Relentless 24 2013

Unsurprisingly, racing a fifth 24 hour solo in 12 months was a pretty uncomfortable experience. I’d had a good few days of taking things easy after a slightly-harder-than-I-thought-it-was-going-to-be Bristol Oktoberfest, I was nice and organised (apart from the fact we didn’t arrive in Fort William until 1am the night before the race) and I was feeling ok. In reality though, I didn’t really have the legs for a 24 hour race last weekend and I’m still quite surprised that I was able to finish it, never mind win it.

I was fine for the first few hours. In fact, I created a nice big gap between me and everyone else at the start of lap three by making a Heroic Big Move™ and hammering it to the top of the first climb after spending the previous couple of hours to-ing, fro-ing and “getting into it” with a fresh-looking Jason Hynd.

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After 6 hours or so the running order behind me was starting to settle down (Matt Jones was putting in some nice consistent lap times in second place) and the gap was now somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. It wasn’t getting any bigger though and I was starting to become frustrated at my inability to kill things off and make the gap bigger. I was feeling tired and if I’m honest, I was hanging on and praying that I didn’t have a mechanical – if I had some catching up to do I wouldn’t be doing it today…

Debbie arrived four hours into the race and after a 6 hour drive, immediately dropped into her role of supporting me while I immediately slipped into my role of grumpily barking orders J

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It was raining. I was getting cold and my shorts seemed to be filling up with fragments of Scottish granite. I wasn’t so much ‘tapping out laps’ as ‘grinding round the course’. I was suffering but I wasn’t planning to sack the race off because I’d put £120 of diesel in the van to get here.

The course was trying to break me and to be fair, it was doing a pretty good job of it. The first climb from the start/finish line was testing my patience as well as my legs and some of the tricky downhill sections were getting sketchy too (including one muddy bit that by now had a rut that looked like it had been caused by a meteorite).

I kept grinding out the laps. Matt would put in a faster lap and I’d somehow respond by doing the same. The gap never extended beyond 31 minutes. I was going to have to ride for longer than 24 hours ‘just to make sure’. My 23rd and final lap was enough for the win and as I rode for the final time to the finish line towards a cheering throng of 4 people, my rear mech finally packed in, seemingly in sympathy with my wretched and crumpled body.

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It was time for chips, gravy and a bloody good rest. Big thanks to everyone who was there for putting up with my monosyllabic grunting, especially Deb, Jacqui and Phil. Thanks also to Frazer and Spook for their hospitality and for organising the race, John and all the guys at Exposure Lights for shouting encouragement as I rode past 23 times and finally a massive “bloody well done lad” to Matt Jones for a super-strong ride for 2nd place.

Bristol Oktoberfest 2013

Let’s start with the plan. Arrive late the night before the race, camp out, get up early, do the race. Dig deep but not too deep – remember you’ve got a 24 hour solo next weekend. Just dig deep enough to make the trip to Bristol worthwhile, make sure all is well with the bikes you’ll use next week and maybe win some beer. Drive home.

…for a change, that’s pretty much what happened. Almost. The drive down was late enough to be trouble-free and 3 hours after leaving Manchester I arrived at a dark Ashton Court in Bristol and pitched the tent (just how ace are pop-up tents?). A solid night’s sleep and a relatively stress-free couple of hours of pre-race faffing passed a little bit too quickly, leaving just a few minutes to use the loo.

There weren’t many loos and a lot of people queuing to use them. Ooops.

Eventually, I’m back in my tent, feverishly pulling on bib shorts and jersey while simultaneously applying chamois cream and I made it to the start line with literally 3 seconds before the start of the chaotic run to the bikes, left at the side of the gravel track.

The course was almost all purpose-built, hardpacked, swoopy MTB trail and was mostly very narrow. I spent the whole race politely asking people if I could get past just before nearly riding into a bush while riding past. After a couple of laps I started to get the hang of it, let a few psi out of my front tyre and started to have fun. I even jumped a few times. Go me.

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photo: Rich Lewton

One of the highpoints of the race was a lump of home-made flapjack left on my table by Ant, complete with a written note to tell me how I was doing. Up until this point, about 3 or 4 hours in, I had no idea if I was first, last or somewhere in between so I was forcing myself to push hard the whole time. Which wasn’t the plan.

Anyway, the flapjack was bloody lovely – just slightly over-done but not burnt. Perfect 🙂

6 or 7 hours later and I think I started to fade a bit. In fact, the earlier fast pace after what’s been a big couple of weeks on the bike definitely caused me to fade a bit and eventually a very fast Andy Cockburn went past and carried on riding off into the distance to win the 8 hour race overall. I managed to hang on for the last half hour or so after that and I can’t complain about winning the vet’s category after riding 15 laps of what turned out to be a very punishing course – especially as I won beer, a cup and a pretzel.

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So….all is set for Relentless 24 next weekend – my fourth last 24 hour race of the year.

Someone told me it’s been snowing in the Highlands…

 

 

Heaton Park cyclocross

Apparently it’s been a long time since there was a cyclocross race in Heaton Park. I know there’s not been one for as long as I can remember (cos I can’t remember there being one)…anyway. I was sat on the sofa, having a coffee just half an hour to the start of the vets race. Finished my coffee, rode half a mile to Heaton Park, signed in and got ready for the off. When getting to the start of a race normally involves the best part of a week packing, preparing multiple bikes and getting a caravan loaded up the day before, this was sheer luxury.

don't forget to make monkey noises when riding fast

don’t forget to make monkey noises when riding fast

I started in my usual mid-pack position without much of a warm-up and without a practice lap. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that coffee after all…

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The course, given Mick at Manchester Wheelers had to presumably keep the whole thing “compact” and unobtrusive for this year at least, was brilliant fun.

Photo: Sportsunday

Nothing too tricky but it flowed fantastically well and had a number of short but very steep climbs up the grassy slope near the Papal monument – the same grassy slope that I used to ride my old Marin up and down yonks ago. An ace rooty section through a wood and some steps to run up and a couple of barriers to hurdle (repeatedly trip over, in my case).

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photo: Sportsunday

I had some little battles with other riders, didn’t crash, didn’t get lapped by the leaders and finished in 12th place, which I think is my best result in a ‘cross race ever. To celebrate I went home, had a butty, swapped bikes and headed for the hills for a few hours.

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windier than it looks

The cyclocross league lasts throughout the winter and whilst I’m looking forward to future rounds in glamorous locations such as Clitheroe and Liverpool, my next two MTB races will probably ensure that “12th” is as good as it’s going to get for quite some time…