Race Report - World 24 Hour Solo MTB Championship
Bobby Ketchum | Monday, 14 March 2016
Guest blog by Ritchie Bath
Fair to say the last few months were a mixed bag of emotions. The best part - pushing my body to the limit and taking on an event that truly scared me a little. I seem to follow a pattern and I’m really beginning to enjoy it. I see a race I think seems crazy, I read a little more about it, watch a few video’s and read a few blogs. Before I know it, I enter without ever really considering what might be involved. Why? Because I love the process, and most of all, the excuse to do some crazy training missions. Riding a bike for 24 hours straight seemed like a good idea at the time, and even better - how about in one gear. Why? Because I watched a video about World 24 Hour Singlespeed champion, Brett Bellchambers, 18 months ago and I will never forget the sense of excitement that filled me. It seemed crazy, scary and a little stupid, but so rewarding and so much fun.
10 days ago I competed in my first ever 24 hour solo race, WEMBO (World Endurance 24 Hour MTB Champs) hosted in New Zealand in the Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua.
The lap was 17.3 km long and the object of the race was ride as many laps as possible in a 24 hour period. No rest, no sleeping and lights through the night. I travelled up a week before the event as I wanted to get a few laps in early, get a better feel for the course and nail the most important decision of them all, what gear ratio to choose for the 24 hour race.
I arrived feeling strong, was pretty well prepared and had set the bike up with a 32:18 ratio. This seemed like a good idea. I raced the St. James Epic 10 days prior in the ratio and was comfortable climbing. Two laps in, I decided I had it all wrong. The lap had 283 metres of elevation, the climbs were smooth but not too steep, but I couldn’t believe how technical the course was, tree roots, downhill drops and lots of tight corners, it was a real cross country course and I quickly realised it was a World Champs so came with a world level course.
I had sore wrists, the body was tired and I knew I couldn’t push that gear for 24 hours, let alone ride consistent pace for the race, so with some testing and more practice laps we decided on a 32:21. This is definitely the biggest rear cog I have ever ridden but it felt great for the course.
The atmosphere was amazing, riders from 13 countries were there and we had a total of over 150 riders across all categories. I had a clear plan and an exceptional crew, we were super organised and broke the race down into four sections.
First 6 hours - Ride at a very conservative pace, protect the body and nail the nutrition/hydration.
Second 6 hours - Maintain lap times, keep smooth and set ourselves up for the night time.
Midnight to 6 am - Keep warm, keep motivated and start to work on pace/ position and lap times.
6am to midday Finish - Wind it up, remember a slow lap is better than no lap - Make the rest suffer.
I haven’t had a race that has run so smoothly to plan, I remember crossing the finish line with no emotion. I spent lots of time on the course wondering how I would feel to finish my first World Champs Race. I was really happy, I had ridden the whole race, no extended stops apart from to release my back on the foam roller through the night, but had also nailed the nutrition and hydration plan and ridden very much at the pace I had planned, I finished 11th out of 23 riders in the Singlespeed category and my crew seemed to enjoy every minute of it which made it even more special for me. Racing for 24 hours does crazy things to you, I was sitting in a chair after the finish, staring at my swollen wrists and all I wanted to do was cry. Why? I have no idea, but I wasn’t sad or even happy, just completely drained and overwhelmed. A good friend and local rider, Nina McVicar, cranked out an amazing last lap to take silver in the Open Women. An amazing effort for her first 24 hour and a very exciting time for us all. This mixed with loads of recovery food and we bounced back to enjoy an amazing post race meal and prize-giving.
If you think riding a bike for 24 hours is a tough task, the support crew role has to be twice as hard. My team of my father, Peter, my brother, Gavin, and great training buddy, Klaus, came along to support. Not one of them took a break over the 24 hours. I had a written food plan which they prep’d every lap for me. They rotated charging of my batteries, monitored lap times and pit times, kept the bike running beautifully and, most of all, greeted me at every pit stop in between laps with more enthusiasm and support than the entire group of riders needed, a completely selfless task but one that makes the entire atmosphere of the race for all of the riders.
Fair to say, I am completely hooked on this sport. I picked up a MTB for the first time in 2012 after a running injury ruled me out of Coast to Coast. I crashed lots, had loads of fun and remember enjoying the very steep learning curve of MTB handling skills. Training for me involves a 25 km minimum daily commute, but most days approximately 45 km from work in the city over the hills to my house in Redcliff. Back to back weekend missions of approx 6-8 hours made up the latter stages of the programme and what an amazing experience it has been. Any race which gives me an excuse to explore our beautiful country and get out doing what I love this much just seems like a no brainer to me, but now it is time to put the head down, crank up the base training and work really hard on the technical skills because one day, just one day - someone out here needs to knock Mr. Tom Kissell off the top step at the McLeans 12 Hour Solo Race.
I would like to thank Pushbikes for your ongoing support and encouragement, a strong team and a team who really cares. You define what this sport is about and I really appreciate it. Look forward to seeing you all about on the road and on the trails this year in your Pushbikes kit!
Photo credit Allan Ure (photos4sale.co.nz)