Twenty-Three And A Bit Hours In A Field


I really hate to write a negative-sounding race report but sometimes circumstances just dictate that it has to be done.
 
I will however start with the positives – the views from the course were fantastic. That over, on with the rest of it…
 
Some elements, such as the heavy rain which began about noon, just as we were getting ready to head into Davos for the start, were outside of the organiser’s control, but most of the rest they could, and probably should, have done differently.
 
We arrived in Davos town centre at about 1pm having found our way to the start by stopping and asking in a local bike shop (Ivan's, lovely people who helped us enormously all week) rather than by following any signs since there didn't appear to be any. The race briefing was conducted in the concrete entrance lobby of some sort of sports centre. My German is good enough to get the gist of it but being a European Championship I was expecting a couple more languages, at least English and French, possibly Italian, maybe a couple of others.
 
Despite the drab surroundings we were all keen to remain in there for as long as possible as the rain outside was bouncing off the paving. We were however ushered out to the start line about 20 minutes before the off, where we chatted amongst ourselves as we got wetter and wetter and colder and colder.
The first start
 
The race was lead out behind a truck, starting at 1345 rather than the advertised 1400. This lead us on a neutralised lap of the town where, probably due to the weather, only half a dozen people had come to cheer us on.
 
From there we were lead up the main road for a couple of miles back to the venue at Frauenkirch, traffic coming down the road clearly not warned that they were about to encounter a couple of hundred riders heading towards them, jostling for position amongst themselves and not expecting anything to be coming the other way.
 
I managed to stay at the front for most of this neutralised section, which proved to be a good move. I did drop back to the second row briefly and the spray from just the riders in front of me was horrendous, I don’t know what it was like for those further back, they must have been even wetter and colder than I was.
 
We were lead up the main climb where the truck peeled off and the race proper began. Defending champion Daniel Schmidheiney, the other Brit Matt Jones and a few others shot off up the reminder of the hill leaving me and another half dozen as a chasing pack, the other riders strung out down the hill behind us.  
 Matt on some fireroad, a little bit techier than most of the rest
of the course as there is a puddle to avoid here.
 
Up the fireroad climb as fast as I could, over the crest and down the other side, a really fast fireroad descent. With the recent addition of a front crud-catcher and a neoguard I was actually able to see the corners through all the spray, a big improvement over Friday afternoon, and I felt brave enough to keep my speed up.
 
A sharp right-hander at the end took us into one of the two brief singletrack sections. It was marked with three caution arrows, but Gina had ridden it perfectly well on Friday – not only has she never raced but the number of times she has ridden a mountain bike can be counted, if not on the fingers of one hand, then certainly without needing to remove one’s socks. This 'suitable for beginners' section was the most interesting part of the course, but probably didn’t warrant three arrows.
 
Left at the bottom and down the hill towards the bridge, a marshal still faffing with the course tape. Unsure which way to go I shouted “Rechts? Right? Diestre?” Nothing. I guessed and carried the speed into the more obvious line across the bridge, those behind following me over. Heading up the climb on the other side Matt appeared from my right, another rider on his tail, shouting something about getting lost. Not a good start for him!
 
He got away from me again up the grassy climb and through the quarry. If the rain continued as it was now this grassy climb would quickly become a quagmire, reminiscent of a wet Eastnor and Mountain Mayhem at it’s worst.
 
Through the campsite, up another tarmac climb and then through the river crossing. I was following the two guys in front of me as fast as I could. There were two camper vans parked across the track, which we squeezed passed as best we could. Over to my left I could see the end of the other singletrack section as we rode passed it. It seemed a little odd that we had not ridden it but maybe the first lap was different, it sometimes is, just to spread us out a little at the start. I pointed at it as we sped passed, slightly quizzical. My companions looked puzzled but shrugged and carried on in pursuit of the riders still just visible ahead of us as they headed into the trees.
 
Matt cornering hard in a field
 
Along the riverside, another interminable grassy section before finally riding through the stable yard and back into the pits. I just needed another bottle of Torq, just a quick grab, there should be no need to stop, but Gina and Luke, Daniel’s mechanic, flagged me down and pulled me over. The race had been aborted, so many riders had got lost that they had no choice but to abandon it and start again.
 
This was just after 1430, a new 23hr race would start from the main arena at 1500. There was just enough time to wash the worst of the mud and grass out of the bike, put a dry top on, have a Torq bar and then stand around in the rain losing whatever body heat we had managed to build up since the first start.
 
This sort of thing just shouldn’t happen, especially at a European Championship. The course not being properly marked out as the race got underway is a pretty basic error. It should really have been properly marked at least a couple of days before, from talking to other riders I got the impression that no-one had been able to practice it properly, we should have known it like the backs of our gloves by this stage. Most people had ridden most of it but not necessarily in the right order or in the right direction. It’s like that moment before the test match when the umpire is wandering around, trying to find someone who has remembered to bring a bat this time…
 
Whilst I am having a moan, there we were in the middle of the Swiss Alps, snow-capped peaks and forests all around us, a stone’s throw from some of the best riding to be found anywhere on earth. SO WHY WEREN’T WE USING IT?! It was such a wasted opportunity, coming all this way to such a lovely area to ride round and round a field or two.
 
 The much vaunted quarry section...
 
  
Particular highlights of the track included riding through the discharge puddle from the showers, twice each lap, the enormous puddle of horse piss in the stable yard as we came back into the pits, the quarry section which turned out to be the access road for the trucks and of course the meat factory. The pits were located right next to this and the stench of death pervaded the whole campsite during the race. When the wind got up in a little on Sunday morning it also engulfed most of the second half of the course, really not good news 20hrs into a race when one’s stomach is all over the place.
 
The meat factory next to the transition area for the team riders
in the pits, that really did stink!
 
 Anyway, Race Two:
 
The rain was starting to ease off as we regrouped on the improvised start line, hoping no-one had had a mechanical on the first lap and was still out there somewhere in the woods. No-one had checked us in or out again.
The second start. This is me chasing defending champ 
Daniel Schmidheiney, Matt Jones just visible behind me,
probably the last time I was ahead of him.  
 
Daniel shot off at the restart, opening up a big lead on the first climb, half a dozen riders chasing him with me in the pack behind them. It turned out that I had indeed been one of those who had gone the wrong way, turning right instead of left after the stream crossing. I got it right this time, word had obviously reached the marshals and the markings all appeared to have been fixed, the course was much easier to follow.
 
I found the previously omitted singletrack section and also found that the two camper vans were not in fact parked on the course after all now I was going the right way. Even better, they belonged to our friends from Ivan's who had set up a neutral put to help anyone who might need it, as I said, lovely people.
 
 
 There's some singletrack! And some more tarmac...
 
The rain stayed away for the first two laps before it returned again for another hour or so. The grass sections were, as predicted, getting quite chewed up but they had at least brought out some wooden snow-ladders to keep it rideable for most of us.
 
Daniel completely lost the will to live at about 6pm and called it a day. After some food and a hot shower he took over as mechanic and Luke headed home. It was at about this time that my forks also gave up (note to self: I really need to get some new ones, they keep going wrong mid race, I wonder if anyone still makes 26” QR forks? Maybe I should have a word with the Retro-Bike guys…) It didn’t really matter though, rigid forks were fine for this course and I just kept riding them despite having access to a spare bike. My 4”-travel full-suss really did leave me feeling very overbiked, I had the rear locked out for most of the race.
 
Me in a field next to a river
 
It was time to fit the lights as darkness started to fall at about 9pm. Matt was in second at this point and chasing hard, I was in twelfth and feeling reasonably comfortable. I was using two lights, an  Exposure MaxxDs on the bars and a Joystick on my helmet as a backup.
 
Normally I would need two MaxxDs, or one and something similar like a SixPack or Toro, to get me through the night part of a race. I run them on medium on the fireoads and then at full power in the singletrack and two will easily last a race like this. The Joystick is to help see around the corners in the twisty bits and usually has a SupportCell attached for a bit of extra battery life.
 
The Joystick didn’t get used at all this time and the main light spent so much time on low and medium, with just a couple of minutes on high each lap, that it was still going strong as daylight returned, the course was too simple to require using it’s full potential.
 
By about 2am Matt had taken the lead and I had moved up to seventh, he had one pursuer pretty close behind but I had about four.
 
Matt in a different field
 
It didn’t get too cold overnight and mercifully the forecast thunderstorms stayed away so the course didn’t get too much worse despite the riders passing over and over it. It wasn’t just the 24hr Soloists here, there were also 24hr Teams and a 6hr race. I have no idea what the 6hr racers did, whether they restarted the 6hrs again or if they did a 5hr race. Either way the track got pretty quiet at night without them.
 
At the end of the lap, just after riding through the shower puddle and before crossing the start/finish line, we passed through the big marquee. The 6hr riders had all gathered in there to drink beer and eat pasta after their race and, with the course almost devoid of spectators, it would have been great to have them all cheering us on as we sped passed inches away from them. However, someone had seen fit to erect a large curtain to separate spectators and riders, quite bizarre.
 
The arena. As you can see, not a big turnout this year...
The meat factory is just out of shot to the left
 
As the race drew on I began to struggle, the lack of training was beginning to show, a 24hr race really isn’t something one can just muddle through. I had dropped from seventh to eighth by dawn and lost another two places before the end. Some spectators had emerged as the end of the race approached, a couple in particular helped me up two of the climbs, one riding alongside me for a while as I tried to explain to her in my best German what had happened at the first start. The marshall at the top of the main climb was great. encouraging me on, coaxing me up the hill, although she seemed quite concerned for my welfare by that stage.
 
It was something of a relief when I came around again at about 1330 to find that the leaderboard (or Gina’s telephone, there was no sign of any information about positions or lap times available for the pit crews or spectators anywhere else) was saying that it was now impossible for me to catch anyone ahead and that it was also impossible for me to be caught by those behind in the time we had remaining, and so for me it was race over, 10th place.
 
Matt in a field next to a shed. With the grass worn down to
mud it almost looks like a bit of singletrack. Almost.
 
We all gathered in the arena to wait for Matt to finish his lap and take a convincing win and the title of European Champion, he had ridden an excellent race.
 
A nice touch was the playing of the national anthem for him on the podium, just after he had received his prize of beef, he looked quite emotional.
 
Results: 
1.      Matt Jones                         UK
2.      Dominik Hug                      Switzerland                       
3.      Marcel Knaus                     Lichtenstein       
4.      Christian Eggenberger     Switzerland
5.      Andreas Schmelzer           France                 
6.      Herbert Luther                  Germany             
7.      Daniel Schefer                   Switzerland                       
8.      Danial Rombach               Austria                
9.      Nicolas Pellegrinelli          Italy
10.   Andrew Howett                UK

The women's race was won by Sonja Gisler, by a convincing margin ahead of fellow Swiss rider Colette Tőlle.
 
I would like to say a very big thank-you, especially to Gina, but also to Daniel, Sarah and Luke in the pits, the lovely guys at Ivan's and, as always, Torq, Exposure, and Mt Zoom
 

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