European 24hr Championship

That didn’t go at all well. The training had gone very well, I was feeling great in the run up to the race, I was well rested and had even got a new Yeti built up specially. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, there was the snow. After six weeks of an unseasonal heatwave the last thing we would expect would be a dry and dusty racetrack and so we were all glued to the weather forecast in the week leading up to the race, watching the snow as it made it’s way south.

Driving up across the A66 I could see a lot of snow still on the tops and a fair bit still at the roadsides, but the further north I went from there the less snow there was. The racetrack itself was surprisingly clear.

The start was, as usual, in the centre of Newcastleton at noon, cheered on by all the locals. We followed the piper and then the van out of the village and up to the course proper.
We reached the track and the van peeled off, the race was on. It was like being in the start of an Elite XC race, there was no holding back. I tried to keep my head, telling myself that I am doing 24hrs, pretty much all of the guys in front are only doing 12hrs, let them go, I don’t have to race them.
The lap was very similar to the last two years, up the hill through the trees from the main arena, then a new section of a logging road, and back onto a familiar climb to the main fireroad. There was a lovely section of singletrack, great fun, followed by a short decent and then back down the fireroad towards the English border, not quite crossing it. Two more singletrack sections lead back to the logging road and then a final blast across the moors and down into the arena.

"XC racer in wheels (very slightly) off the ground shocker!"
Thanks to Joolze Dymond for the picture

I crossed the line in 10th at the end of the first lap, Chris Howell (Vivelo-Bikes/Inverse) right in front of me and Matthew Duggan trying to get passed me, I grabbed another bottle of Bikefood from Mr K and set off for lap 2.
Howell and I dropped Duggan and set about chasing Peter Steed (B&DCC). I was still 10th at the end of the second lap, 1hr04 for that one.
I got passed Howell, and also Steed and Chris Edmundson on the third lap to move up to 7th, a position I held for the fourth lap before Steed came passed me again, dropping me down to 8th. I had a slow pit stop as I now needed to eat some proper food, rather than just the gels, and paused for a couple of minutes to get some rice pudding down me. This let a couple of riders passed, including Howell. I chased all the way up the climb, along the fireroad and along the next singletrack section, finally catching him at the highest part of the course, overtaking him on the last climb to the summit.
He stuck with me all the way down, through the techy sections and was right on my wheel as we emerged from the trees, I could hear the rumble of his tyres right behind me. I dropped off the little rock slab, landed perfectly, back on the power, keep to the left passed the pointy rock, then lean into the next turn, lean the other way for the next, feeling the back wheel starting to slide, brake a little, just keep it under control, that’s not good, he’ll get me now if he gets a good exit off this turn. I then heard a crashing sound and a shower of stones, I glanced over my shoulder to see him leaving the course to his left. The marshal was already running towards him so I left them to it. 1hr05 for that lap, pretty good so far.
It was on lap 8 when it started to go wrong for me, about 9hrs into the race. I was in 9th place battling with Gareth Hayes (Loco Racing), my former team-mate and Anthony Jordan (AQR), with whom I have a good personal rivalry, 2-1 to me at this point.
Emerging out of the forest onto the logging road my strength just deserted me, it was surprisingly sudden. Hayes was the first person to pass me, shouting encouragement as he did so “don’t worry, everyone will have a rubbish hour, just keep it moving.” I know he’s right, in a race of this length everyone has a rubbish period, the trick is to keep going through it when it really starts to hurt and get back on the pace as soon as one is able. However, this time for me it wasn’t one rubbish hour, it was fifteen of them, each a little worse than the last.
My lap times got steadily worse, I lost a another couple of places before midnight, which is when the 12hr race ended (I should have done that, even with two slow laps I would have got 10th place!) The course was suddenly a very lonely place, the remaining riders spread around the track. There were 43 of us in my class, plus of course the girls and veterans races, but it was easily possible to ride 15 minutes without seeing anyone.
From about 2am I stopped being able to eat, which did my performance no good at all. I was trying to put the food in but it was just coming straight out again. Yes, both ends! I was going sufficiently slowly now that cold was becoming an issue, there was a slight frost at the top of course, I was glad of the windproof and thicker gloves I had picked up in my pitstop.
I set off for another lap at 4:25am and this is where it went really very wrong indeed. I left the arena not feeling too bad, no worse than was to be expected, but got to the first climb and just couldn’t do it. I had no option but to get off and walk.
By this stage not only had my legs ceased functioning well enough to climb, but my brain had ceased functioning well enough to descend. I could just about manage to ride along some of the easier fireroad sections, but mainly I was just plodding, and plodding and plodding. That lap took me 3hr49 to complete, although this did include a chat with, and some advice from, Kate Potter, the AQR team coach. I really didn’t want to head out for another lap, but I knew that even at walking pace I could get one more in and so I forced myself out for one final attempt. This last lap took me an equally embarrassing 3hr12 but I still got the big cheer as I crossed the line for the last time, even though I was now down in 22nd place.

Huw Thomas (Niner/Stans/Ergon) took the win for Wales, with Portugese rider Rodolfo Dias (Bergcycle/Hyundai/Altimetria) in second and another Welshman Hayes in third. My arch-rival  Jordan took fourth overall and third in the British Champs for England, 2-2 now. With Greg May for Ireland in ninth and Szabi Bandli (Endura/Navmil Racing) tenth for Hungary there were five Nationalities in the top 10.

I have never felt so drained after a race, which is odd as I never gone so slowly in a race. My head hurt, blood would pour from my nose every time I so much as twitched it, my lip was cut, my right shoulder hurt, along with my left elbow and wrist, both knees and my right foot. My main concern was the tendons in my left ankle, whenever I move my foot I can feel them moving around inside my heel, which is rather unpleasant. A bit of rest and plenty of ice for that. Walking for over 6½ hours in riding shoes appears to have done it no good at all… Oh, and I have a rather unpleasant rash too, I think the midges may have had more to eat than I did in the second half of the race!

So what went wrong? I wish I knew. Training had gone very well in the build up to the event, with plenty of rest in the two weeks immediately prior to it. I had started well, and fairly sensibly, not going too hard to start with. I was eating and drinking fine, in the first half of the race at least, by the time I had stopped being able to do this the race was already lost. The bike performed faultlessly so I can’t even blame that.  Thanks to Mike Powell (Sherwood Pines/Co-Op Motors) for the mid-race tweak to the gears, he took third in the 12hr race and no sooner had he crossed the line than he was roped in as mechanic.
Obviously we all have bad races every now and again, but mine aren’t usually this bad!

I have to do another 24hr on 19/20th May, the World Championships at Finale Ligure in Italy, I shall be doing lots more resting before then.

Big thank-you as ever to the guys in the pits, especially Mr K.

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