Sunday, May 1, 2011

Easter In Canberra

The Canberra Off Road Cycling Club celebrates Easter a little differently to most.

Their Easter Egg Hunt is hosted in the bush, is contested on mountain bikes and runs for 24 hours…

The 2011 Australian Solo 24 Hour MTB Championships.

Traditionally at this time of year, many people choose to remember Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection by consuming large quantities of chocolate eggs filled with goo. At the 24hour Solo Champs, however, mountain bikers choose to be willingly crucified while filling themselves with large quantities of goo. I hope the metaphor is not completely lost on you.

In contrast to most other 24 hour events on the calendar, the 24 Hour Solo Champs is open to solo riders only which means that competitors can more easily concentrate on the race without the annoying distraction of fresh(er) riders from 6-person teams blasting past them at high speed in the dead of night. This makes for a much smaller field and the racing is often quite exciting…relatively speaking, of course. You need to keep in mind that things play out over 24 hours, so it is much like a slow-motion version of a regular mountain bike race that goes through a long, dark tunnel for half the race.
 The night laps can really change the race.

A solo 24 hour race is as hard as you want to make it. You can take a break whenever you feel the need and as long as you complete a lap some time after the 24 hours is up, you get a valid finish result. In order to win, however, you generally have to ride solidly throughout the entire 24 hours with minimal mechanical misfortune, a decent amount of speed and the ability to consume more gel than a Smith Street hair salon.

Having already contested a handful of solo 24 hour races in the last few years, my best result at a National Champs being 6th place, this year I had a simple goal – a podium finish. I managed to achieve my goal…just…and only by virtue of the fact that a 4th place put me on the 5-person podium which is usually only reserved for MTB events. And if I wasn’t already mindful enough of keeping things in perspective, a housemate quickly reminded me that “There’s no 5-person podium at the Olympics”. Hmmm…maybe it’s time to re-evaluate those goals.
 You don’t get the luxury of a 5-person podium at the Olympics. Photo: Russ Baker

With racing getting underway at midday, all went well for the first 4 hours or so until a broken chain brought things undone. Losing over ten minutes, it could well have been a lot more if not for the generosity of single-speed icon, Jeebus (a.k.a. Brett Bellchambers).

Brett stopped to offer his chain tool, allowing me to finish the lap riding the bike rather than walking. I used the break as a chance to recover a bit and then set about riding a solid pace to try and make up time slowly.

During the night Jason English had firmly entrenched himself in the lead on the way to his fourth consecutive National Championship but the minor placings were still up for grabs. Skip to the morning and after 20 hours on the bike, countless gels, a whole large pizza, 3 hot mochas and a litre of Pepsi, I had made up most of the places lost and was up in to 4th. The problem was that Jeebus was also on a mission. As if only recently risen from the dead, he set about chasing me down lap after lap and with about 2½ hours to go, I could see him coming in to the pit row as I was leaving – 20 seconds I estimated the gap to be.

This is when things got interesting because after 22-odd hours of solid riding, and with the adrenalin rush from the morning sunrise fading quickly, the last thing I wanted to be doing was still racing. Ideally, a solo 24 should finish up like a day at the Melbourne Cup – with a slow and wobbly meander home in uncomfortable shoes while trying not to spew on yourself.

But not this time. I forced myself to put in 3 hard laps and used every opportunity to exploit any perceived advantage over Jeebus’ single-speed – chiefly that he would be pre-occupied with gear ratios, custom chainrings and silently judging all the geared riders that he passed out on trail. I pedalled all the downhills and tried to push hard on the flat and was finally able to put some time in to him over the remaining few laps.

Arriving in pit-row for the final time, my pit crew relayed a message that Jeebus had offered a gentleman’s agreement not to chase any further if he hadn’t caught me by the last lap. While I do not usually entertain offers from strange, bearded men in small country towns, I made an exception and slowed down a little despite an annoying fear that Brett would come barrelling past me on the last lap screaming “Jeebus lives!”

True to his word, Jeebus eased off and we were able to settle things like men in the showers post race – this consisted mainly of him heckling me while I struggled to pick up the soap with a lower back that had become stiffer than Sean Kelly’s upper lip.

Thanks to Turi and Amity for feeding me, Duncan for fixing my bikes and DC for the truck and trailer full of equipment. I owe you all a chocolate bunny.

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