Thursday, 15 October 2009

Jurassic Arse

Scott24solo - Firstly, I survived!

Second, the "solo" category is highly misleading, as a rider without good handlers is next to useless and would be reduced to a quivering Gollum-like creature - no, far less energetic than that (but just as stooped) - once the fatigue sets in (ie, about 6 hours into the event). Despite the name, this is still very much a team event, and I reckon my handlers must be close to the best in the business.

Anita and I arrived at Mt Stromlo Friday eve to discover that Michael, who had arrived early in the day, had bagged a prime campsite for team "Megasaur-arse" next to the trail in the high plateau "overflow" camping area. This was going to make pit-stopping a breeze. Unknown to us at the time, the course actually passed on both sides of the campsite, meaning that upon initial passage back to transition I could place an order for a banana, bottle, etc, and pick it up upon my return 5 min later. Perfecto!

Having pitched the tents Anita and I headed back to Canberra to stay with my cousin Ingrid, and her husband Craig who, incidentally, has raced the Scott24 solo on two previous occasions, and lent me some valuable advice, not to mention treatment during the nightshift (a physio by profession). So, a good night sleep was captured next to the fire in the lounge room. And yes, I was already having mtb dreams. This race was something I had entertained for some time.

Day soon followed, and in no time it was midday and the event was under way. Although solo riders got a rolling start, within a few km the leaders of the multi-person teams (who had to run for their bikes) were already streaming past us before the single track of the main climb started. I was adopting a different strategy to previous 24 events I had done, and opted not to carry the whole camelback shebang on the back, but keep the toolkit very minimal (2 x CO2 canisters, chainbreaker, chain links, tire levers) under the saddle, pump on the crap-catcher, a bottle on the frame, and only carry a mbl phone and a spare tube on my back.

The course, BTW, consisted of a day lap and a night lap (of 19 and 17 km, respectively). The rules are simple. Person/team to complete the most number of laps wins. Categories included solo, and teams of 2, 3, 4, 6 and 10, times by male, female, mixed, and single speed. In all, 2500 riders, and an estimated 8000 people camped at the event (according to the ACT news the following day). Quite a spectacle. Road racing was never like this!

Once under way, I made a special effort not to overdo it, as I was planning on being out there for the entire 24 hours. Many of the more technical parts of the course presented several options - an A (technical) and a B (less technical) line. The A's were more direct, but the consequences more dire should you crash. The obstacles were also rated - 1, 2, or 3 stars, depending on the severity. On that first lap I found myself negotiating chutes that I would never attempt on my own. But with a wheel 4 m in front, and another 4 m behind, I held my position and unwittingly negotiated all the 3 star A lines without bother (although it certainly got the adrenaline running at times). The only part of the course where I took the B-line was a drop-off back near transition. This feature was part of the Worlds course held a month ago, and was avoided by even some of the world caliber riders. With the A-line rated as only 2 stars, I vowed to knock it off next lap so that I knew there was no part of the course I couldn't handle.

Another lap and this last obstacle approached. However, I was delayed immediately prior by a slower rider, and consequently didn't carry the speed necessary for the drop off, and over the bars I went. As I dusted myself off, someone from the assembled crowd wryly stated, "mate, you're not the first". Bugger. Crashing inside of the second lap was not part of the plan. As well as losing skin off my right side, the bar extender on the LHS was snapped clean off. This would prove to be a costly loss as my ability to ride standing out of the saddle was seriously diminished - reducing my ability to rest my back and arse in such a stance - both were seriously sore by about midnight.

First couple of laps aside I ended up pitting once a lap. Typically this would involve stepping off the bike and shuffling over to the heater to sip on a cup of noodles, tea or lasagna. Meanwhile, my chain was being oiled, my bottle swapped and my back and/or kneck worked on. Small-talk round the "fire" with my primary handlers (Anita, Ben, and Craig) and the others from Team Megasaurase was a great diversion to the job at hand, and something I really looked forward to towards the end of each lap, especially during the night. On a good stop the entire pit was over in 5-10 min. The longest pit (approx 30min) was at about 2 am, where I had a complete change of kit and went for my warm gear. Word is that it got down to 1 C, although it didn't feel quite that cold. By midnight I was on my 10th lap, and initial plans of knocking off 20 looked optimistic, as I was really creeping, especially on the climb. 18 laps looked like a more achievable target.

Gradually the sky lightened, and my splits improved as day arrived, and the lap count slowly increased into the mid-teens. I thought that the last lap would never come, but eventually it did. Support from the riders out on course was fantastic. Solo riders get a "solo" plate to attach to the rear of the bike, so that the team riders on their hot laps know to give these guys a little more latitude (which I expected), but I didn't expect the huge volume of encouragement I was also given (and the occasional push), which made the slow parts of the course that much easier. And so it was that I went through the timing chute for the last time, completing my 18th lap - I must confess with a tear in my eye. It was a great emotional relief, and very satisfying, to know that it was over.

The crash aside, I managed to get through the entire event without a mechanical or puncture, although a must have passed hundreds of people changing tubes (tubeless a must!). Lots of busted rear derailleurs too. I started off with a brand new tire on the rear, and pressures of 30 and 32 psi (front and rear, respectively). The course, btw, although different to the two previous years, was still pretty brutal, and I suspect the constant pounding was knocking some air out of the new rear tire, which might yet to have been sealed perfectly. About 5 laps in I suspected it was getting a bit squishy - confirmed by Ben to be only 25 psi! So we topped it up, and I think Craig might have added some more air later, and I just kept riding. The ipod and its carefully compiled contents were never called upon. Sleepyness was never an issue on a course where constant concentration was the norm.

Team Gigantosaurarse (my alias - and status by about 1/2 way!) is recorded as finishing 15th in the solo men, but i had a transponder issue (it fell off and was later replaced) and they've cheated me out of a lap which will hopefully be verified by the number takers on course. If counted, that would place me 13th in solo male (of ~100), and 24th out of 180 overall if Vets, SS and chicks (yes, two) are also accounted for. Very happy with the result. With approx 320 km covered and ~ 7000m of climbing on a pretty tough course it was certainly the biggest day on the bike I've even done. The winner, BTW, the current World Champion, covered a touch over 400 km with 9000m of climbing.

A few thank yous-all. As mentioned up front - in most respects "solo" is a team category, and I could not have done anywhere near such a good ride without the fantastic support of my handlers. Anita and Ben took shifts having hot food ready for nearly every stop - neither really got any sleep. Ben, with help from Craig ensured that Old Stump was lubed and running well (serviced every 2nd lap). All three periodically worked on my neck, mid- and lower-back. The guys on Team Megasaurarse (Michael, Tony, Dave and Andrew) also lent encouragement and humour, in the pits and out on course - as did Felix and the noodle - much appreciated guys. Ben also gets special mention for encouraging me to give it a go in the first place, and in the same breath offering to handle me - a very gracious thing to do. Having such support meant that pulling the pin was never an option.

My immediate thought once finished was "thank God that’s something I don't ever need do again". It’ll be interesting to see if/how my perspective changes in the goodness of time.


  1. Dave, you were a pleasure to "handle". In a world of pain, and not one word of complaint! Am just trying to work out how I can get you to be like that when we're stuck in traffic/ shopping/ eating vege /out of beer...

  2. Congrats dave, that is a seriously inspiring and champion effort.

    Mudgey, just sit him on a bike in the veg restaurant or shopping centre and he will remain happy and will never complain again.

  3. Yes, very well done Langers for a seriously hard day's riding, and good to see those HTFU pills kicked in at the right time. Special K to the trio who helped Dave through the night - well done!