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Bontrager Twenty Four/12 2007

Before the race

TwentyFour12 is only in it's second year so is quite a new event on the XC race calendar. With backing from Kieth Bontrager, an XC racing legend and owner of Bontrager Wheelworks and Components, the event promised to be a good introduction to the world of competitive mountain biking with the opportunity to ride alongside and possibly teach a lesson to some of the best riders in Europe.

The race was held at Cotswold Farm Park and with the animal park, plenty of trade stands, a movie premier as well as massage therapists for the racers there seemed like plenty to keep you amused over the weekend. To be honest I was expecting a better showing on the trade stand side of things but most people just seemed to be after the odd bit of kit they'd forgotten. Drove down on a sunny day just in time for it to start raining - nice! Harriet and James had turned up at the wrong venue (Cotswold Wildlife Park) so had a nice 30 mile drive through the Cotswolds!

Set up camp, had a wander round the stalls and sat and chilled out having the odd beer whilst getting the low down on the course from Harriet and James who had ridden the half of the course that was open for practice. Later in the evening Harriet and I headed over to the marquee to watch the movie premiere of '24 Solo' which was an excellent film about the 2006 World Endurance Mountain Bike Championships. Just what we needed to get us psyched up for the race in the morning. Attendance for the weekend was 900 riders and (apparently) 4000 spectators.

...the Course...

The course was around 9 mile long and comprised of open grassland, double track, technical singletrack with some seriously off camber sections thrown in for good measure. Designed and built over a twelve month period by ex-World Champion Soloist and founder of the Extreme Endurance team Rob Lee, it certainly looked like you'd have your work cut out completing the course without dabbing, let alone managing to ride for the full 12 or 24 hours.

Thanks to the mini-typhoon which descended on the campsite and surrounding area on the Friday, the course was very wet and in places upto a foot deep in mud by the start of the race. A sunny start to Saturday would help to dry the course out but with most of the course being inside wooded areas it would be a good few hours into the race before the track really started to quicken.

I personally thought it was a great course which was difficult enough to still be enjoyable. The final section of the course would prove to be loved and loathed in equal measure. With the campsite in view the riders final challenge was to negotiate a field which was effectively a 1 kilometre long BMX track of berms and whoops.

Bontrager Twenty Four 12 Gallery

During the race

I'd offered to do the first lap of the race. There was method to my madness though as I figured that with it being a long race I should conserve as much energy as possible and as I hadn't actually ridden any of the course and there was no doubt going to be a good deal of congestion then I may as well go out first. Oh, how it seemed such a cunning plan in my head! Due to the rain the day before the condition of the course varied from wet grass to muddy trails to mud bath in places with upto 12 inches of mud in places. When we reached a bottleneck in the course you just had to wait your turn to get round whatever obstacle we'd come across. The grass and muddy trail were not too bad as long as you watched out for the roots, but how you were supposed to ride through foot deep cloying mud is anyones guess. At the worst points on the course I had to stop every hundred yards to dig the mud out of my front and back wheels as it built up around the frame basically slowed the wheels down to a thigh-bursting crawl - at one point the mud had actually picked up a small branch and a rock and they had jammed the rear wheel completely. Although I was struggling in the conditions, the race leader managed to lap me at the six mile mark!

...waiting your turn...

Following the first lap I felt pretty good. The conditions in the woods were not good but as the day was improving all the time and the sun had come out the track should be speeding up all the time. Harriet went out immidiatlely following me, followed by Mark and then James. No one reported any problems aside from the odd 'off' or face plant. Whilst other people were out I had about four hours to kill so purely to ensure I kept the energy levels I got stuck into the ice cream, banana and chocolate pancakes! There wasn't a right lot for the spectators to do, other than visit the animal farm but it appeared that everyone who had turned out was purely focused on the race so the lack of other options didn't seem to bother most people although a beer tent would have been a brilliant idea and would have made the event a little more social. There was always the option to go and get a massage but I felt ok and it was going to be a long day so I thought I'd wait till later in the day when I'd be looking for anything to get rid of the dreaded cramp. second lap, lap 5 for the team...

I went out on my second lap with the sun beating down and the track drying out fast. Conditions were good and I was really enjoying the race so far, I felt good, the bike was fine and things seemed to be getting a little less congested out on the course. As there wasn't as much mud about and I'd washed my bike to get some of the mud off it (which was adding unknown weight to the bike), I was able to ride most of the course without having too many problems. The big hill on the course still beat me. Even though it was only about four hundred yards long and not that steep, the track was pretty rough and muddy which made it harder than it looked. The single track was still quite slippery and I saw a few people crash out on this lap. Despite the race being twenty four hours long people were still caning it downhill in the slippy conditions, I was trying to make up time on the downhill sections to make up for my fairly steady pace on the rest of the track.

I was coming to the end of my lap when I arrived at the double log jump. The first log jump ws now problem as it was not a difficult hop onto it but the second pile was off camber so if you approached it off balance then you could end up coming a cropper so I decided to run over that pile but when I got to it I saw two photographers with their lenses pointing in my direction so I thought I'd better have a crack at it which resulted in the picture above. I think it's a great picture but some people have made reference to 'Jimmy Hill on a bike' - read into that what you like! Entering the final kilometre I decided to hammer it to the finish line as I was feeling really good. I raced through the Humpy Dumps as fast as I could and caned it into the arena. With the finish line in site I suddenly developed cramp in both quads and both calves and pretty much came over the line with my head between my knees bent double in agony. I handed over, got off the bike and had a quick word with James and Mark and then decided now might be a good time to hit the massage tent! and recuperation...

There was quite a queue at the massage tent so it was about 40 minutes before I got seen by a physio. Bending into various poses my legs faithfully triggered the painful cramping I suffered at the end of my second lap, along with associated grimaces and yelps! After a half hour massage I was told do keep my legs warm and eat plenty of potassium (mango's) which wasn't really something I had to hand. Whilst waiting for others to finish their second lap I kept my legs warm by stretching out regularly and by the time it was close to my third lap I was feeling confident that I would be ok so started preparing myself to get back on the bike. Everything was going to plan until I filled up my CamelBak bladder and then my right hamstring cramped up again! I decided to call it a day as I didn't think injuring myself right before the Iceland trip was a particularly wise thing to do and I didn't fancy hobbling home with my bike throught the forest at night. Now we had all done a couple of laps, James decided to do a double stint and put another couple of laps on the board before calling it a day at around 2am.

Things to change

We'd all enjoyed our first event and I was desperate to do more although I would be spending half a dozen very painful sessions with the physio throughout August in recovery. Now I've been stretching and doing Yoga for a couple of months and all the cramping problems seemed to have disappeared so although the physio was painful it definetly taught me a lesson about race preparation!

Click here to view the photographs from Bontrager Twenty Four 12

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