12 Hours At Bristol Bikefest
June 24 2014
I had always thought it would be amazing to complete a solo 24hr bike race and last weekend I took one step closer to that goal racing my longest race to date, the Bristol Bikefest 12 hour endurance race. I’ve spent the last couple of years racing Enduro all over Europe with my brother Tobias (AKA Raji), but I also have a strange masochistic side and get a real buzz out of pushing myself physically and mentally to my limits. I decided this year to try my hand at a number of endurance races, ranging from six hours to, hopefully, the World 24hr Solo Championships in Fort William this October.
The weekend before Bristol I lined up for my first six hour race against a tough field at the Brass Monkeys Summer Series on a super-sunny Sunday morning. The excitement and the amazing singletrack course went to my head and I got carried away, going off far too fast and putting in a few quick laps. But this was an endurance race and three hours in I started to pay the price for that fast start and began to cramp up. I had to really dig deep for the next three hours to finish the race but I was not going to give up. In the end I finished up a pretty respectable eighth, which I was pleased with, but most of all I finished and began to learn what this endurance racing was all about. It’s going to be a long and tough learning curve. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “Wow next weekend its double the time and six hours was tough enough.” Oh God, but bring it on!
The week before Bristol I went to see my buddy Dave over at Cycleworks to get a bike fit on my Clockwork, I’d found that spending so long in the saddle was giving me a sore back. After a few tweaks with saddle height and position and with a longer stem fitted, I was ready to take on the 12hr Solo at the Bristol Bikefest.
I rocked up on Friday evening to an amazing atmosphere and the festival feel already in full swing. That’s what I love about bikes, it brings people together with a common cause and everyone gets on so well. I went and signed on, fitted my number board and timing chip and kicked back for a nice chilled evening waiting to see what the morning would bring. Earlier in the week the Met Office had issued a severe weather warning for Saturday but luckily that weather front had changed direction and the forecast was looking a lot kinder with rain in the morning and then brightening up in the afternoon.
I woke early to the sound of rain on the van, not an ideal start to the day but totally expected. I then went for a wander to look for Raji who had driven down in the night to kindle bottle and spanner for me.
The morning’s atmosphere was amazing with everyone super-excited but there was definitely a feeling of anticipation in the air and of just wanting to get started. Raji gave my Clockwork and Gyro the once over and we sorted out our feed station area and I was ready to get it done.
After the race briefing all the riders headed off down the park and had to lay our bikes in the grass, this was going to be a crazy full on Le Mans-style start. On the chime of nine AM all Hell was unleashed as hundreds of crazed mountain bikers made a charge to their bikes. This was where the neon orange paintwork on the Clockwork came into its own! My plan of attack was to not get over excited and to find a nice steady pace to try and stay consistent throughout the 12 hours. I had learnt from last weekend’s race not to go off too fast otherwise you’ll suffer in the latter stages and this was to be a long day.
Rob Barker Photography
With rain still in the air and with what had fallen last night the course was pretty damp and greasy. You certainly had to have your wits about you and really concentrate on the course but a couple of hours in the weather changed and the sun started to break through the clouds. This was good news and what with the hundreds of riders flying round, the course dried out pretty quickly. A few more hours in things were looking good, I was feeling strong with no signs of cramping. Raji was doing a brilliant job at the feed station as my bottle boy, pit bitch. At this point I think I was lying seventh and I knew there was a long, long way still to go.
At times it felt a little demoralising with the fresh legged riders from the teams and pairs flying past but I knew I had to keep it steady and keep the legs spinning. The six hour waypoint was a real mental boost for me, I knew it was all downhill from then on. After every lap it was an amazing boost to come through the pits and hear all the supporter and racers cheering you on, for those few hundred meters every lap you felt like a rockstar. As the hours ticked on by I moved up the positions. While I was being a rockstar Raji was being a superstar and keeping me fed and watered, there’s no chance you can keep your engine going at any capacity without the right fuel, but he totally took me by surprise when he gave me a block of jelly covered in salt. This was, frankly, disgusting and I nearly spat it out, but I knew it would help with preventing cramp. I forced it down and cracked on.
Rob Barker Photography
As the minutes and hours ticked by I was still feeling good and with about four hours to go my mum and dad arrived. This was incredible for morale as I could hear my mum cheering me on from miles away. There was nothing going to stop me now! With just over an hour to go Raji told me I had to pick it up a tad and get two more laps in before nine PM, so I picked up the pace. This was it; I was in the final hour. I didn’t know exactly how I was doing but I knew I was still feeling strong as I reached the bell for my final lap. Everyone was going crazy, shouting words of encouragement to all the racers. A few more miles and we would be done.
I came out of the last section of singletrack and gave out a sigh of relief as all that lay ahead was a little climb up onto a fireroad, a short straight and a sharp right-hander into the finish. The feeling as I crossed the line was amazing; everyone was cheering everyone on, it was such an incredible atmosphere.
I had done it, 12 hours non-stop in the saddle and I finished up in third place, which I was super chuffed with. I gave my brother and parents a massive hug for all their support and I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of achievement.
It was an amazing 12 hours with just under 120 miles on the bike and I cant wait till the next race, there’s definitely so much more to learn about this endurance racing, but me and my Clockwork are going to enjoy this journey. My Clockwork did not miss a beat all day and was the perfect weapon for the job. I guess I need to just man up now and get that entry in for the No Fuss 24hours Solo Championships in October. It should be interesting with 12 hours of day light and 12 hours of darkness.
A massive thank you to all the crew from the Bristol Bikefest for putting on an incredible event and I can’t wait until next year to do it all again. THANK YOU!