The Kielder Chiller first came onto the team NIER radar towards the end of 2016, when looking for a quad team event to follow-up the solo Strathpuffer. The words ‘it’ll be fun, a bit of a social event’ were mentioned. Well in typically 24hour racing fashion, it was fun and a great team event for all who participated from NIER.
The mid-February 2017 race weekend weather forecast was predicting a mixed bag, unfortunately that bag didn’t contain anything other than rain, hail, snow, and wind! However, those conditions don’t put off a team who’s become very adapt and organised for year round MTB endurance events.
We rolled into the picturesque surroundings of Kielder Castle Visitor Centre early Saturday morning, and were directed to our spot in the top car park. In was raining, which became a common theme for the rest of the weekend. As usual the undeterred dedicated band of fellow racers and support crews were already busy setting their pitches, turning a dull car park into a colourful scene of sponsored vehicles and gazebos.
It didn’t take long before the NIER Team gazebos were erected with our own Chia Charge banners clearly on show. Ever present team pit man Dean built-up a super professional bike rack, and the inside of the gazebo was adorned with the essentials which would help keep the team rolling, notably the old portable gas fire aka ‘the life saver’.
We’d all watched the video posted by the High Fells events team, so had some idea of the course. However, the passage of a couple of weeks and some heavy rain meant the course was now very wet and muddy, a combination which would present some mechanical challenges as the race progressed.
Under damp skies the race started at noon. The course was a mixture of technical single track and fire roads, with some steep climbs thrown into the mix, which made for a challenging lap. Richard went out first and got NIER into second place after the first lap, followed by Nigel, Donna, and Michal, who collectively established us as first mixed quad team throughout the afternoon. The rain never let up and it took a few laps for each rider to workout what clothing would allow them to ride hard and keep their body temperature at an optimum level. Not surprisingly it didn’t take long before the inside of the gazebo resembled a Chinese Laundry, with the little ‘life saver’ working overtime.
Michal went out into the darkness just before 6pm, and 45 minutes later Donna was waiting ready for her next lap. As the minutes ticked by and Michal didn’t appear, we all started to fear something had happened to him. It was over an hour and half before he came running into view, having punctured twice, resulting in him running a number of miles back to base camp. A swift transition saw Donna on her way, NIER still holding first place, but with a much reduced lead.
24 hour endurance are really only made possible with a strong pit team, and NIER have the an awesome team in Dean and Sally. Dean washed, cleaned, and oiled the bikes 30 times. He changed countless sets of brake pads (the wet conditions and sandstone made superb grinding paste), fixed a snapped chain, and sorted out a new set of tyres for Michal. Sally kept us watered and fed, she looked after us and helped us stay organised when our minds were getting tired, and she listened to the many race stories we told after each lap. These tough winter events really do show it’s about a winning ‘team’.
The team continued to ride well throughout the night, even with the weather deteriorating, to a point that saw many competitors retire to their sleeping bags. We noticed the bikes were starting to freeze and the track in places became icy. But spirits remained high, and even in the dark, we focused on the positives, collectively agreeing that the wooded single track sections really were a highlight of the lap, egging-on each rider to push hard and leverage their bike handling skills.
As the dark faded into the first morning light, we’d completed 24 laps and had a lead of over a lap on our nearest mixed quad rivals. Racing being racing though, you can never rest, and none of the team backed off, with the Strathpuffer racers of the team showing their form and fitness levels gained through a winter of hard riding.
Midday Sunday, 28 laps had seen NIER to victory in the Mixed Quad category in the 2017 inaugural Kielder Chiller. We’d survived some tough conditions, many mechanical challenges, and an event which most seasoned racers agreed had been a real challenge.