Bontrager Twentyfour12 – 10 Year Anniversary Race Report
I’ll apologise in advance if this race report is overly gushing but I love this event! Twentyfour12 was the first event of this kind in which I participated, it was also my first 12 hour solo, first 24 hour solo, first 24 hour solo victory and the first bike race my children took part in; you see why it has special significance for me. I also love what this event stands for and has become over its 10 year history.
I still remember Twentyfour12 year zero in 2006. A beautiful sunny Saturday in July, dusty steep woodland trails and some rolling tracks over what seemed like a slagheap. At 5pm a huge storm rolled in and transformed the course into a treacherous mudbath and the remaining hours became a battle survival. It was the first event of this type I’d done and we gathered a group of friends with mixed experience. After the rain arrived, one of our quartet traded bikes for beer, another crashed and injured his knee, leaving only two of us to ride out the remaining laps. It was the longest I’d ever ridden and opened my eyes to this world of endurance MTB racing.
Fast forward ten years and here we were down at Newnham Park, Plymouth. Not the original Twentyfour12 venue, two others preceding it before the former World Cup venue in Devon took over in 2008, quickly establishing itself as the event’s spiritual home. It’s easy to see the appeal. A great course with technical challenge and the majority of climbing on well drained trails to keep it ridable even in torrential downpours. A beautiful location with plenty of space for the arena and trackside camping. On the first weekend of the school holidays it offers a great escape for families. But most importantly the friendly atmosphere and not forgetting all the unique features over the years; the on course DJs, opera singers, ice cream van and so many more.
For me the Saturday morning kid’s races epitomise the magic of Twentyfour12. This year 120 pre-entries saw the field split into a 24 minute race for the over 12s and two separate 12 minute races for the under 8s and 9-12 year olds. The genius of the kid’s race is the perfect balance between the challenge of negotiating the ups and downs of the horse jump area and the exhilaration of circling the arena in front of hundreds of cheering spectators. My youngest son summed up the thrill; “…after one lap I had a tummy ache (ED: probably stitch) but after crossing the finish line to hear all those cheers, the pain went away and I was able to carry on….” Start line bubbles, finish line medals and stacks of smiles meant yet again this was a resounding success.
Next up was our race and as the field lined up ahead of the 12 Noon start time, the pressure was on to live up the morning’s endeavours and our own high expectations. I’ve raced most formats over the years and have enjoyed seeing the event from different perspectives; whether that is finishing the daytime 12 at midnight and enjoying beers and bbq before bed, or hanging out during Saturday prior to starting the torchbearer at midnight. Surprisingly one of my favourite years was 2012 when the river nearly flooded the campsite and none of my teammates showed up; I did a few laps alone before sacking it off to hang out with friends in the Bontrager Yurt– I saw an altogether more relaxed side of the event.
It’s been a few years since I’ve done the team race here and never the men’s 24 team so this year we had our race faces on and were hoping to bag the main prize, overall victory for new sponsor and local team Bike Motion. It wouldn’t be too serious though as I’d recruited long-time friends Dave Collins and Chris Rathbone to join the Bike Motion All-stars Max Sutie and Alex Dawson, guaranteeing plenty of laughs along the way. There was also some trepidation as the weather forecast predicted a monsoon to hit us in the early hours of Sunday morning so it looked like another race of two halves fittingly similar to that inaugural event 10 years previous.
Max led us out on the first lap which was played out in sunshine on a rapidly drying track. He was well to the fore after the start loop and held strong completing the lap with the front runners of the 12 hour race in sight. Next up was Dave and he put in a super quick 38 minute lap to start building a lead over the other teams who early in the race were being headed by the Army team. Chris took the baton (well beer bottle top on a cord) next and piloted his retro stead around another rapid lap. Not one to stick with convention, preferring to rock a more individual style; Chris was wrapped in timelessly classic Velobici clothing aboard a vintage GT Zaskar that belonged to 2002 World Champion Roland Green. A tribute to next year’s 25th anniversary of the Zaskar maybe or the only bike he could put his hands on in time? Either way the 26” wheels, 150mm stem and V-brakes weren’t slowing him down (in the case of the V-brakes quite literally!)
I followed on from Alex to take on lap 5 and was greeted by another classic Twentyfour12 course reminiscent of the year I won the Solo 24. After a brief foray around the horse jumps, the track crossed the river and begun the climbing in earnest, firstly up a slate fireroad which filtered into a sweeping but slippery singletrack descent and secondly up the steep tarmac of the Clif Climb. I attacked this with full gas as this is where the majority of elevation is earned and I knew a smoother approach would be needed on the slippery downhills. Next into Bluebell Woods which is a Twentyfour12 stalwart, although this year camouflaged a large garrison of sniper roots ready to take riders down. More descending down to the Cauldron and ‘Megadeth Corner’ made sure you were paying attention before a traversing doubletrack elevated you to the top of the bombholes and the legendary Cottage Return descent. The final sections looped around the campsite and shooting ground before divebombing back to the arena. Belting course!
The team had now completed one lap each and we had a decent lead of around twenty minutes over the second place team from the RAF who had overtaken fast starting forces rivals from the Army. Long time Twentyfour12 supporters West Drayton MBC were lurking ominously in 4th. This team racing malarkey was quite a pleasant surprise for me being used to soloing at 24 hour races. It was super relaxed with lots of time hanging around in the pits enjoying the sunshine and company while waiting for my laps. I minor mechanical as I was warming up for lap 2 meant we had to reshuffle the pack and it was nearly dark when I finally got out for my second lap.
The darkness and falling temperature also meant the course turned slippery again and I took things pretty cautiously. I still managed to wipe on a few times on damp roots and it took me most of the lap to realise that my amateurish night riding skills were probably a result of the lack of laps I had completed, normally by this stage of the event I’d have completed quadruple the number of practice laps. Despite the crashes and a broken shoe the lap was completed at a good pace and by this stage we were over a lap ahead of our chasers. It was great to have some time in hand for the inevitable challenges that the forecast monsoon would bring.
We’d all been following the ever-changing weather forecast throughout the day so it was no surprise when the rain finally hit. There was no massive storm but the relentless downpour soon turned the course into a river and nobody was relishing the prospect of heading out into the torrential early morning conditions. Dave was the first to experience it but less than 40 minutes later he came flying back into the arena sideways with a huge smile on his face. Testament to how well the venue handles rain; the course was wet and certainly slippery but if anything it was now even more fun. My laps were an absolute blast. Other than the tarmac climb the course was almost entirely a few inches under water but it was still rideable forwards, sideways and backwards in some instances.
As the finish approached we started doing the calculations on how many more laps would be needed, we still had more than a lap lead over the chasers so just needed to match them and ride out the clock. I set off just after 11am with a couple of options; ride slowly to finish after 12 Noon or do a double lap to secure the win. I was back well before the cut-off but with the course rapidly deteriorating I opted to wait it out and see if our rivals would get back in time to go out for another lap. The RAF team did cross the line before midday but realising that at best they could match our lap tally but couldn’t improve on second place they called it a day. Hurrah, we’d won! I celebrated by getting Dave to jetwash the thick layer of mud off both body and bike.
What a fantastic weekend. Thanks to Max, Alex, Chris and Dave for being great teammates and great company on a weekend of two halves. Big thanks also to Bike Motion for all the support! Until next year at my favourite 24 hour race…