Sunday, 25 July 2010

TwentyFour12: Snap! - 24hr Solo becomes 6hr Solo

TwentyFour12 was a mixed and, ultimately, disappointing weekend for me. I held the lead in 24hr solo for a while, mixed it with the leaders from the start, but lasted barely 6hrs before mechanical failure forced me to retire while racing at the front.

It was a successful experiment in self pitting, showed me that if I focus I can compete right at the front, but that I need to be super disciplined and make sure I am properly prepared to go on to succeed.
My enduring (unhappy) memory from TwentyFour12 2010
This race was to be my first self-pitting 24hr solo race. Conventional wisdom is that you need a pit crew to succedd. Indeed, I have often ben heard to declare that "24hr solo racing: The ultimate team sport". However, after a successful self pitting trial at Set2Rise earlier in the year, I thought I'd try it on a much tougher stage rather than press gang a friend or relative into giving up their weekend for me.

Staring to lay things out

The key here was prep, so I arrived early on Friday and quickly set about setting up my pit area. I had bottles to mix, one for every lap: That's a LOT of bottles. I attached gels to each bottle and built my main race bike (my Tallboy) and a spare. Another 29er but a hardtail fitted with mud tyres and mudguards, having looked at the weather forecast before I set off.

All done, two bikes and a LOT of bottles!
A closer look at my food - it got a lot of funny looks in the pits!
Front grid shot secured &
comedy Rickie Cotter moment

I was ready to go well before bedtime so I got myself to sleep. Eyemask on and ear plugs in I slept like a log, well past breakfast time. A quick shower and a healthy breakfast and I was raring to go, several hours before the start. I lined up early to make sure I got an all important grid slot at the front.

Looking relaxed, in my best catalogue pose, on the start line
Pic: Joolze Dymond
There was time for a brief moment of comedy as I lined up next to the diminutive Rickie Cotter, also competing in the solo 24hr. I think Leisure Lakes were pretty pleased with my natural billboard properties too!

And then, before we knew it we were off for a pre-lap across open tracks to spread the field out and for a "natural order" to establish itself before we crossed the line a few minutes later for the first lap proper to begin. I used my good grid position to push on and dug deep for a few seconds off the start to make sure I wasn't swamped. It paid off and, able to quickly relax into an (almost) sensible race pace I crossed the start line with the first few riders with plenty of room to swing cats around me, unlike the mellay behind me as everyone jostled for the first singletrack.

Enjoying the momentary, solitary, lead
pic: Joolze Dymond
Concentrating and putting in a measured
effort out in front (& enjoyting every second!)
Pic: Joolze Dymond
I knew I was out in front in the solo, and I really enjoyed the first lap and coming round to cross the start finish line in the lead, but it wasn't long before I was joined by reigning age group 24hr solo world champion, Rich Rothwell. Never anything any soloist would enjoy! We chatted and I resally enjoyed riding with Rich. I also learned why the other riders admire his descending skills so much, I really had to push The General Lee to its limits just to avoid a gap opening up in front of me and to keep Rich's rear wheel in sight. A pleasure to watch but, again, not what I needed in a race situation! It soon became obvious that, although we were comfy in the lead, we were both pushing a little to test the other out. This was encouraged by Rich's pit, the ever enthusiastic and massively passionate Ian Leitch. Whist we were soon to be joined by (eventual winner) Craig Bowles, the 4th placed rider was already a long way back, but Ian decided that, to kep us fired up, he would try and make us catch 2nd place 12hr man, Gerald Tudor, for absolutely no good reason whatsoever! 

Working a bit now, with a small gap
Pic: Joolze Dymond

Sure enough, Craig joined us and, after a little chat between the three of us, we took it in turns at the front to reel in Gerald. It was while I was in front that we made the catch and I kicked past him on a little up, to make sure he didn't get any ideas of grabbing rear wheels and hurried down the next descent. When I looked back Craig and Rich had let a gap develop. I pushed on, imagining they'd close up soon enough. Next time I looked back, the gap was larger. Ooh! Could this be? This carried on for a whole lap but then, before I could get carried away, they inevitably caught me on the big climb at the start of the lap.

This marked the end of us working together and the three of us swapped places as I was dropped on the steeper climbs and came back on the flat sections. I settled behind Rich for a while, with Craig just a small way in front and now just out of sight. Rich waiting for the next climb to watch me disappear, me enjoying following a good rider through the technical sections! The course was pretty damp and muddy but I was enjoying the momentary security of having someone's line to follow. And then......
Looking determined but also now looking pretty muddy as I slid around my laps
Pic: Joolze Dymond
..... disaster! I must have switched off momentarily or relaxed too much. My back wheel disappeared and right near the start of the lap I hit the ground with a "slap!". I rushed quickly to my feet, but something wasn't right. Surely not? Yup, my rear mech was hanging freely from the chain. I set out, freewheeling painfully slowly as riders streamed past. Rich and Craig were already out of sight. This was going to be a long 7miles left. I tried to push up the climbs and through the singletrack but, after a painfully slow mile of constantly getting out of the way, it became clear that my SPD shoes were not designed for mud-pugging. I'd almost been hit by several riders trying to avoid me and struggling to control there bikes and was a (slow) moving obstacle that was at times struggling to hold his own footing, let alone keep out of the way of fast approaching riders. With so much of the lap left, and the rain now coming down determinedly, as the lap passed the main track only a few hundred metres from the pits I walked off the course, gutted, frustrated and straight to my tent and, by doing so, was disqualified for not staying to the course and was thus unable to collect my spare bike and start the lap again.
Damn :-( That's going to slow any rider down!
Still, I'd shown I had some form in my legs and had enjoyed the 6hrs of racing I'd been lucky enough to ride at the front for. Craig would go on to secure the win with a strong ride through the night, Rich went on to get a close second and Rich Holmes came through to secure a well deserved 3rd place with a super consistent ride. Well done guys.

Me? I'll definitely be back next year to test myself out on a course I really enjoyed and to see what could happen if I can keep the bike in one piece next time.


  1. I know the solo's have parking priviliges but are you camped up against the track? Does that mean that solos can just reach stuff from the tent or table as you've got here? Doing the 2412 this year and have no idea how it works logistically especially as won't have a pit crew. Don't want to carry a camelbak for that length of time either!

    1. There's a dedicated area of trackside space for solos to use to pit out of during the race. The only problem is lots of people courdon off huge areas of it, but really there's plenty of space for all soloists to have a small trackside area a couple of metres long, from which they can grab bottles & food every lap.

      There's then an area of field behind the trackside that soloists can park in, rather than parking next to the valuable trackside space. TwentyFour12 is a great race setup for soloists, possibly the best one in my experience.