2014 WEMBO 24 Hour Solo World Championship

“If I finished the race and was carried off the course and had to go to the hospital for a couple of days, I don’t think (my wife) would ever let me race my bike again.” Chris Eatough, 6 time 24 Hour Solo MTB World Champion, 2006.

For anyone who hasn’t seen 24 Solo; the story of Eatough’s quest for a seventh World Championship victory and his titanic battle with Australian challenger Craig Gordon, he is speaking after seeing his rival push himself beyond physical limits, starting the race at what seemed like a suicidal pace and ultimately damaging his body to such an extent that he spent several days in hospital on dialysis to recover. It’s a fantastic story for mountain bikers and non-cyclists alike, and poses some interesting questions about just how far as endurance athletes we are willing to push ourselves. Gordon took the victory on the day but Eatough felt he had won his own victory in recognising the importance of balancing racing with family life.

Fast forward eight years to Fort William, Scotland and the 2014 WEMBO 24 Hour Solo World Mountain Bike Championships and the parallels with the 2006 race were plain to see with the frontrunners forcing what many felt was a laughably high pace on the demanding course. Each 13.5km lap included 450m climbing with plenty of steep, leg punishing sections. The descents were pretty demanding as well with a liberal coating of rock. The twisting downhill were tremendous fun but required physical commitment and full attention throughout. Would any of the early pacesetters follow Gordon’s route to the hospital ?

Fireworks at the race start

Fireworks at the race start

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Torq In Your Sleep 2014 – Third time lucky ?

 

Pair: a set of two things used together or regarded as a unit.

Having missed the 2013 edition to race the classic Grand Raid Cristalp, it was nice to be back on home soil enjoying the fun and fast flowing trails of Minley Manor. There may have been less climbing than the Swiss marathon epic but the relentless course profile and with at least 6 hours of pedalling slated, this was going to be no easy ride in the park.Not sure if this definition entirely fits the bill for defining a pairs team at a 12 hour mountain bike race. Here’s my definition: Ride as hard as the 4 man teams and only get half as much recovery. To be honest I’d forgot how hard it is compared to racing with a team or even solo (although it’s nothing compared to racing a 24 hour event as a pair !) but here I was again for the 3rd time trying to better my pair of 2nd place results in the pairs race at the Gorrick organised Torq In Your Sleep 12 hour MTB race.

I’d enlisted rising XC star Max Suttie to be my partner, fresh off a podium at the latest National XC, 3rd place overall in the series and victory in the Twentyfour12 Torchbearer. I’ve also been supporting Max this year, advising on training and performance so it was a great way to celebrate a successful year. If I’m honest I was worried about letting him down and hoped my endurance would pay dividends later in the race. With the WEMBO 24hour solo worlds just 6 weeks away, and training consisting of plenty of big volume training rides I wasn’t expecting to be able to deliver XC whippet race speed.

Max on the far left moving into a good position behind the quad bike

Max on the far left moving into a good position behind the quad bike

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Holeshots and Autopilots

Shock, horror: 24 Hour racer takes holeshot at XC race!

Now I admit it’s not that remarkable really. Plenty of people can ride a mountain bike fast for a few minutes. But this is a big deal for me. I’ve devoted a significant amount of time in the last few years to making my body ride quite fast for a very long time. Part of that process involves smoothing out those surges of energy expenditure so the fuel tank doesn’t run dry. I’ve become pretty good at this, which is very useful in those ultra-endurance races but that strength quickly becomes a weakness when you have a heaving start-line mass of bodies all desperate to get to the singletrack first and empty their tanks in little more than 1.5 hours.

Last weekend’s Southern XC round 1 was different. I took up a front row position. Chose a suitable fast accelerating gear. Got the foot of my strongest leg clipped in. Focused on the end of the start straight. Blocked out the start line chatter. Anticipated the starter’s whistle. Reacted quickly. And threw body and bike forward as quickly as possible. Out of the corner of my eye I couldn’t see anyone else, so I poured more effort into the bike and went full gas, leading up the wide opening section of the course at Wasing Park. I was enjoying the reckless freedom of speed, such a contrast to the super controlled and tactically astute approach I used at this very same venue to win the European 24 hour Solo Championships last year.

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A course of two halves at the Welsh XC Series Round 1

The sun sneaks through the gap in the curtains and wakes me. Normally I’d curse myself for not drawing them properly the night before but I check myself. It’s 6.30am, its light and the sun is shining for the first time in what seems like six months. It’s time to get up, start the day and start the MTB racing season.

I’ve decided to mix things up this year. With my main target, the WEMBO World 24 Hour Solo Champs not until October there is plenty of time to improve fitness, sharpen those skills and have some fun. Along the way I’ve flagged some other goals, to ride more with friends, check out some new race venues and enjoy some great race weekends away, hopefully in the sun.

First up is round one of the Welsh XC series over at Caephilly near Cardiff. I’d heard good reports about the Welsh courses and hoped this would deliver a good hard race and technical circuit to act as a vinegar, a natural revitaliser to those skills made rusty by a wet winter of mainly road training. Things looked promising as I dropped off the M4 and climbed Caephilly Mountain to the Mountain Ranch Activity Centre. At the top of the hill I was greeted by far reaching views under a cloudless sky. Good start.

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Steady away & keep it rubber side down – National & European 24 Hour Solo Champs

“Steady away and keep it rubber side down”. The advice was sound so what was I doing sprinting past riders on the grass verge narrowly avoiding spectators, gazebos and pit lane setups. Well, a good start is crucial; there was only 23 hours, 59 minutes and 30 seconds to make up for a bad one!

Here we were at 24 Hours of Exposure, the combined National and European 24 Hour Solo MTB Championship. It’s a great event, as well as crowning champions, it provide a friendly and supportive solos’ only event for newcomers venturing into the crazy world of ultra-endurance mountain biking. This year’s race attracted riders from the UK, Ireland, Portugal, France, Holland, Poland, Hungary and Australia. I’ve never managed to have a proper go at this event with Icelandic Volcanos, work commitments and diary clashes all conspiring to keep me away for the last few years.

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