Bontrager TwentyFour12 2015

What normally happens after a 24 hour race is that I’ll spend a few days moaning about how many aches and pains I’ve got or how horrible the most horrible part of the race was, I’ll eat loads of food in an attempt to replace some of the 20,000 or so calories I’ve burned until I don’t feel quite as hungry anymore and I might go to the pub. I’ll also write a blog, massage my own ego and drone on about how I did this, that or the other, ending with a single line where I’ll say a tagged-onto-the-end ‘thanks’ to all those that helped me achieve whatever it is I achieved.

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Well, I achieved another win at TwentyFour12 at the weekend, so that’s good. I didn’t push too hard for three quarters of the race – I made sure I remained in contention and held enough back for a potential push towards the end but always had the World Champs in October at the back of my mind. A 24 hour race is utterly crap as a training ride but I was going to preserve, rather than spend, as much fitness and wellbeing as I could. It was going well until the last 6 hours when the heavens opened and everything got harder, everyone got wet and I started to shiver.

But it got harder for everyone so it didn’t make too much difference. I just did what I do and it turned out well.

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I was looked after again by loads of really generous people who give me stuff that makes this sort of thing a bit easier and affordable in return for me ‘giving it my all’ and not being grumpy and/or a dickhead.

The event as a whole was as brilliant as it was last time, so credit must be paid to Martyn and his team of organisers, do-ers, caterers, look’er-after-ers and marshals.

Meanwhile, while I’m being totally self-indulgent and then having people shower me with praise and prizes, Debbie remains as always a relatively unsung hero. I’ve won eight 24 hour solo races now, each one of them (and all the others that I didn’t win) I’ve been supported 100% by my amazing and long-suffering wife.

She knows when the low points are going to happen. She knows from the look on my face how I’m feeling and knows precisely what to say to get me back on my toes. I see other guys in races having to carefully arrange their various food items, spares, clothing and tools so that they can grab at them in the middle of the night more easily. I don’t have to do any of that. Deb knows where everything is and arranges the pit to suit her- mainly to ensure that the act of “shovelling sugary treats into Jason’s gob” takes as little time as possible – so quickly in fact that I don’t really need to stop riding at all.

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Even when the weather turns bad, it’s three in the morning and she’s not had any sleep, Deb’s always awake when I arrive after another lap, latest leaderboard information at the ready, bottle and gel in hand, five, six, maybe ten layers of clothing on (and a bobble hat), ready to keep me rolling.

And all this is on top of having two kids to look after. Sometimes a dog as well. Incredible.

Genuinely, I have it easy. All I have to do is pedal and think about nothing else but the race.

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So this time, just for once, I’m not going to drone on and on about how amazing my training was or how clever my race strategy was, because I must have one of the greatest pit helpers in the world whose contribution to my successes over the past few years can’t be underestimated.

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Salzkammergut Trophy Saturday Social

I knew the Salzkammergut Trophy “Extreme” distance event was going to be tough. With 211 kilometres and about 25,000 feet of climbing it was probably going to be one of the toughest days on an MTB I’ve ever had. In spite of the stats, I had one eye on the fact I’m racing in a 24 hour race in two weeks so I planned to work hard, but not so hard that I buried myself. I wanted to recover in a couple of days rather than a couple of weeks.

get in there, don't get out until tomorrow...

get in there, don’t get out until tomorrow…

The race itself was sandwiched in between a couple of 1000 mile drives in Guy’s van. The first leg will be remembered for the inexplicable delay in a ‘really busy’ but at the same time COMPLETELY EMPTY Channel Tunnel terminal and a subsequent mad dash to Munich to pick Guy up from the airport and then another mad dash through the rest of Germany and across Austria to make it to Bad Goisern to get signed in with less than an hour to spare.

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Thirty hours had passed between me leaving my front door and us arriving at the campsite.

I forgot my tent. I’d left it at home. Bugger.

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The home of Bad Goisern FC. Nope, I’ve never heard of ’em either. Nice pitch though.

Martin the race organiser made a phone call to his mate who owns a camping shop. When I eventually found the shop the kindly Austrian gent unlocked the door (the shop was shut) and tried to sell me a 400 Euro expedition tent. I thought about the tent that would no doubt provide a means of survival in the worst weather the Alps could throw at you and the comfy, flat football pitch we were camping on and bought a bivvy bag instead. I was glad I’d forgot the tent – the night sky was an incredible sight, I wasn’t cold and I slept like a log.

Good job really. The race starts at 5am so the pre-race faff/panic/poo queue starts at 4am. Lee was lucky to be starting the shorter race at 11am but got up anyway to see us off.

Selfie. Sam, Me, Guy. 5am.

Selfie. Sam, Me, Guy. 5am.

Sam, Guy and me made it to the start line (about 500 metres down the road) with 5 minutes to spare. We were hundreds of riders away from the front of the race but it didn’t matter – we were here to enjoy the ride, have a laugh and enjoy the views.

I’d forgot how congested the first climb and offroad section can be when you’re nowhere near the front. I struggled to stay upright while trackstanding in a crowd of mountain bikers and mountain bikes that was slowly winching itself uphill. Every so often a small gap would appear and I’d ride faster for two or three seconds and overtake someone. This went on for an hour before we reached the first feed station. Cheese, sausage, bread, cake, carbohydrate drink, water, fruit…this wasn’t a UK feed station. There was a chance that we’d gain weight in this race.

cheese, bread, sausage, VPL

cheese, bread, sausage, VPL

After messing about for half an hour fixing a puncture in Guy’s front tyre we set off again and maintained the ‘moderate’ pace.

Another massive gravel downhill. A bit of nadgery, rooty singletrack. Some Germans walking with a pair of English pillocks shouting “Actung! Actung!” at them. Another massive, hour-long climb. More climbing. Another feed station. We stopped at all of the feed stations. I developed an addiction to the Austrian Pepperami-alike sausage.

The 30 degree heat eventually made the feed station sausage cheese turn unto Dairylea.

More climbing.

A tunnel.

Then some more climbing.

Then a long flat bit along the banks of a lake.

Then the steepest climb on tarmac I’ve ever seen. Apparently it’s 43% at its steepest point, so I’ve no idea how anyone laid tarmac on a hill like that and I can’t imagine what sort of vehicle would drive up or down it. Anyway, this climb went on for what seemed like hours and hours.

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Guy dropped back at this point and I pressed on – not because I was showing off or anything like that, I just wanted this damn race to be over as quickly as possible. I’d been struggling with the heat all day long and if I’m honest I was getting BORED OF CLIMBING HILLS NOW. After a slightly-contrived last few miles where the course got a bit ‘down the back of the garages’, the damn race ended and I flopped into the finish line paddling pool.

Yes. A finish line paddling pool.

Guy and Sam rolled back in a while later in the middle of a massive downpour of rain.

Next year I’ll hopefully return to the Salzkammergut Trophy. While I don’t regret treating it as a nice, social, day-out-with-my-mates this year, I’ll take a very lightweight bike (instead of a very lovely but not-super-light steel bike) and I’ll have a go at getting ‘round as fast as I can next time.

14 hours is an ok time I think (and I was 1st Brit) but it’d be interesting to see how much faster I could do it if I ignored the scenery, used the feeds sparingly and chatted less.

After a swift steak and chips, we drove back home in the van, which only took 23 hours….

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Church Stretton MTB Marathon and a Big Day Out

When Phil turned 40 (not that long ago really, to be fair to him), we all went down to Shropshire for a bit of a party and a bike ride. We rode the trails around The Long Mynnd and afterwards I concluded that parts of that ride contained perhaps the best stuff I’ve ever ridden in the UK.

Last weekend I found myself riding those same trails again, this time in the Scott MTB Marathon. Sometimes the second time around spoils it, but not this time. The Long Mynnd is as mind-blowingly brilliant as it was last time. A truly fantastic place to ride a mountain bike.

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The event itself was typical of the Marathon series – exceptionally well organised and well supported by sponsors. The course, all 75K of it was very tough and just what I needed before I head off to Austria for the Salzkammergut Trophy. A particular highlight was being able to share the ride with Dave Haygarth – even though I’ve known Dave for years we hardly ever get to ride together (all to do with time/distance/duration compatibility issues) so that was bloody good fun. But those Long Mynnd trails….wow. What do you mean you’ve never been? Get thee to Shropshire forthwith.

After the marathon I got changed into clean shorts, pulled my road bike out of the car and me and Phil rode home back to Manchester. 102 miles of flattish roads might sound easy…..

Thanks to the guys at Scott UK for looking after me on the day, Phil for plotting a brilliant and almost car-free route home and to Deb for driving the car, all loaded up with soaking wet kit and a muddy bike so that I could ride home with Phil :0)

Shenington 24 hour PEDAL CAR race

The second I was told that 24 Hour Pedal Car racing was An Actual Thing, I knew I had to give it a go. I rounded up a posse of like-minded 24 hour racers – Phil, Budge, Dave and Guy – hoodwinked Michael into doing it (“it’ll be fine, just go for a couple of runs around the reservoir before the race or something”), arranged a car for us to hire (It’s a rental let’s go mental!) and we were all set.

I’d met a few pedal car racers during the tandem ride me and Guy did at Goodwood last year. Lovely people – dead enthusiastic about what we were doing, the world of Human Powered Vehicles and as it turned out, the pedal car racing ‘scene’. Did you know there’s a pedal car racing scene? There is….

Plans were made between Pedal Car stalwarts Alan Goodman (who helped adjudicate our world record attempt) and Pedal Car league organiser, Jes Featherstone. We were going to make our debut at the Shenington 24 Hour race, where teams would drive on a challenging karting circuit in a Le Mans-format that anyone (like us) who’s taken part in an endurance mountain bike race would be familiar with.

that yellow thing was very fast

that yellow thing was very fast

That’s pretty much where the familiarity ends. Apart from mine and Guy’s recumbent cycling experience from last year, none of us really knew what to expect. We wouldn’t get to see the car until the day of the race and we had no idea how a pedal car race normally unfolds.

We all decided on a running order (Guy was late, so we had to improvise a running order for the first couple of hours). Our strategy wasn’t really discussed, apart from “try not to crash” and “let’s see what happens”.

What happens is that some cars go around the track very slowly. Some go around the track very quickly. We opted for the latter of the two strategies and basically went mental, trying to go as fast as possible, no drafting and overtaking everything that we found ourselves behind. We went for 30 minutes in the car each – you can throw caution to the wind and not bother pacing your efforts if you’re going flat-out for half an hour with two-and-a-half hours to have a sit down and some food and it seemed to serve us well.

The weather at first was pretty boring. Nice and sunny, but predictable and grippy. But then for the last few hours it got interesting – the wind picked up and the rain arrived. Lots of rain. Visibility was getting quite poor and the spray (filled with small fragments of rubber from hundreds of tortured pedal car tyres) from everyone’s wheels was reaching 8 or 9 feet into the air. It was a hell of an environment to be tearing around a track in a very fast, built-for-grown-ups pedal car.

Guy drove for three 30 minute stints before having to head back to work but in that time managed to have the car airborne then drove away from a 4-car pile-up. Dave took the Crash With Style Award of the weekend though by clipping the kerb on the inside of a hairpin, sending the car tumbling over and coming to rest on Dave’s head. Awesome!!

We finished in 4th place. Not bad for our first effort. Things might have been different if we’d thought about drafting other cars a bit more often but the mountain biker-mentality took over and we just drove full gas as much as possible. Maybe we’ll be a bit more tactically aware next time….hmmm. One thing’s for certain, the competition at a pedal car race is as fierce as I’ve experienced in any bike race – many of the teams were fit enough and fast enough to drive for hundreds and hundreds of miles over the duration of the race, the second and third places on the podium were decided by a finish line sprint. Fast, committed, highly-skilled and tactical racing. Brilliant.

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Thanks to Alan, Jes, the Apollo Team for the loan of the car (and for mending the car when we wore our tyres out) and everyone involved in the Shenington 24 Hour race – racers, caterers, helpers and hangers-on. See you next year and cheers!

Mountain Mayhem 2015

I’m sort of saving myself this year. In my head, there’s always been a chance that I might be able to get to the World 24 Hour Champs in California in the autumn.

As a result I’ve tried to start the year steady and limit the number of 24 hour solo races I do. I think 2015’s total of three 24 hour solos is the lowest number since I started doing them – I remember the years gone by when I’d happily attempt 5 or 6…not this time though. Experience over the past 8 or so years has taught me that if I did my usual ‘thing’ of entering every endurance race I could possibly think of as a soloist, by the time I reached October I’d be ready for a fortnight of sleep rather than a very fast, expensive and competitive endurance race.

And so it came to pass that I was able to enter that big endurance race in California and I’m starting to make some plans. Flights are booked. It’s happening.

It was a good job then that I’d decided some time ago to race at Mountain Mayhem in the pairs category (the mixed pairs, to be precise) rather than defend my 2014 solo title. Instead I’ll be racing in the 24 hour solo at TwentyFour12 in July instead – my one and only solo race this summer.

So my mate Beate and I hatched a plan. Beate’s pretty fast nowadays – a few years of road, cross and mountain bike racing has given her decent levels of speed and endurance and I reckoned that we’d do well.

We agreed that due to the relatively short course, we’d ride 2 laps each throughout the race. From the start we were in the lead and the dry, fast course was a real pleasure to ride. Even at 3am.

Meanwhile Debbie was supporting us both – in fact she stayed up all night (like she does when I’m soloing) just to make sure that we didn’t stop and to make sure we both had whatever we needed and to pass on messages. We were a team of three really.

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I was struggling to breathe early on in the race so I brought the pace down and kept things ‘friendly’ from that point on. Every time I tried to ride ‘properly’ fast I’d get out of breath again, which was worrying and more than a little bit annoying. I was however LOVING the rare treat of being able to stop for a sit down and a cuppa after every couple of laps :-)

Nice and steady. No idea why I was having respiratory problems– I assumed it was because of the humid, warm conditions.

I was riding the new Santa Cruz Highball C – it’s the first time I’ve raced for longer than an hour on this bike and after my experiences of spending 24 hours on my old Highball, I was expecting the bone-dry course to give me a battering. I’d borrowed a new USE EVO-91 carbon seatpost a few minutes before the start of the race (thanks Tom) which helped and the new bike was remarkably comfortable throughout. The Highball is definitely much more of a cross-country race bike than it was before, longer, lighter and a frame more suited to endurance racing.

Lighting the way (and Beate’s way after they lent her some lights), my USE Exposure Reflex and Equinox combo meant I could ride at daylight speeds even in the dark and a good supply of fuel was provided by Honey Stinger gels and waffles. In between laps though, I was all over the chicken fajitas and tinned ravioli ;0)

Apart from a slight ‘wobble’ in the small hours when Beate had a fairly routine gastric complaint (remedied by her altering the food she was eating and having a little sit down), my weird breathing issue and an early snapped chain (thanks to Jo Burt for helping out with that one) it was a pretty flawless race. We won. In fact, if Beate was a bloke we’d have been 4th in the male pairs, possibly third if we hadn’t finished early to drink tea in the food tent.

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And I was reunited with my old friend the Princess Royal. I’m sure she was wearing the same clothes as last year…..

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