After winning my age group at the World Solo 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championship last year in Italy I thought I had a bit more in me, especially as I raced with a cold. So, once my pit crew said they would help again it “sealed the deal” and I started training. The mission was to win a third World Champ Jersey.
My first stop on the way to the World Solo MTB Champs in Fort William, Scotland was Waterville in County Kerry, 3 hours south of Dublin to meet up with my cousin Berdien and Sean. In true African style we decided to drive to Fort William, Scotland in one go. This meant that I had one night to get over the long trip from New Zealand. The next night we left at 10pm on our 17 hour trip, lucky we got an hours sleep on the ferry. Berdien, Granny Annie, Alex (8) and Benji (6) in team Haggis One; Sean and I in team Bagpipe bringing the bikes along. We did have a good time with two cars and a set of radios so that we could have a chat. Team Haggis One didn’t seem to enjoy my rendition of the Eye of The Tiger over the radio 😊.
While driving in the Scottish Highlands, I thought to myself that the last time I was there it was all about party, whiskey and getting drunk. 19 years ago I would never have imagined myself a double world champ on my way to attempt winning a third time, I suppose I used to party with the same dedication that I now train.
Once we settled into the hotel in Fort William, the others went sightseeing while I stayed indoors to think about race day and tweak a few things on the plan. I kept checking the weather, but gave up eventually; it was going to be a wet race so I had to accept that and be prepared. I am lucky to live in Dunedin, our weather is very similar to Scotland’s and I spent many days training in the rain and wind. I think I packed all my winter riding gear so that I had plenty of gear in case it got wet.
Sean and I rode the course a few times before race day and the conclusion was that there was a lot of climbing and lots of fun techy downhills to make up for all the climbing. I think the course had it all; rocks that try to throw you off balance, some off-camber roots, a few sweet bermy corners and plenty of great views to go with it.
On the Friday I registered and we checked the pits out and decided that upgrading from our gazebo to serviced pits was a great idea. No Fuss Events did a great job, these things had walls and a door, perfect to keep the pit crew dry and out of the wind. And plenty of room for nephew Alex to sleep, even though he promised he was staying up all night with me 😊.
A grey cold race day rolled around on Saturday 20 October and we got ready for it.
The way these races work is you set up camp in a designated area where the support crew gets all your food and drink ready. The race starts at 12pm and finish at 12pm the next day. We ride a set course; Scotland’s was around 12km long with 400m climbing. You are allowed to swap bikes between laps. As long as you completed one lap, you are a finisher and the person with the most laps in 24 hours is the winner. Lots of people have a short sleep at night; I try to stop as little as possible. Sounds easy on paper!
I like to plan my food per lap and it looked like my lap times were going to be an hour, so that made planning easy. I try a lot of different types of food in training and this time around my taste buds chose GU Gels, muesli bars and creamed rice to take on the bike. In a 24-hour race, I would usually have a gel, a muesli bar or creamed rice and a carbohydrate drink on the bike per lap. During daylight, I like to alternate between Toasted Marshmallow and Gingerade gels so that I don’t get tired of one taste. I save the Salted Caramel for after midnight; I think the caffeine helps to keep the brain sharp during the witching hours. The times I stop at the pits I have cookies, chips, fruit cake, bananas, jelly beans and crystallised ginger to choose from. Dinner was to be two-minute noodles, but the type I got in Scotland was not tasty at all so I gave up on it, a banana turned out to be a good dinner. I found that by eating constantly I don’t get hungry, so I was not too worried about dinner. This year in the cold I did not feel like eating and drinking, so I had to be very strict with myself and make sure I keep the energy levels up and stay hydrated. I stuck to my race plan as much as possible and nothing went wrong.
I find these endurance races can be a very social affair, the longer the race the more people talk to you. A guy from the UK saw my Off the Chain Cycles shirt and commented on how far Dunedin is. We had a discussion about jet lag and he said it might play in my favour, he thought it helped when he competed in Rotorua in 2016. Around 2am I started thinking that he was right, I did not get the midnight horrors and did not feel tired, lost and grumpy. By 3am I was still happily pedalling along, well mostly…it was very wet!
Scotland delivered on the weather! From looking at the photo’s I know the first two hours were dry! We crossed a few bridges on the course and there were little streams flowing along the mountain. I remember commenting to someone about how loud these got every time we came past that spot. The next morning these small streams were raging rivers, it rained a lot and very heavy at times. My strategy was to change into dry clothes every time I started shivering, so I had to change three times! Rain and wind can wear you down, around 7am the next morning I was riding this short smooth gravel downhill with the headwind blowing the rain in my face thinking what am I doing here? At that time I was 4 or 5 laps ahead of second place in my age category and my pit crew had just told me that I’m running 4th overall, so no chance of stopping.
It’s funny what sticks in your mind from these events. I was attempting to ride this steep pinch and the wheel slipped on the loose rocks so I jumped off and pushed. Near the top, I heard some people behind me and saw two of the top three girls also pushing their bike, so I stopped beating myself up for not making it up that little pinch climb. When I got back in the pits Sean and Steph (a friend of mine) told me that I’m 50 minutes behind 3rd place. I gave a great whoop as I rode away, I thought I was a lot further behind them. I wanted to improve on my overall standing as much as I wanted to win another jersey. I did say to myself if I can fundraise enough or get a sponsor to pay for the next World Champs I should race in the elite class. I did wish I had a spare bike when I saw someone jump onto a clean bike half way through the night, it was very gritty and the poor chain sounded like it will break every time I started cranking uphill! My Niner RKT 9 RDO from Niner Bikes NZ went very well! No mechanicals or issues, so I rode it all day (and night) long even though it was caked in mud most of the race. All the water on the course towards the end of the race did keep the bike cleaner, so a bit of good with the bad.
This was definitely one of the toughest races I’ve done. 20 to 22 hours of rain got a bit annoying, but I was prepared and pushed through to win another 24 Hour Solo World Title in my age category. The course was great and it held up very well with all the rain. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to ride everything every lap, just that one steep pinch getting me a few times. The rocks were great, not slippery in the wet and I did not struggle on the wet off-camber roots, I never even put a foot out on them. It helps to keep a level head with these races and stick to the race plan as much as possible. The important thing is not to go too hard at the start and waste all your energy in the first few hours. I aim to keep spinning the legs and keep things smooth. go a bit more careful than normal through the technical sections, crashing hurts and can ruin a race like this.
Of course, you should enjoy what the course brings, otherwise, things get boring and time drags on. I tried to hit these little jumps every lap and had a smile every time!
This year was another successful attempt, but it takes a lot more than just riding my bike for 24 hours, so many people helped along the way with fundraising and the pit crew makes things possible on the day. It would be very hard to win this type of race unsupported, so a big thanks to Sean, Berdien, Granny Annie, Alex (8) and Benji (6) and Steph. Thanks for sitting up all night in the cold rainy windy weather getting wet and cold while cleaning and oiling the chain, swapping batteries and stuffing food in my mouth. I think I was lucky; by pedalling my bike I generated my own heat!
Sean, Benji and I on race morning.
And a big thank you to all the friends and family for all the encouragement help during the long months of training and preparing for this race.
All the winners!
A few others to thank: Off the Chain Cycles, Harraways Oats, Niner Bikes NZ, GU Energy NZ , Real Journeys, Shimano NZ, SWEET CHEEKS, Emerson’s Brewery, Bike Otago, Back Country Cuisine Cycle World Dunedin, Willbike Cycling Central, MTB Bike Stand