Doing events is sometimes about discovering new places to ride and meeting fellow riders. The Isle of Mann was never a destination I had thought about riding. I prefer longer events, single laps, unsighted, where you have to keep your wits about you on every climb and descent, never knowing what is coming next. The Manx 100miler appealed, especially as there were only bag drops as opposed to organised feed stations, the rider having to plan their nutritional needs for each drop. It was a single lap, taking in many of the best trails the island had to offer.
The win was a surprise. I was almost a DNS and then a DNF. 9 days earlier a left sided disc prolapse had left me unable to walk upright, forcing an antalgic right lateral shift of my pelvis. Nothing overly new to me, 2 minor prolapses in the past 18 months due to long standing lumbar disc degeneration, but this was the worst yet. Consistent off the bike strength and conditioning has kept me strong, but never managed to improve my left lower limb weakness. I couldn’t walk properly, but I could ride, ironically the only position in which I felt no discomfort. It started to settle during the week, a couple of test rides and I found myself on the ferry to the Isle of Mann. Stubborn or stupid? I was going to find out.
This is the 3rd edition of the Manx100, 100miles or 100km, and its popularity has grown each year with a number of strong riders making the journey over. These weren’t easy miles either, with around 5200m of climbing for the 100miler and 3500m for the 100km. No alpine esque climbs, but their respective profiles looking like a old croc’s teeth.
The event was the brainchild of local riders Nigel Morris and Guy Whaley talking in a pub saying how easy the End to End race was. With the potential to make a harder event, why not? Guy swapped roles and has now become one of the few competitors to have competed in all additions of the event.
With beers leading the planning, a draft route was mapped of 140km, then upped to 160km and the Manx100 was born. Other riders were drafted in to help in the logistics and wives for the homemade food spread at the end. Which was fab.
Year 1 had 12 riders, won by Julian Corlett. Year 2 had 20 riders, won by Rich Rothwell, year 3 had 60 entered with 50 starting, around half being majority being local riders. Years 1 and 2 ran as a point to point (north to south) event. This changed for this year to make logistics easier for all riders, especially those making the trip over. Accommodation and the start at the Manx TT Grandstand are all within easy riding distance of the ferry port. This made the route tougher, gone was the opening flat 12mile section, replaced by a 1.5 mile warmup! The metric was introduced as a stepping stone to ultra 100 mile events and is as tough if not tougher than UK marathons.
On the boat over there were a number of endurance specialists, all talking of what was to come, 1x11 and light weight hardtails, constantly checking the weather report. It wasn’t quite looking like the heat wave being experienced elsewhere in the UK.
Sunday dawned sunny, but being a wilderness race and with a wet forecast for later in the day, being prepared was going to be essential. Organisers strongly advise carrying an emergency blanket and a whistle, as out on the hills tops it will be you, the bike, the weather and a few marshalls.
A GPS and printable route is sent out to all competitors a week in advance, but this is not a navigation race as it is well sign posted. It is just up to riders to keep their head up looking for signs! I was guilty though of head down moments and missing a sign or 2. Having the gps on the Garmin 800 was a worthwhile backup.
The start wasn’t as steady as expected, Jason Miles setting the pace along with Ian Leitch (great to see him back on the circuit). From the Grandstand, a police escort led us through Onchan and out into the backcountry. A small climb helped set the legs, Jason pushing the pace. Those first few miles set the scene for the day. Hitting the trails, it was rocky, very very rocky. Tyre busting type of rocks with no obvious line through. Bike handling determining speed and line choice.
Lightweight xc tyres would be chewed up. I was on Continental Race Kings 2.2 protections, a little on the heavier side, but worth it for their durability. Bike choice was the Niner Jet9 RDO, for its ability to climb and smooth out the trail.
It wasn’t long before we were on the first major climb and descent, the lead group of 6 staying together, but Jason became the first casualty of the terrain, a split in a sidewall. The climbs were unrelenting, some steep, straight up the hillside, others zig zagging their way up, pedaling style keeping tyres from slipping out.
When food and fluid is finely calculated, losing a full bottle is never helpful. Bag drop 1 couldn’t have come soon enough, not without a long climb up Ohio Plantation and over Narradale bogs to East Mountain Gate to get there though. 2 large bottles, a replenishment of MuleBar liquorice bars and some gels, along with a banana and fig rolls should I feel like some other foods.
From here we crossed part of the TT circuit and into the only section of hike a bike up a steep grassy hillside, and a steep rear wheel slide back down the other side of Snaefell Mines. Least the bracken offered a soft landing. By this point, the field was well spread out. The pace was steady as we enjoyed the riding and sunshine. Enjoying the Road of the Graves descent, a fast and strewn with large rocks, my luck was out. Catching a spoke, it snapped, bringing me to a grinding halt as it punctured the tubeless rim tape, causing an instant rear flat. Luckily and surprisingly though, my back was holding out.
Riders in 5th and 6th came past, stopping to check that I was ok before carrying on. Thanks guys. The tube wouldn’t inflate fully, punctured? Wasn't sure. I ambled down the rocky descent with 15psi in the rear and came across Ian Leitch who had suffered a similar fate. His was a little worse. I lent him my spoke tool, his wheel in bad shape. Borrowing his pump, my tyre was back up and it was back on, averting a DNF. For now.
The route wasn’t exclusive of roads, but it strayed from the main ones, except for the very briefest of sections, sticking to rolling and picturesque backcountry roads through tiny hamlets and across the moors. Frustration got me turning the pedals harder. I thought that it would have been my back slowing me up, not a flat, but that’s the nature of the beast of ultra events.
Passing, what was now 4th, 3rd wasn’t far away. I passed him on a tough, rocky climb. I was fighting for forward momentum over the rocks, the body tired from playing catch up, but this guy could descend. Over each hilltop, the views were stunning, the type you would usually linger a long moment for. At 52 miles in a brief respite for some, a chance to pedal fast, a fast, clear section of flat singletrack. It didn’t last long, 2 miles and it was back into the hills.
Without knowing it, every climb I was inching closer to the 2 riders a la tete du course. The climbing was steep, and it was stifling hot. At 55miles, one local resident took pity having left their hosepipe out at the end of their driveway with a sign offering drinking water (“Water for All Manx 100 Competitors, You Nutters!”). The fresh water was highly welcome as it was a long way up.
The rider behind was riding well, catching me back up at bag drop 2 at 60miles just as the weather was turning. He donned a jacket as I opted to stay in my GoreBikeWear gilet and arm warmers as the trail ahead meandered its way skyward up the mountain and into the mist. I dug harder to get some distance.
The legs were complaining now, the Rotor Q rings helping to keep them turning over. I had the climbs and descents to myself, the now persistent mist and drizzle hovering over the hill tops, reducing any chance of seeing the stunning views.
Despite the Marshalls at the various checkpoints, this did feel like a wilderness ride out on the hills, having to be self sufficient in planning what you would need at each bag drop. This just added to the appeal of the Manx100.
I had no idea how much time I had lost to the lead pair, but the effort had paid off, catching them back up with about 25miles to go. It was good to have company again though. Then the rain came in. Heavy, cold showers settling into drizzle. Grabbing food and fluid at drop 3, we dropped into managed swooping, wooded singletrack, the kind of trails you want to ride again and again. The climbing didn’t stop though, but they became shallower and shorter as the route passed through managed plantations with more sweeping singletrack. We lost Billy, the South African to a mechanical, so it was just myself and Mark Carey. We yo yoed, me getting distance on the climbs, him catching up on the singletrack descents. Carey was good.
With 10 miles to go and a final long climb, I saw that he was spinning. Into the big ring and I pushed hard on every incline, trying to get some distance. Cursing myself for having to backtrack a little once as I missed a sign, I maintaining it until the end, for a marginal win of 4 minutes.
The finish wasn’t quite the end, there was still 2 hilly miles back to the Grandstand (non competitive and on the road, with a generous time allocation). The end was a handshake from the organiser Nigel, a welcome cuppa and a host of homemade pizza, baps and cake. Great stuff. When 2nd and 3rd came over the line Nigel organised the champagne and hand made medals. The podium was the same as that used for the TT. The throng of the crowd was slightly smaller! I was quite surprised to see Ian and Jason already back. They took the 100km option in the end due to persistent mechanicals. Always a shame to be taken out of a race like that, as I nearly was. Would have been good to have taken on the full distance with them. A dose of stubbornness and stupidity got me through the Manx 100. The back could have gone either way, luckily it held out.
Fully or hardtail? The route has its moments, exhilarating and challenging where a fully works best, keeping rear end traction where a hardtail has be coerced into keeping its line. Just bring some tough tyres, there is no mercy out on these trails.
The Manx100 is an event put together by local riders who wanted to create a challenging, yet exhilarating ultra event and they have succeeded. It is worth the trip out, ride it or race it, either way you’ll get back smiling (and a little sore). I'll be back.
Logistics are straight forward:
Get the ferry over http://www.steam-packet.com/ as a foot passenger if traveling solo.
Accommodation options are numerous along the Promenade, all within walking distance of the town and a short ride (uphill) to the TT Grandstand.
Entries are now open https://www.manxmtb.com/mmbc-events-list/eventdetail/386/-/the-manx-100.html
Event website www.manx100.com0