Sometimes Racing In The Rain Is Fun

You can tell who isn’t local. Waiting near the start line in Keilder Castle for the second running of the Keilder 101 there were a number of people wearing midge nets. Honestly, if you think that’s a lot of midges you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, as our American friends would say. Do they have midges in America? I know the Norwegians have them but they would of course say Du har ikke sett noe ennå!

The best way to avoid a midge is to ride away from it, they really struggle with a moving target. Luckily we had 101km of racing ahead of us, perfect for evading them.

Last year I had taken second place in the Singlespeeds, a race within a race, which was a little disappointing as I thought I had won and was quite excited about that until someone pointed out that Saul Muldoon had already finished. This did however earn me a place on the front row of the start line for this year’s race. The start itself was neutralised behind a truck for a couple of miles and, since no overtaking was allowed there, I was able to keep up with the fast boys for a while - last year’s overall winner Tom Wragg, European 24hr Champion Matt Jones and Ritchie Rothwell who had just ridden from Newcastle to Skye. Skye, nå det er mye mygg!

The calm before the storm

Once the race proper began the quick riders on their geared bikes shot passed me and disappeared off into the distance, much the same as last year really. My little legs were spinning like crazy but I was topping out at about 18mph and just couldn’t match them.

I settled in with the chasing pack, enjoying the riding as the rain eased up. Despite the overnight rain the trails were in pretty good shape, I had been dreading a repeat of the infamous 100 miles race of 2011, the only DNF I have ever had, but the route this time appeared to have been much more carefully chosen. Despite all the water around it wasn’t the bike killer it had been previously.

About 7 miles into the race Matt Livesey came passed me, which was annoying as he was also on a singlespeed and this meant that he had now taken the lead from me. He was followed a very short time later by Dave Glover, not only a singlespeeder but also on a MonsterCross bike, two niches in one for him.

Dave proved fairly simple to get back passed. About ten minutes later at the bottom of a lovely swoopy, rocky descent I saw a group of four or five riders just setting off again. It turns out that they had stopped to pick someone up - Dave’s rigid forks and tiny tyres had left him at the mercy of Lady Luck and he had performed a frontal dismount and then applied his helmet-brake. He looked a little dazed but was otherwise unhurt so we left him to it.

Perfect for a singlespeed...

The other riders seem to be quite a friendly bunch at Keilder, I don’t know why they should be more chatty here than elsewhere but they are and it’s quite nice. I was struggling a wee bit in the first half of the race and it was nice to have people to talk to. I had been riding with the two leading ladies for quite a while, Marie Meldrum (who eventually finished third, but still won her age-group, after puncturing) and Helen Jackson (who took the win just ahead of Sally Hall), but lost them when I got too hot and stopped to faff with my jacket. Actually, I had to stop and faff with it twice, once to take it off and once to run back and fetch it when it bounced out of my pocket. I could explain why it did that but it’s not terribly interesting, it’s all to do with how I locked the van earlier in the morning and a spoke key.

I was then joined by Ritchie Scott, who was also quite chatty. He told me a little about his trip to the 24hr World Champs in Weaverville and seemed impressed that I was a riding a singlespeed. Actually, a lot of people seemed impressed with the singlespeed. I don’t know why, I guess it’s just a question of perceptions. Us singlespeeders really aren’t the superhumans we seem to be viewed as (apart from Brett Belchambers and Steve Day obviously but they are in a different league to me) it really isn’t as bad as you think. There you go, “not as bad as you think”, that’s a ringing endorsement. I would encourage everyone to try one, they really are a lot of fun.  I had a lot of people asking me after the race how my knees were, they were fine, no problems there at all, although my case of ‘Singlespeed-hand’ seemed to have spread up both lower arms to my elbows…

Slippery when wet

Anyway, Ritchie and I crossed the border together having survived the incredibly slippery boardwalk section intact and headed off towards Newcastleton. I was familiar with a lot of this part of the route from when it used to host the UK and European 24hr championships. They guys from Rock UK had set up the second feed stop there which also included the bag drop, to which I had sent a supply of Torq bars and gels and a dry base layer and pair of gloves. The latter weren’t actually required, the former were crammed into my pocket while the marshal refilled my bottle and I swallowed a banana.

As we left the feed stop I could see that the trailfairies at Newcastleton have been busy, this part of the trail was all new and there were many others branching off from the lines were taking, I will have to come back and explore properly on day. We rejoined the 24hr route, up the old logging road, over the river, up the hill and along the fireroad to the lovely singletrack section by the Trail-Head, winding our way down through the trees to the Hidden Valley. Three hours into the race I was finally up to speed and starting to pass people, it always takes me a while to get warmed up, and this was one of those races where I just felt better and better as I went along, I felt quicker after 3hrs than I did at the start!

Having left Ritchey behind at the feed stop I was without anyone to chat to for quite a while, just a brief exchange as I passed people, but I got company again as we crossed the border and headed back into England. It’s always fun racing across a border, I don’t know why but it just feels special. A bit like riding through the night until dawn but a little easier to do… I had a brief chat with Jim, the guy I had been racing last year. He had wimped out of riding a singlespeed this year and was on a half-fat geared hardtail. Actually, that only had gears at the back, there was a single ring at the front; half-fat, half geared, best to work up to these things gradually.

The only part which wasn't rideable on a singlespeed
Looks a like most of the geared riders struggled too...

The long, slightly downhill fireroad section was the only place where I felt that a singlespeed was a bit of a liability, I was spinning like crazy but not really making much progress and was losing a lot of the places I had just won back. I wasn’t losing as many as I expected to though, the current fashion for single rings seemed to be limiting a few of the geared riders’ top speeds as well. 34/10 may well be quicker than the 32/17 I was using but it’s no match for a good old fashioned 3x9 with 44/11. Still, that’s progress for you.

We eventually cleared the fireroads and returned to the lovely undulating singletrack where the singlespeed felt surprisingly at home. I was really enjoying myself, the course was really enjoyable to ride and in the latter stages of the race I was overtaking people again, which is always fun.

I was having so much fun in fact that I didn’t even realise that the race was nearly finished. I was chasing two riders down through a lovely set of switchbacks, then out of the trees onto a fireroad, sprinting like crazy as I tried to keep up. There was a marshal with a timing device ahead of us, we all barrelled up to him, dibbed as quickly as we could and shot off again as the other marshal leapt in front of us, this is the finish, race over.

This year I knew that I was second in the singlespeeds, this wasn’t a surprise like it was last year when I thought I had won until I was told otherwise. I had however gone seven minutes faster than last time despite the weather. That’s odd in itself, I am normally terrible in the rain, I generally don’t enjoy it and struggle to steer on wet roots and end up crashing into trees as a result but this race had been really good. The course was great, and the fact that it was one very big lap meant that it didn’t have the volume of traffic passing over it to chew it all up so it remained pretty weather-proof throughout

I headed back up to the Castle to check in, where I swapped my timing chip for food and drink, which was very welcome. I also, finally, got to stand on the podium here. In 2012 I had finished third in the British Endurance Series, of which the Keilder 100 race was the last, but was in the shower when they did podiums and last year it was only the winner of the singlespeeds who go to stand on it. It is surprisingly satisfying for such a small block of wood.
Matt Liversy, singlespeed winner on the top step, Rob Haworth,
Fatbike winner on the second and me on the third
Tom Wragg had retained his title, ahead of Adam Nolan and Ed Shoot with Matt Jones in fourth. Mat Liveseyhad won the singlespeeds, in 12th overall with me second and 23rd overall. Robert Haworth took the win in the fatbike class, and won… a fatbike. Very nice of Genesis to be giving them away, it looks a lot of fun (it was actually a spot-prize but just by sheer coincidence ended up going to someone who already had one!)

And finally, being a bike race, I couldn’t leave without having a minor van incident. It pales into insignificance compared to the fuel pump which died in northern France on the way back from the European 24hr earlier this year. I had managed to get stuck in the campsite at both the 2011 and 2012 races, in exactly the same spot, so this year I parked elsewhere. This didn’t help and I got the van stuck yet again. I had to be rescued by a very helpful chap called Dave who had a lot of hair and a Volvo which wasn’t stuck.

I would like to say a huge thank-you to Torq, Mt Zoom and Exposure Lights. Yes, I know it wasn't dark during the race but when you arrive at the venue well after dark and have to do all your faffing in the pitch black a Verso head torch is rather useful.

New Team For The World Champ

For reasons which I really don’t understand the decision by the reigning 24hr Singlespeed World Champion, Steve Day, to move from his long-term home at Singular to a new team at TraversBikes seems to have generated much less media attention than Sebastian Vettel’s move from Red Bull to Ferrari did a couple of years ago. So, just in case any of you have missed it, here’s his press statement:

After an amazing couple of years flying the Singular Cycles flag while racing and having fun, and achieving some massive goals along the way, I have picked up a new frame sponsor by the name of I am so excited about the new kit that has arrived and photo's will start appearing as the build gets underway... hopefully in time for Tide2Tide.
A BIG thanks has to go to
Sam Alison for his support over the last couple of years, and especially his assistance with getting me sorted with local help and extra kit for my WEMBO-16 trip to New Zealand. Without this the whole trip would have been a lot more stressful.
The Travers RussTi will be shod with a pair of
Lauf Forks for the long distance races. Coming highly recommended by Mr Travers, and weighing almost nothing. Again, something I am really looking forward to putting through their paces over the next couple of months. A huge thanks to the nice men in Iceland for getting these to me so quickly.
Finally, I am also proud to now be supported by
Jersey Pocket Nutrition who will be helping me with my energy products. A great UK company who make some awesome products down in Devon. Thanks to Marc Baker for putting me in touch with these guys.

Soća Valley MTB Marathon

We had been in Slovenia for five days, all of them sunny and pleasantly warm at just over 30˚. These had mostly consisted of ridding around the Triglavski National Park in the north west of the country, admiring the views and eating ice-cream wherever we could find it.

Riding into Slovenia from Austria, via Italy, a couple of days
after a 24hr probably wasn't great race preparation but was still
rather pleasant.

There had also been, on the Saturday morning, a running race as part of the Soća Valley Outdoors Festival. We hadn’t planned to do it, we just arrived in Tolmin and saw a sign, so turned up and joined in and they seemed more than happy to have us along. Being unplanned we had no running shoes with us and those which we had borrowed at very short notice from the lovely helpful people of Adidas Austria weren’t quite the right size and had given me a blister, about which Gina was enormously sympathetic, despite how stoic I was about it.

Even worse than that, I had fallen down the stone steps cut into the gorge down to the river and had hit my knee on the rocks and, worse still, my other knee but I was very brave and still managed to hobble around the rest of the route.

I rode from the finish of that race in Tolmin to the venue for the Soća Valley MTB Marathon at Kobarid, ignoring the pain and making no fuss at all, barely even mentioning it in fact.

I had a terrible night’s sleep thanks to my toe, my knee and of course my other knee. When I awoke, far too early, the weather had turned and it was chucking it down, the only wet day of what would be ten days in the country, and I tend not to go well in the wet.

I think that’s all the pre-race excuses covered. Oh, go on then, just one more. It was exactly a week since the European 24hr Championship at Davos, not nearly enough time to recover.

Anyway, excuses over, unless I can think of another one. Actually, I had the wrong tyres on, we were touring after all and not expecting to race.

We left the arena at Kamp Koren on the banks of the Isonzo river and made our way up to the centre of Kobarid for the start, quite a few locals had come to see us off despite the weather.

Front row spot. I didn't stay there long once we started!
There were a couple of miles of tarmac behind the local fire-truck and then a lot of very fast and surprisingly entertaining fireroads. I knew that the total climbing would be around 4,800ft but what no-one had mentioned was that the vast bulk of this would be in one single, brutal, hill.

The scale on the left is meters by the way, not feet!
It also appears that the Slovenian word for 'Gravel' is 'Makadam'

In a bizarre sort of way I actually quite enjoyed the climbing. It began gently enough, a little gradient in the farm tracks, gradually getting steeper. There was even a tarmac section for a couple of miles about a third of the way up, the main road up and out of the valley had been closed off especially for us. There was a sharp right at the top of that into a singletrack climb which lead us straight up the face of the hill and then out of the woods onto another LandRover track.

This zigzagged it’s way up the side of the mountain for what seemed like hours, just on and on, up and up, back and forth into the rain and fog, the top of our hill hidden in the mist, but the summits of neighbouring ones across the valley occasionally peeking through the tops of their clouds.

Eventually it relented and we found ourselves on a plateau, 3,967ft in one continuous climb, there’s not many places in the UK where one could do that! We had also passed the 25km mark, halfway, the return trip was looking promising.

There was a feed stop just over the peak, I refilled my bottle, grabbed a banana and headed off into the woods.

This was a wake-up call. After nearly two hours of really tough climbing with my brain fine but my legs screaming for mercy the positions instantly flipped. We plunged down into the trees, really, really steep, a chute lined closely on both sides with trees, wet roots all over the place making the steering extremely difficult and braking all but impossible. My legs got a well-earned rest but my head seems to be the bit which takes the longest to recover from a 24hr and it was struggling to take everything quickly enough, my reaction times just weren’t up to the job. This is a shame because it was a fabulous piece of trail and it would have been a lot of fun to have been able to ride it at speed but I just daren’t.

Lower down the mud started to build up and I found myself, along with quite a few others, sliding down the hill, one foot clipped in and the other waving around for balance, bouncing off the sides of the hill. Each turn of the helter-skelter was an act of faith, get my breath back, point the bike in the right direction and then hold on and hope for the best, before seeing if I could get the speed down enough in time for the next corner.

Lower down the hill the mud gave way to rocks, great big wet, shiny, slippery rocks. I was all over the place again, still unable to think fast enough to keep the bike under control. I ended up in a heap in a bush at one point but managed to avoid landing on any of the rocks and so no damage was done. I was rescued by another helpful rider who freed my left foot from the pedal it was trapped in, my poor wounded knee not being strong enough to unclip while laying on my side tangled up in the bike and the undergrowth.

I promised myself that I would be more careful but soon found myself getting carried away again, going too quickly and falling once more as I slid over the stones. I remained mostly upright as I rode into the embankment at the side of the trail but this time hurt my finger and my other finger as I put my arm out to save myself. Despite these injuries the descent was a huge amount of fun. The rain had stopped by this point and a lot of locals had come out to cheer from their houses, gardens and fields as we sped passed.

The Isonzo river is also pretty

About five miles from the end I passed someone who’s name I have forgotten but whom I had been talking to near the top of the climb. Talking with the locals is easy, in common with most Brits I speak very little Slovenian but almost everyone we met spoke perfect English. Standard procedure seemed to be for me to ask if the person I needed to talk to could speak English, German or Italian, since I can just about muddle through in the latter two, the languages of their neighbours, and they would reply that they could speak all three fluently and which did I prefer?

Anyway, we had been discussing the comparative riding to be had in Slovenia and Scotland and the relative merits of each country’s access laws before he left me behind and disappeared up into the clouds. When I saw him again he was pushing his bike with a flat front tyre. He and I were probably the only two 26 inch riders in the field and so I was able to give him one of my tubes, and I also took a bit of a risk and gave him my pump (not expecting to race I wasn’t carrying my usual gas but had the Lyzene frame-mounted track-pump with me)

I took the last few miles a bit more carefully, just being a little cautious in case I pinch flatted as I too would now be reliant on the generosity of a passer-by. It was not needed and the remaining fireroads were dispatched without incident, bringing us back to Kamp Koren, where shortly afterwards I was handed a pump and a beer by a very grateful Slovenian bloke.

As I expected I hadn’t done very well, My toe, my knee, my other knee and general fatigue had left me down in 46th place at 3h53m but I had enjoyed it enormously, which is the main thing. It was a proper, tough course. A good hard climb, technical descents, some fast sections, and generally very well run.
Proper race course. Start in the town at the bottom right of the
picture, up to the summit at the top left, over the top and back
down the other side.

I was chatting to one of the marshals afterwards, who of course spoke perfect English, and she expressed surprise that I would come all the way from Scotland for the race. I explained that we had actually come for the European Championship in Switzerland and had just been touring around Slovenia when we stumbled across the race by accident. She asked how the two events compared and seemed equally surprised when I said that this was by the far the better. A lovely area which they really made the most of. I know a few people who have been to Slovenia and they have all come back saying how lovely it is, how friendly everyone and how I really should go. They are right, and if you are reading this, you should go too.

Just because you are racing doesn't mean you can't

Twenty-Three And A Bit Hours In A Field

I really hate to write a negative-sounding race report but sometimes circumstances just dictate that it has to be done.
I will however start with the positives – the views from the course were fantastic. That over, on with the rest of it…
Some elements, such as the heavy rain which began about noon, just as we were getting ready to head into Davos for the start, were outside of the organiser’s control, but most of the rest they could, and probably should, have done differently.
We arrived in Davos town centre at about 1pm having found our way to the start by stopping and asking in a local bike shop (Ivan's, lovely people who helped us enormously all week) rather than by following any signs since there didn't appear to be any. The race briefing was conducted in the concrete entrance lobby of some sort of sports centre. My German is good enough to get the gist of it but being a European Championship I was expecting a couple more languages, at least English and French, possibly Italian, maybe a couple of others.
Despite the drab surroundings we were all keen to remain in there for as long as possible as the rain outside was bouncing off the paving. We were however ushered out to the start line about 20 minutes before the off, where we chatted amongst ourselves as we got wetter and wetter and colder and colder.
The first start
The race was lead out behind a truck, starting at 1345 rather than the advertised 1400. This lead us on a neutralised lap of the town where, probably due to the weather, only half a dozen people had come to cheer us on.
From there we were lead up the main road for a couple of miles back to the venue at Frauenkirch, traffic coming down the road clearly not warned that they were about to encounter a couple of hundred riders heading towards them, jostling for position amongst themselves and not expecting anything to be coming the other way.
I managed to stay at the front for most of this neutralised section, which proved to be a good move. I did drop back to the second row briefly and the spray from just the riders in front of me was horrendous, I don’t know what it was like for those further back, they must have been even wetter and colder than I was.
We were lead up the main climb where the truck peeled off and the race proper began. Defending champion Daniel Schmidheiney, the other Brit Matt Jones and a few others shot off up the reminder of the hill leaving me and another half dozen as a chasing pack, the other riders strung out down the hill behind us.  
 Matt on some fireroad, a little bit techier than most of the rest
of the course as there is a puddle to avoid here.
Up the fireroad climb as fast as I could, over the crest and down the other side, a really fast fireroad descent. With the recent addition of a front crud-catcher and a neoguard I was actually able to see the corners through all the spray, a big improvement over Friday afternoon, and I felt brave enough to keep my speed up.
A sharp right-hander at the end took us into one of the two brief singletrack sections. It was marked with three caution arrows, but Gina had ridden it perfectly well on Friday – not only has she never raced but the number of times she has ridden a mountain bike can be counted, if not on the fingers of one hand, then certainly without needing to remove one’s socks. This 'suitable for beginners' section was the most interesting part of the course, but probably didn’t warrant three arrows.
Left at the bottom and down the hill towards the bridge, a marshal still faffing with the course tape. Unsure which way to go I shouted “Rechts? Right? Diestre?” Nothing. I guessed and carried the speed into the more obvious line across the bridge, those behind following me over. Heading up the climb on the other side Matt appeared from my right, another rider on his tail, shouting something about getting lost. Not a good start for him!
He got away from me again up the grassy climb and through the quarry. If the rain continued as it was now this grassy climb would quickly become a quagmire, reminiscent of a wet Eastnor and Mountain Mayhem at it’s worst.
Through the campsite, up another tarmac climb and then through the river crossing. I was following the two guys in front of me as fast as I could. There were two camper vans parked across the track, which we squeezed passed as best we could. Over to my left I could see the end of the other singletrack section as we rode passed it. It seemed a little odd that we had not ridden it but maybe the first lap was different, it sometimes is, just to spread us out a little at the start. I pointed at it as we sped passed, slightly quizzical. My companions looked puzzled but shrugged and carried on in pursuit of the riders still just visible ahead of us as they headed into the trees.
Matt cornering hard in a field
Along the riverside, another interminable grassy section before finally riding through the stable yard and back into the pits. I just needed another bottle of Torq, just a quick grab, there should be no need to stop, but Gina and Luke, Daniel’s mechanic, flagged me down and pulled me over. The race had been aborted, so many riders had got lost that they had no choice but to abandon it and start again.
This was just after 1430, a new 23hr race would start from the main arena at 1500. There was just enough time to wash the worst of the mud and grass out of the bike, put a dry top on, have a Torq bar and then stand around in the rain losing whatever body heat we had managed to build up since the first start.
This sort of thing just shouldn’t happen, especially at a European Championship. The course not being properly marked out as the race got underway is a pretty basic error. It should really have been properly marked at least a couple of days before, from talking to other riders I got the impression that no-one had been able to practice it properly, we should have known it like the backs of our gloves by this stage. Most people had ridden most of it but not necessarily in the right order or in the right direction. It’s like that moment before the test match when the umpire is wandering around, trying to find someone who has remembered to bring a bat this time…
Whilst I am having a moan, there we were in the middle of the Swiss Alps, snow-capped peaks and forests all around us, a stone’s throw from some of the best riding to be found anywhere on earth. SO WHY WEREN’T WE USING IT?! It was such a wasted opportunity, coming all this way to such a lovely area to ride round and round a field or two.
 The much vaunted quarry section...
Particular highlights of the track included riding through the discharge puddle from the showers, twice each lap, the enormous puddle of horse piss in the stable yard as we came back into the pits, the quarry section which turned out to be the access road for the trucks and of course the meat factory. The pits were located right next to this and the stench of death pervaded the whole campsite during the race. When the wind got up in a little on Sunday morning it also engulfed most of the second half of the course, really not good news 20hrs into a race when one’s stomach is all over the place.
The meat factory next to the transition area for the team riders
in the pits, that really did stink!
 Anyway, Race Two:
The rain was starting to ease off as we regrouped on the improvised start line, hoping no-one had had a mechanical on the first lap and was still out there somewhere in the woods. No-one had checked us in or out again.
The second start. This is me chasing defending champ 
Daniel Schmidheiney, Matt Jones just visible behind me,
probably the last time I was ahead of him.  
Daniel shot off at the restart, opening up a big lead on the first climb, half a dozen riders chasing him with me in the pack behind them. It turned out that I had indeed been one of those who had gone the wrong way, turning right instead of left after the stream crossing. I got it right this time, word had obviously reached the marshals and the markings all appeared to have been fixed, the course was much easier to follow.
I found the previously omitted singletrack section and also found that the two camper vans were not in fact parked on the course after all now I was going the right way. Even better, they belonged to our friends from Ivan's who had set up a neutral put to help anyone who might need it, as I said, lovely people.
 There's some singletrack! And some more tarmac...
The rain stayed away for the first two laps before it returned again for another hour or so. The grass sections were, as predicted, getting quite chewed up but they had at least brought out some wooden snow-ladders to keep it rideable for most of us.
Daniel completely lost the will to live at about 6pm and called it a day. After some food and a hot shower he took over as mechanic and Luke headed home. It was at about this time that my forks also gave up (note to self: I really need to get some new ones, they keep going wrong mid race, I wonder if anyone still makes 26” QR forks? Maybe I should have a word with the Retro-Bike guys…) It didn’t really matter though, rigid forks were fine for this course and I just kept riding them despite having access to a spare bike. My 4”-travel full-suss really did leave me feeling very overbiked, I had the rear locked out for most of the race.
Me in a field next to a river
It was time to fit the lights as darkness started to fall at about 9pm. Matt was in second at this point and chasing hard, I was in twelfth and feeling reasonably comfortable. I was using two lights, an  Exposure MaxxDs on the bars and a Joystick on my helmet as a backup.
Normally I would need two MaxxDs, or one and something similar like a SixPack or Toro, to get me through the night part of a race. I run them on medium on the fireoads and then at full power in the singletrack and two will easily last a race like this. The Joystick is to help see around the corners in the twisty bits and usually has a SupportCell attached for a bit of extra battery life.
The Joystick didn’t get used at all this time and the main light spent so much time on low and medium, with just a couple of minutes on high each lap, that it was still going strong as daylight returned, the course was too simple to require using it’s full potential.
By about 2am Matt had taken the lead and I had moved up to seventh, he had one pursuer pretty close behind but I had about four.
Matt in a different field
It didn’t get too cold overnight and mercifully the forecast thunderstorms stayed away so the course didn’t get too much worse despite the riders passing over and over it. It wasn’t just the 24hr Soloists here, there were also 24hr Teams and a 6hr race. I have no idea what the 6hr racers did, whether they restarted the 6hrs again or if they did a 5hr race. Either way the track got pretty quiet at night without them.
At the end of the lap, just after riding through the shower puddle and before crossing the start/finish line, we passed through the big marquee. The 6hr riders had all gathered in there to drink beer and eat pasta after their race and, with the course almost devoid of spectators, it would have been great to have them all cheering us on as we sped passed inches away from them. However, someone had seen fit to erect a large curtain to separate spectators and riders, quite bizarre.
The arena. As you can see, not a big turnout this year...
The meat factory is just out of shot to the left
As the race drew on I began to struggle, the lack of training was beginning to show, a 24hr race really isn’t something one can just muddle through. I had dropped from seventh to eighth by dawn and lost another two places before the end. Some spectators had emerged as the end of the race approached, a couple in particular helped me up two of the climbs, one riding alongside me for a while as I tried to explain to her in my best German what had happened at the first start. The marshall at the top of the main climb was great. encouraging me on, coaxing me up the hill, although she seemed quite concerned for my welfare by that stage.
It was something of a relief when I came around again at about 1330 to find that the leaderboard (or Gina’s telephone, there was no sign of any information about positions or lap times available for the pit crews or spectators anywhere else) was saying that it was now impossible for me to catch anyone ahead and that it was also impossible for me to be caught by those behind in the time we had remaining, and so for me it was race over, 10th place.
Matt in a field next to a shed. With the grass worn down to
mud it almost looks like a bit of singletrack. Almost.
We all gathered in the arena to wait for Matt to finish his lap and take a convincing win and the title of European Champion, he had ridden an excellent race.
A nice touch was the playing of the national anthem for him on the podium, just after he had received his prize of beef, he looked quite emotional.
1.      Matt Jones                         UK
2.      Dominik Hug                      Switzerland                       
3.      Marcel Knaus                     Lichtenstein       
4.      Christian Eggenberger     Switzerland
5.      Andreas Schmelzer           France                 
6.      Herbert Luther                  Germany             
7.      Daniel Schefer                   Switzerland                       
8.      Danial Rombach               Austria                
9.      Nicolas Pellegrinelli          Italy
10.   Andrew Howett                UK

The women's race was won by Sonja Gisler, by a convincing margin ahead of fellow Swiss rider Colette Tőlle.
I would like to say a very big thank-you, especially to Gina, but also to Daniel, Sarah and Luke in the pits, the lovely guys at Ivan's and, as always, Torq, Exposure, and Mt Zoom

Three Days, Nine Countries, One Long Drive

In the last few days I have become very well travelled, nine countries in three days. We left Scotland and drove most of the length of England, spending a little time with my parents in Lincolnshire, the first time I have seen them for a few months. From there we headed down to Dover and left England in the pouring rain on Monday morning.

It took us much longer than intended to get across northern France as we got stuck in the suburbs of Lille and had to do a dozen laps of the city before finally achieving some sort of escape velocity and emerging into southern Belgium.

We quickly passed through the country and into Luxembourg, which despite it’s diminutive size took much longer to traverse, there appeared to be a traffic jam the length of an entire nation. From there we crossed into Germany, where we stopped overnight, somewhere in the Black Forrest, not too far from Stuttgart.

It had been raining hard for the whole journey but the following day dawned bright and sunny. We hit the autobahns again, our elderly Transit coping admirably on the derestricted roads, at one point it hit nearly 80mph!

We spent much of the afternoon unsure as to exactly which county we were in. Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland all meet at more or less the same place. We stopped for lunch somewhere in one of those countries, a lovely lakeside restaurant, but I still have no idea which one it was in.  

We were definitely in Switzerland when we stopped for the night, somewhere on the road between Klosters and Davos. We were woken early the next morning by the police who seemed curious about the rusty white van with foreign plates, by far the oldest and scuffiest vehicle in the whole country and therefore clearly up to no good.

Davos itself was also bright and sunny, it was about 30 degrees when we arrived, which was lovely. We had a bit of a walk around the town looking for some breakfast and found the big conference centre where the World Economic Forum is held every year, complete with the sandpit and playground in the grounds, presumably put there back in the days when George Bush was attending such events.

From there we headed over to the race venue at Frauenkirch. Some things were already starting to take shape, the main marquee was up, the bridge for the flyover was under construction and the pits were marked out. However, we were told that most of the track could not be ridden, for reasons which were unclear. We set off on the bikes to ride whatever bits of the track we could find and, here in the heart of the Swiss Alps, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and high Alpine meadows, were distinctly underwhelmed by it. It was, for want of a better word, much too ‘fieldy.’ What parts of the course we did find were mainly grass fields, a bit of fire-road and a surprisingly large section of tarmac, hardly the exciting Alpine trails we had been looking forward to. At least it was sunny though and the detour we took up to Jakobshorn was lovely.

Thursday was warm and bright, although the track was still not marked out so we decided just to go for a ride around the area, following one of the signposted routes up in the hills. We headed from Frauenkirch up to Glaris and Spina, past the lift station at the top and then followed a lovely piece of singletrack from Abirűgg down to Sertig-Dőrfli, that was a lot of fun.
Some of the locals on the trail

There were two other Brits entered into the race, Matt Jones and Jason Miles, and we received word from Jason that evening that Mrs Miles was quite ill and he therefore would not be coming. Judging by the parts of the course we had seen so far he wouldn’t be missing much.

Friday morning was also nice and sunny, although the forecast for the afternoon and the race on Saturday and Sunday was grim. The course was now apparently all marked out, apart from the final quarry section. That could be good, maybe we had underestimated it, riding old quarry workings is always fun.

We set off to have a look and were soon completely baffled. There was plenty of marker tape around but no arrows so we had no idea which section went in which direction and there were so many cross-overs and two-way sections that we couldn’t even tell which followed which. There was even more grass field than we had first thought and we only managed to find two bits of singletrack, the longest of which was only about 400 yards long.

Why wasn't this is part of the course? Less than a mile away
and it was brilliant!

Matt arrived just before 5pm, accompanied by his wife Sarah, defending champion Daniel Schmidheiney, mechanic Luke and the rain.

Daniel had raced at Davos before and offered to take us out for a lap. Despite having been there for three days I still had no idea where the course went and so decided to go with him and Matt out into the pouring rain. It turned out that the majority of the descending was on fireroads. Normally these would be used for the climbs, with the more entertaining singletrack sections as the descents, but a lack of the latter obviously necessitated that the downhills would also be fireroad. The speed of these combined with the hard surface and the heavy, thundery rain which rapidly tuned them into rivers meant that it was nigh on impossible for me to see where I was going through the spray from the rear wheels in front and from my own front wheel. Even local knowledge proved to be of little help as Daniel lead us astray before we retraced our steps and tried to figure out where we were supposed to go. 

The quarry section was something of a disappointment, rather than drops and chutes down though the old workings it turned out to be a gravel access road for the trucks. Even when we returned to the arena there was still some confusion as to exactly where we were supposed to be going, but surely it would all be fixed for the race tomorrow…

Friday evening was spent in the pit tent fitting crud-catchers to the bikes and wishing that I had brought a proper set of mud tyres. I was not looking forward to this.