24 hour races are something I’ve always thought about but never tried. It might be the thought of being on a bike for such a long time… possibly the amount of organisation required to think so far ahead… maybe I’m just not cut out for it. This race sounded brilliant though, even despite the weather. Rachel is a Cotic rider and put a short post together covering her experience this year. Have a look below…
One of the problems with women’s racing is the lack of competitors and so the consistency of the competition. This season has seen numbers swell across many disciplines but the numbers in 12 and 24hr races remain low. By the time you spread a handful of women over a few events the numbers in any single race are small. From a personal point of view I had had a good race at Exposure in 2012, it was my first 24hr race and just a year after breaking my pelvis, but it wasn’t really a match-winning performance and yet I came away with the European, National and Rookie jerseys and fastest lap prizes. This isn’t to insult the other women racing last year, it’s purely about the numbers. There are so many things that can go wrong in a 24hr race that if you are only starting with a few people by the time some have had issues it means the rest of you are almost guaranteed a good placing by just making it to the end. I may be underselling my performance and may be much better than I think I am but I’m still not that good, the chance of someone rocking up for the first time and cleaning up in a men’s race is virtually nil.
Since its launch in 2010 the entries for Exposure 24hr Solo Championships have dwindled year by year. It’s perhaps the concept of Exposure itself that is self-limiting. Unlike XC racing or team events you can’t race a several 24hr solos in a year, so you have to pick one, or two, or maybe three if you’re really a machine. So a solo-only event is always going to restrict its entry list and with several other 24hr events across the season there’s plenty of choice for those who are willing to give it a go alone. This year SIP Events decided to relocate the event south of the border to Wasing Estate in an attempt to encourage entries and not become labelled as a northern event. But there were murmurings about the suitability of the venue as a 24hr course and how it would stand up in bad weather. That, alongside the new venue for this year’s Mountain Mayhem, probably contributed to the entries remaining low.
A couple of practice laps on the Friday confirmed all I had heard about the course; it was going to require constant effort to keep any kind of flow and there were few places to rest, refuel or grind it out. Despite a few downpours over night the course remained pretty dry and the skies had been blue and clear in the morning and the rain stayed away as we lined up for the Saturday 12pm start. The dry-ish conditions, XC-style course and fast boys in the 12hr race meant that the pace was ferocious from the start. A lap was just 10k which meant that leaders were through in a bit over 30mins whereas I was pulling in pretty consistent laps around 44mins. It was hard work but I was fairly confident that I’d be able to keep it up as I became more familiar with the course and started to ride fairly efficiently.
And then at 8pm the rain came. And kept coming. And kept coming some more. Although it only rained for an hour everything and everyone was saturated and the race changed completely. The course turned into thick gloopy mud and became really tough to ride and it was impossible to maintain traction on the short-sharp inclines and I was cursing not having studs in my shoes. The fast dry lines had disappeared into several inches of slippery mud. With riders out on the course in much lighter clothing than my head-to-toe waterproofs, winter gloves and overshoes I wondered whether I’d rather overdone with my kit. But the dwindling numbers out on the course suggested otherwise and the stories I heard after of several riders with hypothermia confirmed I’d got it right. As the 12hr racers called it a day, the rest of us kept battling on.
In the men’s race last year’s winner Hugh Thomas had retired early on through injury and so a new champion would be crowned. Craig Bowles was storming the race and my Cotic-A Quick Release team mate Martin Smith and Mike McCutcheon battling out for second. Mike eventually took the spoils with Martin in third and first rookie rider.
I sat in second all race with a modest gap to Iwona Szmyd in first which ebbed and flowed throughout the race. Kathy Beresford completed the women’s podium in third place. Although I didn’t sweep the board as I did last year, personally I was much more pleased with my performance and enjoyed the competition that is sadly often lacking in women’s endurance racing. As an added bonus I took away the national champion’s jersey for my efforts.
Thanks to Sara and Paul of SIP Events who yet again put on a great event and proved all those Wasing doubters, which included me, wrong. It’s a real shame that the event doesn’t get the entries it deserves and hopefully it will be back after its planned hiatus next year.