Man, we love mountain bike duathlons, of which The Stinger is clearly universally recognised as the finest example.
There's loads of reasons for it, but one of the main ones is that the final positions are never decided until the winners stagger across the line. We've hosted / watched / feigned interest in cross country mountain bike racing for a number of years. Admittedly, the starts are pretty exciting, occasionally a bit too exciting if you're involved in the bun fight, then everyone finds themselves a bit of personal space and that tends to be the racing over for the day. I remember a local rider telling me of the boredom of circuit racing until the last 20 minute chaos ensues. He always wished he could be air-lifted in for the exciting bit at the end. In cross country, we tend to be racing for about the first 2 minutes, and then doing a solo time-trial for the next hour and a half. Still fun, still exciting to be riding your bike at max chat, but ultimately not really racing.
Barring mechanicals (not so common these days, but as no-one fixes anything any more, game over when they happen), crashes (pretty common at our races), or loss of the will to live (cyclo-cross) once the first lap is completed you can pretty much print off the final standings, do the podiums and start taking in the arrows.
The Stinger was not like that at the weekend, and the first to finish the run is rarely the ultimate victor. Plymouth's Farrer brothers were racing head-to-head, and while Ross was first of them to finish the first 5 km run, as soon as he jumped onto his bike (borrowed) and we spotted that he was using flat pedals the writing was on the wall. In this particular niche sport, it's ALL about the bike. Ross finished sixth in the end while his bro Ben, having served his penance this winter racing 'cross, left him for dead to take the win, despite being 3 minutes in arrears after the run.
So for mountain bikers, a whole load of overtaking is the order of the day, and you have the buzz of banging in flying lap times compared to all the Ron Hill Trackster wearers in front of you. This is the point in the conversation where MTBers generally say the classic "I can't run!" cop-out. Come round to our house, I'll get a bottle of something highly combustible and a box of matches and prove to you that you can run. Guaranteed. If you count yourself as a semi-serious fit cyclist, or even worse a competitive cyclist, but can't muster up a 30 minute jog you should be ashamed of yourself. Bike Motion's Alex Dawson classes himself as a running-hater, but took his man-up pills and watched the whole world run away from him at the start. During the reckoning of the 20km bike leg, he wiggled his way to 2nd senior and took home the goodies, along with several kilos of Newnham Park mud.
We love the planning and preparation of The Stinger. The participants are generally not serious triathletes and don't make us suffer the sight of them running in tri-suits, which always looks like a man doing keepie-ups with a button mushroom. The amount of kit carted into the transition area varies between those clearly packing for an Arctic campaign to those who go for the intimidating policy of travel light, move fast, blow up after an hour. Our favourite has always been the Grand Vet XC racer who carries a shoe horn into transition to help him change footwear 'quickly'. Unfortunately most racers are actually undone by their OCD need to do double knots in their laces, shoe horns be damned.
So how do you carry your stuff? Do you fill your pockets with your spares and snacks as usual, only to have them bounce out as soon as you break into a jog? Do you stoop to a camelbak or (heaven forbid) a bum-bag? The evidence would suggest that you don't ride on flat pedals if you want to be Top Cat, but do you run in SPDs, which Rob Lee chose to do a couple of years ago? I think he'd had a bit of a brain fart to be honest, and the fact that he also ran in cycle helmet and gloves indicated that someone else probably packed his bag for him.
Transition at a duathlon tends to be a hysterical place to be. Prior to the race, it is a beautifully regimented space, with everything lined up ready for kit muster. Riders pace out the distance between the entrance to the zone to their bikes, making 100% sure that all their gear is to hand. Then the race starts, they enter transition for the first time, all sweat, snot and swearing and put their cycle helmet on backwards. They fumble with their buckles, can't get skin-tight gloves on over sausage fingers, forget to take any tools and go the wrong way out of transition on someone else's bike. The once orderly zone now looks like the shoe table at a jumble sale, and while it is reasonably easy to spot your bike in transition when the red mist is down, try to spot your muddy size nines after an hour of red-lining it on your MTB. As I write this there is still a man in Newnham Park, wandering round in a muddy tri-suit, trying to find a left foot Salomon.
There used to be a reasonably sizeable group of folk who used to 'specialise' in MTB duathlons, but as the number of events have declined over the years, so the number of hard-core MTB duathletes has diminished. This is no bad thing and leaves the events wide open for an unexpected winner. No-one loves a pot hunter, and the English love an underdog. MTB duathlons may be the last place where the underdog can finally have his day.