1. the act of trying, testing, or putting to the proof.
2. test; proof.
1. a cause of distress
2. a state of suffering
So, for starters it’s a Twenty Four Hour Race – 12 noon on Saturday to 12 noon on Sunday. It takes in a technical 9 mile course with loads of climbing. There are seven other 24 hour races going on at the same time on the same course, as well as several 12 hour options. You have to provide all your own support, bikes and equipment. Oh and there are constantly slower riders to overtake and faster riders overtaking. The more I think about it, the more I realise what a stupid idea it is, but I can honestly say that Bontrager TwentyFour12 is my favourite race of the year and personally I think it’s the best 24 in the world. Here’s why…
The kit list for a 24 is massive, but having done a few of these now, I store it mostly in my head. This time however TheÆightBicycleCømpany would be racing its first ever Mixed Pairs race and so on the Monday before, my thoughts turned to suggesting to my partner what she might need. Lots of food, lots of costume changes and some powerful lights are the most important bits and having borrowed some lights from our team mate (cheers Jonny) I figured that we were ready to roll. This therefore would be the perfect time for Crissy to tell me that she didn’t have a mountain bike!
After my mild panic calmed and a few days of emailing various people she managed to borrow one from the local bike shop. So now we had everything we needed. For the next few days I bombarded my body with pasta, rice and potatoes and tried to sleep as much as possible. Friday morning came around quickly and with the van fully loaded I headed down to the South-west to set up camp. The rain last year on the way down was truly epic and this year was doing a pretty good impression of that – TORQ’s Matt Hart came back drenched from a practice lap and TheÆightBicycleCømpany’s Easy-up (gazebo) has seen better days and was not happy!
But that was pretty much all the rain we were going to get for the weekend so two of the Cotswold Plymouth Fun Team and I enjoyed a lovely sun soaked lap of Newnham Park in the evening. Ryan (Plymouth manager) had done a fantastic job to put together a team of riders at short notice. He was joined by Nat, Jack and Woody who made up the “six man fun team”. We also supported the event by providing goodie bags for the podium as well as a spot prize and lots of advertising banners.
Crissy and Mark (Cotswold Training) arrived on Saturday morning with stacks of food and we got stuck in to setting up the bike for the first lap. Crissy decided to go first and at the time I’d forgotten (I know that sounds like a lie, but I really had forgotten) about the start loop, that included the monster climb out of the arena. She did really well to calm down any nerves and got stuck in to the first lap putting me in an excellent position with mostly faster riders in front of me. By the end of the second lap I’d pushed us in to 2nd position. The Cotic-AQR was always going to be tough opposition, but I was ready to fight, given the chance.
The next five laps were very consistent, falling within a few minutes of 1 hour and seven minutes and I was feeling great. From what Mark and the rest of the guys were saying it was clear that Crissy wasn’t enjoying the technical aspect of the race so much, but she was putting in some great laps and we were in a comfortable 3rd place with a chance of 2nd. I was loving the first section of the course that headed up onto Lee Moor and gave you a true sense of riding on Dartmoor.
However after 4 excellent laps Crissy wasn’t looking forward to the night so we had a sit down and a re-think. There had been quite a few crashes on the course and at least two had resulted in trips to hospital. Crissy had taken a couple of falls and wasn’t hurt and that’s the way we wanted it to stay so we elected to drop down just myself riding in the night. In any case I’ve got a couple of night races coming up and I was keen to get the training in.
This was when I met Foxey! On the Friday night I’d spotted a big bag of stuffed toys in the Bontrager Party Tentipi and wondered what they maybe for. Now they were dotted about in the woods at the top of the course and I decided that Foxey would supply some much needed company through the night. I rescued her from her tree stump and the pairs-team-that-had-become-solo, was back up to a full quota! She sat in the back pocket of my jersey all the way to the finish!
At Mountain Mayhem I was surprised how quickly the night had past, but this time it seemed to take forever to get through the dark hours. The fun team kept plugging away, now racing double laps to allow everyone to sleep a little longer, and they really kept my spirits up. Ryan had taken his family home to sleep after doing his turn and then, even though he was working on Sunday in the Plymouth shop, had made the trip back to Newnham, by bike to put in another fantastic lap – Legend!
The night had brought with it the damp Devon mist that often blankets Dartmoor and had made the course more technical and very slippy. The fast polished lines and off camber rock gardens became treacherous, especially as fatigue started to take its toll on the mind as well as the body. I grabbed a couple of hours sleep between 5 and 7am after some seriously sketchy laps, and then started to think about how to race the last four hours.
At this point we were a long way off 2nd place – four laps down after a difficult night. But I was convinced that it may still be possible and set off on lap one of a four lap stint. It was freezing cold for the first few kilometres, but after the first climb I’d warmed back up and following my sleep I felt great. I was careful not to overdo it and conserve some energy and on the second lap I got the news I’d hoped for – 2nd place had stopped and was no longer fighting for the win. That meant that they’d be waiting in the tent and hoping not to have to go out for another lap – now if I could just surprise them!
The track was coming back into condition and I was flying. I knew four laps were possible and 4th place had pretty much given up too, so I’d got the bit between my teeth and was going for it. I pulled in to my pit and shouted for some energy gel and immediately went straight back out, much to Nat and Woody’s amusement – they were telling me that I didn’t need to push as I had such a lead on 4th place, when they realised what I was trying to do!
Twenty three and a half hours in I left the pit for the last time and pushed as hard as I could to get round to the start/finish. If I was able to get in before 24 hours I’d be able to go out for one more lap. I was now on the same lap as 2nd place so everything was to play for!… In the end it was just one step too far and I came home in 24:02:45 – we’d missed 2nd place by less than three minutes after twenty-four hours of racing – Gutted!
So the third place it was! We’d put in 14 hard fought laps to secure a place on this year’s podium. Cotic-AQR Coaching had done a marvellous job, winning with 19 laps, having not missed a lap through the night and was truly inspiring. We’ll be back for that fight next year! Aventyr had also done some cracking laps early on and were great competition – we so nearly pipped them! Crissy had put in some great laps for our team and clearly had the fitness to do more. In the end it was the technical aspect of the course that got in the way, but we can work on that – like any good racer, you can improve your skill, but passion and speed run much deeper and I reckon our pairs team might have a few good results in the future…
All in all it has to be one of the best results of the season and my thanks go to Martyn and the SIP team that organised such a great event. All of the marshals and ambulance crews that kept us safe. To Crissy and Mark (and Foxey!). Thanks also to the generous support from Cotswold Outdoor who have once again powered TheÆightBicycleCømpany to a great result. Finally a massive pat on the back of the Cotswold Plymouth team who scored a fantastic 8th spot in the Fun race even though they raced with two less riders than everyone else! Good job guys.
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