24hr World Champs 2012

I am still new enough to racing abroad that I get rather excited about it and had been looking forward to competing in my second World Championship ever since I had finished the last one.

Following a rather poor performance at the European 24hr earlier in the year I was especially keen for a good result at the Worlds. It usually takes me between six and eight weeks to recover fully from a 24hr and the Worlds were exactly six weeks after the Euros, this was not going to be easy.

The journey there on the other hand had been surprisingly easy, the ferry was a doddle and nine hours after leaving Calais I crossed the Italian border. I spent a few days in the Alps, the first climb I rode was 1hr45, all in the granny ring, that was a bit of a wake up call, we don’t have hills like that at home. It was a little surreal, riding in shorts and short sleeves in the blazing sunshine, several hundred feet above the snowline, spectacular views too of course.

I arrived at Finale Ligure on the north coast of Italy in time for Thursday practice, and immediately was able to have a quick game of ‘Spot the national stereotype.’ The Spanish were being very loud, the Aussies already had a BBQ going and it appeared that the Germans had arrived first and bagsied the best spot in the pit lane. Our hosts, the Italians, were of course rather disorganised, the course was not yet fully marked out and so our first practice laps were something of a voyage into the unknown, it seems we all rode a different lap! There was consensus on one thing though, whichever lap we had ridden it was great fun, tough without being scary and with fantastic views from the top of the cliffs across the sea.

The race began at 1pm on the Saturday, after two days of practice, getting to know the course. The start was a Le Mans style running affair. We all went to line up ready, the usual pre-race nerves rising. I always find starting a 24hr quite daunting, doing more of them doesn’t really help, it just reminds me how much it hurts. The countdown began, the calm before the storm.

I found myself on the second row of the grid, obviously I would have preferred the front row but running starts usually favour me. It was quite a narrow start line and I could see the rest of the 140-odd riders stretching away behind me.

The gun went at bang on 1pm (sorry, rubbish pun) and we were off, the nerves evaporating as soon as the race got underway. I got a good start, elbows out as I fought for position. We ran through the arena, up onto the stage and out into the trees at the back, before looping round and back into the start/finish area where the bikes were waiting. I was at the tail end of the top 10 as we arrived to grab the bikes, but I’ve done enough of these now to know exactly how to take advantage of this kind of start (no, I’m not going to give the secret away) and I was up to 4th as we left the arena again and headed out onto the course. I made up one place in the first corner and we then turned and headed back into the trees.

There was a lot of shouting, in rather excited Italian, somewhere over to my right. My Italian isn’t great at the best of times, never mind amidst all the noise and excitement of the start. I ignored it and kept the pressure on, a few seconds later I passed two riders in successive corners and found myself leading a World Championship!

This was rather short-lived.

Trying to keep my immediate pursuer behind me I glanced over my shoulder and saw what all the shouting was about. I, and a dozen others, were going the wrong way! The marshal who was in charge of directing us out on to the course following the run had made a bit of a cock-up. It cost us less than half a minute but with everyone still so close together this was about fifty places. I performed a quick about-turn and set off in pursuit. I had got passed about twenty people before we hit the singletrack. Still, there is no rush, plenty of time left.

The first lap was a little manic, we were all still close together and jostling for position. If anything the track was even better at racing speed, although the opportunities for admiring the views were a lot fewer. It was just over an hour before I passed the pits to start my second lap, I just grabbed another bottle of Bikefood and kept going.

By about the end of the second lap the chaos of the start had sorted itself out, the riders settling into a rhythm and an order becoming established. At the front Austrian rider Rudolf Springer was giving the defending World Champion, Australian Jason English, a run for his money with British rider Craig Bowles trying desperately to keep in touch with them.

I arrived in the pits at the end of the second lap to find that I acquired a pit crew. Chris and Matt, some of Craig B’s helpers had adopted me, and proved themselves to be invaluable as the race progressed.

To return briefly to the national stereotypes, I saw a great example of Teutonic efficiency, coming up one of the climbs near the end of the third lap the German rider in front of me took a small radio from his pocket, said into it ‘I will be in the pits in six minutes’ and put it back into his pocket. Only the Germans would have timed various sections of the track and made a mental note of them…

It seems that the longer the race the less that one can recall about it later, and I’m not the only one who has said this. I do remember a little of the opening stages of the race, I felt pretty quick and was to certain extent having to hold myself back, there was still a very long way to go. The support out on the track was fantastic, a lot of people had made the trek out to some of the more entertaining parts of the course to cheer us on, although certain groups were noticeably more drunk every time I passed them.

My first seven laps were pretty consistent, my second and third laps were only 3 seconds different (1hr03m45s and 1hr03m48s) but it began to get dark after that and the pace eased off a little. There was no natural light at all in the forests, I always find it a little peculiar riding into the narrow illuminated area directly in front of me, with no peripheral vision at all. The open cliff-top sections never got completely dark though. The temperatures did fall slightly as the night progressed, but nothing one more layer couldn’t fix.

Unlike last time in Australia there was no deadly wildlife to worry about at night, no enormous spiders walking along the track or sleeping snakes in the undergrowth waiting to bite the first person to wake them up. Actually, it’s usually the first rider who wakes them, it is the second who gets bitten. The night after this race I did see a wild boar run straight through where we camping, a big one with tusks and everything, but there was no sign of them during the race itself.

I had my only crash of the race at about 3:30am. I was on the little plateau on the south side of the course. From there the course turned left, a tricky little corner, quite tight with a short, steep drop into a chute down towards a vineyard. I was a little nervous of riding this corner in the dark, and must have been distracted by planning my line through it, I lost grip and fell ten yards before I even got there. Fortunately I fell to my left, even landing on the little pointy rocks was preferable to the drop on the other side! I landed on all the sticky-out bones down my left side, hitting my ankle, knee, hip, shoulder and elbow, the full set. When I finished the race I also found that one finger had swelled up to nearly twice the size of the others, I must have done it here but didn’t notice at the time. It also wouldn’t bend very well but since it wasn’t one involved in either braking or changing gear I hadn’t needed it for anything. I had however winded myself so had to have a sit down for a couple of minutes to regain my composure before wiping the blood from my knee and carrying on.

This is where I crashed, fortunately falling to the left rather than the right.

I managed to get through the night without hallucinating at all, a 24hr usually does strange things to my head but I was fine this time. I did have a moment where I thought I might be, coming through the arena at about 4am I found myself riding up onto the stage, through the middle of a German heavy metal band (or maybe Dutch, I couldn’t make out the lyrics very well) and then out to start another lap. I wasn’t imagining it, it was just a little quirkiness.

I had been really looking forward to watching the sun rise over the sea below me, but the course required so much concentration that I missed it completely, as far as I was concerned one moment it was dark and the next it wasn’t.

Yes, I am as knackered as I look.

By this stage of the race the situation at the front had changed. Jason English was still out front but his pursuer, Rudolf Springer, had suffered a mechanical problem, fixed it, and then suffered a stomach problem and was out of the race. Craig Bowles had retained his third place but another British rider, Jason Miles, had stepped up to take the fight to the Aussie. In the women’s race it was another Aussie, Jessica Douglas at the front but she was not having an easy time of it. British rider Ricci Cotter was chasing hard, never more than twenty minutes behind, a far from comfortable margin in a race of this length. Was it too much to hope for a British win? Maybe even two?

Rather than getting a second wind as usual I actually slowed down for a couple of laps when the sun came up. Although not too demanding technically the course did take one’s energy away, a mixture of an energy-sapping surface and the mental effort required to concentrate on the narrow tracks along the cliffs. In fact only 80 of the 140 starters were still running in the last hour of the race. I did pick the pace again eventually, helped by large quantities of caffeine, even Ricci expressed surprised at my rediscovered speed when I saw her out on the track. 

Although this is the first time it has staged a World Championship there has been a 24hr race held at this venue every year for the previous six years, and there had never been a drop of rain in any of them, it has a reputation as one of the driest races in Europe. At about 9am I was in the pits, eating some rice pudding and stocking up on yet more Bikefood when I heard a noise in the distance. I asked Chris ‘is that a plane?’ He said ‘don’t worry about it, just go’ and sent back out for another lap. Git, he knew exactly what it was! It became obvious to me very soon afterwards. Thunder. Within twenty minutes the rain was so intense that it was a struggle to see through it, although fortunately it remained warm. It soon eased to a mere downpour and continued for the next four hours until the end of the race, and indeed long after that.

Amongst the riders at home I am not one of the best in the wet, far from it, but it looked almost as though some of the southern Europeans had never seen rain before. The rocks were gritty enough to remain surprisingly grippy but there were a couple of descents where one had to just aim at the top and then hold on as best one could until the bottom, and I actually managed to make a few places up on these, picking my way through the various Italians, Spanish and Portuguese who seemed to be more confused than anything by the rain, sliding down the hills, some still attached to their bikes and some not.

I got involved in what may have been the slowest sprint-finish ever, both of us were knackered after over 24hrs of racing (24h09m16s in my case) so although it was as fast as we could go it wasn’t really much of a sprint. My opponent was another German, Dominik Scherer, whom I beat by just over a bike length. I found out later that I was four laps ahead of him and so needn’t have bothered but the crowd seemed to enjoy it anyway.

Results: Top 5 and other British riders:

Elite Men
1   Jason English Australia
2   Jason Miles Great Britain
3   Craig Bowles Great Britain
4   Michael Kochendorfer Germany
5   Matthew Warner-Smith France

6   Phillip Simcock Great Britain
7   Dave Powell Great Britain
16 Andrew Howett Great Britain

Elite Women
1   Jessica Douglas Australia
2   Ricci Cotter Great Britain
3   Megan Dimozantos New Zealand
4   Giuliana Massarotto Italy
5   Lisa Kamphausen Germany

6   Mona Petrie Great Britain

Well done also to Jane Chadwick 3rd and James Heraty 7th in their age-groups.

Apologies for absence: Ant White. The man behind Mt Zoom was otherwise engaged at the Beskidy Sudety stage race in Poland. His report will follow shortly on his blog.

It was a great result for the British riders, coming so close to breaking the Aussie dominance, especially in the women’s race. They had a real fight for the wins this time. Next year we will back at Mt Stromlo, their home turf, and somewhere I have been lucky enough to race before (see here for the report of the 2010 Worlds.) In 2014 we will have the home advantage as the race takes place at Fort William, before heading over to North America, possibly the Moab desert, for 2015.
I was really pleased with my 16th place, I was aiming to beat the 31st I had achieved at my first Worlds and succeeded. However, with the standard of riders Britain is now producing even 16th looks a little poor!

Many thanks as ever to Mt Zoom and Bikefood, without whom etc..
I would also like to say a big thank-you to many, many people, you all know who you are, but will single out for special mentions Chris and Matt, the girls at JMC, Chris, Nico and Anna from Magura, and especially Lisa K.
The pictures are from Sportograf

No comments:

Post a comment