A Good ‘Shoe-ing
Lap two, gave me slightly more time to assess the bike. This is my second time in slippery conditions on a KTM 250 four-stroke and the bikes are absolutely incredible when the conditions are bad. Whilst all around me riders slipped, spun, lost the front, the back, or both ends at once, the 250 kept me upright and heading in the right direction. It’s only when you are forced to ride obstacles like cambers, cross-ruts and big holes that you would normally avoid at all costs, that you can really appreciate how good a bike is.
Despite the track getting even slipperier as the thin layer of pine needles was scrubbed off, I managed to up my pace. The technique was to push hard wherever you had grip (at the edges of the track or in the berms) and then simply maintain a steady throttle everywhere else. I rode almost everywhere a gear too high and the 250 simply shrugged it off, and chugged on through.
The bomb-holes, ruts and the infamous ‘Horseshoe’ (what the locals call the aforementioned ‘lake’ on the beach) were filling up with stranded riders hopelessly gunning their engines, and the bottoms of the hills were also piling up with queues or heaps (delete as appropriate) of bikes and riders. I was trying to conserve tear-offs and was also trying to stay out of trouble. I saw some nasty prangs. I passed under the Red Bull inflatable arch, slithered down the huge rocky descent and started lap three.
At this point I need to amend something that I wrote in last month’s 250XC-F write-up. In it I said that the soaking wet Lane End track was the slipperiest course I had ever ridden. And at the time that was true. But the GGN lap made that look like it had been surfaced with Shell-Grip. As the race went on two thousand bikes scrubbed the dirt away from the rocks, then set about polishing the surface to a lustrous shine.
More and more, I had to simply trust in the capabilities of the EXC-F to get me through. I the best lines through the soft and wet sections mapped-out in my head, though I often had to make immediate diversions from my planned route to get around the ever-increasing mass of now abandoned bikes, sticking upright out of the goo.
I approached the Horseshoe for the third time and hugged the left-hand side of the course, held her straight and stamped down a couple of cogs to build some speed and surf the ruts and liquid mud. Then… Bang!
I came to my senses face-down in the mud, with a searing pain in my lower back. I couldn’t feel my left hand. Some people grabbed my clothing and dragged me to the edge of the track and under the tape. I lay on my back and tried to work out what was going on. A medic leant over me and garbled something in Swedish into my helmet. I spat out a mouthful of mud and asked ‘Do you speak English?’
‘Of course, I speak perfect English’, he replied. ‘Are you feeling okay? You were hit by a guy at very high-speed, who lost control on the opposite side of the track and smashed into you. It was very impressive. He is lying there, see? He is unconscious and has a broken leg. Have you broken your arm? We would like to evacuate him first if that’s, okay? We will return your bike to the pits, who are you with?’ With that Sven [as I later found he was called] stood up and jogged off.
I’ve broken many bones over the years and I recognise what it feels like. As far as I could tell, only a rib felt dodgy, my arm seemed fine. I stood up and pulled off my torn glove. A simple squashed finger and scraped hand - no great drama. I looked around for my bike, now recovered from the track and propped on its sidestand. Close inspection revealed a missing clutch lever, but an intact hand-guard. That will explain the squashed finger then. I drunk some water and immediately felt better. Someone handed me my goggles. I decided that I hadn’t come to the far end of the Earth to go home without finishing and slung my leg over the seat. Sven appeared again. ‘Good luck, Mr Englishman - I hope you are enjoying your visit to Sweden!’ I tentatively rejoined the action…
It is further testament to the abilities of the 250, that I managed to get round to the pits with no clutch and only lost 20 minutes! I swapped gloves, gulped five beakers of water and jumped back onboard. The mechanics had already replaced the lever, checked the bike over and topped up the fuel. I felt pretty good, despite the pain from my rib.
As I started the fourth lap, I slipped off-line down a stony slope, clouted a sharp rock sticking up out of the ground and immediately heard the hiss of a tyre deflating. Rats!
So my final lap was ridden with a flat front tyre and it almost beggars belief that my time was only six minutes slower than my fastest lap. The KTM held its line and only the horrific sound of the rim crunching into rocks hinted that the tyre was punctured. The field was seriously depleted now and I actually enjoyed this lap the most.
I knew I was close to the finish and as it hove into view I spotted the light that indicated my class’ three hours were up. I peeled off up the exit lane and arrived at the finish barriers, where a line of girls were waiting to cut the transponders from each bike and to push a finisher’s medal down the back of each rider’s glove. As I pulled away to head for the paddock, mine fell out of my destroyed glove and was lost forever in the Gotland mud…