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Bontrager Twenty Four/12 2009

Before the race

Bontrager Twenty Four/12 is a real jewel in the UK racing calendar. It's only been around since 2006 but in those three years it has firmly established itself alongside other prestigious events such as Mountain Mayhem, Hell of the North Cotswolds, Sleepless in the Saddle and of course the Bucks Off Road Sportive (shameless club event promotion intended). Like other events, it has suffered at the hands of the UK weather, but that doesn't stop people signing up in their droves as soon as the application forms are available. In order to make sure that I didn't miss out, I signed up for the 'Torchbearer Pairs' category in January with Phil from my club (West Drayton MBC) which was early enough for me to play through the entire event and consistently win it eighty six times in my own head which I think you'll agree is quite an achievement.

Having signed up for the event with a good six months notice, it left me plenty of time to prepare. I know what you're thinking. I probably had a bullet proof training plan worked out, and you'd be right. It is also worth pointing out that having signed up so early for the event and already having my bullet proof training plan, it left plenty of time for two other very important aspects of my training which I, and it would seem only I for reasons that will no doubt one day become clear to me, like to include. These are reading up on lots of other peoples training plans and then meddling with my own training plan to try and fit in all these best bits, turning me into some kind of mountain biking god in the process, like a cross country mountain bike racing version of Man Plus. It's become apparent that it's extremely important that the meddling takes part during critical phases of the training AND before I have done enough of a specific phase of the training to determine how effective it has been. It should also be noted that I reserve this "silver bullet" training method for my own training. Any useful advice I pass on through this site regarding training will no doubt help some people improve their own training and preparation, I regularly get emails from people telling me they enjoy reading the site and that it has helped them which is fantastic but have no fear, I'm the only one with the sheer brilliance to incorporate this "real time meddling" into my training and I don't recomment it to others in case they get the upper hand on me at the next race. Besides, others tend to stick to the tried and tested methods which the pro's use which clearly work. I just cannot seem to stop interfering with my own progress.

I took a few days off work so that I could arrive a few days before the event and relax, have a few practice laps and catch up with the club members who I don't see terribly often due to me living in North Yorkshire and the club being based in West London. I'm slowly working on a cunning plan of opening a Northern branch of the club by getting a few like minded friends who I ride with occasionaly to sign up and get involved in a few races. Unfortunately the Great British weather was to play it's foul hand and turn the course into a mudbath so I was in no particular rush to get there and sit in a tent all day. Also, having taken the day off to pack and then drive down in plenty of time, I rather foolishly overlooked the actual "getting on with it" part of the packing and found myself all ready to set off at 10pm...bugger. With hindsight, that was probably a brilliant time to set off as the roads would be quiet and it would get me used to being up all night, for the race. Unfortunately I decided a better use of my time would be to catch up with "Le Tour" and a bottle of red, or "psychological training" as I put it at the time.

Arriving on Friday afternoon, with the course being quite muddy I decided against the practice lap as I'd just picked up my bike from a very thorough service and I couldn't face wrecking the drivetrain just yet! The course had been changed at the last minute due to the wet weather so we were looking at a 13km course with quite a lot of climbing, a river crossing and most of the great sections from the 2008 course. The tshirts looked like last years but in a different colour so I didn't bother. I needed a few gels and James recommended the Torq Summer Fruits gels which contained Guarana. I grabbed a handful and a few different sample pots of the Torq Energy powder, Pink Grapefruit (supposedly easy on the stomach and fresh tasting over prolonged periods) and Lemon and Lime which does the job. Waiting a full twelve hours for your race to actually start when everyone else is having fun in the sun is a real pain in the arse! I decided to spend the time introducing the other club members to the joys of home made boil in the bag pasta, took no time to make and tasted excellent. Something I'll definitely be doing again.

Bontrager Twenty Four 12 Gallery

During the race

Phil was starting the race for our pair. There was to be no Le Mans start so he had no opportunity to break his ankle before he got on the bike like he did at Mayhem! He was back into the arena in around 45 minutes, a decent time in the dark to be honest and I was running for my bike shortly afterwards. We were in 9th place after our first lap. It felt good to be finally out on the bike after watching the first half of the twenty four hour race. The bike was in great condition thanks to the guys at Boneshakers and although I usually hate the first few laps as it takes me a couple of laps to settle into a rythym and to realise that all of the course is ridable and "that horrible climb" really isn't that bad, I really enjoyed my first lap. It's a difficult decision to make, going out for a practice lap before the race as it obviously takes energy out of you, but on the plus side I think psychologically it helps familiarise you with the course and reassure you that you can ride it harder without fear of having an off. The first lap was done in a fairly decent time I thought of just over fifty two minutes but I was aiming to try and start steady and then get faster, particularly as I'd be going from riding in the dark to riding in daylight.

The course itself was very good, not as good as it was in 2008 but there again they had had to make last minute changes to fit around the bad weather which had no doubt ruined some sections of the course. There were three climbs. The first, shortly after the start, was on tarmac and doubletrack and although it was fairly straightforward, I spent a good five minutes climbing to the top of it before hitting the rooty singeltrack through the forest. This continued for a couple of kilometres before bringing you out on a fire road which started off flat before climbing steadily to a right hand turn up a short, sharp greasy climb into the forest, eventually bringing you back out onto the fire road which swooped down to a fantastic section of singletrack, "Cottage Return", which wound and jumped through the forest back down to the fire road which ran alongside the river. At this point there was a choice of singletrack or fire road, but I always took the fire road as it looked faster. The fire road climbed up into the forest again, past the entrance to Newnham Park Shooting Grounds (where the DJ's had decided to set up) before turning sharply left onto the "Clif Bar Climb", a very steep, loose and greasy climb up into the heart of the forest which took a good few minutes to complete. The trail then led back down a steep, rocky and very slippery descent, great fun but you had to have your wits about you as if you stacked it was probably going to hurt! Back onto a mixture of fire road and singletrack through fields, led you to the river and a choice of a 6 inch deep crossing or the bridge route which was a few seconds slower. Climbing away from the river a very rooty and therefore technical singletrack section followed which would test all but the very best riders. This led onto what was last year a split in the trail where you could race other riders through the forest which was unfortunately missing this time but it was still a great section, bringing you back onto the grassy slopes of the arena, through the campsite before hitting the finish line and either another lap or transition. Given the adverse weather conditions, it was a great course, not the best but certainly a lot of fun to ride and with the slippery conditions, a decent challenge.

Time for another lap. My second went well. I was passing plenty of people and my pace felt good, although the rear derallieur was slipping every few minutes which was really annoying. Tweaking the barrel adjusters wasn't really helping although that could be down to me not being very delicate with the adjustments and getting a little frustrated (I persevered and by the fourth lap I would have it pretty much dialled in). I was getting used to the course and was enjoying it and feeling good with the climbing and the technical sections although the final rooty climb up into the forest I ran every time as it was just a complete mess of roots! No problems so far, all going good and we were up to 8th place.

It was still early days but I felt things were going well by the third lap. We were a good way into the race now and I felt like this would be the point where my body would settle down and I'd get quicker as I got used to the course. How wrong I was. At first I wasn't sure what was wrong, I just felt exhausted, as if I was coming to the end of a 12 hour solo race. I took on more energy drink and hoped it was just a blip. I hadn't done anything to bring it on. I felt like I had been riding within my aerobic limits and I'd not had any moments although, as I was now to all intents and purposes 'bonking' I was making stupid mistakes and before the mid point of the lap I had already misjudged a corner which nearly sent me over the bars, resulting in a huge stoppie against a tree root! I then made another hash of a simple technical section and ended up hugging a tree! What the hell is going on? I was getting really pi**ed off by this point and the frustration was beginning to show in my technique. The still slipping rear derallieur was not helping my patience. I came back in from the lap and just about managed to wish Phil good luck with his lap. I felt like crap, no point telling Phil about it though, maybe it would sort itself out if I had some food, a coffee (which I'd been looking forward to all lap!) and one of these Guarana gels James had told me about. I went back to the tent and brooded about the lap eventually realising that my condition was probably due to the fact that I had been ill for an entire week a couple of weeks ago which had left me tired and dehydrated at the time.

Leaving the campsite for transition I tried to snap myself out of it and told myself to get a bloody grip! When Phil returned we were still in 8th, but rapidly closing in on 7th and 6th place who had gone from being almost twenty minutes ahead to only a couple of minutes in front. Our steady start, gradually winding up the speed, was starting to pay dividends. Phil was soon back and I was on my way again. The weather was starting to look a little dodgy but for now it was still fairly warm and at least dry. The lap went well, I was still feelin a little rough but as I rode around the course I felt better and better to the point where I was exiting the final wooded section I felt amazing and was pushing hard as I started my descent down the grass slope to the arena. I noticed just how much the right hand line was starting to rut up and become choppy with eighteen hours of people hammering down the slope, might be time to use the other racing line...I saw a split second of the flag hook on my grippy bar ends and wrench the bars hard to the right...NO!...I then parted company with the bike...

...[bang]...

grasstentsskyarenagrasstentsskyarenagrasstentsskyarena...sky...tents...grass...silence

I stayed lying on the ground, looking at the dozen or so people stood by there tents several hundred yards away, looking at me with the same look on their face of "Wow!". I could definitely feel my feet and hands, deciding this was a good sign I attempted to sit on my knees... I was still on the racing line and wanted off it as fast as possible...a bike whizzed past to my right (I was facing back up the hill)...the bike was a few yards from the first flag, I was around thirty yards away just short of the third flag...the bike didn't look too bad...the flag just stood there waving a mocking victory salute in the wind. I tentatively looked around my body expecting the worst. Nothing appeared to be on back to front, I took this as another good sign. My elbow hurt, a lot. It looked like there was something trying to get out of my forearm, a very localised and pointed lump sticking out...that doesn't look good...my arm appeared to work though, I clenched and unclenched my fist...that seems to work too. I stood up and stumbled over in a daze to my bike and picked it up and got off the course. The bike looks fine but weirdly, the bar ends look like they're on upside down and the left and right hand side are at the exact same angle of wrongness. Weird.

I didn't trust my bike or my head enough to ride back to the arena as I had taken a very hefty clout to the side of my head. Walking back in I bumped into Jackie (I think it was Jackie, she runs Beyond Mountain Bikes, our clubs main sponsor) who told me to get back on and ride to the finish but I was on another planet at that particular moment in time so mumbled something about the bike not being right (ok, I was being paranoid but I really didn't feel like an immediate repeat performance) and quickly jogged back to transition where Phil was waiting. I handed over and then went to get checked out by the medics who told me to come back if I was feeling dizzy or throwing up, they almost sounded disappointed! They didn't have long to be disappointed though as by the time I'd walked back to the West Drayton MBC compound I was just in time to watch someone do exactly what I'd just done...a nice action replay for me of what I'd just been through. Unfortunately the rider wasn't getting up and the medics were soon on their way up the hill. After a few really unsettling minutes of no movement the rider got to their feet and back on the bike.

After some food and a brew I went to transition to wait for Phil and to offer a fresh bottle. He was suffering with a dodgy stomach, so was not exactly on fire himself but he was still putting in good laps. I told him that I was going to pull out as I didn't feel like I was physically or mentally able to continue, plus with the bike being carbon I felt like I'd not feel safe on it until I'd given it a good check out. If we'd been fighting for a podium maybe that would have been different but there was still a good few hours to go and we were already down a lap. I'd been making mistakes already and given the way I was feeling the chances of another off were stacked against me. It was a disappointing end to a race which we had both been working towards for the last six months but, like the illnesses we had both recently suffered from, these things happen. Better to know when to stop, go away and regroup and come back another day and have another crack, rather than push too hard and end up making things worse. I could already sense that I'd be recovering for a while from this race!

We finished a disappointing 11th, but the result didn't truly reflect what had happened during the race. It's fair to say we were starting to peak and then we crashed...quite literally.

Things to change

Nothing to change really. I had a great weekend and things were going well until I had a freak accident. It highlights how important it is to keep your mind focused on what you're doing during these longer races. It's possible I had switched off a little as I was heading back towards the arena, I was concentrating on the course...but not on my immediate surroundings and I got caught out.

It's the Thursday after the event now, four days later and I'm still feeling very battered and bruised but I'm on the mend and the bike appears to be fine although my upper body is a good four or five days from being ready to get back on the trails. Bontrager Twenty Four 12 was still a great event and I've absolutely no doubt Phil and I will be back next year to have another crack at it. West drayton Mountain Bike Club had a lot of success at the event and it was absolutely amazing to see James and Malin win the 24 Hour Mixed Pairs category. Overall the club had a lot of people on the podium including the following category winners:

  • 1st 24/12 Vets 12hr-Colin Smith
  • 1st 24/12 Female Pairs-Michelle Youngman, Ceri Donovan
  • 1st 24/12 Mixed Pairs-Malin Tindberg, James Poole
  • 1st 24/12 Vets-C.Denman, A.Parry, M.Fuller, P.Crook, B.Tisdell

Congratulations to the above racers and everyone who achieved their own personal goals. Another fantastic event, well done Martyn and the InEvent team. See you sometime in 2010!

Click here to view the photographs from Bontrager Twenty Four 12

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Cheers Si, was a great event. I think our partnership was ideal as we're both of a similar ability and had the same goal; to finish in a reasonable position. I'd love to do a pair again next year, but fancy staring in daylight. The atmosphere we created outside the West Drayton team area was just amazing!
Phil