Wednesday, 3 December 2014

24solo from the other side

Having started 5 of these things I’ve been keen to view one from the less painful side of the fence.  As a rider the pit area is always highly anticipated; a reservoir of friendly clean people (indeed civilization).  The PA system crackling with banter or tunes, (usually) a nice piece of tarmac to provide relief for contact points, and snacks, pizza, drinks, chips, you name it, all delivered with a smile.  It’s all too brief, however, as before you know it the sore points are absorbing more punishment, and the mind refocuses to navigate the 1000 idiosyncrasies of the next loop, whilst trying not to be overwhelmed by the increasingly vocal part of your brain – the part that registers the cold truth of self-inflicted madness. 

One catches only glimpses of epic battles.  Not just the one going on in your head.  Occasionally riders come by with purpose, or engage in a welcome bit of conversation.  Sometimes a tidbit of the racing drama is absorbed during your brief visitation through pit town.

It would be great to tap into the running commentary that buzzes in the event center, if for no other reason than to keep the mind occupied.  Even greater to do it with a beer in hand.  Yet like the conundrum of Schroedinger’s Cat, one can’t live both states simultaneously.  So, in order to witness what it’s truly like to be in the pits, one has to properly occupy one.

Enter Ian and Wendy, both with a handful of 24solos under the belt, and both appreciative of my offer to pass the bottles, tweak the gears and lube the chain.  The stage:  2014 24solo Nationals.  The venue: Mt Annan.  The date:  latest November - very eve of summer.  The forecast: damn hot.  Track summary:  dusty and loose with little shade, zero flow and loads of pinch climbs. 

And they got to forecast right.  By the time I arrived it was mid 30s with little breeze.  Just sitting under the gazebo had one wilting.  The race kicked off.  Not a huge amount to do during the first few laps, just move my toolkit and other stuff from the blazing sun into the back of the pit tent, and familiarizing myself with the bewildering array of stuff that gets brought to this type of event.  Double this when two pit areas effectively combined.  Wendy and Ian were both pretty organized, but had very different styles.  Wendy (my main responsibility) had pretty much everything labeled and clearly set out in tupperware of various sizes, along with detailed instructions.  Ian’s kit was simpler given that he is not an eater, taking on only bottles (and a few gels) for the entirety of the event. Between them there were multiple sets of three brands of lights and batteries to juggle (none of them the AYUPs I’m familiar with), additional batteries for Garmins, additional Garmins, and two bikes a piece to service.

Ian’s early splits for the 10 km course were exactly as forecast (close to 40 min).  Wendy was splitting only 1-2 min slower.  Ian was taking a bottle a lap, whilst Wendy was with camelback (as is her style) so didn't pit properly for the first few hours.  There were reportedly very few places to feed on track, so the camelback was probably a good option.  Wendy had 5 of these pre-filled and ready to go.  Organised!  As lap splits inevitably blew out, so did the phasing of the two riders.  When completely out of phase every 25 min one of them would pit – not a lot of downtime.

Helping with Ian were his wife and kids, and his brother’s family, so it was a constant coming and going, with a mobile cheer squad forecasting the arrival of our chargers, but giving everyone encouragement as they came through.  First names clearly visible on number plates made communication easy.  This is the communal side of the sport that I really enjoy.  From the riders perspective, being on track with the team riders was also a positive.  Solo-only events can be a bit lonesome.

Reports were coming through that it was excruciatingly hot out on track.  I filled the garden-spray pressure pack with ice and took to giving riders (especially the solos) a soaking through the helmet vents and down the back as they rounded the corner.  Ice was one commodity that collectively we had plenty of – about 8 bags in total, and by race end we’d been through most of it.  Being right on a corner I could see 50 m down the track as the riders entered the pit lane.  I’d raise the wand and they’d simply nod if they wanted a dousing as they passed.  This became mandatory for many of them and again as the sun swung back into heat-wave mode the following morning.  Many encouraged me to run with them for a while.  At one point McAvoy came through, shadowed by English.  McAvoy enjoyed the mobile dousing until English complained I was hosing the wrong Jason.  A few suggested the relief was better than sex.  It was nice to feel part of the action.

At the pointy end, English and McDonald held back early whilst Lloyd, fresh-off racing in the heat of the Croc, set the early pace.  By mid afternoon Ed succumbed to heat stroke, left his stomach all over the track (as did many others) and was soon retired to the pit area.  The heat eventually got to Lloydy as well, who, whilst not retiring altogether, eventually also took a spell in the shade.  English, being the enigma that he is, forged on, ploughing an essentially unbeatable lead through the night, eventually calling it quits with 2 hours to go. 

Lights went on and eventually the temperature dropped to a very comfy mid teens during the night.  This was really appreciated by the riders.  Ian, who’d been looking a little stressed early on, now looked more relaxed and started to pull in his main rival for the 45-50 age category (Darren, from Brisbane), who happened to be in the adjacent pit. 

Come midnight the pendulum suddenly swung Ian’s way, as Darren succumbed to the beating, in part the result of his forks progressively seizing, before swapping to his 26er dually spare.  Ian took the lead and was now visibly starting to enjoy putting a minute or two into Darren on every lap, who was now in danger of losing 2nd place to Turner, another of my 7 hr combatants.  Wendy, on the other hand was sitting comfortably in 4th outright, although the rider in 5th was not budging, approx. 20 min adrift.

I eventually got about 90 min of uncomfortable kip with a generator in my ear, before returning to the pit as the sun tipped the horizon.  Ian arrived and for the first time asked if he could step off the bike for a spell.  Given he almost had a lap  (~40 min) on Ash and Darren we agreed.  He sat for the best part of 10 min.  I knew how he felt.  We pushed him off and resolved not to let complacency rob him of this one.   We did the sums.  Even if he bled 5 min a lap he would most likely hold on – provided there was no more sitting down.  Time for tough love. 

What we didn’t know was that Ian was starting to really struggle in the piloting department.  Dust marks on the jersey and a bit of claret indicated he’d already had a few offs.  His next lap was a long one.  A good 10 min slower than expected.  He rolled in lopsided, as though nursing a collarbone.  We lay him down.  He complained he was having blackouts on the descents and that continuing was impossible.  After an hour on his back he felt no improvement and asked to be taken to hospital. 

Blood tests revealed he had severe hyponatremia (low sodium) and signs of brain oedema (swelling), and would be kept on a drip overnight for observation.  In hindsight a very good call, but a difficult one emotionally as Ian has gone close to wins before and been denied late in the piece.  With Ian’s withdrawal, Ash and Darren slugged it out through the heat of another day, with Ash holding on for a well deserved category win.  Despite retiring early, Ian had done enough to secure third place and a step on the 45-50 age-group podium.  Huge respect, under very trying conditions.

Whilst all this was happening, Wendy was being Wendy, relentlessly grinding away, determined to tough it out and hang onto 4th place outright.  Always chatty in the pits, she knew exactly what she wanted, including periodically soaking shod feet in the ice-slurried esky.  She was especially driven as the chasing rider had been boasting on social media about 1000 km weeks during the leadup. Despite weathering a nasty crash during the night, she keep the pressure on as the day heated up, and held position.  Fantastic ride!  Wendy reckons it's the toughest 24solo she’s raced.

Up the track the top two female riders also had a close fought battle, but perhaps the most drama involved the impregnable Belchambers wilting in the heat to be bested by not one, but two other singlespeeders.  Jeebus, fresh off crushing the field at Worlds in Scotland, was clearly not enjoying the heat and as the light grew, eventually swapped from his rigid A-bike, to the B-bike with its front shocks.  As someone pointed out, he finally chose the right bike, but 18 hours too late. 

Mr Speering, usually the bridesmaid, had the ride of his life, reveling in the heat.  Perhaps the most enthusiastic of all for the jet of ice, coming into the pits for the penultimate lap he finally caught sight of Brett stopped just ahead.  Panic ensued. MC Crafty frothed into a lather only he is capable of.  They crossed the timing mats together before Dave put the hammer down with Brett unable to respond.  In doing so Dave claimed 3rd outright, behind English and Moffitt.   Surely on both counts more than he could have believed possible. 

The experience gave me a whole new appreciation for the complexities and stresses of holding down the pit.  Certainly a tougher gig than I was expecting, especially given the heat.  Did the riders inspire me?  Yes.  Did I want to change places?  No.  Would I occupy the pits again?  Yes.  Would I consider racing another 24solo?  Surprisingly, I’d have to say yes, although not on such a course and at such a time.  Rotorua lookout.  Maybe.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Newcastle Overnight

Let me take you down

Cause I’m cycling to, Newcastle baths

All through the night

Nothing to get hung about

Pedal a moonlight adventure

Night riding is easy as L-E-D

Revealing more enough to see

It’s sometimes spooky down the hills

But it all works out

Smooth rolling ecstasy

Beer that pizza down

Then meet you at, Observatory Hill

Feel the thrill

Big moon windy mild

Leave traffic and Sydney behind

Gliding down Brooklyn with velvet feel

Mt White requiring gears low

Watermelon, lamingtons

Washed down with cups of tea

Worst over now its not so bad

Let me take you down

Bateau Bay Budgewoi

Caffeine refill

Almost missed the corner

Then bridges by silvery water

Horizon soon glows, as Koels agree

Time space has flown like it's a dream

Fernleigh track a soundscape jewel

As the sun pops up

How wonderful to be

Sooth my weary bones, cause I’m finally home

Togs and coffee

And nothing to get hung about

Overnight riders together

Rolling has rarely been better

Newcastle Baths forever

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Mont24 reloaded

The Mont24 is normally held in late March, but a last minute deluge that would have had Noah grinning resulted in the event being cancelled, then shifted to a late October time-slot.  But didn’t the weather make amends on the second attempt!  Nice and warm on track, a brief mid-race shower to settle some dust, and a mild night which had the track getting tackier and tackier before the sun dried it all out again. Although the Scott24 appears to be struggling (courtesy of the more demanding Stromlo venue, and the re-scheduled Mont wouldn't have helped), the Mont24 appears as popular as ever; with some 2800 riders alone camped at the venue.

The Soggies were represented by a 40s male team of 4 (Mike, Ham, GK and yours truly) and a (truly) mixed team of 6 (Sara, Nicki, Anita; Giles, Dave Longbottom and Ben).  After mostly racing by myself this year it was nice to have the “band back together”, so to speak, and enjoy a more social outing.  Soggy central was the same spot next to the dam we’ve used in previous years.  Thanks to Giles, Sara, Mikey and Ben for getting there early and erecting the Taj. 

Not only did the weather oblige but so did the course designers who conjured a nice 19 km loop, which, although a bit rooty and choppy in places, was generally flat and had a super last km descent chock-full of lips and pump features for those wanting to porpoise their way back to transition. 

Ben and I had the dubious pleasure of rolling the first (very) dusty lap, which we cruised together – a nice opportunity to have a bit of a chat.  But from thence on the loop seemed to cope nicely with the 600 riders max on track at any one time. 

Also good to report that, unlike the last few years, no one had a nasty off or got banged up this year, although Giles was on hand to give assistance to another rider who had misjudged things a little.  Nice one Giles.  I made sure I got my crash out of the way pre-event, binning it on a greasy metal plate the day before whilst on my commute.  At least this tempered ambitions of trying anything too experimental come race day.  The only mechanical of note befell GK, flatting 4 km from home on his first outing.

Day became dusk became night.  The team of 4 switched from the 1-2-3-4 rotation (completed twice) to the 1-2-1-2 strategy, to give riders 3 and 4 some down-time before they did the same.  However, with Ham carrying a bit of a cold, The Riders Union held a strike and declared that “No one shalt ride between the hours of 2 and 4”.  Well, I didn’t have the legs to keep circulating and cross that picket line, but I might as well have given that by the time I finished my late shift the shower trucks had run out of water.  The lure of a hot shower was a big motivator for getting my pair of late nighters out of the way.  Come to think of it though, the showers are always empty post midnight.  Chalk that one up to a failing memory.  Another motivator was having Brad McGee looking hungry rolling short circles at transition as I waited.  No pressure.  Before my second nighter it was brother Rod limbering up.  In both cases I fully expected a McGee express to come barreling past.  The syncopation was such that neither caught me.  At least pizza was still being churned out, even when Mikey finished his late shift around 1:45 am. 

Although the 3-4-3-4 rotation was a little delayed, true to word, the embargo was lifted and the quartet fired back into action come 4 am.  This meant I was back on track around the 9 am mark for my 5th and last lap, with GK stepping in for Ham to tick our last lap for a total of 19.

In contrast, the mixed team of 6 was having none of this union clap-trap and soldiered on seamlessly through the night, embarrassing the show-pony quartet by netting 20 laps.  This placed them high on the mixed team sextet leaderboard, against many teams consisting of “5 blokes and a chick”.  Chapeau!

Congrats also to “Benny and the Jets”, comprising guys I regularly race against in the 7 hr series.  They clocked 25 laps, just holding on to 3rd in the Masters 4s and coming 20th outright.  They achieved this mostly as a team of three due to Ian having to pull the pin early due to the injury he sustained at last weeks Choc Foot.  It was touch and go there for a while, the final gap only blowing out in the last few hours.  They held on by only 6 minutes.  What a nail biter.  Fantastic racing!

Credit to the organisers for re-scheduling (presumably at a loss), then running such a great event.  A smart move though, as I’m sure many will eagerly sign up again for another tilt at the format come late March 2015.  Hopefully the Soggies (in their various forms) will also be partaking.