Tuesday, 10 May 2011

24 Hours of the European Championships

Very clean before the start
Stopping overnight, we completed the 400 mile drive to Newcastleton in Scotland where Rock UK were hosting the 24 Hours of Exposure.  As one of the very few events in the world dedicated to just solo riders, it attracted top riders from 7 countries jostling for the coveted title. My brother Dave provided support for the weekend, where we also joined forces with the CoticAQR Race Team.
With 130 competitors for the 24 Hours of Exposure, a further 110 riders took part in the 12 hour race finishing at midnight.  Everyone gathered in the village square on the sunny Saturday morning entertained by a local band.  After signing in, the controlled start at noon was led by a piper and the local cycle club. We headed through the village at a relaxed speed, then went up the hill to the race circuit.  Although fairly spread out by this stage there was a bit of congestion as we funnelled into the single-track. 

Signing on
Each lap was just over 11 miles long with more than 1500 feet of climbing, which is similar to 5 times up the chalky path on Box Hill.  The long rough climbs provided me with good overtaking opportunities as I kept the pressure on the pedals.  The course was rich with smooth flowing single-track featuring berms, jumps, dips, drop-offs and a few rocks in awkward places to test the concentration.  Some of the open sections were covered with large shingle the size of tennis balls, and the grassy parts were extremely bumpy making the going tough.

Pre race briefing with Dave

The second lap was my best and most enjoyable.  With riders spread out, I could blast the single track and power up the hills.  Then the rain came!  Some of the trails got slippery and mud splattered everywhere.  With 4 fast laps completed, I stop for a break to put on some dryer and warmer clothes.  Monitoring my Nutrition carefully and using compression tights, my legs just powered on.
As the sun set the lights came on.  In many places a thick mist appeared where the light beams glared back obscuring the ground.  Getting familiar with the trails, I continued to push on at speed into the darkness with limited visibility.

One of the dryer laps

 Setting out at midnight for lap 9 in heavy rain was hard.  With an extra waterproof I slid back out onto the course.  Riding most of the circuit alone as the 12 hour riders had finished made it tough.  I decided not to stop after this lap, otherwise I would not have got going again. 

Pulling in after each subsequent lap, a pattern emerged.  Swamped by 5 support crew; the bike gears were washed and lubricated, food was stuffed in my mouth, the CamelBak was refilled and gels were replaced in the pouch, all within about 90 seconds.  The CoticAQR (A Quick Release) team were awesome who thought of all the details.  At one point someone used a warm flannel to wash the mud off my face and swapped over my wet gloves.  I wasn’t used to all this pampering.
Parts of the course were un-ridable with 6ich deep mud.  The final grassy descent was like an ice rink with no grip whatsoever, pure balance and concentration kept you upright.  Puddles invaded the single-track sections splattering mud everywhere.

Wearing out the rear brake pads, I continued the lap with just the front brake.  CoticAQR were brilliant as they changed both set of pads in just 7 minutes. 

One of the joys of riding through the night is experiencing the first light of dawn.  It’s such a wonderful sight that makes all the pain from the night time evaporate away.  A new day had dawned and all was forgiven.

The Pit area beside the course
Entering the last part of the ride, positional information and lap times were crucial for a good place.  I’m informed that I’ve only got time for 2 more laps.  Knowing the end is in sight, I push a bit harder.  Reaching the pits, they turn me round very quickly saying that I’ve just got time to get in 2 more laps.  I had prepared myself for just 1 lap, but this extra lap would need me to dig really deep to find sufficient energy.

The local school children had designed posters that were positioned around the course.  One apt picture of a bicycle had the words “Don’t Stop or you’ll Lose” wonderful motivation from the local community.

I've finished!

  I stay in the middle ring forcing my legs to power me up the hills.  Still overtaking riders on the climbs, I finish the lap with just enough time for one more.  Relieved to reach the final lap I give it my all to complete the now deserted course.  Thanking all the marshals who had also stayed up all night, I climb each hill for the last time.

Reaching the finish after 23:40 hours, I clocked up 165 miles on the 15 laps, with 23,000 feet of climbing.  Out of the 30 entries in the vet (over 40) category, I’m really pleased in achieving 6th place.  I equalled the results of the Portuguese national champion and came 23rd over all out 130 entries.  

To my surprise, I was awarded a spot prize for ‘Valour’ displayed during the race - Wow!