Sunday, 24 July 2011

TwentyFour12 24hr Solo - It Wasn't Mech (sic) To Be

Last year TwentyFour12 was a mixed and, ultimately, disappointing weekend for me. This year I was determined to ride at the front and make amends for missing a good chunk of the season through injury as well as laying these demons to rest.

Unfortunately, I retired from the lead having held the 1st place for the first 13hrs, due to a combination of a random mechanical bike failure and my shoulder just not being up to the job.

Still, a great weekend, a great course (the toughest UK 24hr course yet?) from Martyn Salt, helped by Paul & Sara of SIP and signs that some kind of form is returning to the legs. Third time lucky next year?
Yet another rear mech unhappy ending in Plymouth: The one on the right is NOT meant to look like that!
Here's the low down on my weekend's racing, as far as it went:

EZ-Up and tent up: time for a
tinker in the evening sun

We arrived on Friday evening with just enough time to set up camp, eat some (well, lots) of pasta for dinner, meet our neighbours for the weekend and catch up with a few friends who were racing.

The atmosphere was great with lots of people looking forward to what we heard was a new course layout and the new EZ-Up from Santa Cruz really made my pit a much better setup, providing shelter from sun and rain and, more importantly for me, made it easy to find come the race!

Ready to go

Come the morning of the race everything was a bit of an excited blur. I'd had a look at the field and was armed with a list of names and race numbers of the ones to watch, most notable being last years 3rd place finisher and Welsh cost 2 coast record holder, Rich Holmes.

Bikes all fettled and poised for action
Hardest part of the weekend: which one to start on?!
In green in the centre, Rich on the
left; tearing off the line full bore!
Once I'd got myself to the start line I headed straight for Rich, who was looking as wary of me as I was of him. We chatted between ourselves for what seemed like an age as the grid filled up behind us and then suddenly it was time to go! Rich shot off the line and straight up the first climb on the lead-out loop. I tried to remain calm and waited until the course flattened out to close the gap and we crossed the line to start the first lap right at the front, 1st and 2nd in 24hr solo. This was going to be a great duel I thought to myself as I sat on his wheel.....

.....however, I couldn't keep a lid on my excitement and desire to push on and, barely 200 yards after we crossed the start line, as the first (and stiffest) climb of the lap began I stood out the saddle and pushed on past Rich and into the lead. Unbeknownst to me, having not done a practice lap, this would be followed by a slowly rising climb through the woods and then two more stiff climbs. Oops! I kept my heart rate under control and made sure I made the move count straight away and, by the time the top of the last climb was dispatched, I had a good gap and was able top settle into my normal race rhythm, crossing the line at the end of the first lap over 2minutes up.
Pedalling out of the pits after another rolling pit stop
The pit was working well and the first few laps passed without having to really slow down to pit; throwing a bottle away and collecting a fresh one with a couple of gels each revolution. The message from the pit being that the lead was, very slowly, extending too.

The 2011 edition featured lots of technical sections and
caught many riders by surprise; a really tough course
What was becoming very clear was that this was no ordinary 24hr course and I was to learn afterwards that it had been deliberately been made more technical. This was really fun, but I was worried about my shoulder. Would it hold up? And then I got a puncture. Damn. I topped it up but it wouldn't heal. I nursed it around, keen not to stop and a quick track pump moment at the next pit stop and off I went, but in my haste and keenness to remain on the Tallboy to protect the shoulder cost me as it still wasn't healed and I had to stop twice more to add more air. Damn it. I had enough time to keep the lead but I'd thrown away handfulls of minutes by the time I swapped to the Highball and let the Tallboy have a tube thrown into it. A few laps on the Highball and I managed to quickly stretch the lead out again as the bike just skipped up the considerable amount of climbing per lap (almost 600m anecdotally) but I was getting too hard of a time on the hugely technical course compared to what I am used to racing on, so I swapped back to the Tallboy and pushed on.
The Highball really let me push hard to recapture lost time
despite the technical nature of the course
Looking stern in the twilight as I begin to push on 
As darkness a started to come the lead was back out towards a quarter of an hour and I was beginning to feel increasingly confident. I love riding at night, I love racing and I love riding fast, so the opportunity to do all three is always a moment I look forward to after the relaxing sunset hour. I took a minute or two to sit down in the pits and throw on some knee and arm warmers and set off to enjoy the darkness.

Things were looking good, my legs were spinning well and then: DISASTER!

Not much more than a ,mile into the course my rear mech "exploded" (or this is what it seemed like at the time). The spacing/tension spring arrangement broke and the top jockey wheel couldn't be removed from meshing with my cassette. Despite my frantic efforts to fix it on the side of the race course in the darkness I was stuck with three speeds: freewheel, push and one massive gear which I managed to get to work, but couldn't use on a lot of the course.
LEFT: What a SRAM rear mech should look like
RIGHT: Not what you want at 1am, in the dark, in the woods, 7 miles from the pits
I pushed on round the rest of the lap but my, already sore, shoulder that was suffering slightly from the extremely rocky and technical course, was complaining increasingly at me at having to either drag my bike up the hills or haul on the bars to turn that massive gear. By the time I got round to the pits, 7 miles later, I was riding one handed, out of control, or just dragging the bike up the hills with my good arm. After almost 13hrs of leading, my race was over. When I threw the bike down and sat down in the pits I was a pretty distraught rider, and quickly took myself to bed once I concluded the pain wasn't going away any time soon.
The remains of the offending bolt
In retrospect I was quite pleased with my ride up to that point, my legs were feeling good I would have placed 3rd in 12hr solo were I to have been racing in a double category, and in fact finished not so far behind Simon Smith in 2nd whom I rode with and swapped positions with for a few laps toward the end of his 12hr race. the failure was a fatigue failure of a random internal, aluminium, mech. component. I have now replaced this with a DIN certified steel part for the future! It looks like the time spent on the turbo trainer and bashing up and down flat, family trails with the injured shoulder was well spent and I'm looking forward to continuing my recovery and the rest of the season. 

Bring on SITS in 2 weeks time!

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