Jo Cardwell - Queen of the Mountains…

October 12 2010

Steve Deas won the main prize as overall King of the Mountains, but what of the Queen? Well, only one lady stepped up to the challenge, here's what Jo had to say...

No Fuss was doing another event that sounded right up my street.  In conjunction with Orange Bikes, they were going to combine the results of 3 of their different style events and create an “all round best mountainbiker”  award.   Being a bit of a ‘Jill of all trades’ mountainbiker has been the bane of my racing ‘career’;  Never quite ‘jey’ enough to be an XC elite;  Never quite ‘gnar’ enough to be a full on DH queen (especially as you have to be nearly as quick on the computer as you do on a bike to get a ticket to race downhill in Scotland) a competition that would reward someone with a foot in both camps seemed perfect for my ‘averageness’.   But here begins a catalogue of mediocrity and disaster that belies the outcome...

The first round for the award was the ten hour  XC endurance event of “Ten At Kirroughtree” came shortly after my starting back to training after a series of respiratory viruses and being diagnosed with Post Viral Fatigue.  I needed to do well, but couldn’t afford to knacker myself for the rest of the season.  The course at Kirroughtree was fantastic as always, technical and physically challenging. Rooty mudfests interspersed with some of the best trail-centre riding in the country.  As deteriorating course conditions followed the deteriorating weather, I too began to go downhill, but not in a good way.  I wasn’t alone when I bailed out early, though several had the choice foisted upon them by a trip in an ambulance. I felt that in the first event of the three, I should ensure I was in one piece to complete the others.  No Fuss also took the decision that things were getting a bit hairy on the course in terms of light levels and slickness, even by their standards and pulled the plug an hour early.  I was chuffed to get a trophy for being 1st Veteran Lady although I was the only old-girl entered, but this was going to be a theme for the series.

Jo Cardwell Endurance DH

The second “all-rounder” event was the Hope/No Fuss 6 hour Endurance Downhill; the aim being to ride as many descents of the Fort William World Cup downhill course in 6 hours.  The twist being that on the first lap, from the start line, competitors have to ride UPHILL for about 1.5 km to tower 9 on the Gondola line before beginning their initial descent.  Last year when I did this event, I was fresh back from competing in the Megavalanche. I’d been fit, strong and well acclimatised to long, punishing, rocky, steep riding and managed 12 runs.  This year, still not back on full form, I had feeble, spaghetti arms and a wimpy upper body and had a couple of star and bluebird inducing crashes.  The last one brought me down hard on my hip and I struggled to get my leg back over my bike.  I finished my 5th run and jacked it in feeling again that discretion was the better part of valour and also that being unable to actually get back on the bike again was somewhat of an impediment.  Incidentally,  Jenn Hopkins, super endurance and XC rider had just come back from doing the Megavalanche,  and just as I had last year, had a cracking performance of 12 runs.  It’s definitely the way to prepare for the event.  Another trophy for me, and to coin the compere “quite literally in a class of her own”... 1st ... and only…. veteran lady....  you getting the picture yet?

Jo Cardwell Tour de Ben Nevis

Break out the violins, it’s the finale...  The inaugural Orange/No Fuss Tour De Ben Nevis.   In the run up to the third and final event of the series, I had still been pretty much unable to train properly, debilitated by sore throats and chest infections and also an operation on my abdomen with a general anaesthetic.  I had so wanted to be fit and well for this event, it was in the area where I’d grown up, in the Scottish Wilderness that I love and I’d ridden the route before and really enjoying the mix of riding.   I was eagerly anticipating the terrain and scenery as 60 odd kilometres of  ‘proper’ Scottish mountain-biking.  Rocky, steep paths; long estate road climbs; thigh high river crossings; hike-a-bike up tussocky, peaty hillsides. None of your “riding in circles in muddy field margins” here, but then none of the No Fuss events are like that.

I took the view that I would just try and enjoy the ride, the company and complete the course.

I’ll skim over the torture of changing a puncture under the attrition of what felt like the entire ravenous midge population of Scotland who’d obviously come out to spectate and the adventure of the bike swallowing puddles and move on to the spectacular riding on the West Highland Way descent into Kinlochleven. Rocks, water-bars, my favourite kind of riding.  The day was fantastic until I reached the Bothy at the start of the ‘home’ stretch.  Pretty much downhill from here, unfortunately not just literally.  I set out alongside friends from Moray Mountainbike Club but felt strangely slow and powerless.  Then started the internal dialogue:

Me: “Why am I going so slowly?”

Also me: “Well you’re knackered, it’s a long route and you’re not on top form”

Me: “But I’m going reeeeeeallly slowly and it’s downhill, what’s going on?”

Also me:  “Well there’s a bit of a headwind, that’ll be taking the edge off”

Me:  “Yeah, but it’s not that strong a headwind, and it’s downhill, and I’m not all that tired, there must be something wrong with my bike”

Also me:  “Stop being a bloody wuss and pedal harder!”

Me: “I AM pedalling harder!”

This continued until we were down onto relative flat in the Leanachan Forest and Roberta and Callum, whom I can normally keep up with, just started pulling away from me.  As a pair, they were riding their own race, so I resisted a pathetic cry of “Wait for me!” as they disappeared into the distance.

 Baffled by my lack of progress I began looking down to see if I could spot anything obviously wrong with my bike.  I eventually worked out that my rear brakes were binding, stopped, pushed the pistons back and continued.  One use of the brakes and they were sticking again.  “Sod this!” I binned the pads and carried on uphill sans back brake.

Jo Cardwell - Tour de Ben Nevis

A sneaking feeling crept up on me, unlike the rest of the day, no one had passed me for ages and I hadn’t caught up with anyone.  Strange,… but not impossible, so I carried on.  A little unsettled I began to look for some sign of a hundred odd cyclists having passed by,  but I could discern no tyre marks, nothing.  Well, it was quite firm forestry road, it was possible nothing would show up…   The problem was, I found out shortly, that I was on the wrong track.  I’d spent so long gazing down at my rear wheel, brakes and gears that I’d ridden past the way-marking orange flags and headed up in the wrong direction into the foothills of the Mamores.  Reaching the dead end of an old dam and  fully realising I must be off course I turned the air blue with a full on tantrum of a hissy fit.   I retraced my tracks for a good couple of miles, and angry with myself for not checking the route card sooner, demoralised, bowed, bruised, bereft of back brake but unbroken I got back onto the course and  finished the last 10 miles to the finish at Fort William.   Trophy number 3 in the series. Yet again, 1st…. aaaaaand only….. in a class of her own……  Veteran Lady……  

All done, all three events completed.  I just wish it had been last year, I was properly fit and could have done all the events so much more justice, but, as I was the only “All round” lady entrant, I have the honour of being crowned “Queen of the Mountains” for my efforts.  I’m delighted with the title but I’ll be back next year to try and do it in better style.

Thanks to everyone who has put up with my whinging about being ill and unfit all season and in this article and everyone who has helped and encouraged me.  Thanks to No Fuss for the continuing awesomeness of their events,  the “banter and the craik”   and of course, thanks to Orange for their support of the series and individual event, I look forward to competing next time with my talent compensated for by my lovely new frame!! 

Steve Deas and Jo Cardwell - Best all round mountain biker

So for all the ladies reading, this is an official Orange roll call. Jo made an amazing effort and we hope to see more riders attending the 2011 events calendar. No Fuss organise some of the most rewarding races, and we can't wait to see you all there again next year. Thanks to everyone who took part, Chloe, Spook and Frazer at No Fuss Events and the other event sponsors that made the series possible. 

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