On reflection the trails in Guisborough woods give us an advantage over most riders. My personal opinion is that the average Guisborough trail rider could technically match the top xc/enduro racers in the country. So, with a bit of fitness and some tech race courses like 10 at Kirroughtree or Glentress 7, you could all do some damage.
I have always had a fascination with feats of endurance and harboured a desire to race 24 solo since competing in the 1999 Red Bull Mountain Mayhem as team rider. After reading an article in xcracer a year ago I made plans for the 12h of exposure as a stepping stone. However world champs influenced changes in rider categories suggested a late but risky move to 24h. My previous longest competitive event was the Glentress 7h last year. Nevertheless, a consistent winter and the Whinlatter challenge 2 weeks earlier gave me some confidence in pacing. However, I needed reliable pit support, lights and a spare bike. Fortunately with 3 days to go I had assembled 6 very able volunteers. 1. MTBG teammate Mike Coward an xc/enduro rocket and ace bike mechanic 2. Dr Kev “da wookie” Murray a 6ft 7in legend of Scottish mountainbiking 3. My wife Paula, a sports dietitian with an enviable cycling palmares, 4. My wee sis Laura, a future events manager who works for the 2014 commonwealth games team, 5. Kevs dad Ron, a top Sports Therapist, who solo cycled across Australia. 6. My daughter Olivia who is very cute and won her first girls mtb race aged 4 (knows the score). Not a bad support team then.
Teammate Nick Piper kindly offered his SWorks Epic as a spare bike along with Gazebo and lights. Bikescene staff Ian, Simon and Anthony donated hope batteries and Mike and Mark Bland added further lights and batteries to the collection. I was ready for action.
On arrival it was wet with most campsite cars and vans struggling in the mud. Mudguards were added for the pre-ride. The course revealed hills, a tight singletrack climb and 4 evenly spaced manmade descents. It was challenging but not too technical, with limited risk of punctures. My campervan sleep was interrupted around 1am due the cold and dampness, I pulled another duvet over my head. After the usual Pre race fettling and faffing it was soon time to depart Newcastleton guided by a piper. The pace was brisk on the first lap with Ibbett, Rothwell, Page and White leading the way. Meanwhile I stayed calm and tried to conserve energy. My pit, spectators and marshalls were very enthusiastic and encouraging. The night approached without incident with pit knowledge that I was 3rd placed vet. I asked how far ahead the next rider was to help give me focus. At this time unaware I was chasing a ghost…..
Meanwhile in pitsville I had been eating, bananas, bars and gels. Paula and Laura started surprising me each lap with hot tea, porridge, jaffa cakes, jelly babies, hot tortillas, spaghetti and my surprise favourite mashed potatoes. Around this time I noticed my right eye was blurry and requested some saline. Ron showed some concern and asked the usual first aid questions.
Lights were added to the helmet and bike with precision charge and change routines for batteries. Bikes were cleaned and changed when needed. I started to press on the climbs in the dark. Night riding was fun and interesting; my right eye was still blurry. SIP events and competitors occupy the Rock UK chalets on site with the main race course passing between chalets. I was aware of cowbells, loud music, gazebos, fairy lights, barbeques, international flags and lots of verbal encouragement. This created a continental alpine atmosphere which was great for motivation at night. I especially appreciated the mysterious voice shouting “use it” each lap. Another memorable moment was passing a man in a gorilla suit fishing on a footbridge.
Having looked at race results and laps patterns for 15 years I considered that this is when small gains accumulate. However each time I returned to the pit large gaps were pulling away from me in an irregular way. I had seen gorillas in the misty dark night, could my mind be playing tricks on me. Who was this mysterious ghost rider?
I was informed that the rider (no 147 who was riding 24h distance) had announced on his 3rd lap to the organisers that he would attempt to contest the hot lap time (the prize was a top of the range giro helmet). To everyone’s surprise he smashed pro rider Matt Pages time (who was competing in the 12h distance) by 4 minutes! Then 2011 European 24h veteran champion Mark Spratt and others passed the same rider 3 times within the same lap! I was frustrated, getting tired and the right eye was no better. I decided to keep one eye (literally) on the rider behind. At pitsville they agreed that I could finish after 2 more laps to gain a podium position. So that was it, after 16 laps in 21h 15 I finished and had completed my first 24 solo. So where did I finish?
Sara at SIP events agreed there were anomalies with rider no. 147. Other competitors had made protests and all would be revealed. After a shower and bacon and egg butty I felt better and my vision was restored. I waited for Mark Spratt to compete his 20th lap, an awesome performance to win the UK and European solo vets category for a second time. Mark passed ghost rider’s bike (but no rider) on the final descent. Shortly afterwards ghost rider appeared sprinting into the main arena and dramatically collapsed Alastair Brownlee style over the finish line!
After a thorough investigation and rider interviews the outcome from Sara and Paul at SIP events was to DQ rider no. 147. He admitted to possibly getting lost and disorientated during at least 2 laps, including the hot lap.
The outcome promoted me to 2nd place veteran behind Mark and also the overall 24h rookie champion’s jersey (7th overall). I was totally stoked and also received an exposure toro lightset as part of the very generous prize list. This means I no longer have to borrow reliable lights for the next one. I loved the whole experience and would recommend it to anyone. However, racing is the easy bit, without the support of my pit team, MTB Guisborough teammates and all the staff at Bikescene, this would never have been possible. A special mention must go to Rich Wilson, Master mechanic at Bikescene for ensuring my bike was mechanically sound and Gary and Darren at work for keeping my legs in top working order.
And finally, my initial inspiration for competing in 24h of exposure was reading Mark Spratt’s report on winning 3 jerseys at the same event last year. This year I got to meet him, top, top bloke …and now a friendly rival.