24 Hour Solo World Championship – 24 Hours of Finale

I’m a bit of a stickler for detail when it comes to preparing for 24 hour races. I put far too much time into getting my body into some kind of shape to be able to do even reasonably well in these things to mess it all up because I’ve forgotten something, or have something break without a spare. I write lists. I have big training plans. I get grumpy when things happen at the last minute. I do pretty much everything I can to give myself a fair shout at a good result and to repay some of the generosity of my various sponsors.

Sometimes I threaten to take the fun out of it. Sometimes I have to stop and give myself a slap for taking the fun out of it. Sometimes friends stop me and give me a slap for taking the fun out of it. Good on them.

Sometimes it all pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just the way things are. If it goes wrong, there’s always the next race. I’m normally riding five or six 24 hour solos a year anyway.

That’s what I usually do.

Ever since I won Relentless 24 in October last year and was given an entry and flights to the World Championship, this race has dominated my thoughts and pretty much everything I’ve done on the bike. It’s fair to say that I’ve a lot of commitments in my life and I’m not going to get too many chances to take part in a properly big race outside the UK when the kids need shoes, the gas bill needs paying and the cat needs litter.

The fact that this race was happening in Finale Ligure, arguably one of the most beautiful and as I discovered, warm and friendly parts of Europe, was a bonus.

I had to do well. I had to be able to stand confidently on the start line without my usual thoughts of “I’ve not really done enough training for this” and it was imperative that I came away certain that I gave the race everything I possibly could. None of the usual “if only I’d not stopped for that 10 minutes I might have finished higher”.

I trained harder than I’ve ever done. I stuck to a plan as though my life depended on it. I lost some excess weight. I worked on my core strength as though it was the most important thing in the world. I did things properly. I ate beetroot.

Far from taking things too seriously, I was treating it with the gravity it deserves. I was approaching the whole race as though it would be my last.

Once in Italy a few days before the race and the weather forecasts became more certain I decided how I would deal with the race, discussed it with Michael (who would be manning the pit with Angela) and arranged my kit, lights, spares and food. A failed rear brake on the spare bike the day before the race meant a rushed trip to a local bike shop for a cheap disc brake and a missed opportunity to pre-ride the course. A little voice in my head was shrieking “omen! Omen! OMEN!” but I ignored it and prepared some more.

Race was to be ridden fast. No slacking. No long pit stops. Keep total stop time less than five minutes if possible. No fannying around with treats and hot drinks. Just head-down and suffer. Gels, Shot Bloks, carb mix drink. Small, pre-cut pieces of protein bar. The minimum variety of fuel I need in quantities large enough to (as much as possible) remove the chance of blowing up. I’ve got an iron stomach, now was the time to use it.

This pratting around moving things from pile to pile, nervously folding and unfolding small items of clothing carried on until everything was moved to the race site and it was all laid out neatly next to Phil’s and Dave’s kit in the union jack and Elizabeth II portrait-decorated gazebo.

Finally, the time to line up for the short run to start the race arrived. The three of us, me, Dave and Phil, were quieter than usual. I expect they were both as focussed as I was.

I arrived at the end of the run near the front and fought to stay near the sharp end, my limited knowledge of the course told me that it wouldn’t be long before we were riding narrow singletrack and the chances of overtaking would be few. Not a bad start. First job done.

The course was very technical. Lots of slow-speed tricky sections and lots more high-speed sections with consequences for getting things wrong. I was a severe disadvantage here, knowing full well that my technical skills aren’t anywhere near as good as many of the other riders. I had to make up for the perceived shortfall by smashing every climb. Ignore the HR monitor, I was going to have to risk pacing this one by going as quickly as possible uphill but then try to recover going back down.

Fortunately, and I think I might be unique in thinking this, there was a lot of climbing so I had plenty of chances to turn that negative into a positive. Over 400 metres per lap is a lot when you multiply that by 21.

The first few laps were a blur of “I’m going too fast and I’m going to die on my ass” worries and big crashes. I think I had four large spills onto sharp pointy rocks and gained some impressive cuts and bruises that I collected dirt in for the remaining 20 hours.

The bike, an almost brand new On-One Lurcher, wasn’t taking any prisoners though and contrary to popular belief that carbon bikes aren’t ‘trail-ready’, this thing seems to be invincible. And thank God I had a bike with a suspension fork on this course!

The brutality of the course started to take its toll on my back. All the climbs were very loose surfaces so there was very little opportunity to stand up as I would normally do, so it was looking like 24 hours of seated climbing. How nice. Good job I’d been practising those then. I was getting more confident on the downhills too, the various 30mph+, narrow, tree-lined, cliff-edge fast bits were despatched in the same increasingly-confident and relaxed way as the 90-degree slow-speed rocky drops (on the obligatory cliff edge) bits.

It was going well, this.

Deb told me that I was in 8th. Then 7th. Then 6th. Stayed in 6th for a bit. Caught the German lad in 5th and rode with him for a while and then ride away from him at some point during the night.

I saw fellow Brit Craig Bowles up ahead and got a move on. I knew he was in front of me so if I could pass him cleanly and put in a gap, I’d continue the upward trend.

By dawn I’d ridden past most of the race and was sat in second place – the only guy in front of me now was multiple world champion and Australian Marathon Champion Jason English. He was miles off in front so no chance of catching him, but bloody hell eh? Second!

There was hours to go. Six, maybe seven hours in fact. I was really struggling now. For the next few hours I’d struggle around the course, my earlier enthusiasm and focus often drifting away, thoughts turning to ‘how much longer?’. I had to focus. It started to rain. Hard. The course became even trickier.

Occasionally I’d have a fairly good half lap after a drink of protein or a Clif Turbo gel, but generally the tough climbing and the unfamiliar heat was taking its toll on my body and mind. Sensing this and with only a couple of hours left, Craig Bowles’ pit crew alerted him to the fact that he had a chance to reclaim second place and he immediately rode faster to claw back over ten minutes. Deb and Michael then told me this less-than-wonderful news and I knew right then that I needed one more fast lap. I had to go anaerobic for over 11 miles immediately after riding pretty hard for 23 hours. Was this even possible? Michael handed me two caffeine gels, I stood on the pedals with the sound of loud cheers from almost the entire pit lane and I got the hell out of there.

That last lap was the second fastest I rode in the whole race. I’ve no idea how I survived but I did and I rode to second place overall.

Better than I expected, then 😉

Dave and Phil also finished in the top ten, Dave having a few physical and ‘falling off a cliff’ problems early on to scorch the final two hours to overtake 8 riders in front of him to finish 8th, Phil riding a controlled and perfectly-paced race to finish in seventh place.

A round of applause to Fraser, Spook and Chloe at No Fuss Events for making my passage to Italy possible in the first place, to all my ace sponsors, Team JMC, On-One Bikes, Mount Zoom, Exposure Lights, Squirt Lube and 2Pure and extra special thanks to those of you that have helped make the whole trip possible/more enjoyable – Andy and Jane Chadwick, Phil (for translating, being a brilliant training buddy and for generally sorting things out in Italy), Michael, Angela, Deb and Jacqui for being the best pit crew imaginable and to everyone that supported us all during the race via the magic of the Internet.

As for the race, the 24 Hours Of Finale, as it turned out, was one of the most enjoyable, and yet completely brutal, races I’ve ever had the privilege of taking part in. Both laid-back and extremely competitive at the same time, the amazing course is immense fun to ride at first and then becomes a real test of endurance as the physical demands take their toll. It’s also pretty cool watching portaloos being flown to the various marshal points by helicopter…..


‘official’ video


Enduro 6 2012

It seems like longer than a year since I last did the Enduro 6. Maybe I deliberately blocked it from my mind following last year’s puncture-fest or perhaps the fact that I seem to have ridden the course at Catton Park so many times over the years that things are simply becoming too familiar.

If I’m honest, my head wasn’t in this race at all from the start. After the short , elbows-out run, the first lap was brilliant – I was riding my new On-One Lurcher for pretty much the first time ever and I felt like I was flying. The bike was doing everything I wanted, it felt as fast as anything else I’ve ridden and it had the added novelty of a suspension fork. Comfort! Grip! More comfort! Everything was ace right up until the point, around a mile into lap one, that my rear tubeless tyre sprung a leak. Here we go again. The Catton Park Curse.

Back to the pit, a few minutes lost (Dave rode off into the distance as I slowed to ride two-thirds of a lap on the rim), onto the spare bike. 2 more laps. Slower this time. Not really pushing hard. Didn’t really know why, similar to my state of mind at the 12 hour champs a few weeks ago, I just wasn’t interested in racing. That said, at UK12 I did at least manage to pull my finger out a bit plus I had the excuse that I had a cold. I’ve no idea what was going on this time though.

Lap 4. Really losing interest now. Lap times extending into proper ‘slow’ territory. Massive swamp next to a ploughed farmer’s field starting to really piss me off. Sticky, draggy mud also getting right on my wick.

Extended pit stop. Moaned a bit. Sighed and set off again.

Phil tells me I’m in 5th place. Whatever.

Rode some more laps, regularly checking my watch. Clockwatching! In a bike race! Jesus.

Deb told me that Dave was also struggling to keep his mind on the job. I suspected he was bloody miles in front of me by now (he was) but that made me feel a bit better, in a “maybe I’m not having a crisis after all” kind of way.

Did something on my last lap that I’ve never done before – I ‘lurked’ to avoid going out for yet another lap of sticky, spirit-sapping mud. I’d done my prescribed-by-the-training-plan 6 hours of riding a bike today, however  I still felt like one of the morons who leave the stadium before the end of the football match. What was the bloody point in coming if you’re not going to at least give it 100% attention all of the time? Oh well.

Dropped to 11th place.

I’ve never had such a spectacular loss of focus in a race before. It wasn’t even a long race as such.

Still dwelling on the ‘result’ and worrying about how I would find my ‘old steely resolve’ in time for Finale Ligure, I swapped the mountain bike for the road bike and rode a hilly 100-ish miles the day after the Enduro 6 to prove to myself I’ve still got long distances in my head as well as in my legs.

I rode a route that included as many hard roads, big climbs and big views as possible – legs felt great, the forecasted rain didn’t appear, I didn’t get lost once and I started to feel better and more optimistic.

After one of the most enjoyable afternoons on a bike I’ve ever had, I’m pleased to report that my riding mojo returned as quickly as it faded. The big test comes in two weeks’ time….

putting it all together

Following a brief low-point around 12 Hours Of Exposure – which included an unspectacular result and a bout of illness – things picked up with my preparation for the 24 hour solo World’s, now less than three weeks away.

I’ve managed to put that frustrating couple of weeks behind me and I’ve had a satisfying couple of big training weeks and followed the plan. The next week-and-a-bit are pretty heavy but I’m doing ok. Fitting it in. Feeling good.

Have I done enough? I think so. As much as I can anyway. In spite of seemingly relentless bad weather I’m still motivated – probably motivated by the thought of riding somewhere warm and sunny (I hope).

“Fitting it in” was the theme of an article in the latest Singletrack magazine, focussing on those riders who have to fit in several conflicting schedules – training/exercise/racing, family and work – and the slightly strange but thoroughly rewarding routine of training early. Very early.

Me and Phil met Chipps on Rooley Moor one clear (and dark) morning a couple of weeks ago, photos were taken, bikes were ridden and “why’s and how’s” were explained. The sun came up, more photos were taken and Real Life took over, as it does week in, week out.

The piece is ace and the photos are lovely.

This one’s going on the wall….

Things are starting to slot into place now for the race. The new bike is (almost) ready. The spare bike is (almost) ready. Car hire is booked. Bikes are booked on the flights. 2Pure have sent another shedload of Clif nutrition gear to keep the legs turning. Ant has sent over some crazy-light Mt Zoom parts to combat gravity and while there’s a bit of prep still to do (including a hard block of training to complete), the fog has lifted and the focus is now completely on That Race….