Last weekend saw the return of the successful UK Solo MTB Championships – 24 Hours of Exposure, now including the European title and a little 12 hour brother. After pushing the boundaries of the UK 24 hour scene last year, when the event showcased some of the most exciting endurance racing we’ve seen on UK soil for some time, 2011 promised to bring more thrills along with a few spills and more edge of the seat racing.
This unique event attracted the crème de la crème of UK endurance talent again, whilst also playing host to some European cousins from Portugal, Germany, Ireland and Poland as well as a few Antipodeans gave the event a truly international atmosphere. With numbers trebling from the first year to just over 200, obviously the reputation of the event has spread near and far!
New for this year the course threaded effortlessly through the Rock UK outdoor centre on the edge of Newcastleton village, with riders taking full advantage of all the facilities on offer. Most riders had a trackside seat on one of the most exciting 24 hour courses in the UK, one more than worthy of the Championship status
As the weekend kicked-off with the traditional Ceilidh and a Pasta Party the event village was awash with the excited chatter of riders about to launch themselves into the unknown, with around half of the field making their first foray into 12 or 24 hour racing. For the top riders the 11 miles of tough terrain, flowing singletrack on 7Stanes trails and a gruelling 1500ft of climbing per lap was all that lay between them and the coveted European and UK jerseys…oh, and 24 hours on a bike.
2010 UK Champion Matt Page was keen to hang onto the title, but last year’s runners-up Anthony White and Josh Ibbett hoped to upset the Welshman’s applecart. Throw in big Rob Dean, a hard training Jason Miles and a few unknown quantities such as Portugal’s Josue Duarte and in a race where anything could happen it was hard to pick a pre-race favourite.
Once again riders headed into the village of Newcastleton to sign the start board in front of the many local community and race supporters who turned out en masse to give the riders a sound send off. As the clocked edged closer to noon the local Copshaw Common Riders assumed the race head and lead by the local piper set the race underway. A neutral lead out of the village gave supporters time to soak up the size of the 200 strong field and cheer them on.
Almost immediately the gloves were off, with Torq rider James Lister setting a blistering pace looking for 12 hour glory. After the first lap Lister had nearly 3 minutes to spare over 24 hour riders Josh Ibbett, Ant White and Matt Page and over 6 minutes advantage over 2nd placed 12 hour rider Huw Thomas. With the first lap flurry through the timing tent the race settled into its own pace with dozens of races within races as riders pitched themselves against their peers. Most just had the ambition to finish!
At 4pm the weather gods threw in a humid drenching but the downpour did nothing to ease the scorching pace that Lister continued to churn out, finally rounding up his race unchallenged with 11 laps, 1 ahead of rookie Thomas and another rookie endurance rider James Porter chasing for 3rd just over 6 mins behind. Singlespeeding ‘Dr.Jon’ racked up an impressive 8 laps to take the XCRacer.com singlespeed jersey. In the men’s veteran category Jay Horton held off Michael Powell to take the victory. It was rookie Hannah Welling who managed to fight off some stiff competition to take the open women’s European, UK & Morvelo Rookie titles ahead of experienced riders Jane Chadwick and Amy Baron–Hall.
Special mention has to be made to all the Rock UK staff that took part in their first 12 hour event. Sally Hall took the spot prize as the happiest rider on the trails, riding with a permanent grin she came home 4th overall with a stunning 6 laps, while the special “Rock UK 12 Hour” trophy went to Jonny Young with an impressive 8 laps.
In the open women’s 24 hour race Australian rider Kate Potter, on her much welcomed return to endurance racing, took control in her headstrong and talented way. Last year’s runaway winner Rickie Cotter tried hard to match the Aussie but had to concede a lap with Potter racking up an impressive 16 in total. As Potter wasn’t eligible for either Championship title, Cotter managed to retain her UK title whilst adding the European jersey. After years of trying to find her cycling niche, Hannah Bowers took her first step onto an International podium, clocking up 15 laps and taking 3rd overall, second in the European and UK Championships, and receiving the Morvelo Rookie jersey in her first attempt at a 24 hour race.
In the women’s 24hr veteran race, novice Emma Cutler lead from the start for a convincing win to take the well earned UK and European jerseys. Runner up Anne Dickins took a longer than usual pit stop during the night fighting against early onset of hypothermia. After a 6 hour break she was eager to set out again to keep her second place over Debbie Richardson.
Meanwhile all eyes were on the ding-dong battle going on within the open male 24 hour race. For the first half, Page, Ibbett and White all took turns to attack, each forging ahead only to get reeled back in. Punctures, crashes and mechanicals all took their toll on the 3 leaders; it was a crash that finally led to a disappointed Josh Ibbett calling it a day 17 hours and 15 laps in. Despite all his efforts, White could not stay with the incredibly strong Page who steadily pulled away carving a one lap lead to retain his UK title for the second year and becoming the European Solo Champion for the first time. White came home to take yet another 2nd, with third being picked up by another Welsh rider, rookie Simon Smith. A sprightly Dan Treby clocked up 17 laps to come home in 5th spot taking the XCracer.com singlespeed jersey for his day in the mud.
Although Rich Rothwell had quietly eased himself into the veteran category he had hoped to give the youngsters a real run for their money. Riding the lead freight train early on the veteran title was firmly in his sights. Things didn’t quite go to plan and his early pace coupled with a hydration mix up left Rothwell at rookie Mark Spratt’s mercy.
Spratt took no second asking and slowly stretched out his lead. As the race neared its end he even decided to try and squeeze in just one more lap before midday even though he didn’t need to and came home just 30secs too late for the lap to count, collapsing on the ground through the effort and grinning ear to ear, knowing that he’d won the race and the European and UK jerseys! His 18 laps also placed him 3rd overall and gained him the Morvelo Rookie jersey. Rothwell took his step on the podium in 2nd with last year’s winner Keith Forsyth picking up 3rd. Portuguese visitor and current over 50’s Portuguese 24 hour champion Pedro Maia came home in 10th after what he described as one of the best races he’s ever ridden.
It was certainly a day to be remembered for so many reasons; the trails provided a worthy battle ground for the Championship jerseys, the weather added an extra dimension that makes the sport of mountain bike endurance racing exhilarating and challenging whatever your level.
The event, and the camaraderie that was openly shared throughout the event, can be summed up by the great Charles Dickens, who we suspect might have realised the importance endurance racing would make:
Many thanks to everyone who helped make the event the special day that it was. Congratulations to all who took part, but thanks to all the behind the scenes people without whom events like this would never happen: Exposure Lights, Vitesse, Morvelo, Rock UK, Saddle Skedaddle, Juice Lubes, Ergon, Torq, 7Stanes, BikeSeven, XCRacer, Joolze Dymond, Forestry Commission Scotland the people of Newcastleton.
Special mention has to go to the timing team and all our volunteers and Rock UK staff that helped throughout the weekend. Results are available now on www.24hoursolo.co.uk.
Quotes from the racers
Kate Potter – 24 Hours of Exposure open female winner
“Great to be back! I must admit there were a few tough moments of “What was I thinking?!” – out there in the early Sunday morning hours during a rather bitter storm, during a clumsy ‘self to blame’ mechanical that meant a rather slow run back to camp and when nausea and back pain set in :)…..The rest of the time was full of so many positives that I don’t know where to start. I was part of an amazing team of racers and pit crew (Cotic-AQR Holidays Race Team), I was surrounded by other racers who were so friendly and the crowd support was unreal. SIP Events put on a fantastic event and the venue was gorgeous. I love Newcastleton.”
Mark Spratt – European and UK Veteran Solo 24 Hour Champion:
“Firstly a big thank you to Sara and Paul at SIP Events for running the event. This was my first 24 hour solo and I was apprehensive that I’d get bored of the course but I had nothing to fear. Whilst interesting it was undeniably brutal and all told made for the hardest race of my life.
I decided to settle into a rhythm I felt just slightly uncomfortable with and this paid off around dusk when I caught Rich Rothwell. A pit-change overtake put me in the lead and I was able to hold that until the end. My pit-team of Mel and Niall of XCRacer and George of Cycle Coaching Wales were faultless; calling it a solo event underplays the significance of the supporters’ role.
Do I regret trying for a 19th lap only to miss it by 30 seconds? Certainly not; I was there to suffer and the 4 bottles of Juice Lubes I received for my effort more than made up for it. Overall, it feels great to come away with 3 Vitesse jerseys plus the prizes from Exposure Lights, Ergon and TORQ.”
Matt Page – European and UK Men’s Solo 24 Hour Champion:
“This years UK Champs ended up being an epic race, not just against the other competitors but against the weather as well. I was quite nervous about defending my title, there was only one way that I could go on the results sheet if things didn’t go to plan.
Although I had a less than ideal start to the race, getting caught up in another riders crash on lap 1, a puncture on lap 2 and other on lap 6 I felt strong throughout the whole race and felt in control. I decided to take up the pace early on, not something I have successfully tried before. After the first puncture I lost ground, but turned it around by attacking Josh, Ant & Rich as soon as I got back in contact. I think that move was decisive as it split everyone up.
“The heavy rain during the early hours was another major factor I guess, although I have to admit it didn’t cause me any problems. I have a great pit crew that kept me rolling with clean bikes. The second half of the race is a bit of a blur to be honest, I was glad to see daylight and started counting down the laps from then on. Thankfully everything went smoothly and stayed pretty strong to the finish, even having a bit left in the tank had I needed it.
It was absolutely a team victory not a solo effort, I couldn’t have done it without my pit crew: Fiancee Nia, my Mum Catriona and mechanic Ben from Wiggle.”