24/12 - That Muddy One

24 Hour UK National Championship 2017
Pivot 24/12, Newnham park, Devon



This race was sadly the last time I saw Mick Gudgin. A lovely chap who will be sadly missed by all those who knew him. Thanks for all your help Mick.


 

It is a sign of how much my riding has come on in the last few years, to my surprise as much as anyone else's, that I found myself heading to a National Championship thinking that I would be disappointed if I didn't come back with a medal.


It is a sign of how of how little my preparation has changed in the last few years, to no-one's great surprise, that I found myself bursting through the doors of the airport terminal eight minutes before my flight was due to take off.


I charged up the stairs, along the endless corridors and eventually around the corner into security. I have never seen so many people in one room, the queue was enormous. I waved my boarding pass at the machine, pushed through the automatic barrier and then ducked under the tape that separates the crowds from the bit the staff use to get to the front and ran, ignoring the terribly British disapproving glances and tutting noises I would inevitably attract from my fellow passengers. I apologised briefly to the girl at the front of the queue, pushed in front of her, dumped my bag and contents of my pockets into the little plastic box and pushed it through the scanner. I grabbed it on the other side and sprinted off, three minutes to go.


I sprinted back, grabbed my helmet from the metal detector, and ran again.


I was flat out through duty-free trying not to scatter bottles of expensive whiskey in the same manner as the people I was pushing passed and emerged breathless into the departure lounge.


Which gate? Which gate? Please be a close one! WHICH GATE?!


Flight delayed.


Bugger. And phew. Mostly phew.


I then spent the next hour or so sitting and watching as all of the people I had just barged passed in the queue walked passed me one by one and saw me sitting calmly at the bar, rather than rushing around, or gone, as they might have expected. Was I really that desperate to get a drink?


Gina had been on holiday with her parents for a week and had taken the van, already packed with my bikes, and once she had put her immediate ancestors on a train home from Bristol, met me at the airport for the drive down to Plymouth. 


We had already got the obligatory van incident out of the way before Gina had set off, just a puncture this time so nothing serious, but it was quite late on Friday when we arrived at Newnham. We found Matt, Mick and Sarah, with whom we were sharing a pit, easily enough. By the time we had finished signing on, said hello to everyone we bumped into during the process, had dinner and got the bikes ready it was a bit too late to go for a lap so we decided that an early night would be best.

Chris and Shergie arrived on Saturday morning, having left Monmouth at silly O'clock, why they didn't come down the night before I have no idea. Chris was going to be doing the twelve hour race and Shergie was supposed to be mechanicing for us both, with Gina in charge of feeding us. 


Last time I had done a twenty-four hour race with Shergie , Mayhem 2011, he had spent most of the first half of it in bed with food poisoning. This one wasn't looking any more promising, although at least he wasn't supposed to be racing this time. Not setting off on Friday evening like any sensible people would have done instead meant that he had been able to go out and drink a lot of beer and so arrived pretty hungover.

The forecast was grim, and I had been unable to persuade my friend Matt, who works at the Met Office in nearby Exeter, to change it. At least the start was dry though.


Newnham is far from my favourite course, much too flat and fast for my tastes, no real technical sections, and more to the point really isn't weather-proof, unlike Newcastleton for example, which had held up surprisingly well in couple of horrifically wet twenty-fours. 


Even though I hadn't raced at Newnham for several years most of the course was familiar to me and the lack of a practice lap wasn't really an issue. I was in a respectable position overall at the end of the first lap but the singlespeed category appeared to be especially competitive and I was well down the order. I grabbed another bottle of Torq from Gina as I passed through the pits, efficient as ever. Rather less efficient was my mechanic, I just caught a glimpse of Shergie’s feet sticking out of the van as he slept off his hangover.


The brief dry spell didn’t last and the rain soon set in, gentle at first but then more intense. Steve Day was fighting for the overall lead early on, despite only having one gear, Matt Jones and Max Suttie pushing him hard. I was struggling further back, down in about fifth or sixth in the singlespeeds. The course was fairly singlespeed-friendly, only two real climbs to speak of, both of which were fine in 32/19 for the majority of the race and there was nothing techy enough that I missed my full-suss. It was however chewing up quite badly, what had been fairly good fun to ride early on was becoming a slog now it was raining.

 

Shergie made his one and only appearance to do something useful just as dusk was falling, he changed both pairs of brake pads whilst Gina sorted out my lights and I swallowed some rice pudding and put a dry top on. Two hours later he had gone, Chris had crashed and then called it a night and they had headed home.


At about 10pm there was a rumour going around that Steve had pulled out too, I can’t remember exactly where I first heard it but word travels fast in a forest at night. The rumour turned out to be true, which at least bumped me up a place. He had got so much mud and grit in his eyes over the last few laps that he was no longer able to see where he was going.



The rain worsened as midnight drew near, which actually made things better for a while. There was one section in particular which had become unrideable, the mud just forming great clumps around the bottom bracket, the top of the seat stays and under the fork braces, stopping the wheels from turning. It was also adding so much weight that in our tired and weakened states the bikes were becoming difficult to carry. It reminded me very much of the 1990s, was mud worse back in the old days or was it just narrower forks and chainstays coupled with cantilever brakes that just made it seems worse? Anyway, as the rain intensified the quagmire became a river of muddy water and was again rideable, at least for a short period, the claggy mud becoming spashy mud. Once the rain eased off a bit it returned to it’s previous horrible claggy state.

 

With my mechanic now sound asleep in a warm cosy bed in Monmouth, a couple of hundred miles from the race, I did the next brake pad change myself. Gina and Mick were very good at keeping me fed and watered but neither were familiar with my brakes. This only took twelve minutes, and that included quite a bit of eating too, and drinking some very welcome hot sweet tea. Well, more of a mug of damp sugar really, but I needed the energy. 


The night wore on. Despite the weather and general miserableness of the conditions I remined cheerful, although a problem was becoming apparent in my left wrist. I’ve had it before on the other side and recognised the symptoms, the sheaths which house the tendons which control my hand were becoming inflamed, making braking rather difficult and quite painful. I took a leaf out of Steve Kelly’s book, overdosed on ibruprofen (thanks Carole) and then ignored it for the rest of the race.

I don’t think I had any visits from the Sleepmonsters, although I did spot a flock of green sheep. I was mocked by Max Suttie as I pointed them out to him and he questioned both my eye-sight and my sanity but the next time I saw him, at the LDLR in June the following year, he did apologise for doubting me and confirmed that the sheep were indeed green.

 

I made a bit of a mistake as dawn approached, I was coming down the ‘Cottage Descent’, one of the few parts of the track which hadn’t been badly chewed up and was therefore still fairly fast, when I lost control of my front wheel.


I slid off the track, my rear wheel locked as I braked hard, ignoring the pain in my wrist. I was brought to a very abrupt halt by a branch which hit me square in the right side of chest, winding me quite badly. I remember thinking that I was lucky that it was pretty blunt branch, the end about the size and shape of a fist, a pointy branch could have been really nasty. I got my breath back and then continued a little more cautiously, my chest still quite sore, but only when I breathed.
 

I acquired a new mechanic shortly after sunrise, Steve K. who had made the journey over from the Isle of Man just to watch (yes, really) was volunteered for the next brake pad change whilst Gina removed the lights and I ate as much as I could in the couple of minutes this gave me. Somehow just plugging away in the quagmire all night had got me up to third place. 

Even the pits were becoming quite horrific, several inches of thick churned up mud, bound together with grass, choking the wheels, brakes and drivetrains, even for the singlespeeders it was quicker to get off and push, or more often drag, since the wheels wouldn’t turn properly, and most of the rest of the course wasn’t much better. 


So there I was, dragging the bike along, trudging through the muddy field, twenty-two hours worth of tired, cold, soaked through, my wrist and chest both still hurting like hell, when I heard a familiar voice shouting to me from the arena. Martin had said that there was someone looking for me but had been a little vague as to who it was. It turned out to be James, who I had not seen for about fifteen years, but who along with another friend, Chris, who I have not seen for equally as long, had first got me into this daft sport of racing bikes and was therefore entirely responsible for my current cold, wet, broken and generally miserable state. Being in the middle of a race isn’t really conducive to having a good catch-up and so we shouted a few words to each other and arranged to meet up afterwards if I was still alive. 


I crossed the line again at 1140. By that stage of the race most positions had been settled and the field was starting to thin out even more. I was in a safe third in the singlespeeds, too far behind second to catch him and too far ahead of fourth to be caught, but I could still make up a position or two in the overall standings.


A half-dead singlespeeder setting off for one final lap just as most people are finishing is never going to be the quickest. I was passed by a couple of people, not people I was racing against, they were either team racers or in the 12hr race (Chris had been in the midday to midnight one, there was a second midnight to midday one going on now). I could hear the quad bike behind me for most of the lap, indicating that I was indeed dead last. It was one of my slowest laps of the weekend (I think one of the slowest laps full stop) although the rain had finally stopped and I was beginning to warm up a little.


It was nearly half past two as I approached the arena for the last time, 25hr24min making it the longest race I have ever done, by about ten minutes. It also appeared that there were about four hundred people waiting for me, waiting for the last man to cross the line before the podiums and suchlike could take place, I hadn’t intended to keep everyone standing around quite so long, sorry.


Rory Hitchens was there on the microphone giving me a big cheer as I came in, Judy McNeil was also there with a pint of beer for me. Steve Day came over to help me off the bike and into a heap on the ground as Gina fought her way through the crowds.

Commentators extraordinaire, Rory Hitchens and Matt Carr


Although I was the last to finish, something which James would have been very familiar with (I was last at pretty much everything back in the day) my 18 laps had earned me that third spot in the singlespeeds (fifteenth overall) Three National Championship podiums in a row, that would have been unthinkable way back when, it just goes to show what a difference twenty years of practicing can make!



I was in a bit of a sorry state after the race. Is it just me? Everyone else seems to look normal. Matt Jones seemed fine, as did Max Suttie, and they had ridden further than anyone else. I could barely lift a water bottle – the tendons in my left wrist really hurt and the bit on the right side of chest the name of which I have forgotten (just underneath the muscle which seems to run from the shoulder to down towards the nipple and which moves if I raise my arm, that bit) wasn’t much better. It got me out of helping to pack up but it was quite irritating during the following week’s holiday as we toured around Cornwall. In all the excitement of the race I had completely forgotten about my crash, it wasn’t until the end of the holiday when Gina asked me what the funny coloured bruise was that I remembered and put two and two together. She decided that it was probably a cracked rib, I’m not so certain but sounds better than a bruised chest so I’m going to say it was.


I recall at the previous race, the 24hrWorld Champs at Finale, that I had been very impressed with Steve Kelly finishing the race with cracked ribs and had wondered how he had managed. Well, now I know – a combination will-power and far more than the recommended dose of ibruprofen. Brian Preece of course had to go one better the following year, finishing Longest Day/Longest Ride with three broken ribs and a punctured lung. There’s always one…



Results

Elite Men.

1. Max Suttie

2. Matt Jones

3. Michael McCutcheon

4. Chris Nobel

5. Nick Glassey



Elite Women.

1. Naomi Freireich

2. Donna Waring

3. Vic Mayes

4. Sally Hall

5. Carole Welch



Singlespeed Men.



1. Steve Chapman (5th overall)

2. Rob Burns (7th overall)

3. Andrew Howett (15th overall)

4. Sim Dagger (21st overall)

5. Paul Aengenheister (22nd overall)



Singlespeed Women



1. Isla Rowntree (2nd overall)

2. Sophie David (10th overall)







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