am up against world cuppers and have no drive, I can’t pedal.

I set up near the back, pick my line go wide left everyone else is trying high right or dead centre, all aiming at a small gate in rutted snow filled bomb-hole, 5,4,3,2,1…go!!!

I scoot off go wide, big pile up in the hole, jump off run through drop loads of riders and away…well I would have been if my freewheel worked, I got a banging start but couldn’t hold it, have a massive over the bars in the bog, this disconnected the front brake, fix that go again, and play chase with a few other riders, I manage to pass some then ride with some then pull away.

Hit the down hill track, brake test, let go, ride the Monkey like a big BMX and pump and jump, landings into loose rock where it’s damn scary, hit the jeep track and pump it, hit one of the rollers to fast tried to jump out, did it, but an almighty “twang” from the fork which turned out to be the lower headset bearing letting go.

Off the track, more bog moorland, start gaining on a blue Orange 5, I am on the limit of control and as we leave the steep turns on the rocky track I start shouting rider and try to overtake him, nearly done it but couldn’t pedal he pulled away and I just couldn’t catch him, last 200 meters of track slowly clawing it back, last turn, wet grass, drop in tarmac finish, then try to decide if I should throw up or sit down.

Number 24 Shivers on a red bike, Rob Heslop at the start he reckoned he had a spare freewheel in his toolbox, then I beat him and bought it off him, top bloke thank you for your help.

This is just my seeding group times, not everyone’s time, lets have a close look, bottom third so class C for Sunday, lets think about that, I had no drive and had to run/scoot/pump my way down, if my freewheel had not played up I might have scraped into Class B, scary thought, add gears better brakes and a suspension fork, would have made Class B.

I check the bike over and motor up to Fort William to Alpine bikes, grab some spare brake pads and another freewheel and to update Jesse on antics down at Glen Coe, then scoot over to the Nevis range.

The plan was to just run another freewheel, fit it, damn it 1″1/8, both of them, I have 3 chains none 1″1/8 so the Shimano freewheel gets beaten apart, too late to get another chain today, try and fix my freewheel or wait for shops to open on Sunday, lost a few bearing balls, unstuck the pawls, beat the thing back together again, then to test it rode up to the wall ride and lobbed the Monkey down the motorway, immense fun.

Back to the Fort for food and fuel and had a look in Morrison’s for a junior hacksaw so I could cut down my seat post, didn’t find one. Back to Glen Coe big plate of chips and a large Martell, then curl up under two sleeping bags and sleep in the car.

That’s day one done, more to come in part two, the race. and for more info on upcoming events and riding.


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