Thursday, 17 October 2013

Part 1 - Wembo 24 Hour Solo World Championships - Canberra

It'd be fair to say that entering a 24 hour solo mountain bike race is about the same as deciding to have cosmetic surgery on your wedding tackle. Not that they have the same physical outcomes, almost opposite in fact, but they are both high risk pursuits with debatable returns, that most people can do without. 
To those outside the world of mountain bike racing - and even to some within - it seemed like a stupid thing to do. Most people I spoke to about racing my bike for 24 hours non-stop reacted as though I'd said that I'd booked my man sausage into the shop for a set of speed fins and a custom spray. 

But soloing a 24 is something that has blinked away on my mountain biking bucket list for a while and with the World Endurance Mountain Biking Organization (Wembo) hosting the 2013 World Champs in Canberra, the opportunity to race it had become both relatively easy and terrifyingly real. Having loved racing team 24s at Canberra in my distant past I thought that this was an opportunity not to be missed, and in a moment of unrestrained impulsiveness I threw myself at the online registration, paid for my entry and sat back thinking that this was going to be epic... or an epic fail. 
Subtle reminders - everywhere
I had heard - and mostly believed - all sorts of myths about 24 hour racing. Stories abounded about the sleep deprivation, the madness, the buildup of lactic acid that would burn your legs down to bleeding stumps. I had searched Youtube for tips and watched crazed, wild eyed psychos offer that kind of advice that sounded like a cocktail of frantic warnings and outright abuse.
I had no idea how to train for a 24 but I did have many epic training ideas. I had planned to do full day stints on the wind trainer watching series after series of Breaking Bad, ride to and from Bendigo/Warnambool/Rio de Janeiro  in a day  or wear a hairshirt under a lead filled vest and do repeats of Mount Hotham.

Instead, I did very little and followed current and multiple 24 Solo World Champ Jason English on Strava and basically spent a bunch of time sitting in front of my computer with my jaw hanging open in disbelief. Jason's direct competition was also racing many hundreds of kilometers at many thousands of feet of altitude (Mongolia Challenge for example), and the numbers I was watching fall out of their stats was mind boggling. It'd be fair to say that the terror meter was finding new high water marks.

Don't add sugar to the crystal meth Walt! 
Fortunately, fear and resolve often hang out together. And when it reached some kind of critical zenith I was spurred into action. I trained. Hard, and a lot. 
And in a fashion it became contagious. Kyllie and me had hooked up with 24 hour veteran Kevin Skidmore and his team of Kenny and Linda we all started tempering our respective steel as it were - the riders were in the gym, on the trainer, tapping out long rides and racing 6 hour enduros, and the pit crew building spreadsheets packed with logistical considerations, such as whether we wanted marg or low salt butter on our Fairy Bread. 

We spent up on kit. Half in desperation and half out of pure respect for the undertaking. I did my research and reached out for a hot new bike. The very epic and incredibly fast Pivot Mach 429 Carbon from the very good kids at Cycles Galleria. Kevin rode it once, immediately got his own new bike and as race day approached, riders and support crew were all starting to feel - almost - prepared. 
Canberra awaited, glittering in the not too distant future.

The 24 solo course was cherry picked from the the singletrack utopia that is built into Mount Stromlo Forrest Park. Stromlo is a veritable Disney Land of trail, with excellent, mature networks that have hosted national and international race rounds of all flavours. And while it doesn't let you get dirty, it even has a cracking road criterium circuit upon which the race village was centered.

Race central from to top of Mount Stromlo
Most of the atmosphere of the race bubbled away on pit lane, which was about a one kilometer tarmac loop, with a confetti of marquees, portable offices and other paraphernalia shuffling and settling with the industry of the 24 hour pit crews . Popular items were motivational whiteboards with worn slogans like "HTFU Robbie", "Go Kelly!" and "John, did you remember to turn the iron off?"

A massive electronic scoreboard was blinked out the lap times in the middle of the circuit, a big inflatable arc marked the start/finish line, various media vans and meandering semi-officious hacks completed the look - and as the sun set on raceday-eve, everything shouted that this was going to be a cracking event indeed.

Pit lane, waiting for race day

More to come...

(A minutes silence. The day before race start I was in the carpark watching an ADCC downhill race taking place. One particular gent hit the second last big jump and got a little out of shape in the air - though either wind or bad luck. At considerable pace he landed front wheel heavy, it threw his weight forward and forced his bars to cross up. That effectively whipped him around his bars and straight into the high side of the last jump. He hit this wall of dirt at about 50 clicks...and stopped. He stopped way too quickly for it to be anything other than very serious.
Despite the immediate and commendable first aid efforts of the ADCC, he died that day - by all accounts, instantly.
Kane Vandenberg - 46, Naval Officer based at Nowra, survived by his wife and three sons.)

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