Wembo World 24 Hour Solo Championship Report
At 4am in the morning, after 16 hours of riding, I collapsed in a chair in my pits and burst into tears. I was wrecked. Worse than I can ever remember being before. Physically shattered and mentally destroyed. Even though I knew I was doing OK and that a much longed for podium was within reach, I didn’t care. I just wanted to curl up and die. If any one of the amazing Team JMC support crew had made the thought of dropping out there and then even vaguely acceptable, that would have been that. But they didn’t and for that I will be eternally grateful to them all. Angela, Phil, Lee, Debbie and my wife Sally – I’m forever in your debt.
So how did I come to get into that state in the first place?
Racing the Worlds was never really on my agenda for this year. I’ve done a few 24-hour solos before but never truly raced one properly and really didn’t fancy the idea at all. My focus, in a year in which I turned 50, was getting a decent age category place in the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Cyclocross – but I missed out on a place in the ballot. On the rebound from this rejection I entered the Worlds.
The race was held at Fort William on a course that was acknowledged by everyone to be the toughest yet for a 24-hour race. Around a 13K lap with 450m of climbing, containing every possible type of challenge. Technical climbs and descents, berms, muddy rooty sections, decking, rock gardens etc. For the first few laps it was tremendous fun to ride, trying to learn the right lines before the 13-hours of darkness kicked in. As the race wore on the climbing ground you down, but not as much as the descents, many of which were very physical and battered your arms and shoulders. So much so that from around 12-hours in I was having trouble squeezing a drinks bottle and thumb shifting.
The first half of the race was pretty much without incident. I had expressly asked the pit crew not to tell me where I was in the race however I had an inkling that I was in a tussle with a couple of Aussies for 3rd place. Around midnight the trouble started. I always seem to start feeling sick as the night kicks in and this race was no different. The consequence was that I had no appetite for anything to eat or drink, and this coupled with increasing fatigue, led to a number of crashes including riding off an elevated decking section and into some trees. At 4am it all came to a head.
I came into the pits and collapsed into a chair next to a nice warm fire. Fatal. I don’t remember much of what happened next, but after 20 minutes of persuading, cajoling, threatening J the Team JMC pit crew somehow got me back on my bike and pushed me off down the pit lane. One comment I do recall was along the lines of “how will you feel on Monday knowing that you threw away a podium at a World Champs?”
From that point on I picked up, managed to fuel a bit more, got a big lift from the sun coming up and the temperature rising, as well as the good news that I was increasing my lead on the guy behind me. With around 5 hours to go I lapped him on the big first climb, putting in an extra effort to give him the idea that I was feeling fine. The message when I returned to the pits was one more lap could be enough but two would seal 3rd place. 2 laps it was then.
Crossing the finishing line was very emotional. Even more so when I got the news that I had actually finished 2nd. Unbeknownst to me the guy in 2nd had crashed out during the early hours and couldn’t continue. Not the way I would have wanted to gain a place and a tough blow for him, but that is racing.
So my final numbers were around 260km of riding (I’ve never ridden over 200Km before on any type of bike) with 9km of climbing, staying on the bike for all but 40 mins of the 24-hours. I finished 45th overall out of 146 starters and was 2nd in the 50-54 age category, 3 laps behind a (super quick) Yank and 1 lap ahead of an Aussie.
Before I started the race I said this would be my 5th and final 24-hour solo race and the experience of this one has confirmed that. The guys that do this regularly are just nuts and my hat goes off to them all.
As frustrated as I was at the time about missing out on the 3 Peaks, on reflection I’m glad everything happened as it did. I ended up marshalling the 3 Peaks CX and guaranteeing myself a place for next year and got 2nd place in my age category at a World Championships. Proper bucket list stuff.
My final thanks must go to No Fuss Events and Wembo for putting on a fantastic event and, in particular, the amazing marshals who had a cheer for every rider throughout the race.