WEMBO European 24hr MTB Championships – Penafiel, Portugal September 2019

Flying to Portugal for European 24hr Championships brought many new experiences including flying with a bike in tow and racing abroad. Limited time off from work meant I flew in Friday lunchtime and got to the venue late afternoon to get the bike rebuilt and kit sorted. I went out for lap of the course rather late in the day, which in hindsight was a mistake, it was getting dark and the local kids had caused a little mischief by moving the route signage. Getting lost and going about 6 miles out of my way wasn’t the most ideal preparation the night before the race, my L2 leadership skills came to the fore and I found my way back along the road, trying to take it as easy as possible whilst also being aware of the failing light.

Enjoying the practice lap in the sun, until the signs disappeared…..

A more relaxed evening followed with fellow Team JMC rider David Gobby, and our respective pits crews of Ron and Craig. I never get a good night’s sleep before a 24 hr race and the luxury of a hotel (over the usual roughing it in a tent) didn’t make any difference. I was up bright and early and raring to go. And after breakfast headed down to the pit area a few hours before the start.

Riders seemed to gather at the start all of a sudden and I ended up towards the back as the race began. There were a lot of team riders so letting them go off quick was maybe not a bad thing. The start of the first lap took you down the road to a narrow 2 planks of wood ditch crossing, the rain had begun by then and the bridge became a huge backlog as riders seemed to want to push over it, wet wood and XC clipless shoes don’t have much friction between them. The long queue caused a several minute delay as we each crossed in turn causing much annoyance. I was soon on my way and found some climbs to spread the field and make up some time, maybe pushing too much to regain a lost time. Would I pay for that later on??

The first few dry (ish) laps

It wasn’t long before the rain really set it and became quite torrential at times to say the least, but it was still warm enough at that stage . It was after about 4 hours I hit my first wall, I usually have a ‘moment’ early on so I wasn’t too alarmed, took on a bit more energy and got through it, putting out relatively consistent laps. However, worryingly after another few hours I hit the wall again. I was soaked by this point, so a longer stop to change clothes seemed to temporarily do the trick. The rain had really come down, the trails had turned to rivers and deep puddles, which you couldn’t really avoid, were now strewn across the course. Traction was still good, the granite geology held up well and the course remained fast.

Then came the rain…..

Just after midnight I had a really bad moment again, having nearly an hour off the bike to try and pull myself round, something just didn’t seem right, I hadn’t really experienced these repetitive hit the wall moments before. The legs felt good, the climbs felt good, it was just a lack of energy to push on and severe tiredness.

I pushed on through the night, a time when I usually make hay, and to some extent I did make up some ground, others had fallen by the wayside and I just about kept going albeit at a slower pace than usual, but at 4am (ish) I couldn’t take any more. Was it race over………?

I’d been off the bike a couple of hours, when my teammate David, who had also started to struggle, came in the pits in a daze. He was doing well in 3rd place in category, I was about 7th in mine having not ridden in about 2 hours. I knew David could keep that place if he could get himself back out there. By then I had got dry and warm, so decided to throw on my merino base layers, waterproof shorts and jacket (was it really September in Portugal?), and I dragged myself and David back out there. I managed another 3 or so laps and dragged myself up to 6th, with David securing his podium placing. This is where being part of a team really pays off, with both of us supporting each other on this occasion, riding the first lap back out together.

In the end I did feel like I’d achieved something, I raced abroad on a brutal course, had some awful moments, but dug deep and got back out there again and again. It was tough and I learnt a lot about myself and my riding. I’d had a stressful few weeks contemplating changing jobs and little quality sleep in the lead up, rushing over there at the last minute and then getting lost on the practice lap wasn’t the most ideal preparation either.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of a 6th place finish in a European Championships, but was somewhat left wondering where a more usual solid performance could have taken me. It was time to chill enjoy my last night in Portugal and have a well-earned beer and think about where to go from here. All in all, I’d ridden 134 miles and climbed 21,000ft in 20 hours, not a bad weekends riding.

A big thanks to all my supporters and sponsors; Jon Fearne at E3 Coaching (@e3coach), Team JMC (@teamjmc), Magicshine Lighting for providing reliable lights with plenty of spare batteries (@magicshinelighting, Torq Fitness (@torqfitness, #TORQFuelled), MTB Guisborough (@mtbguisborough) and above all others Fiona, Jacob and Hannah.

Chris Rudd (@endurancemtber)