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Almost twelve months had passed since we had first realised that we had
really missed out on an historic event in 1998; Britain’s first 24 hr mtb
race. Almost twelve months since we had taken the vow to be at the second
coming at any cost. Almost twelve months of planning — discussing team
strategy, training methods and what we could possibly do to get ourselves
on the front covers of our favourite mtb mags. Now that the moment we had
been preparing for was upon us we just weren’t ready, we didn’t even have
a gimmicky idea to make us irresistable to anyone holding a camera at the
event. (sticking empty cans of Red Bull to our helmets was suggested at
the eleventh hour sending one member of our team into a three a day binge
one week before the off, but we didn’t even follow through with that) Our
preparation we decreed, should take the form of riding the downs at night
and also spending a couple of weekends riding ten mile laps of the area
interspersed with three hour rest periods so as to simulate the effects of
the team relay. Oh yes, so many damned good ideas… never did a one of
them. Team Odd Squad, as we were to be known, had been partly formed over
the telephone and so some of us had never met before the event let alone
ridden together. Once assembled , we realised that we had managed to get
at least one thing right…… the name.


ARRIVAL


The sun was disappearing over the horizon as the fist 3/5ths of the
team pulled onto the site at Sandwell Park, Birmingham, on the eve of the
big day. After several long hours battling up the motorways from the
southeast, we were delighted to find that the party had begun and that a
mood of excitement and anticipation was rippling around the encampment.
The place was buzzing with activity as new arrivals hurredly pitched tents
in what was left of the daylight. Some teams had arrived early, barbecued
and were now sitting back and relaxing, some were already out on the
course or just returning and some were still en route and continued to
pull onto the site throughout the night


OLD FRIENDS

A little red minibus on the adjacent pitch caught my eye as it was
being guarded by a blow up doll in rather fetching underwear. It had ”
T.L.S.T.” in large black letters down the side of it and the interior had
been covered in fake animal furs.As the penny dropped that we had pitched
up next to Team Leopard Skin Thong, one of the teams about whom we read so
much from last years event, one of the larger members of their group
appeared on a folding shopping bike wearing his team issue. They had our
instant respect,and as the “big fella” waved a cheery hello and rode away
from us while standing up on the pedals , we were reminded that “the
Purple Hairy Rucksacks” were another team back for a second year!


DA MAN
Patrick Adams, the event organizer, was doing a tour of the site in a
jeep to personally greet the individual teams and to thank them for their
participation which was a nice touch. At the time he pulled up along side
our pitch, we had no idea who he was and so after he had asked us which
team we were I thought it only polite to ask him which team he was riding
for. We could still hear his laughter some time later and once I had seen
him standing up I could see the funny side as well.( He must be 25 stones
if he’s a pound)


DAWN BROKE

The next morning we woke up to clear skies and warm sunshine. This was
it ; race day. Riders were getting into their kit as early as 8am and
setting off to examine the course even though we weren’t due to start
until 2pm. Returning riders were quizzed by team mates and strangers alike
as to the condition of the course etc and all seemed to concur that it was
very fast with an abundance of single track resulting in 45 minute lap
times being anticipated as the average. The solitary morcel of preparation
that we had actually carried through with now went the same way as the
others. Our rota of who would be riding and when was designed around a one
hour lap time with each rider getting four hours rest between laps, each
chap would do 5 laps and Clare ( our token female rider!!) would do
four….easy! Quicker lap times meant we would all have to do more miles
with less rest… just what we didn’t want.


By10 am, 998 riders had successfully registered down in the arena. The
last 2 riders from the full complement of 1000, were ours and hadn’t even
arrived at the campsite. Anyone failing to register by 11am would be
disqualified were informed by officials. The prospect for the three
remaining riders in the team was now beginning to have a curious effect on
our digestive systems and the toilet block was so far away it was almost a
bike ride in itself. When our two dear friends finally chuffered onto the
site in an old 1970′s Mercedes which looked as tired as we would all soon
be looking a mere 24 hrs later, they were almost dragged from the car and
frog-marched down to the registration tent by Andrew, the team captain. It
was now too late to ride the course before the midday meeting at which we
were instructed on how to log – in after each finished lap to record times
etc how and where to exchange the baton and other rules and regulations.
Clare thought it a good idea to take a look at the first section of the
course which having left the arena climbed and circumnavigated the
campsite before crossing the M40 ( by bridge of course) and heading out
into nearby woodland.


BLIND PANIC

She returned a short while laterlooking extremely poorly indeed.”I’m
not riding that course, it’s too bloody dangerous.Who said it was flat?Oh
my God, that’s it I’m definitely not doing any night laps.You should see
it. Christ Almighty……..” She had only ridden the first two miles of
the course but that had been enough for her and she continued to spread
terror amongst the team in the guise of some kind of prophet of doom.Our
digestive systems weren’t getting any better and the queue for the gent
became three deep as start time drew nearer. Female riders were taking
great pleasure in such a sight as they breezed past to their comparatively
empty facilities. I’m sorry to say that on more than one occasion the wait
became too much for some of the guys and they broke ranks. It became
evident by their returning expresssions that their releif was far greater
than their embarrassment at being seen leaving the ladies. (They know who
they were)

Down in the arena things were hotting up , quite literally as the
afternoon beckoned. Spectators were kept entertained by cunning stunts
performed by stunning chaps of bmxs and mtbs alike. Witty and informative
banter was being broadcast by two guys from a magazine whose names we
never did catch and riders were making last minute checks and adjustments
to their machines. The first rider in each team, ours being our Andrew,
were required to be on the start line some 30 minutes before the due start
time while a team mate stood in a nearby field holding the first riders
bike and anything else required for riding with that would make the
facilitate the half mile, Le Mans style, run. The sun was now beating down
and it seemed a very long and unnecessary wait for the first riders to
endure, bearing in mind the type of start they were facing. The a guys
kept us all informed of how many minutes remained before the off and the
start line began to look just a little bit cramped as the “fit ones” began
to jostle for position shoulder to shoulder with those equally keen but
less capable. As we counted down the last couple of minutes the organizers
began to play that music which is often used to launch space rockets and
as the tension among the riders reached fever pitch an air horn signalled
the start. Some poor sod on the front row bit the dust within the first
ten yards and was almost trampled to death by 249 marauding mtbers and so
the race was on as they ran out of the stadium on a half mile loop to
great applause from all who watched.


THEY’RE OFF

Meanwhile in a nearby field, 250 other mtbers were eagerly awaiting a
glimpse of “their man” and were also jostling for position and trying to
make themselves easy to spot by waving bikes and helmets about.

A short time later the “first man back” rode into the arena to further
rapturous applause and couldn’t resist throwing his arms up in victory as
he passed under the Red Bull starting archway and rode away into the
distance quickly following by increasingly deep bunches of pursuants until
finally the last rider was through and already looking in pain. Our man in
the mele came through well up the field and as he disappeared up the hill
for his first taste of the course we all drifted back to our camp to
gather our thoughts and focus on our own individual races. I was focussing
on my contribution to the effort by desperately trying to avoid looking at
or talking to Clare who had developed mad staring eyes by this time and
kept mumbling things to herself. In what seemed like no time at all ,
Andrew was back, William was on his out lap and as the next in line, I was
trudging through the campsite to join the increasing numbers queuing
outside the toilet block.


LAP IT UP

On returning to our “base” I could hear Andrew informing the rest of
the team that the course was quite technical in places and nothing like
what we were used to. This didn’t do much for my nerves: Andrew is a far
more accomplished rider than most. Coupled to the sight of Clare in a self
induced hypnotic trance ,this news was quite unwelcome. I headed for the
start line feeling a little queasy to say the least.


The temperature in the “dead zone” where the baton is passed from one
rider to another was soaring and i could feel my skin beginning to burn
even in the few minutes I was waiting for William to come in.” It’s very
fast and bloody hot out there” he managed to utter as he passed me the
baton and ripped his helmet off. ” Good Luck” i heard him shout after me
as I tore out of the arena in precisely the manner in which I had promised
myself I wouldn’t. The big mistake I was making was obvious to me within
minutes of setting off, but Iwas unable to stop myself in spite of this
knowledge. As my legs span into comedy overdrive I could feel them filling
with lactate as though someone was pouring it into them with a jug.
Negative thoughts filled my head and exactly as I had imagined might
happen, half way up the first wooded climb , they ceased up forcing me to
suffer the indignity of getting off to push. I had a very stern word with
myself and regulated my breathing before restarting and was fortunate
enough to tag on behind another rider who seemed to know each twist and
bend in the track as though he had ridden it many times. He towed me
almost to the finish line (for which I was humbly grateful) without even
realising that I was there.

Clare was waiting anxiously as I swiped my tag to register my first lap
time. ” just relax and ride at your own pace and you’ll be fine” I told
her as a voice of experience.


SPEEDY?


Clare returned a very respectable 54 minutes later beaming from ear to
ear. Her fear had obviously dissipated and now that all but Mark ,who was
currently on the course, had done a full lap we were beginning to relax a
little. In fact at this time Team Odd Squad were ruuning in 63rd place and
as someone pointed out, were even ahead of Team Kona ( although this
proved to be short lived ).

Mark returned a blistering 35 minute lap to everyone’s amazement ( even
his own) To my disgust he was totally unflustered and breathing normally,
a far cry from my own performance. He then sprawled in his deckchair and
proceeded to light up a fag. Something nagged at my conscience; I clearly
remembered it stated in the rule book that any team racing” out of their
category” would be disqualified and we were beginning to look like we were
fielding ringers. We would have to be careful I told the others.


Down at the shower block the bongo drums were beating as riders from
different teams congregated under lukewarm water to exchange stories and
anecdotes.: someone had broken their collarbone, someone else had suffered
heat stroke after riding the first four or five laps straight off and
someone from one of the top teams had ridden an unbelievable 36.5 minute
lap, which had been the fastest thus far. I was just about to interject to
correct the mistake when something hit me like a steam train.I showered
quickly and ran back to the base. Cheating was also high up the list of
reasons for instant team disqualification.


TOO SPEEDY

We soon established that Mark had quite innocently taken a short and
had absolutely no recollection of having either seen or ridden around the
large lake situated half way around the course! In the distant noise
coming up the campsite from the arena we could hear an official
announcement from the course referee calling for a representative from
Team Odd Squad to make their way down to the hut. The signs were rather
ominous, yet I still had to get in position in the dead zone for Williams
return until we received the official decision. A sweaty few minutes
passed as I stood waiting and watching both the start finish line for
William and also the officials hut where Lucy ( team manager) was
remonstrating with the referee. Lucy appeared with the thumbs up signal
just as William sprinted into view and so the baton was exchanged once
more and I set off on my second lap; this time at a much gentler pace.


I returned as the race went into early evening and Clare took the baton
from me on what would be her last lap before dawn. I had been wondering
all the way around what had been said about Mark’s lap of fire and was
keen to find out once I was back. His lap time had been amended to 50
minutes and we had been allowed to race on after three other amateur
riders had returned equally quick and unrealistic times during the same
lap.We could only surmise that a course marshall had deserted his post for
necessary bodily functions just as the “famously fast four” arrived at his
station and took a wrong turn back onto the circuit thereby saving the
three mile detour that everyone else was having to take! Anyway we were
still in the race and we were all happy about that.


Mark’s second lap was timed at a much more believable 49 minutes but
was still annoyingly quicker than mine had been. He still looked
remarkably unflustered and as he set fire to another coffin nail and sat
back, I couldn’t stop myself from sniping at him.” you definitely went
around the lake this time then?”

The light was now fading fast as we approached 10pm, but this had had
no remarkable effects on either Andrew’s or Williams times as they
continued to return consistent 43 minute laps. Clare was getting ready to
hit the sack which meant shorter rest times for the four of us riding
night laps but at least it was cool now….and it wasn’t
raining…yet.


BUM IN THE WOOD

During the miday briefing we had been warned that the local gay
community gathered at night in one of the woods we would be riding through
and so this preoccupied my mind when on my first night lap I found myself
on a long stretch of single track without another rider and of course
their lights to be seen either in front or behind me. The “look out for
strange geezers lurking in the woods at night” warnings were doing wonders
for many riders lap times with some actually lapping quicker in the dark
than during the day! As I neared the end of the aforementioned stretch of
singletrack and could see the lighter background of the open countryside,
a male figure stepped out from the shadows right in front of me causing me
to brake quite sharply, buttocks clenched like the brake blocks on the
wheel rims.

” I’m sorry to ask but could you help me mate?” came a broad brummy
accent which did nothing to dispel my tears that he was one of the
“locals”. I shone my spots on him to find that although he was decked out
in lycra he was at least clutching a bike, albeit in rather bad condition.
Further inspection revealed that he had claret running down both shins and
that his lights were a write-off. I told him to tuck in behind me and
towed him home via the St John’s Ambulance station on the hill on the
other side of the lake. It was a long hard haul as we made way for the
faster riders and when we finally reached the finish gate some 90 minutes
had passed since my departure. As I passed the baton to my very irritated
team mate who had been waiting for more than 1/2 an hour for my arrival I
got the distinct impression that I had made a big mistake. Team Odd Squad
had dropped some thirty places in the rankings much to the annoyance of my
colleagues, who felt that I should have bailed out after getting Tony(
that was his name) to the ambulance centre. At this time it must be said,
everyone seemed to still be full of energy but moreover, they were full of
cans of Red Bull rocket fuel of which every team had been provided 2
crates. The competitive nature in all of us soon faded by the time the sun
was beginning to rear its head the next morning and we switched our
attention to simply finishing the race, and I was eventually forgiven.
There now remained just 8 hours to the finish but it felt like three
weeks. It had begun to rain around 2am and it didn’t stop again until we
were back in London some 14hours later that same day.


FINAL PUSH

Our revised rota was now geared to us doing the minimum amount of laps
each which turned out to be seven: Andrew and William would do 2 each:
Clare, Mark and myself just one each. I set out to do my last lap at
8.30am in some form of trance induced by fatigue, hunger and cold.It was
wet and horrible and I wanted to go home!! As the countryside passed by I
was fuelled by the knowledge that I’d nearly made it. A strange thing
started to happen; I was overtaking other riders for the first time in the
whole race. I wasn’t the only one who felt like I did. I was surrounded by
other people floundering. Furthermore I had begun to recognize the good
lines and I new what to expect around each corner of the course. B*L*OC*S
,I thought to myself, if only I’d felt as good as this 12 hours before who
knows what might have happened………we might have even won or
something!!( I was now suffering from delusion and even fancied doing
another lap in “quick(ha ha)” sucession .I handed the baton to Clare for
the final time and began to regain my senses. I’d made it!! It may have
only been 9.30am but that was it for me…oh yes indeedy. “Iron man”was a
word that had a nice ring to it I thought as I sat back in my deckchair
getting soaked but not caring. Basking in my own glory I temporarily and
conveniently erased from my memory the number of times I had been passed
by girls, wrinklies and dog walkers and I was king for a day. “Red Bull?
piece of wotsits” I could see myself telling everyone the next day.


Clare returned for the final time looking relieved that for her too
now, the race was over and our spirits were lifted and two very long laps
later, by their standards at least, Andrew and finally William saw us home
to the sound of a hooter.


END IN SIGHT

How they had managed to make their laps last so long we could only
surmise, but it had been as hard for them to do a one hour lap as it would
have been for the rest of us to do a 45minute lap. Once the final hooter
had sounded, swarms of riders who had been lurking in the wood nearby
emerged in the knowledge that they wouldn’t be required to do another lap.
It was a comical sight much appreciated by the spectators who had braved
the weather to welcome their boys and girls home.


Only the serious and the stragglers now remained out on the course. A
furious battle was taking place for second spot between Giant and
Marshalls who after 24hrs solid racing were but 60 seconds apart. Barry
Clarke brought Raleigh home in first place narrowly beating us by about
nine laps and some 30 minutes later Jamie Norfolk came home to take second
place for Giant. The loudest cheer of the day was reserved for the last
man out on the course who finally came home during the presentations at
3.30pm. He not only got the loudest cheer but he had the pleasure of
having the showers all to himself.


NEXT YEAR?

And so the event drew to a very wet conclusion and was heralded as a
complete success. Few could argue with that sentiment and I’m sure that
when next year comes, it will be oversubscribed by a long way. One thing
for sure is that the Odd Squad’s application will be in early; we’ve got
some great ideas about what we could do!



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