Bontrager Twentyfour12, the first event to combine a 24 and 12-hour race, took place under blue skies last weekend with 1,250 people descending on the beautiful surroundings of Newnham Park, just outside Plymouth, for the 2011 edition.
The event has settled into the mountain bike event calendar as a must-do ride since it launched back in 2006. While it took a couple of years for the event to firmly establish its roots in the South West, the unique format has remained a popular draw.
You get the choice to do 12 or 24-hours solo, in pairs or teams from four to six, so there’s something for everyone. Its chilled atmosphere welcomes people of all abilities, so if you’re an experienced endurance racing it’s ideal for making the leap from 12 to 24, but if you’re new to mountain biking the Just For Fun category is perfectly pitched to make 24-hour racing accessible.
It’s a unique format and one that ensures there’s something for all tastes.
The course – brutal but brilliant
“A proper mountain bike endurance course," is how one rider summed up the 9 mile course the organisers had put together.
Newnham Park is a name familiar to many mountain bikers, especially those with long memories. It was back in the 1990s that the venue hosted the Grundig World Cup cross-country races, and in the years since has hosted more events than I care to remember, including one of the earliest examples of the then newly emerging enduro format, the Newnham 90.
One thing the venue always guarantees is a course that rewards, with savage climbs played off against sublime singletrack. Once the flag has dropped and the riders set off, the most important aspect of any event is the course. With that in mind, this year the course designers went all-out to deliver a fresh new layout, and it’s one that anyone who took part won’t forget for a very long time
They not only found new sections in the park and around the moorland surrounding the high hills, but rejigged the course in a positively exciting way that was a real test of riding skills and fitness - there was nowhere to hide. Not only was it more physically challenging than any other UK 24-hour course, but also more technically demanding. Those are some big boxes being ticked.
For anyone who complains that mountain bike courses are often too easy and not challenging enough, book a place at the Twentyfour12 next year, you won't be disappointed. It's a proper tough mountain bike endurance course. This is how all mountain bike courses should be.
How the course played out
The course left the event arena, through the large solo pit area, with the first chance to warm the legs up a grassy slog up into the woods beside the campsite. The course then dipped – a valuable chance to catch your breath – before again tracking upwards through the woods and popping you out onto one of the toughest, the first of many, steep climbs that featured on this course.
A little more singletrack, a really tricky hump section with exposed rocks becoming more polished with the passing hours, a blast across a field, through a farmyard, and out onto another lung-busting gravel double track climb. This took you up onto the moorland section (and past a rave in the neighbouring field!), a brand new addition and one that was most well received and welcomed. As natural as trails will ever get in an event, with tight twisting swooping singletrack through the lumpy grass and around rocks. It was huge fun to ride.
The descent into Bluebell Woods was a good payback for all the grinding, but anyone hoping for an easy time to recover was in for a shock. In order to squeeze out a fast lap time, this descent was so physically and mentally challenging, with the damp conditions making the roots and rocks devilishly slippery, that you had to be in the zone to get the bike down quickly and rubber side down. And the rock gardens had to be sized up properly and a few dead tight corners requiring high levels of bike control to ride smoothly, and fast.
A river crossing followed the descent, then a quick muddy firetrack blast, back across the river, another quick blast, up a short steep climb, down a descent with the top of the techy drop or the safer chicken run, and back into the campsite. This return to the campsite marked the halfway point. A short loop around the campsite, then across the same river again before following a muddy section of trail following the river upstream, which had the property of thick treacle for the entire event, a particular low point for many.
This preceded some stiff climbing though, with a near vertical but crucially short climb (that induced cramp in most who tried riding it) and the climbing continued to hurt all the way up to the infamous bomb holes. With the slightly damp conditions, the bomb holes weren’t easy, requiring a deft touch to safely negotiate, and also exposed poor tyre choice in many.
Safely out of the bomb holes, a quick section through the head high ferns, into the woods, some more fantastic singletrack, back through the bomb holes for the last time (and caution had to be taken dropping through this rock infested section, especially at night). And after all the hard breathing and hurting legs, came the highlight of the entire course, an incredibly fast stretch of singletrack that took you right back to the event arena. A good way to finish a lap, that’s for sure.
Fast laps were in the low 40 minute area, with most averaging between 50 and 70 minutes. There are even reports of someone popping out an insanely quick 37 minute time!
It was a truly fantastic course, one of the best I’ve ridden in quite some time, and is right up there with my other favourites (the Bristol Bikefest and Brighton Big Dog). If more event courses could be like this, a proper hard course, highly technical and one that rewarded the more you put into it, than the sport would be all the better for it.
So when are the 2012 entries available?
Photos © www.waughphotos.com