It's always so much easier to write a race report after a good race weekend - and good it was, it was amazing! This was easily one of the best mountain biking events ever, the course was absolutely fantastic, the campsite stunning, the weather just perfect, the atmosphere was amazing and the racing was tough - you couldn't imagine a better mountain biking weekend.
On Friday morning Ryan and me flew from Dublin to Bristol and took the rental car to Newnham Park near Plymouth to take part in the Bontrager Twentyfour12 race, doing the 12 hour race from 12 noon to 12midnight as mixed pair. There were other options available, e.g. the Torchbearer 12 hour race that starts at midnight and finishes at noon and then of course the 24 hour option that lasts over the length of the 2 12 hour races, but we thought 12 hours is enough. We arrived at the campsite, located our sponsor, Torq, who had asked us to do the race and built up our bikes to do a practice lap.
The Torq van :)
The course was just amazing: a few fast grassy climbs, lots of flowy fast singletrack in beautiful shady woods, a few long shallow climbs on fireroad and a tiny bit of tarmac (just my sort!), singletrack descents, a bit of fireroad, a ride through a clay pigeon shooting ground with a night time disco, a river crossing with a choice (water or bridge), a farmyard, some grassland, a superfast wood tunnel section and a fast grassy descent through a bridge back into the campsite - wow! At no time during my laps I got bored with any section of the trail - it was such an enjoyable and interesting course, at each bit I was looking forward to the next part! All of it was rideable and fast, which made for some great cornering and descending. Absolutely loved that course!
Ryan and Ian at the start
From the online start list we already knew that this race was going to be hard and probably very close. Talking to people we got the comment "Ah, you are in the tough pairs category....". A good few racer couples had signed up for this category, so it seemed to be destined to become some kind of "couples grudge match" with the likes of Kate and Ian Potter, Maddie Horten and Phil Morris and Jenny Copnall and her partner Richard John. So we knew we had some very strong competition and knew we had to be smart with how to race this race. We figured that our strongest competition would be in the form of the Potters. From looking at XC race times, it looked like a very close competition: Kate is a few percent faster than me and Ryan is a few percent faster than Ian, so it would mainly come down to how we play our game to keep Ryan's speed up and not loose too much time when it's my turn.
Some of our competition: Jenny Copnall having a laugh with Joolze :)
The race started off at 12 noon on Saturday. It was a mass start, so we thought it would be best if Ryan starts off to keep ahead of the mass so that Ryan will be able to go full power for the first two laps, without being slowed down too much by traffic. Our plan was for Ryan to do 2 laps in a row, me one lap, Ryan two and so on until Ryan becomes too tired to keep up his much faster lap times, at which stage we would switch to single laps each. And so Ryan set off beside Ian Potter in the blazing midday heat. After the 5 min start loop when they came back through the campsite, Ian Potter was glued closely to Ryan's wheel.
The line up
Half an hour later Ryan came through after his first full lap with Ian just behind him, who changed over with Kate. I handed Ryan the bottle and gel and went back to the Torq van to prepare energy drinks and water for my lap and for Ryan, since Ryan will only have a very short break before heading back out. Another about half an hour later and Ryan was back in, handed me the team baton and I headed out as fast as I could, having seen Kate coming down the hill to the camp area not far behind Ryan.
Ryan coming through after the start loop
Since Kate and Ian were doing single laps each, I was out against Ian. I raced as hard as I could and could see Ian just heading out when I came back on the loop along the campsite. I knew he would try and catch me, so I put my head down and focussed. He started closing the distance in the first singletrack section, but I stayed ahead of him until half way through the second wooded singletrack section on the top of the hill, about half way through the course. He overtook me there, but I did my best not to get dropped and stayed on his wheel till about the last singletrack section in the woods where I was held up by some other riders. However, he didn't get far away and when I handed over for Ryan's double lap, Kate was only about 20secs ahead out of the changeover. And so it went on. It was a bit like a cat and mouse game - one time we were leading, one time the Potters were leading. However, this time was the last time I was caught up by the Potters. The next time out I was out against Kate and I knew I had to try my best to stay ahead of her. I knew she didn't like the climbs - I loved them, they were my kind of climbs, long and shallow or singletrack, so I powered up them as fast as I could and took some risks on the fast descents. I made it round without being caught, yay!!
Let the race begin!
About 6 hours into the race we still hadn't managed to shake the Potters off - they were just too strong! At one point it even seemed as if Ryan was getting tired: He had set off to catch Kate, which he did, but then she just stayed on his wheel - and I was thinking, "Ryan, you are supposed to be much faster than her!!" and in his second lap Ian Potter came in as well closely behind Ryan. Another lap against Kate and I wasn't caught, yeah! However, about 3/4 through the race it seemed that we were putting a little bit of time on them. We knew that Kate would be able to keep up her fast speed, but also heard that Ian might be getting tired with time. Both Ryan's and my endurance are very good, so we knew if we just kept going the way we were we would be able to keep our speed up as long as we don't have any big mechanicals or crashes, so we should be able to pull away eventually. It was the plan to keep me as fresh as possible, so that I could put out fast laps towards the end (which would mostly still be slower than Ryan's slowest laps).
The courtyard section
Then, at another changeover when we had about 2-3minutes of a lead and Ian and me were waiting for Ryan and Kate to come in, I knew we had our chance there as Ian told me he didn't think he could catch me again. I took that as an invitation to put out a really fast lap and not get caught by Ian, and so I did and I think I didn't loose any time to him at all :). Eventually Ryan and me switched to single laps too, since Ryan's times were getting slower and to give him the mental boost of knowing that he only had to do a lap at a time and then can relax for a bit. Throughout the whole race we were both feeling fine and this was reflected in our pretty consistant lap times.
Enjoying the sun
One of the important things in this race that we both concentrated on was to really take care of keeping well hydrated in this hot day and well fed. This was especially important for Ryan since he was doing double laps and then only had time to relax for my single laps, so most of his time he spent eating and drinking what I prepared during my long double lap breaks. So my break times were spent washing and refilling bottles with Torq energy drink, attaching a Torq gel and preparing food and have Torq bars and Torq recovery drink ready for Ryan and oiling my bike. Since we knew we wouldn't have any time to communicate during changeover which had to go as fast as possible, we actually kept a little notepad into which we wrote our times coming in and how we felt and little messages for each other. This was such a great idea and I always looked forward to read what Ryan had written for me :)
Fun lap the day after
In this race I also used the Torq recovery drink and Torq bars for the first time during a race and I found them absolutely fantastic. At no point I felt I was getting near bonking or overly tired. Another thing I discovered was Ribose, a component that is in the Torq recovery drinks, but that Torq also sells on it's own. It's not cheap and has this mouth twisting super sweet taste, but oh my god, it works like rocket fuel! I took a small scoop of it straight into the mouth (you can also mix it into your drink) after my later laps as a booster and could really feel the energy. Totally recommendable and worth the money - I will keep a tub of it at home from now on.
So, anyway, it FINALLY seemed like the Potters were tiring at about 8 hours into the race and we were able to keep our speed up, so opened up a small, but slowly growing gap to the Potters. Towards the end we had about an 8-9min lead and we weren't sure if we should go out on another lap before midnight (you can go out onto another any time before midnight) or wait till midnight and then go through the finish, hoping they would come in after us, but weren't sure if we had enough of a buffer, so we decided to play it safe and I went out at 23:51 for my 8th and last, a super enjoyable night lap, our 21st lap in total.
Ryan enjoying the recovery lap
I actually enjoyed the night laps even more than the day laps, the air was nice and cool compared to the day but warm enough that you could still go in your short-arm jersey and the singletrack was that little bit more interesting and the descents that little bit more scary, it was just sooo much fun! I love night riding! I really want to do more night riding this summer, just have to get proper lights now - still hoping I might have won the Queen of the Night competition from USE/Exposure Lights (I used their lights during the race, they are amazing!). In the end, the Potters had decided to call it a day at 20 laps and Kate took it easy in the last lap so that she came in just after midnight. It turned out that we had actually placed 3rd overall and had won against all other pairs and almost all teams, only 2 all male four person teams were ahead of us.
Riding in the sun
I have seen there was a bit of a vote on the xcracer forum about river or bridge at the crossing. During my practice lap I went through the river, when the water was clear and not very deep - and the splash very refreshing! During the race I went again through the river, only they had opened a flood gate further up as I found out later on and the river had swollen up into a deep wide stream with murky water and you couldn't see the ground any more! I still went through the river during all of my day laps, never falling off and really enjoying the cooling wet, since it was such an amazingly hot summer's day. Later on the river went down again, but I decided to take the bridge during the night, just to be safe.
My breakfast the day after - mmmm
And so I finished our race at about half past midnight in first position and I was received with a really nice and hot dinner by the "Torq mum" Sasha. Then Ryan, the Torq people and some friends just sat around the finish area and chilled with a glass of wine while cheering on the nutters that were doing the 24 hour race and the Torchbearer 12 hour race - what better way of finishing a race!!
Ryan had a few issues with his fork during, he'll be writing about his experience of the race in his blog, but apart from that everything had worked like clockwork. The next day we even went out on a fun lap around the course to take a few pictures and to cheer on the Torchbearer and 24bhour racers - and to have a look out for my toolkit and tire levers that I had lost (for the 2nd time, I should buy a whole load of them and keep a few spares) and Ryan's fork bits.
On the podium
As usual, a successful and enjoyable event and race like this is only possible with the organization and help of a lot of people. Thanks to Martyn from InEvent and Keith Bontrager for putting together such an amazing event and race course and all the other people involved in the organization, the catering, marshalling etc.
The atmosphere on this event was just superb - a lot more chilled and easy going and personal than a huge event like the Mountain Mayhem. Thanks to Ian and Kate Potter for really keeping us on our toes the whole time - having great competition always adds to it and we really had to push ourselves hard to be able to win.
But you know, even if we hadn't won, it would have been an amazing event - taking part and having fun was the main theme of the event, the win was just secondary, as you can see from the review of the people's comments who have only good things to say about this event. Everything just played together, the course, the weather, the people... Last but not least we would like to thank or sponsors Torq/Kona for their continued support.
Atmospheric Bristol airport - or cheesy sunset photo as Ryan would have called it ;)
I really can't wait for next year!
Joolze Dymond has lots of pictures up here and Rob Crayton's pics from the event can be found here.