I raced this year. Last year I rode well, but never felt like I was part of the race for 1st, this year I did, for the first half anyway.
Pit stops were short and to the point, not that I was gven much option, the gathered Team JMC masses under the Ragley gazebo would swop bottles, refill jersey pockets with gels and shot bloks, drag mud encrusted bikes from underneath me and replace with a shiny clean version in less time than it took me to start moaning about aches and pains. I usually found myself being shoved back down the course by Wayne before any sort of excuses could form in my head.
For my part, I realised that bringing up how much of a battering I was taking from the ever increasing ruts and braking bumps wasn’t going to change anything and had decided, quite early on, to stay positive. Any “Are you still going OK?” style questions as I pulled up outside what resembled an illegal rave as much as a pro-team service area would be met with, at least, an “Aye, I’m doing alright”. I wouldn’t sit down, or hunt for reasons to dwell (though I ‘may’ have propped myself up against the race-food-covered table a few times as the hours dragged on), I’d just ask for what I needed and try to crack on with as little disruption as possible.
9 hours or so into the race, after creeping up through the solo field I actually crossed the line in the lead, having caught Ant White up just before the descent into the race arena. He seemed surprised. Not as surprised as me, but surprised nontheless.
I tried to keep my head in check and not just blast off for a fast lap straight after, risking blowing up and paused in the pits to eat something and get a decent amount of fluid down my neck as he rolled back past, stopped for less than 30 seconds and disappeared back into the night in a supremely controlled and well practised way.
I’d hoped to keep the gap between us down as the night wore on, maybe trying to push on a bit more through the next morning and see if I could get back into the lead in the final stages of the race, but a few mistakes in the darkness combined with Ant’s super consistant pace meant I found myself over 20 minutes back.
My chances became more based on Ant having some sort of problem…or running out of energy (this, I knew, just wasn’t going to happen!). I kept a similar pace as I had through the night, still fed and watered by everyone in our pits without any delay between lap, bouyed by the news of Jase fighting his way up to 3rd place, riding, waiting and hoping that an opportunity would arise.
With only a few hours remaining it was becoming clear that, although the gap between Ant and myself wasn’t exactly huge, it would be enough of a cushion for him to react to any real race move I could make, but as the sun was shining, everyone helping me had worked tirelessly through the night and my legs were still responding I thought I’d put some effort in for a lap or two.
An injection of pace up the hills knocked 13 minutes off my previous lap time and managed to close the gap to 1st by the best part of 10 minutes, which felt great. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to really put me back in contention – and as expected Ant as able to raise his sped enough to maintain enough space between us to make catching him, overtaking him and dropping him pure fantasy – but it cheered me up enough to enjoy the last couple of laps (through clenched teeth admittedly) and roll over the finish line with a smile.
2nd place for the 2nd year running. Can’t really complain about that – the win would have been good, but, despite having done more 24hr solo races that I can remember, I learned more about how my body will respond and how I can limit the time lost in the pits more in the future. Progress. Something to take forward to the races yet to run this year and a nice trophy to go with it. That’ll do for me.
Big, BIG thanks to Wayne and everyone who hung around the trackside pit area through the race, shoving food down my neck and keeping my updated with how everyone was doing. Scraping mud encrusted bikes clean and keping me in good spirits for 24 hours can’t be easy, yet every lap I was met with smiles and selfless encouragement. Awesome stuff!