by Anthony White
One of my key target events for the year and most of the top Ultra Endurance mountain bikers were there. Despite this one being my 15th 24 hour race I actually don't particularly like the format, so much preparation in the week before, so much unpacking afterwards and a lot of reliance on a pit crew. This year Ian Leitch had travelled up to help and Dave from MS Steels cycles was spannering for me and fellow racer Rich Rothwell. Give me a point to point or one very, very big loop please.
What I do like is the racing, the war of attrition.
Always twitchy before the race making sure as much preparation is done in the pits I'm glad to get the race on. After the lead out by a bit of local razamatazz (bagpiper) the early pace was fierce. There were 12 hour racers in the mix pushing hard and the key 24 hour players were pumped up following. Half way round the first lap I caught up with some of the usual suspects, Matt Page, Josh Ibbett, Rich Rothwell and Dave Powell. Matt got a puncture I think on lap two. Within a couple of laps Matt caught up and pushed ahead. This split things up a little. Dave Powell had dropped off, Josh chased Matt, I eased away from Rich to latch onto Josh who was unsettled after a crash. It had been clement for the first few hours, but by now about 6 hours in it was raining a lot.
The opening part of the course was through a couple of wooded sections which would mess up the bike. The nice trail centre sections, with its now lying water, would clean the bike. The mud would be revisited on the return (not great for those helping in the pits). From the 8 hour mark I was changing bikes every lap. Dave was working hard in the pits on the bikes (thanks mate).
At this stage in the race I was feeling strong. I was happy with how it was panning out. I figured that having Matt couple of minutes ahead was a good thing. He might be burning energy / power and not enjoying the closeness of the chase. I reckon around the 10 hour mark Josh dropped off and I inadvertently caught Matt. We rode together for a couple of laps. Our pace relative to others on the course seemed impressive. Only the winner of the 12 hour (James Lister) was going quicker, and we were not far behind him at the close of that event. Matt was pitting first, so on one lap around midnight I had a dig to see whether he had the stomach for a fight. Clearly he had as I only managed to gain a couple of minutes. I decided to switch strategy back to plan A, let him go into the lead again. I went into the pits to change into my warm night gear, figuring that being all toasty would preserve energy and I would come through in the difficult small hours. Matt zoomed through, still in the day riding gear. I took a bit too long in the pits figuring out what was best to wear but felt ok about it.
The next three laps I felt like I pushed hard, but I lost chunks of time. When the gap got to about 20 mins (in the 2 - 3 am point) it was clear to me that Matt had improved once more on the previous year and I wasn’t going to overhaul him. I was happy with 2nd, given some strong threats in the field, but needed to protect that. Josh made a spirited fight back, coming with 10 minutes of me before pulling out with a bad back. Dave Powell fell ill in the night and withdrew aswell. Rich Rothwell who had given a lot early on was over hauled in the Vets race by Mark Spratt. I pushed on to through the chilly daylight hours making sure that Mark Spratt wasn't going to catch me and I wasn’t going to be lapped by Matt Page. Luckily I only had to do 19 laps and 22 hours, it then stopped raining. I didn’t feel too beaten up at all after the race which is good news it's early days in the UK race season :).
On reflection I know I didn’t take on enough energy in the first half, most of my energy was in the fluids and because of the fluid coming from the sky a resultant lower temperatures I didn’t drink enough. I didn’t really bonk, but I did have a big relative loss in power. I will have to force myself to eat/drink more, when the heat of battle is on, … I will no doubt have plenty of opportunity to practice this.