I remember the first time I heard about 24hr Mountain Bike races. It seemed impossible to me that I could ever complete such an event, but after doing a few 24hr races in teams I took on the challenge of a Solo 24hr. That was in 2010, this was to be my 5th 24hr Solo MTB effort. I know enough that it’s going to hurt.
I have to admit that I have not been doing nearly enough MTB riding to be super confident. I knew legs would be OK with all the commuting and road riding I’d been doing, but MTB is so physically demanding. I did ride strongly at LunarC, but an 8hr race is..well…3 times shorter, and probably 4 times less painful.
I was still setting up my Koiled Ti SS, and after LunarC, I had wanted to try some 80mm forks from my old Gary Fisher Superfly. Due to work commitments I only managed to do so the weekend prior. When I took the new setup for a test ride, I managed to tweak my back early in the ride and only really rode just enough to know that it was probably better than the forks that came on the bike. This was to create 2 issues, firstly and most importantly I was not even sure if I was going to make the start line, and secondly, it would turn out that the brake levers were not in the most ergonomic position.
During the week, the rider list was posted, and there were 9 Single Speed entrants. I was ecstatic, as this was well up on the 5 or so last year and only 3 in 2011. On this list was Brett Bellchambers, the current 24hr World Solo Champion and such a legend in the Australian MTB scene that the ABC did a cool documentary on him. While I was looking forward to the challenge of racing the world’s best, my main goal was to ride 300k during the race.
Doing the final packing on race day morning, my family and I arrived at Peppers Old Hidden Vale about 9:30, setting up on the main straight in a similar spot to last year. The weather was glorious, but a little warm. I set about getting my bikes set up with race numbers, tyre pressures and prepare my nutrition. My nutrition for the race was to consist of Infinit GoFar (1 bottle per lap), bananas, muesli bars, noodles, coffee and the occasional liquorice allsort.
The talk before the race was of Brett Bellchambers, but no one had seen, and it turned out that he only arrived while the rest of us were listening to race briefing, but he was able to line up on the front row. Typical for 24hr races, we were off at midday along with the concurrently run 4hr competitors. There was an alternate start along the main property road and then fire road to allow the field to spread out before the first single track. The fast guys took off up the front, and the gearing for the SS riders became apparent. Brett disappeared ahead, and I passed Hallam Brooks and thought I was ahead of the other SS riders, but not 100% certain. It looked to me like I was running higher gearing than everyone other than Bellchambers.
The first lap was quite hectic, and a bit shorter than the laps for the remainder of the race. It was quite warm and keeping electrolytes and fluid up is very important in any enduro race, and especially a 24hr one. After the first lap I was drinking a bottle per lap, and since my bike only has one bottle cage, it meant a bottle change every lap. A job perfectly handled by wife and kids. I also had to remember to keep eating, even when I didn’t feel like it.
The track was essentially the same as 2013, but it seemed rougher, and even after 2-3 hours, things were starting to hurt. In particular my hands. I felt like my front suspension was barely working, especially on the little high frequency vibrations. I tried adjusting with the rebound settings on my forks, but could not find a setting that seemed to make a difference.
After 4 hours, as the light started to fade, the 4hr racers were starting to finish and pack up. I had to stop myself from thinking how nice it would be to stop too. I was a bit surprised that lights were not required as I headed out, and I was fairly unaware of what lap times I was doing. Part way through that lap, I started to think I was not going to make it back before dark, but I did easily despite my brief panic. The next stop was slightly longer to put on lights, but then it was time for some night riding; the best bit.
With fewer riders on the track, laps were ticking by, and since each lap was taking about an hour, so was the time. I was told that I was about 20mins behind Bellchambers in 1st, and about the same ahead of Matt Powell in 3rd. It was still too early too really worry about results, but it does give an indication of how things are panning out, and it’s always nice to have a buffer to cover mechanicals.
The weather was fantastic, with clear skies, and I remember riding across Bear Valley and seeing the “Red Moon”, and risked a few lingering looks on the straighter parts of the trail. My legs were hanging in well, but my hands and wrists were hurting bad. I started to realise that due to my lack of ride time on this bike, that my brake levers were not rotated down enough, putting a lot of strain on my wrists. So next stop I adjusted my brake levers, and also had Ali put some strapping tape on my back to cover a patch that was rubbing on one of my vertebrae.
It was just before midnight when I was lapped by Bellchambers for the first time. I was able to ride with him for a while and have a chat. Around this time I had a coffee and some noodles when I stopped, and on the fast descent from the transition area, I noticed that it had cooled down somewhat, but thankfully not as cold as winter races from years past.
I’m not sure if it was poorly charged batter, or miscalculating when I should have changed batteries, but my helmet light went flat. Most likely it was the latter as your mind goes to mush. Luckily, I always carry a spare battery, and was able to quickly swap it over.
It really felt like my suspension was not working, and when I rocked forward to check, there was no compression at all…my forks were fully locked. I wondered how long they had been like this, I double checked to ensure the lockout switch was not on, and it was not. I played with the rebound but nothing seemed to change. Next time in the pits I was going to swap bikes if the suspension was not working. I played with the rebound and lock out, and seemed to have suspension again. I decided to continue on the same bike.
Daylight was approaching, which is the final stage of the race a chance ditch the lights and assess what’s happening in the race. I was on target to achieve my 300k goal, but I was struggling to brake with my hands in pain, and once my 2nd position was safe, I would most likely stop. The problem is that the lap results can be hard to work out as they depend on when they were posted relative to when each rider completed their last lap. We thought I had a 2 lap lead over Hallam Brooks, but that was not enough of a lead for the time available, since he had 4th place only 15 minutes behind him. We were both in transition at the same time, but Hallam started a new lap about 10 minutes before me. When I got going, I felt slow.Add to this, the rock that had been acting as a ramp down the most technical descent had moved significantly and I had to dismount and walk it. I’d convinced myself that by the time I got back to the start finish, my lead would be down to one lap, but to my surprise, I caught Hallam just after the half-way point of the lap. He looked like he was hurting as much as me. We rode the rest of the lap together and had a great time chatting and enjoying the sunny weather.
We crossed the timing mats within seconds of each other, and I was told that I had a 3 lap lead over Hallam and 2 laps behind Bellchambers. With around 1.5 hours remaining, it was impossible for Hallam to complete the 4 laps it would require to jump past me. I was just short of my 300k goal, with 18 laps (291k) complete, but the risk of making a mistake and crashing at this stage of the race for no real gain did not make sense.
I sat and watched Brett come through for 2 more laps, and had showered and started packing up when the track was closed at midday preventing anyone starting a new lap. By the end of the race Brett Bellchambers won on 23 laps and placed 2nd overall, I completed 18 laps placing 6th overall and Hallam did 16 laps to finish 3rd.
After the race, people were having photos taken with Brett, and he was truly accommodating despite having just ridden his bike for over 24hrs. I can see why he is considered as much of a celebrity as you can be at this level of sport.
Once again the track was fun (for 12hrs) and challenging, and Hayden, Fleur and the Hidden Vale Adventure Park crew and volunteers did a fantastic job of putting on a great race with lots of activities for the family. Of course there is no way I could get through one of these without the support of family and friends, and not just on race days. I’m sure I decided a dozen times during that race never to do another 24hr solo, but am now already wondering when the next one will be….