So there I was. 12am on a lovely Sunday morning. Stuck half up a Christmas tree. The soft pine needles brushed fragrantly across my cheek. My bike nestled a couple of branches down. Mmmmm…. Snuggly….
Aaaargh! I’m stuck! And Jason’s coming! I couldn’t get unstuck for what seemed like an age! Moments earlier I’d flailed round a bermed corner, clipped a rock and got catapulted upwards and outwards. When I finally clambered back onto the track I realised the near miss I’d just had; I would have been jettisoned into a rocky gulley ten feet below if the tree had not caught me. TO CERTAIN DEATH! (OK, now I’m being dramatic).
But I was shaken. This final lap had been a nightmare. My arms had completely given way from the constant rocky battering, bermed compressions, and climb induced hauling. On each final descent my chest flopped towards my bars. I just wasn’t in control of my bike.
Three hours earlier, I pulled in for one of my final pit stops. There was a sniff of third place. I got the dad talk from Uncle Rory; “You’ve been here before. Dig deep and pull it out the bag”. Mark Spratt had a good gap but was slowing. Jason Miles was ten minutes back. It’s unusual to be in the latter stages of a 24hr solo and still have so much to play for.
I still had some fuel in the tank. The tension was immense in those final laps.
I’d got into a good position because I’d listened to my head the previous day. Off the line I knew that some would go too fast. Several riders flew off like rabid Spaniels. On a course with this amount of climbing, (and this amount of adrenalin in the air) I knew there would be some casualties around the magical 16hr mark. This time I made sure I was not one of them. I’ve done that too many times before.
So I set off at a nice comfortable spinning pace. And felt great! In fact I REALLY enjoyed those first twelve hours, simply because the course was so good, the atmosphere fantastic, and the company excellent. I rode for some time with the enigmatic and awe inspring singlespeeder Brett Bellchambers and then settled in for a good sociable stint with Jason Miles.
In fact, with the good company and the great riding it was midnight before I knew it.
Early on in the race my position had been low. I was never dispondent and didn’t panic. Now, I was creeping up the field. This had been the plan all along. The race starts at midnight. The witching hours of early morning approached; a period I usually loose serious time in. My ‘no caffeine till 3pm’ rule was strictly adhered too, so when I finally hit it, the slump didn’t arrive and pushing through till dawn was not the usual sleep deprived sickly haze. So far so good.
It had to happen though; things started to get really tough. Could I catch Mark? I was gaining ground. Would I blow and would Jason catch me? Then suddenly… Bloody Hell! Rich Dunnett came past me like a steam train. I’m in 5th. Trying to squeeze every last drop of effort out. They say the mind goes before the body. Well today, my body went first. The mind was still focused and eager but in the last 3 hours my body just said no more.
I didn’t catch Mark. Jason had not in fact started a 25th lap. I clattered ungraciously into the finishing crash barriers and onto the deck. After wobbling to my feet I crossed the line and sat, clutching a finish line beer, staring into swimming space.
There are no ‘coulda, woulda, shouldas’ from this camp. I got 5th in the 24hr Worlds. I call that a result. I got what I put in. I am happy.
Overall winner Jason English was incredible as usual, but performance of the weekend for me had to go to Ant White. What a brilliant ride. He was flying all the way and one of a very select few who can honestly say they have pushed Jason English over 24hrs. Afterwards he commented that he was too old for this…. Erm, clearly not!
Thanks to those who have supported and sponsored me in this generally race sparse year!
My run in to the event had been great, even if it was a big block of ‘crash training’. The incredibly painful Cristalp, some amazing riding in Majorca, plenty of big old northern road rides, and a new 100 mile mountain bike route in Northumberland; The Sandstone Way.
This route cuts diagonally across Northumberland from Berwick to Hexham. So my local patch, even though there were vast stretches I had never ridden before. In fact the route is so new that nobody had yet completed it in one go! Exciting to ride something for the first time! It is not hugely technical, (though don’t get me wrong, there is some great riding) and is split roughly 50/50 on and off road. What it lacks as a ‘pure mountain bike route’, it makes up for with what Northumberland does best; unspoilt solitude and stunning scenery. This would make a fantastic leisurely multi-day bike packing trip. Andy MacAndlish came along to shoot the story for MBR and I know he has some fantastic shots (as always!) so can’t wait to see the article.
I completed the ride in 11hrs, including photo stops. It was a great day with plenty of comedy moments. Thanks to Pot a Doodle Do (yes really) wig wams at Berwick for putting us all up on the friday night and Steve Woods from Saddle Skedaddle for supporting Andy and I on the day.
One of the best things about the day was finding some of the corners in Northumberland I had not been to before. Perhaps the most amazing location (with one of the best bits of trail) running past the ‘front door’ was St Cuthbert’s Cave, just outside of Wooler.
This weekend has been great so far. No training. Lots of eating. Good times with Charlotte and James. The weather has been incredible today. So with my new local knowledge I decided a trip to the cave would be a good day out. James took his bike of course. The youngest rider on the Sandstone Way? He loved it.
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