Etape Du Dales

photo courtesy of Sportsunday

I knew deep down when Shaun somehow talked me into entering this event that it was going to be a mistake. A very hilly 110 mile road sportive in the Yorkshire Dales, a week after a 24 hour solo race, was never going to be a picnic was it? It was certainly never going to be my most glorious day in the saddle anyway.

Despite last weekend’s efforts though I was feeling ok (I thought) and I was well up for it. I met up with Chris and Shaun and off we went, the pace immediately quite fast.

I was still feeling ok after a while –  a bit slower than usual on the climbs but not too bad. Coping. Weird pain in the back of my calf and my scabby hip was aching a bit but nothing too surprising so I pressed on. The weather wasn’t brilliant and we were riding into a headwind mostly – there were a few rain showers but nothing too bad.

At around 60 miles I got a puncture. I stopped to fix it but the other 2 carried on, unaware that I’d stopped. Once the bike was sorted, I started to feel weak, you know, like I was tired for some reason….

At the 70 mile feed station I was really feeling it, fatigue had crept up on me from behind…and then BLAM it hit me. Things were all different now. I was getting knackered, basically.

So rather than press on and smash myself to bits (and probably delay the planned start of my Mountain Mayhem training a bit further) I decided to stop for a bit and eat some of the corned beed sandwiches on offer. Then I dropped my pace quite a bit, riding all the climbs but not caning it.

The weather by now was getting pretty horrendous – gusting winds and horizontal, persistent rain. I carried on for ages and ages and eventually it was all over. I crossed the line about 7 and a half hours (!) after I’d set off, my average speed dropping so much in the final 40ish miles that I’d ‘achieved’ a rather ponderous 15 mph over the whole route. No matter, I’ve kick-started my Mayhem training now, all that I need is for summer to get it’s arse back into gear.

24 Hours Of Exposure

I’m freezing. Really, really freezing. I’ve got a Crimean war-style bandage thing sticking out of a huge hole in the side of my bib shorts (an expensive pair kindly given to me by a sponsor) that’s hopefully keeping the wet mud that’s flying everywhere out of a painful wound on my hip.

Before

It’s dark – it is 3 am after all – and it’s also raining. Hard. Welcome to summer. Welcome to the 24 Hours of Exposure.

It’s ‘exposure’ alright. I think people have died of exposure in the past, in fact. I’m not going to die though. I’m not going to drop out either, despite the regular temptation as I approach my pit, manned by Wayne and Michael, holding up bottles of go-go juice and offering sympathy, flat cola, loud rock and roll, shelter and bags of sweets.

Photos courtesy of Joolze Dymond

No. I’m rock hard, me. I’ve no idea where I am, position-wise in this race but I’m aware that plenty have dropped out and I’m riding consistently. I’m also acutely aware of the brutality as well as the immense fun of this course, each lap seemingly getting more and more hilly and more physical as each climb appears far too soon for me to fully recover from the last one…no matter though. This race will represent a cornerstone in my racing ‘career’. I’ve decided this just now. I’ve done too many of these things now to be surprised and deterred by anything, both mentally and physically. I’ve somehow put myself through the mill on a routine basis to become an ‘old hand’ at this and I’ll need a really bloody good reason to pack it in.

Hitting a patch of gravel at 25mph, somehow letting the front wheel wash out and immediately slamming into the ground, still clipped in, skidding along on the side of my body to an eventual halt in a cloud of stones and soil was not a good enough reason.

“Do you want me to radio in a lift back to the start, mate?” asked the clearly worried marshal, his companion already looking for a first aid kit after witnessing something that clearly looked quite bad. I didn’t answer. Not with words anyway. I got up, whimpered, swore at myself and rode off…a bit gingerly.

Photo courtesy of Sheldon Attwood

Conditions deteriorated. The course stood firm as most of it uses the Newcastleton ‘red’ trail centre stuff but there were one of two muddy bits. The 12 hour racers finished their shift and the course went quiet. The Team JMC/Ragley pit wasn’t quiet – Wayne and Mike were still well lively. Michael has started to really get the hang of this 24 hour race support game now and knows just what I’m going to need before I get back, so my stops were as brief as ever. A couple of bike changes for mechanicals and tyre changes and I kept tapping out laps.

Morning arrived and I had to stop for 15 minutes or so – blurred vision was starting to make things a bit dangerous and it was still raining. Back on the bike again and Steve at the timing tent told me that I was running in 4th  in my category, 5th “or maybe 6th “overall…I got a big boost from this.

A good result after a week of illness and virtually no sleep is really encouraging, especially in a year that started as crazy as this one. It’s not a podium but who cares. Plenty of podiums up for grabs and it’s only May.

Cheers from the crowd and other pit crews. Keep going. Nearly there now. Just 3 more laps and you’re done. Leg wound isn’t hurting any more. Don’t know if this is good or bad. Don’t know how far behind 5th place is. Get paranoid. Look over shoulder quite a lot. Don’t back off.

Blunt-edge a root, hard with the front wheel. I felt the tyre hit the rim but due to the fact I’m running tubeless now (at last!), no puncture. A puncture on the last lap would have been a slap in the face, but thanks to my lovely tyre full of latex, I got away with it. Rocking!

Got passed by Matt Page and Ant on the way to 1st and 2nd place. Matt quite cheerful, Ant looking forward to the end like I was. Good. I was starting to think it was just me that was having to dig very deep…

Then the end arrives. Hugs from Deb and from Michael, handshakes from all the friends that are there to see me finish. This is the best bit.

4th place, 6th overall was mine. An improvement over last year when the conditions were much better and I wasn’t ill. Something to build on for the rest of the year.

From the start of the race a whole day ago in the centre of Newcastleton village, on the front row due to last year’s result, I’ve pushed through without doubt the hardest 24 hour race I’ve competed in. The combination of the course, the weather and the pace of those around me has left me in a bloodied and mud-covered heap, now eating ‘real’ food, already thinking about what must be possible in the races yet to come….

After!

24 Hours of Exposure/UK 24 hour championships/European 24 hour championships…

…..I think this race might have other titles but 3 will do for now.

As Dave has already said  – this has come around quickly. A little bit too quickly I think, but then is there ever a good time to ride your bike for 24 hours straight?

I’m a bit out of practice with this sort of thing, to be honest. I’ve competed in 24 hour races more regularly than most for the last couple of years however this will be the first one since Relentless24 last October. Oh well, I reckon I’ll soon be back in the swing of things after half a lap or so. It’s not like I’ve been sat on my backside for the best part of 8 months, is it?

The weather looks like it might be in a bit of a mood so compared to the blistering heat of last year -which I seem to remember I quite enjoyed- this one will be more like a ‘regular’ UK race. Wet, windy, thundery and a nice shade of Menacing Grey. The field looks as strong as ever with all the best UK endurance riders on the start list plus a large number of riders also taking part in the simultaneous 12 hour race (12 Hours of Exposure/UK 12 Hour Championships/European 12 Hour Championships….etc) How many (other) 24 hour racers will be trying to beat as many 12 hour racers as possible for the first half I wonder?

I’m looking forward to catching up with a few regulars before everyone starts to hurt each other anyway.

Finally, to add an extra level of difficulty, I have a cold. Not just a poxy man-flu thing either. A proper ‘streamer’. I’ve also got a cough as a bonus, so I’ve been sleeping sat up, which seems to help for some reason. I can’t even bloody drop out, given Dave set the precedent in January and pressed on with the Strathpuffer when he was full of cold and still came 2nd….

If you do Twitter, follow @fastfarrell . If he’s got a mobile signal, Wayne, the Team JMC / Ragley pit maestro, will more than likely be tweeting race updates as things go on, providing we keep the mechanicals to a minimum. 🙂

The Catton Park Curse

(pic – Singletrack Mark)

Back in 2009, I had a good day at Catton Park. I came 3rd in the solo category at Sleepless in the Saddle, the first 24 hour race I did on the Ragley prototype. It was ace. The only bad thing about the whole weekend was that my wedding ring went missing. It didn’t spoil the weekend or anything, but I think it triggered some kind of gypsy curse….

I’ll keep it brief because I’m getting bored of it now. The last time I was here at Sleepless the course almost broke both of my wrists without the excitement of having a crash. This time at the weekend’s Enduro 6 I had a couple of punctures due to some of the largest thorns I’ve ever seen in the UK and a tyre-related ‘thing’ to follow that cost me about an hour. Which was nice, as I was doing pretty well (that’s me in that pic, going reasonably fast) and all those people I’d ridden past earlier in the race were now having the opportunity to say a cheery ‘hello’ as they rode past me…some of them going past twice….arrggh.

I remembered that I was there to warm-up for next weekend’s 24 hour solo champs so I sacked off the ‘racing’ in favour of walking back to the car with my bike on my shoulder.

Tubeless setup – Wednesday. Looking forward to it like. you. would. not. believe.

On the plus side and in the interests of focussing only on the positive aspects of anything, I felt pretty damn good. I had a good 2-and-a-half hours of riding at not-really-flat-out-but-pretty-quick-all-the-same and was still there or thereabouts before I flounced off, I managed the Le Mans-style 800 metre run without any grumbles from my car accident knee, some bits started to rattle on the freshly built bike so I had chance to sort those out ahead of next weekend’s big race, I chatted to loads of nice people that I only ever see at races, I watched all my mates have a good day out…including  Jacqui who managed a brilliant 4th place, Budge, Andy and Lee all recorded great results and I saw Chris and Shaun royally kick ass in the solo by claiming 1st and 2nd place.

I’m packing a witchdoctor next time.