Like every other serious 24hr solo racer in the UK, I had decided to make this race a serious target. I haven’t known a 24hr race to generate such a buzz for months before the big day. It was always going to be a tough field and the start list reflected a who’s who of UK endurance racing.
Also it was on home ground – an hour and a half drive away at Newcastleton. A real pull for me as racing a 24 usually means plenty of time off work, a big drive, sorting accommodation and the logistics of shipping everything including the kitchen sink. Only as it turned out, I found it hard to push this advantage home…
Physically I was in great shape. My winter had gone very well despite the harsh conditions. I was feeling very strong. But the two weeks running up to the race were impossible! I recently started a great new job. I was away for work. I had back to back meetings. I was waiting for bike parts. Charlotte, my chief organiser was away in Miami for work (yes, really!). Sum result was total chaos! (Fortunately Dougie, my good friend and mechanic, came on Thursday to finish my bikes – I simply couldn’t have done it myself!) I have never been so disorganised for a big race! Friday night came and I just threw everything in the back of the ever accommodating Volvo (hoping what I needed was in there!) and Dougie, my dad and I rallyed it to Newcastleton, in a blind hurry to meet Ant, (who was pitting with us) and get to The Grapes for last food orders!
It as great to see everyone at the race site and, for such a big race, the atmosphere was super relaxed, probably helped by the incredible weather! Would have loved to have hung around but food and a bed called…
Saturday dawned even warmer and brighter than the day before! Nice, but the buidling heat was clearly going to have a great impact on the race. Well, it did on mine anyway…
The sign-on in the centre of Newcastleton was great fun (even if I was a bit embarrassed to be given the number 2 plate… A nice gesture from the organisers though – thanks! We were lead out by a local group – The Copshaw Riders; chopper forks and wellies… nice! We were paced up the hill and hit the course proper.
As I’d expected, the pace was pretty pedestrian. Everyone was watching each other and a bunch of the usual suspects formed, including Matt Page, Ian Leitch, Ant White, James Lister, Craig Bowles and others. Josh on the other hand, had found the pace a little too pedestrian and wound up those big wheels with those long legs and cruised away to a gap. Nobody was concerned and just let him go….
The group gradually fragmented. Ian Leitch was not feeling his best and sadly pulled out after three laps. James Lister punctured, fought back, yo-yoed, and the effort to get back on the group knocked him out of the race fairly early on. Ant White pulled away. This left me in the good company of Matt Page. We rode together for about three laps at a stiff but sociable pace. Then, at about 8pm we spotted Ant, Matt put his foot down, and we tore into each other!
It was fast and furious but I was fine with the pace. I was recovering well from the efforts. We hit a short but steep climb and I was just about to crest the hill when… cramp! Bugger! I had to stand up and let Matt past me. He jumped onto Ant’s wheel and the pair pulled away. It was sooo frustrating… I very rarely suffer cramp and annoyingly a few more minutes of hot sun remained. It was terrible timing and was a defining point for my race campaign.
Heading into the dark and with nobody to pace myself off, I found it very hard to gauge my effort. I was feeling strong, but a glance at the post race lap times showed an untenable yo-yoing. I’m thinking about getting a moto-pacer – they are used in motorcross/downhill to give continual lap time feedback. They can easily be used to give splits throughout a lap so you can see if you are speeding up or slowing down. This also takes some pressure of pit support. It is often the case that towards the front of an endurance race field you end up on your own – in this case it was my undoing.
The night wore on and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was still and warm. The moon was pretty big and early on in the evening a bright orange. It’s these times that make endurance racing so good. I felt good throughout the night but it was clear that Ant and Matt were pulling away. And, to many people’s surprise they had not caught Josh and Josh was not fading….
The sun came up spectacularly. I relented from asking a fellow rider what time it was… but eventually I couldn’t resist… ‘Quarter to five’ came the cheery reply…. Doh! I thought it was about 8 o’clock! Obviously my head wasn’t as clear as I had presumed!
It was apparent that a podium would come from the wheels falling off ahead of me. Matt and Josh lapped me but I quickly unlapped my self from Josh and, with plenty in the tank, set to work on the final laps. I rode with James Leavesley for a couple of laps which was good – we had a good chat and he had plenty in his legs to push us up the climbs. I pulled away and hammered out my last two laps. I was confused by my positioning and knew that by now Josh was fading and had fallen into third place. This gave me hope and my tired brain had convinced me that third was possible…. of course it wasn’t and I finished fourth, a place I HATE to end up! Still, 250 miles and 11,000m of vertical climbing is a good day’s work!
Despite my disappointment, it was a fantastic race. The weather was unbelievable! The course was tough but fun. And the atmosphere, even amongst the fiercest competitors was fantastic. I have utmost respect for Matt, Ant, and Josh for their podium efforts and everyone there who pushed through a challenge that is touch and go even for the seasoned racer.
My Enigma rode superbly, even though I did not spend as much time on it as I would have liked because I had little time to set it up properly before the race. Running a helmet mounted Exposure Diablo on a triple piggy back with a MaXx D on the bars was the perfect set up and one I will use for future races. My Infinit nutrition liquid food was superb – all the energy I needed without the faff and discomfort of eating. I’ll tell you more about this stuff soon but for now all you need to know is it works brilliantly – www.infinitnutrition.com
Big thanks to Dougie and my dad for staying up through the night to be barked at for 20 seconds every hour…. I hope they enjoyed the weather and atmosphere as much as I did!
Bontrager24 solo next…. an opportunity to redeem myself. The field was not the strongest until about two weeks ago…. but now Americans Kelly Magelky (US number 2) and Travis Brown have signed up…. Suddenly that podium is looking like a serious challenge again…. but that’s the way I like it!