There are some epic riding events in the world these days. RAAM springs instantly to mind. As does the Cape Epic and Crocodile Trophy. But another brutal 2-wheeled challenge took place in Canberra, Australia last weekend: the World 24-hour MTB Solo Championships. A club-mate of mine, Ash, was one of the brave souls (or fools, depending on how you see the world) who set off after months of training and preparation to see just how far he could push his body and mind. The answer? Quite a lot. Here’s Ash’s race review in his own words, as written to his LACC club-mates. Inspiring stuff mate. Thanks for letting me post it…
“As most of you know, last weekend I competed in the World 24hr MTB Solo Championships. Many of you followed via the interweb, facebook and SMS. To receive messages from you folks during the night from my pit lifted my spirits tremendously. The interest and support was/is overwhelming and I cannot thank the LACC community enough. Seriously, I am humbled.
My attack on the Worlds started after placing 4th in the Scott 24hr last October. I was inspired to “have a crack” on the world stage and being that they were to be held in Australia made it all the more achievable. So with full support of my family I commenced the assault. My training year consisted of long rides, initially 120km, then building to 180km. These rides were interspersed with SOP pace line, hill & interval sprints with the CRiTters and as many 7hr and 12hr endurance events as I could enter without becoming single. Additionally, I changed my diet dropping from 78kg to 74kg and purchased a Specialized S-Works Epic 29er (Rusty this is a very, very good bike).
On race day I was prepared. My pit crew and I had the refined my feeding plan, we knew when to stop and how to get through the 4am to 6am nightmare. The track was dry, very dry and we expected a dusty ride.
The world champs were introduced and the starters gun went. As per my race plan I found a rhythm that was sustainable for the full race distance. Little did I know that this pace had me running 3rd & 4th right through the afternoon. Advice from Di in the pits was to slow up by about five minutes per lap. She knew I was pushing a touch too hard, I didn’t. As night fell, I changed bikes so that lights could be fitted to my primary bike (Epic). While out on that lap I noted that the brakes on my second bike were “spongy” and not really up to the downhill sections.
I returned to the pits and with cheers from my wife and kids I launched into the night laps with the Epic set up with lights and an adjusted fueling strategy making me feel really good, given I’d not been off the bike for seven hours. As the night wore on I noted my hands and feet were getting pounded by the bike/track. At 5:00am Ben (pit crew) noted that my forks were only using 20mm of the 100mm travel. The dust had filled the fork seals and locked them tight. Ben had had the brakes fixed on my second bike which I jumped onto and headed out for the dawn lap.
The hours between 4am and 6am destroy many, the urge to lay down beside the track is amazing. As I ground my way up the 9km climb for the 15th time with seventeen hours of riding in my legs I fell off twice for absolutely no reason at all. But I guess that just happens when you micro sleep while riding a mountain bike. After cresting the hill, the sun’s first light illuminated the eastern sky line, suddenly all thoughts of sleep, stopping, feeling bad and pain disappeared. Really, it’s almost worth doing a 24hr solo just to feel the dawn sensation. However, the downhill run was complicated by the complete failure of my front brake. The hydraulic oil was running down my right leg instead of stopping my bike. An interesting sensation, riding a world class downhill track after eighteen hours on the track without a front brake, that I do not recommend it.
Again I returned to the pits with a broken bike. Ben had washed the Epic and lube’d the fork seals, additionally he’d dropped the air pressure from 85psi to 50psi. The forks had for more travel, it was certainly worth a shot. I waited for fifteen minutes for the sun to rise enough to avoid having to wear a helmet light. Yes, during that time I slept and it felt good. Di (pit boss and rider beater) woke me and I jumped up and went out again. My memory is hazy so this “jumping up” probably took about ten minutes.
So, the grind to the top of Stromlo commenced for the 16th time, the Epic felt better and I was channeling my LACC riding friends thinking “It’s just like a normal Sunday ride, just six hours to go”. As I blasted down from the top of Stromlo the flaw in the bike set up became clear, the forks although using more travel could not handle the smashing on the downhill, they bottomed with a loud crack too many times. I returned to the pits and evaluated. I’d slipped from 4th to 9th and even with fresh legs I was only going to get back to 7th possibly 6th and at what cost to the Epic. Di looked at me, I looked at Di, Ben woke up from a micro sleep and I slumped into a chair realising my dream of a podium finish was over.
From a couch or office chair it may seem that I should have gone on, but after 19 hours in the saddle, 20 hours of racing, 270km ridden, 5024m of climbing, no hope of placing and the potential to destroy a $10k bike it seemed logical to stop. It’s done, I made my call, I’m a little sad but I’m moving on.
Simple to say this, but my family have been great all year, supporting me and accepting the long Saturdays and Sundays of riding as part of the mission. I am a very lucky man and deeply grateful to Jo and the kids.
I’ve left a very important part last. Di and Ben ran my pit like a well oiled machine. Di fueled me, managed my lights, lap times, hydration and general sanity with such efficiency it really did feel Pro. Ben looked after my bikes and had work done that I hadn’t thought of, he tried in earnest to keep both bikes running to get me through. To stay awake, listen to me swear and curse my way through the night and still hug me in the morning is a true testament to how wonderful they both are. Their love of the sport and willingness to help is really something to experience. I really got to play “Pro” and simply ride and expect everything else to get done, which it did with humor, vigor and a commitment I cannot describe well enough. I cannot express how grateful I am for their support, you are both truly wonderful people. Thank you.”