By Mike Phillips…….

Velospeed is a mountain bike club that meets every Sunday at an ‘out of the way’ location meandering through places you would never otherwise see. 

They are very informal and their ethos follows our own club (Girne Goatbusters) in that it’s more about the smiles, than the miles even though they do clock up the miles.  That said, annually, they host the Karpaz Challenge.  This was a serious event that not only tests your strength and stamina but also your skills too. Last year, of the 50 riders who started the challenge, only 15 finished!

Angelina and I like to think that we are bike fit but realized that if we were going to finish strong, we needed to put some serious training in place.  Over the course of the two weeks’ prior to the challenge, we hit the roads, trails and hills hard, culminating in our last ride on Thursday 25th April cycling over 76km and climbed a staggering 2,150 meters (higher than Troodos).  We were ready…..!!!

Saturday 28th April finally arrived and we had completed all the checks on the bikes, tuned the suspension and reset the derailleurs after stripping, greasing and putting them back together for a perfect gear change.  All equipment was checked and double checked.  The bikes were loaded onto the car and after Allyson came around to dog sit, we departed for the Dipkarpaz, excited and a touch nervous, for what lay ahead.

The meeting place was the ‘Wooden Houses’ in Dipkarpaz where we would be staying that night.  After settling in, we met in the restaurant for a fabulous meal and a briefing on the following days events. We then retired to Wooden House No.1 to listen to some of the great (and not so great) singers amongst the riders but I have to say, all were equally enthusiastic and a good time was had by all.

The following morning was upon us in flash.  After an early breakfast (gone was the laughter filled noisy atmosphere of the night before), a last check of all the equipment, a final safety briefing in both Turkish and English and all 43 riders were off.

The pace was quick and easy as we headed North down to the Oasis Hotel and then turning East into the Karpaz wilderness where for me, the real fun began. The next 20km was full of long hard technical climbs up and some spectacular and challenging descents. And that sadly, is where my Karpaz Challenge ended.  After arriving at the top of one of the long hard climbs, I found myself with only one of the younger riders behind me.  Eager to establish a bit of dominance, I set off down a steep long section full of gullies and rock gardens, like a bat out of hell. As I reached the hairpin bend, I locked up the back wheel, spun the bike around 180° ready to start down the next section.  I looked back up from where I’d come, I could see no one following, but looking down into the valley, I could see the car and support team.

I was ahead and by a good margin and feeling pretty pleased with myself. I sped off and approached the middle section reaching speeds of nearly 40kph, I was hopping rocks and ridges as if they were never there. A smile filled my face that would shame a Cheshire Cat.  I weaved, bounced and threw my bike around as if it were a part of me.  I am simply not literate enough to describe the sense of euphoria that ran through me. Well, that is, right up until the moment that it all went wrong. They say that Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.  I was definitely suffering from both as I caught the top of a large rock with my front wheel throwing my weight forward.  My bike ricocheted free but I had already spotted my doom, another gulley about 5metres ahead and I was too far over the handlebars to pull the bike clear. At my current speed, I was in the gulley before I could finish thinking, “Oooooh sh*te!!”.  Adopting a ‘Clark Kent’ pose, I was catapulted out over the handlebars.  I really didn’t want to see what was coming next, it was simply a case of ‘brace for impact’ and hope for the best.

I remember my right arm making the first contact, my padded gloved hand pushing rocks out of the way, as I dug my own runway.  Next, my head made contact or rather my helmet as it bulldozed the ground in front of me and tried to rattle out my teeth. I felt a sudden tug at my arm and instinctively knew that it wasn’t good.  I continued to slide down the hill as I tried to roll onto my back to protect my arm and face.  Then, as quick as it had happened, it was all over and I had stopped.  Even the noise of my bike following me had ceased. I cautiously picked myself up and surveyed the damage.  Blood was running down my arm and there was a hole about 10cm long by 1cm wide, where I could see my muscle and tendons inside my forearm and I was losing a lot of blood.  I needed a bigger first aid pack than the little thing I was carrying, so I sorted out my chain, checked my bike and rode down the rest of the way to the car with a now misshaped saddle (never seen that before). My plan was to wrap a bandage around my arm and carry on….

The first aid pack was opened and the cleanup began so we could assess exactly what was under all the gravel and dirt stuck to the wound.  By this time, the other riders were coming in and as luck would have it, one of the Velospeed riders is a Doctor (well, actually, he is a Gynecologist which is similar to a doctor, only I suspect, a little more fun).  He looked at my gaping bleeding wound and I wasn’t sure if his expression was due to the wound severity or it had simply reminded him of something he had seen earlier on in the week, but in any case, it was clear either way that I could no longer continue.  A long trip to the local clinic and 9 stitches later, I was back with the riders for lunch, feeling like I had been hit by a car.  Over the next couple of days, that feeling went from car, to truck to train wreck.

After lunch, the riders continued with new vigor.  They were now on the road section and a 4×4 with a trailer followed the riders while another vehicle took the lead.  Between them, with the help of radios, they not only managed the riders but the traffic too. The sun was now at its highest and beating down on the riders with a 31°c stick.  An hour later and we started seeing the first riders struggling.  However, no one wanted to give up and it was heartwarming watching the better riders encourage the slower riders.

Nearly 50km in and the riders had established themselves into the ‘Fast Pack’, the Main Body’ and the ‘Stragglers’.  It was here that the first of the struggling riders decided to call it a day.  They were both mentally, as well as physically drained.  Like clockwork, the bikes were added to the trailer and the riders escorted back to the Start/Finish line.  The last five kilometers was a long hard climb up from sea level to Dipkarpaz.  This was anticipated to finish off anyone who was now struggling and it certainly took its toll amongst some of the riders. It was an exceptionally hot day for the time of year and the pace at the end had become ruthless as the fast pack could smell the finishing line.  An hour or so more and all the riders were safely home.  Not all had made it under their own steam but all had my admiration for the effort and sheer will power they had displayed.  This was only surpassed by the effort of the VeloSpeed team who ran a first class operation.  At the end of long hot hard day, there was only one casualty, me!  I would really like to thank everyone by name but this would be like the star wars credits.

For me, this was a day of very mixed emotions.  I was bitterly disappointed and angry with myself for having invested so much, to have crashed out spectacularly at the end of the technical section.  At that time, my ego hurt more than my body (but believe me, that was about to change over the course of the next few days).  However, I was immensely proud of my wonderful Wife and Best Friend Angelina, who crossed the finish line in fourth place but was the first woman across the line.  On day four of my recovery, I went from feeling like I’d been in a train wreck to a plane crash when I made a chance remark suggesting that luck was with my wife when I spilled, otherwise she would have finished in 5th Place…Ouch, Women…!!!

Editors note:

To read more of Mike and Angelina Phillips visit the Facebook page of Girne Goatbusters cycling club please click here