24 Hour World Solo MTB Championships
November 14 2010
Keith Forsyth headed to Canberra, Australia to race the 24 hour Worlds. The experience sounds incredible and after months of preparation, him and his trusty team more than deserved success. Keith kindly wrote this report documenting the highs and the lows of his experience. Over to you Keith...
I was fortunate enough to win the Veteran category at the inaugural British 24 hour Solo Champs in May, and my prize included my paid entry into the 24 hour World Solo Champs….If I decided to go.
I now had the difficult choice of whether or not to take up the challenge and head for Oz!
Being relatively new to MTB racing and only having raced two 24 hour solo events it was always going to be a BIG decision.After a lot of consideration and a huge amount of encouragement from my Wife, Margaret, parents, family and friends, I took the plunge and started sorting out flights etc.
My son Ben, who is 13 and a keen MTB racer, loves to help with my support and has been a great asset to me over the last couple of years, so I couldn’t go without him. My brother Paul also called me to offer his assistance. And so the team was complete.With a campervan booked, which would provide transport and accommodation, the stage was set for a great adventure!
This was the 12th year of the World Championships, but the first time the event had been staged outside of North America or Canada.It was also the largest field of riders in the history of the event with 411 solo rider entries from all over the world, 67 of them in my 40 – 44 age category. So it wasn’t going to be easy.
Crowds of spectators came to watch proceedings and boost the riders' morale.
24 hour racing is massively popular in Australia. The solo event was running alongside the Australian National team 24 hour event which meant there were nearly 3000 riders at Mount Stromlo, the venue of the UCI World Championships in 2009. Thankfully the organisers had two separate 20km tracks for the solo and team events, with both tracks meeting at the end of each lap, passing through the timing gate, and then splitting back onto the individual courses.
The solo course had 2 main climbs and 2 main descents forming a figure of 8 which passed under and then over a purpose built scaffold bridge at the top of the mountain.The first 2km of the course was fairly flat and offered the chance to eat and drink. After this section came a long gradual single-track climb with switchbacks which had some inside lines on the corners that saved time but invariably involved rocky or rooty step ups.
The surface of the track was relatively smooth, sandy and loose but there were some rocky sections to watch out for. By the time you’d reached the observatory at the summit you had the first 9km in the bag. This is where the real fun began!
From the summit the track descended down a rough and rocky traverse called ‘Western Wedgetail’. After this short section it was a left turn into ‘Pork Barrel’ which wasn’t for the faint hearted. This part of the course was fantastic. It was tight, very rocky with steps and similar in parts to the DH track at Fort William, with some ‘chicken’ lines around the more risky sections. This was my favourite part of the course and my Orange Five was well suited to this type of terrain.
The second climb started on an old rough fire road which had developed one main line with the opportunity to pass on the rougher side of the track when required. This track had a few steeper sections in it which would prove to be a real challenge in the later stages of the race.
You now found yourself back at the observatory for the second time and this time it was over the scaffold bridge to start the 5km descent back to the transition and pit area. This descent started on ‘Skyline’ which was swoopy, undulating and flat out fun…. After crossing a bridge you entered the 2nd stage of this descent, the aptly named ‘Luge’, which had a series of 90 and 180 degree berms that really tested the upper body strength. After a few minutes of this you were spat out onto the lower section of the 4x track and a jump into the main arena. A quick spin around the road crit track took you through timing and into the solo pit lane. With 85% of the course on single-track, at first it appeared that overtaking opportunities would be scarce, but these initial fears did not materialise.
Room for overtaking? There's a definite line to Keith's left.
Having only arrived in Australia four days before the race, and with swollen ankles due to the 22 hours of flying, I had been a little concerned. However, I had rested well in that time and felt relatively fresh as race morning dawned.
Spending the previous two days at Mt Stromlo we had watched the tented village grow. It was now starting to become apparent just how big this event was going to be, as ten thousand people in a constant flow of traffic arrived at the site. The whole area around the main arena had been turned into a massive campsite with tents and campervans pitched all the way up the lower slopes of the mountain.
As the clock moved towards the start of the race over 300 Age Category riders assembled 50m behind the start line. It was going to be a 300 metre ‘Le Mans’ style running start to get to where my bike was racked.
The announcement was made that 40 riders would be seeded on the start line and everyone else would then filter in behind. One by one the seeded riders were called forward onto the start line by announcing the country they represented and then their name. With each rider receiving a huge cheer from the colossal crowd, the atmosphere was electric.
‘‘Representing Great Britain, Keith Forsyth’’
The adrenalin rush was immense, there I was twelve thousand miles from home being called into the second row of seeding at the start of the World Champs, I had to pinch myself. Now the pressure was really on.
I knew all my friends and family were watching every development at home on their computers, and now I had to run as if my life depended upon it. And I hate running!
Keith's new bars were a definite advantage, except here...
The pistol shot sounded the start of the race and we were off and running.
I got off to a good start and was on the bike and in a bunch of quick riders as we headed out on a fire road which helped to spread the field. As we entered the first section of single-track I had managed to achieve my goal and keep ahead of the masses which I knew would result in a bottleneck behind me. The first climb was manic. The pace was rapid, like the first lap of a two hour XC race, flat out sprinting between the switchbacks. You don’t want to loose the wheel in front, I kept thinking to myself. In fact the whole lap went like that and before long the first lap was despatched in 53 minutes ….too quick !
I was in 2nd place in my category, only 1 second behind the leader, but he went on to pay the ultimate price and retired after 6 hours, and I was about to suffer.
The 2nd lap also went by at warp speed and then the first twinges started. Before long both my legs were in full leg cramps. I’ve never suffered cramp before in a race and couldn’t work out why it was happening now. Was it the pace, was it those swollen ankles, I didn’t know.
There was no way I had put in so much training and travelled this far to drop out after 2 laps so I backed off a little, gritted my teeth and nursed my legs round the course for the next couple of laps.
I had dropped back to 4th by the time I was on my 7th lap but my legs were starting to come back to me and my confidence was returning, then bang! Whilst going off line to pass a slower rider on the ‘luge’ I had caught my front wheel on the edge of one of the many vicious rocks strewn along the course, which resulted in a pinch puncture and an instant flat.
Another place dropped and back to 5th now.
Before heading out to Australia, I had arranged with another 5 of the British riders to share pit areas and this worked well for the pit crews who had gelled and were now the loudest group of people in the whole solo pit area, cheering out every rider as they exited the pits. Paul and Ben were doing a fantastic job, keeping me fuelled, relaying my position and passing on messages received from home. Who said this was a solo event?
As the sun went down the noise from the tropical birds squawking in the trees increased dramatically and the sight of kangaroos bounding alongside the track was amazing!
Another couple of laps completed, the sun had gone down, the 11 hour night had arrived and I had moved back up to 4th.
The 11th lap threw up another puncture. This time it was a slow puncture on the front but I managed to finish the lap without stopping and limped into the pit lane. This enabled me to eat and drink whilst my puncture was getting fixed.
"I swear I've ridden this corner before..."
I had dropped back to 5th again after this latest mishap, but soon regained 4th on the next lap. As the fatigue of the 20km laps and 400m of vertical ascent each lap started to take its toll, near disaster struck.
The descent down ‘Pork Barrel’ which had been the provider of so much fun and adrenalin early on was now to bare its teeth, and at some point in the early hours I over cooked it, caught the edge of a rock, clipped a tree on the right with my bars and went sailing over the top, landing heavily on the unforgiving rocks below.
At the time I had been pushing hard to try and bridge the gap to the top 3 guys, but now that task was going to be much harder with numerous cuts, bumps, and a swollen, bruised and very painful left hip which had taken most of the impact of the crash.
I remained in 4th place through the rest of the night and as the sun started to lighten the sky it dawned on me, I still had at least 6 hours to ride!
In the other 24 hour races I had enjoyed the sunrise, but this time the excruciating pain from my hip was now becoming too much. I felt I had pushed as hard as I could for the previous couple of laps, but I hadn’t made any advance on the guys ahead. For the first time I experienced an element of self doubt.
The brutal, physically demanding track was breaking me down bit by bit, and I wasn’t the only one. There were lots of riders retiring around this time and I felt that I couldn’t go on any further either.
In the pits I got off my bike, sat down in a chair and announced that I was finished.
Paul was trying his best to convince me to carry on but this was the toughest race course many of the more experienced riders had ever ridden in a 24 hour event.
It was the Worlds after all!
Just then the race timing on Paul’s i-phone updated and my last lap had taken me into 3rd place after 16 laps.
Rejuvenated with this new information, I jumped to my feet grabbed my bike and headed back out onto the track with a renewed purpose…. I was now in a podium position!
The next lap was torture, by now even the descents were hard work and it was just a case of hanging on.As I came through the timing I calculated that I would only have time to complete another 2 laps, which would get me to 19 laps, not a bad effort I thought.
With the finish line in sight and 3rd place still within my grasp I started to ramp up the pace. The next 2 laps were each 7 minutes faster than the previous 2 laps! This meant coming through the timing at 23 hours and 52 minutes. I had given everything I had left in the tank but I had not calculated on picking up time and it now became apparent that I may have to go out again!
As I rolled into the pit lane, Paul was as excited as a ten year old on Christmas Eve! The guy who had held onto 2nd place for the last four laps had hit the wall and was unable to go back out for a 20th lap. All I had to do was go out, complete one more lap and take 2nd place ….But I did have another Ausie breathing down my neck!
I was physically pushed out of the pit lane for the last time to a momentous cheer from what sounded like the whole of Australia!
I didn’t know it then, but I had a significant 7 minute lead on the rider behind. By this time there weren’t many riders on the course. Half way up the first climb I had slowly caught up to a group of 5 riders and sat there content with the pace. Looking back down the open hillside I couldn’t see any other riders ascending behind me and felt confident that I wouldn’t be caught.
Riding and shooting for this long, you'd lose the front wheel too...
Just then something felt wrong with the bike. I had picked up a slow puncture on the rear and it was now starting to go soft. I wasn’t sure if I had the strength left in my hands to change the tube so I elected to pump up the rear tyre periodically during the lap. The disadvantage of this was that I had to be very cautious on the descents in order to avoid a pinch flat due to the lower pressure. After numerous dismounts to inflate the rear tyre, including one occasion where I stumbled and collapsed on the rocky trackside, I had finally made it to the finish line.
The sight of Ben running to greet me with the Scottish Saltire flag draped over his shoulders was enough to tip me over the emotional edge, and I almost collapsed on top of him!
It emerged that I had lost 2nd place on the last lap but I had secured 3rd and a Podium finish at the World Champs!
I would like to thank my wife Margaret, for her support and understanding, the generosity and support of my parents, Stewart and Lynda, and support of all my family and friends, as this would not have been possible without you.
I also wish to thank Steve Deas at i-Cycles for all his support and having the faith.
No Fuss Events for their support.
And Orange Bikes for stepping in at the last minute to help with a bike when I was let down…