"The King is dead, long live the King........the King is PROBABLY dead, long live the King..." (Blackadder)
Whilst thinking about what to report, partaking in what was my 8th outing in the 24solo format, I realised that they probably all read much the same;
Hence, this year's condensed edition. One feels great at the start and unintentionally burns too hot, until about the 6 hr mark where you realise the enormity of what an already rapidly fatiguing body will have to deal with...and it's not even dark. By 10 pm you are desperately disappointed to realise the time is not in fact 1:30 am, and the thought of consuming anything further containing sugar is starting to turn your stomach. Already your hands are starting to blister, and you accept your feet will be numb for the remainder. You get to be introspective during the early hours of the morning, perhaps even going (all too briefly) to a happy place as good lines are carved without the impediment of being able to see all the crap you'd otherwise steer around. The single track is now almost completely saturated and comprising the 37 different types of sludge experienced the previous weekend on the Centenary trail. The sky finally lightens, although this is accompanied by the thought of more food triggering a major-league regurgitation. Whimpering in the pits produces the desired response of negotiating with the crew for an early finish. The best thing in the world; beers and chips with crew whilst watching the outcome of the Clash of the Titans.
Seeing what might unfold at the top was actually one of my main motivations for entering. I've witnessed quite a few close editions now and the drama at the top softens whatever state you yourself are in. It's also fascinating to see it from the battleground itself, rather than just the pits. You don't quite appreciate how good these guys are until they smash past at some ungodly hour. Jason and Ed first caught me about 5 hours in, half way down Breakout, one of the fastest bits of the course, scything through trees with little margin for error. I thought I was sailing close to the wind till these guys smashed through. Up the fire road that followed Ed had to dig deep to regain parity, and had to do so again at the back of the crit track after the pits - Jason so smooth to Ed's more bag of spanners agricultural style of mashing. Apparently Jason was hitting Ed hard early on, frequently, in an effort to try and break him.
Next passing was about 9:30pm at the base of the climb. Ed was surprisingly unchatty in passing, and I forgave him once I realised Jason was missing from his wheel. A minute later Jason was there and I motioned for him to pass. Surprisingly he declined, citing hardly being able to keep his eyes open. Even more surprisingly I hovered just ahead of him up what was essentially the entire mountain before he popped through at the very top (Echidna Gap) then disappeared. This was my first real hint that the script might be about to be torn up. Its not uncommon for JE to cruise a few minutes adrift, which is how the next few hours panned out, but the next time the two went through, the gap between their passing me was close to a full lap - Ed now a bit more chatty, and Jason still with the grumbles, and this was essentially status quo till the end.
Come morning the venue was abuzz with what was happening. Could Ed hold on? JE knows how to finish strong. Last year at Nationals was a close call, and Worlds in Rotorua in Feb even closer, 5 min the winning margin. I'm sure the exact number will surface, but an unbeaten winning streak of 20+ consecutive 24 hr races, including 8 national championships and 7 world championships was about to have a line drawn under it. To JE's credit, he didn't throw his toys out of the pram and pull the plug (not mentioning any names JD) but showed his class and pushed Ed all the way. He did suffer a puncture and some lights issues, but nothing I feel that would have changed the result. Chatting with Ed's crew before the jump they said he was confident of a good showing given his good health, which has been an issue for the last couple of outings - sickness often accompanies the chronic over training that comes with the territory if endurance is your thing.
Being fresh and well can make a big difference. Personally I think I flew out of the gates so well this year as I'd experienced a full 3 days prior of zero riding, on top of a very long and very cruisy ride the weekend prior becoming reacquainted with the mounty. I was honestly surprised to be hovering just inside the top 10 for 2/3 of the race till the wheels kind of fell off in the morning.
A few thankyous. Firstly to the ensemble whom were initially going to do the teams race being happy enough to eschew it for the Centenary Trail experience the weekend before, thus opening up the possibility of a run at the race after all (did you see what I did there?).
For the race itself Ham and Anita played a much bigger role than perhaps they realise. Firstly, 7 consecutive M7 hit outs, ratcheting the speed faster and faster each week put the icing on my base fitness. Second, I was near crippled after the Rotorua experience so was determined to do some core strengthening that would hopefully make the whole experience less painful. A regimen of "dead mudges" and "ham clams" seems to have done the trick. Thirdly, the servicing they provided in the pits was first class. Anita runs a tight ship but was very grateful for the extra assistance from Ham given conditions, and it was a terrific surprise and boost for me when he showed up unannounced. The trail slop was making chain suck a major issue requiring frequent servicing; especially wanting to keep the 29er going all through, and this is where an extra set of hands is invaluable. I clearly couldn't have done it without you guys and hope you gained some satisfaction from the result as well. It was also lovely getting encouragement from people chiming in from lounges at home. It's said that to raise a child you need a village, and for events such as these the sentiment is not dissimilar. There must be a better term than solo to describe such clearly ensemble events.
Finally, I had the great pleasure of riding one of the early night laps with Bellchambers. I'd heard that he's partial to a bit of singing on track. However I wasn't quite prepared for how loud, persistent and bad his singing is, but it left me with a smile on my face for some time. Fantastic to see the great man back.