Where to start with Twentyfour12… I suppose the beginning is always the best place and for me this was a year ago at my first Twentyfour12 and my first 24 solo race. I was somewhat late to the party and missed the fabled days of ‘Bonty’ so for my first year the race had a new title sponsor and from what I could gather a new injection of life.
So it started in 2016 when I thought I would take a punt at a 24 solo and fortunately I was blessed with some amazing weather, the whole race was pretty much conducted on a bone dry lap with actual dust. This was blissful to ride on and was very much enjoyed. I limped round not really knowing what to expect with an ever present paranoia that I wasn’t eating enough. In 2016 I managed to scrape a 4th place which I was pretty happy with considering there had been no ‘training’ and very little planning. This snowballed in to me then thinking,
‘I quite enjoyed that and if I actually think about this I could do alright’.
So with that I pretty sharply entered Relentless which is held every year in Fort William at the Nevis Range. This was to be the National Championship race and with that attracted a whole host of super keen 24 solo racers. This race was definitely not the enjoyable experience that Twentyfour12 2016 had been as it was chucking it down with rain, it was cold, I wasn’t riding with buddies and also felt pretty ill. But having paid my entry and with vast amounts of diesel it took to get from the Midlands to Scotland I thought ‘what the hell’ and raced anyway. This initially taught me two important lessons. Firstly, those who race at National level in 24 solo are really prepared and secondly they are all incredibly bad-ass.
Needless to say this race didn’t go well and I had to admit defeat at about 3a.m after crashing and ripping my rear mech off. I continued for a further 2 laps with a singlespeed setup but after fixing the bike in the rain and getting very cold I most definitely lost my 24 mojo. This was followed by one of the better nights sleep I’ve ever had in the back of my van. Following this race I felt a little bit annoyed, I didn’t feel like I’d done myself justice and I just wanted another crack. But if I was to have another go I wanted to make sure that I was a bit more prepared.
And so to 2017. Twentyfour12. I start the weekend (as tradition dictates) on Friday helping to setup our team camp which meant arranging a T@b caravan into position. As we’re swinging it round disaster strikes and I manage to get my leg stuck between the caravan tow hitch and a rogue tent guy line. A smack to the shin which I thought would definitely leave a nasty bruise turned out to be a tad worse than was first thought when I realised my welly was filling with blood. Whoops.
After a moments grumbling I hobbled to the (still setting up) First Aid tent where I was greeted by the lovely folk from St John’s Ambulance. What an honour to be their first victi… uh patient. After a bit of weighing the situation up it was decided I wouldn’t need stitches (good news) but it would need a thorough clean out with bleach. My initial reaction was ‘really?’ This was a new one on me but apparently hydrogen peroxide (albeit watered down) isn’t just good for giving you luscious golden locks but it will also see off most bugs, critters and nasties. Great news.
So after a good flush out with the bleach and some expert butterfly stitchery I was good to go. That is, as long as I could keep it clean and dry…
Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem but in a bike race, in the wet and mud for 24hrs this could be an issue. It was suggested that mid way through the race I could make my way to the first aid tent and get a fresh dressing (they didn’t relate to my look of horror at the thought of this). As with all but the most serious of problems this one was soon remedied with gaffer tape. Lots of it.
So on to Saturday, the day of the race. The rain hadn’t stopped all night but despite this and despite the leg situation I felt well up for riding my bike. The morning passed by quickly and after getting as much food in me as possible and some much needed pre-race faffing out of the way I got myself and my bike on to the start line.
Luckily the rain held off while we were waiting for things to get going which was much appreciated as there’s nothing worse than starting wet. After we were led out by the local National MTB Champions the racing started proper. Now although this was only my third 24hr race I knew enough to know that for the first couple of laps there was going to be some bravado and that those vying for podium positions were going to start fast, establish a pecking order over the first couple of laps and then settle into a pace that they felt they could hold for the duration of the race. Once this was established it’s all about who stops least and has staying power. This was going to be a muddy one, everyone knew it and it would become a war of attrition.
For the first couple of hours of racing I’ll be quite honest I was hating life. I felt really sluggish (probably the panic eating prior to the race), felt over geared on the singlespeed (30/19 for the bike geeks) and just generally felt quite low. On the plus side, stopping never entered my head, I heard during the many opening laps that a few riders had dropped out already but this didn’t feel like an option at any point. During one of my brief stops at the pit my girlfriend Maria and Jon from E3 coaching gave me some really good advice and I left the pit with a renewed sense that all was ok in the world and that it wasn’t going as badly as I thought. The key advice was relax, enjoy it and most of all don’t stop pedaling. It is genuinely that simple but as with everything in life your brain has a tendency to over complicate things (well, mine does at least).
After the pep talk time passed really quickly and before I knew it it was time to get the Exposure Lights on and get cracking with the night laps. Up until midnight I didn’t have a clue where I was in the overall standings, I knew I was probably somewhere in the top ten just because of the people I was riding with at the beginning of the race. Around 2a.m I became really aware that there was hardly anyone on the course, even with the start of the ‘Torchbearer’ 12hr race going on from midnight to midday on Sunday it still felt eerily quiet.
This is all where it gets a bit hazy because looking back it’s quite difficult to separate night from day. At some point during the night (I think) I heard that Steve Day had pulled out of the race, I knew Steve had at least a lap on me and was absolutely flying but this meant the singlespeed category was now for the taking, I tried to put this to the back of my mind though as it still felt like a long race and in all honesty all I really cared about was getting a good result in the overall.
So on it went through the night with slight changes of routine when it became necessity. I Jumped on the spare bike a couple of times when brake pads ceased to be viable stoppers. These bike swaps were a bit stressful as the spare bike had semi slicks on which were most definitely a ‘challenge’ on some of the muddier sections but I kept plugging away and soon enough was back on bike #1.
Once the sun came up the track began to change loads and the main camping field which contained a sizeable chunk of the course had begun to dry out nicely, in some places this helped loads as it made previously unrideable lines rideable which meant things began to speed up. This was a much welcomed break and around 8a.m I started to feel the end was in sight. By this time I knew that barring a disaster I had the singlespeed category wrapped up as my team mate Rob Burns (also on singlespeed) had fallen to roughly 50mins behind me.
It was now all about tapping out laps as fast as I could sustain and just seeing if I could move up. Before I knew it I was out on my last lap, by this point the sun was out and the course was riding as well as it had for the past 24hrs, it was a really relaxed last lap where I just took the time to chat to folk out on course and say my thanks to all the marshals and motivators at the motivation station (true heroes of this and all events). As I went past our team pit for the last time all I could see was the finish line and the hero that is Matt Carr lying on his back inviting me to bunnyhop him. For some reason I thought this would be a good idea and pedalled at him. It was only when I was mid air that I thought ‘this could go horribly wrong’. Somehow I cleared him despite the protests of my aching muscles and got a much needed hug from Matt for my efforts.
So, that was Twentyfour12, a year on since first dipping my toe in the water and I’d finished 1st singlespeeder and 5th overall. Happy, but not satisfied. To be contiued…
A big thank you to all in the pits, Maria, Ben (top skills on the spanners), Ma Rowntree. Jon from E3 Coaching and Exposure Lights.
Also a special mention to Rob and Isla. Isla for winning the women’s 24 solo Singlespeed jersey and getting second overall in her first (!) 24 solo and to Rob for getting on the podium in the men’s 24 solo singlespeed. It was a pleasure to share the podium with you mate.