24 Solo National Championships – race report

5 04 2010

For Dr_Rob and I, the race weekend began on Friday morning, which dawned clear and warm. The drive down was slow amongst holiday traffic, but we arrived safely and without any incidents to speak of.

We sorted out registration and then found B-rad and family to organize proceedings. It was quickly decided that a recce lap was in order and we saddled up and rolled around the course. First impressions were favourable. The course was slightly longer than 8km and the first couple of k’s were slightly downhill with flowing, swooping corners, small kickers to launch off, big jumps with B lines and dips through dry creek beds galore. It was mind-boggling and I was starting to get pretty excited. Too excited some might say as I took on a log ride and made it 2/3 of the way along before tipping to the right and burping all the air out of my front tyre on landing (and almost K.O’ing Dr Rob). A quick burst of CO2 from B-rad and we were on our way again.

The rest of the recce was uneventful, there were two short climbs around the course. The larger of the two was easily climbed in middle ring but it was clear that it was going to hurt in the middle of the night. The trail was hard packed and grippy with few rocks except in a few high-speed rock gardens.

After the ride, we turned our attention to my backup bike. The brake lever was still going to the bars despite my frantic pumping, so we broke out the bleed kit to see if we could liberate some air from within the hydraulic lines. Two attempts saw copious amounts of air bled from the system, prompting Dr Rob to quip “You seem to be contaminating the pneumatic lines with brake fluid” however the lever continued to go to the bars. Much head scratching was done and then we gave up and decided that the bike was still rideable with only a front brake should the need arrive.

Close to the rider feed zone lanes were marquee spots taped out for seeded riders. It turns out one of those spots was reserved for Scott Abercrombie who informed us he had no intention of using it and no marquee anyway. A deal was struck to let us use the spot and he could use the shelter if need be. As I posted earlier, when we arrived in the car, the marquee hadn’t been packed and many heckles were made at my expense. In fact, it was such a bone head moment, that I joined in on the heckles.

That night was spent at Rob’s dads house about 10 minutes from the course and a pasta meal and pint at the pub were the perfect dinner.

The following morning we arrived trackside around 10am and started sorting out our gear. We decided against sharing the ‘B-rad’ feed area with the other 5 riders who were using the table enforced by the pit bitch Nelly. She had enough on her plate already without having to worry about us bunters, so we set up our feed table further up the hill and equipped it with our support team (read: red and white blinking lights so we could find it after sunset).

Time flew and before we knew it, we were at the rider briefing where the usual rules were discussed and then black arm bands were handed out for Willo. Everyone took one and it was a humbling moment to wear the arm band and observe a minutes silence for a rider who was on first name basis with a significant proportion of those present.

The race started at the bottom of the hill and a formation lap at cruise speed was agreed upon as a fitting way to remember Willo although it was obvious that the concept was lost amongst a few of the morons who insisted on charging through the field, winning few friends in the process.

It was about half way through this formation lap that it dawned on me that ‘this was it’. It was finally under way and there was no backing out now.

I attempted to pace myself as best as possible, however the sheer enjoyment of the track was causing me to push harder than I should have. The track was just so engaging that you just wanted to push harder and harder into and out of corners.

After tootling around at the Scott 24 last year during the opening laps and watching Danbot ride off into the sunset, I knew that I could get away with pushing more than I had in the past. So I went with the flow and kept humming along and enjoying the flowing lines and the high speed jumps.

One of the fastest and most fun sections of track was about 20 meters into the pine forest directly adjacent to the start finish line. It was lined with spectators and there were hoots, hollers and cowbells galore as you went screaming through, dancing on the bike as you dodged between trees.

It became mandatory to leave transition with lights at 17:30. I crossed the line at 17:28 but had already decided that it would be foolhardy to head out without lights in the falling darkness since a simple mechanical issue could leave you stranded. As it turned out, I didn’t switch the lights on for another two laps, but it was nice to know they were there.

Around 6pm, I was caught by Martin from ‘Rocky Trail Entertainment’ who was in good humour and smashing along. I asked how he was doing and he replied, “I just need to get through the first 6 hours and then I can ATTACK!”.  I nearly ran into a tree I was laughing so hard.

I decided to get a tow and sat on his wheel having a good old chat for most of the lap. On the fastest bit of trail somewhere near some big jumps, a kangaroo hopped across the trail in the distance. Then, out of no-where another massive kangaroo shot out from the trailside about head height a couple of feet in front of Martin. A split second difference in timing and there would have been the mother of all collisions. Martin isn’t a small man, and skippy wasn’t a small kangaroo, so it would have been akin to the unstoppable force colliding with the immovable object with me in the front row seat.

Pre race, I had decided that I would try to get through a drink bottle every two laps and the strategy was working well as I kept up my fluids pretty effectively for the first 10 laps. It was a warm afternoon, but I was diligent since I know from experience that hydration is my Achilles heel – I just forget to drink until it is too late.  Then I ran out of pre-filled bottles and had to stop to fill them all again. The joys of doing the race solo-solo.

In fact, there were numerous occasions that I lamented that my support crew was a pair of blinking lights. I would roll out of transition and remember that I hadn’t remembered to lube my chain, instil eye drops or drink something with caffeine. I would curse and then swear to do it the next time I came to transition. A lap later and I would pull up to the table and start inhaling food, then ride off into the distance only to curse myself for failing to do any of the things I had sworn to do. At one point, it took me 6 laps to remember to lube my chain.

Prior to the race, we had organized a pizza run and like the Scott 24 last year, it was planned to be a staple food to get me through the night. Around 7pm, I was starting to get hungry and was looking forward to pizza. The laps slowly ticked by and each time I would roll into transition salivating at the though of real food, only to find the table empty and so settle for chips, lollies, chocolate or muffins instead. Around 10:30pm, I came across Darren and he delivered the bad news – the pizza wasn’t coming! It seems they had been ordered by phone and the delivery driver hadn’t been able to find Majura rd and gave up. I was crushed, but no-where near as badly as B-rad and Dr_Rob. B-rad drowned his sorrows in beer and Dr_Rob started hallucinating and began naming all the tree stumps around the course.

As the afternoon had wore on, it became progressively more overcast and sometime after sunset, the first drops of rain started to fall. “That’s just great, I thought. If this turns into heavy rain, I am going to bed” Then I remembered all my gear sitting out in the open where the marquee should have been. Then I remembered I had deliberately left the sleeping bag and swag at home so that I couldn’t be lured into a comfy bed.

The stars aligned and I caught Dr_Rob with about 2 k’s to go and we rolled into transition and down to the camp site together to move all the essentials out of the rain and under Dreggsy’s marquee (a massive thanks Dreggsy!).

It wasn’t heavy rain, just a gently drizzle that wasn’t enough to actually soak you, but slowly the trail became more and more tacky (and the tree roots more and more slippery). It did an amazing job of keeping the dust down however, and the overcast night trapped some of the heat so the night didn’t cool off as quickly as usual in Canberra. I was still rolling around in a short-sleeved thermal top, jersey, nicks and long fingered gloves quite comfortably.

Shortly afterwards I noticed the enormous illuminated digital lap timing screen for the first time that I had ridden past a dozen times already. Much to my shock, it registered I was in 15th place. Without the aid of a helper, I couldn’t figure out whether that meant I was in 15th outright or in my class. I kept rolling around and the next lap I was 10th. Another 2 laps and I was 7th. I still couldn’t figure out what was going on and no-one I asked knew either. I couldn’t fathom that I was 7th outright but the score board doesn’t lie does it?

As I stood there staring at the screen in transition and lamenting my lack of pizza, I realized Jen English (Mrs Jason English) was standing next to my table. She was laughing her head off at me as I inhaled potato chips and coke. I told her my tail of woe and she graciously offered me some pizza. I politely declined as I could picture the headlines “Word Champ beaten in Solo Nationals, champ blames missing pizza”.

Some time in the middle of the night, I was following behind another rider and there was another close call with a spooked kangaroo. What the hell do kangaroos want with a pine forest anyway? It’s like they saw the lights circulating in the woods and were drawn to them like moths to a flame.

I was feeling fantastic from 9pm until 2pm and then I started to fade. My focus started to wander, my laps time slowed and my line choice was becoming erratic. By this time, B-rad was snoozing in bed and Dr_Rob had decided to call it quits for the night.

In fact, half the field seemed to have slunk off to bed as the track was pretty empty with only the big guns out there making me feel like a bug splattering on their windscreen as then roared past.

I was counting down the hours to until daylight however 24 hour racing and simple mathematics do not mix and I had convinced myself it was only 2 hours until daybreak for three laps consecutively only to pass the race clock each lap and scratch my head wondering how on earth I had been so spectacularly wrong in my reckoning.

Somewhere around 0500 hrs, I rolled into transition, sat down and slowly chewed my way through a nutella sandwich. I was at my lowest ebb and I was hoping solid food combined with energy drinks would drag me out of my slump. Instead I got cold and sank lower. Halfway through that lap I knew there was no chance I was going to be able to keep riding. I was getting dangerous and I didn’t want to risk hurting myself by pushing beyond the limits. I was pedalling with everything I had and would look down at the speedo to realize I was doing 8kph on flat ground. I was totally spent.

I dragged myself into transition, put on every bit of warm clothing I had with me and then slumped in a chair to await daybreak. Mrs Dreggs made me a warm cup of tea and I drank it and promptly fell asleep. I awoke once to find it was still dark and Dr_Rob was climbing back onto his bike to head out again. Then I blinked and it was an hour later, the sun was up and all my excuses were gone.

I got up, hopped back on the bike and headed out again. Shockingly, the leg fairy had paid me a visit during the night and granted me two new legs. Unfortunately, they were a reconditioned pair and were still using the same knee joints. I could hear distinct popping coming from my knees and they were aching every time I got out of the saddle. None the less, it was time to make myself pay for slacking off and sleeping.

The first lap out was my warm up as I managed to get my legs working again. Then I let loose and did a 31:04 minute lap. There were people hooting and hollering at me all over the track as I put myself in the hurt box. I continued to push as hard as possible but with 2 hours to go, I was again flagging. I trundled around and all I could think about was getting off the bike to stretch out my back. I was locked into a permanent “dog rooting a cricket ball” (Danbot, 2009) posture and with the finish line in site, the thought of stretching out was almost overwhelming.

The last lap I was spent. I had enough time to do an additional lap if I continued to run at my pace, but it turns out my attention span is only 23:30 long and I wasn’t really interested in going out again. I had climbed the hill 35 times and true to my word, I had kept it in middle ring the whole time so I allowed myself the luxury of using the granny on the last lap – pure heaven.

Since you needed to complete a lap after the 24-hour cut off in order to be classified as a finisher, a queue formed out of site around the final turn. I gladly hopped off the bike and cheered and hooted those hardy soles who committed to going out for one more lap and listened in while Dreggsy and Jess Douglas held court with good humour and company.

As the clock ticked over 24 hours, we all saddled up and climbed the hill to the finish line for the final time and patted each other on the back for a hard days night. I listened to stories and chuckled to myself as B-rad relayed the mighty exploits of Brett Bellchambers who had led the race outright on a single speed at one point during the night. “He smahed the gearies”. “They didn’t know what had hit them” etc etc. It was great to see such passion, camaraderie and appreciation in the sport. For what it is worth, I witnessed Bellchambers (aka Jebus) mow down the hill like it wasn’t even there during the middle of the night. Watching this 6 foot 5 monster of a man just annihilate the course was one of the highlights of my whole race. I tip my hat to you sir.

In the final wash up, I had finished 23rd outright and 7th in the 30-34 age group (which included the world champ!). I performed as well as my support and training would allow and left nothing on the field. I gave it everything and learnt a lot in the process. A massive thanks goes to everyone who offered words of encouragement, to the event organizers, to those who helped by charging batteries or just giving a kind smile.

Next year I will be back.

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7 responses

5 04 2010
Sammydog

Awesome.

6 04 2010
Jarod

Best 24hour write up ever!

6 04 2010
Daniel

great read. well done

6 04 2010
Luke

Great report mate. Stella result as well. Bring on the worlds I say.

7 04 2010
Diane Perry

Jas wouldn’t have minded you having a piece of his pizza. Great effort without support. I know I was happy only to have to concentrate on riding & leave the rest to Paul

7 04 2010
Steven P

Congrats Rossco! That’s one hell of an achievement and a fantastic result. Great reading too.

9 04 2010
Mark W

Awesome Rosco – Kudos!

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