So, a bit more detail on what happened at Fort William…
My last 2 trips to Fort William were less than fruitful with both rides at Relentless ending early due to a knee issue caused by a 3-mile run back to the pits due to an irreparable puncture the first time and back issues after 21 hours resulting in retirement last year. So this year not only did I have self imposed pressure of trying to get a 3rd WEMBO jersey, I had the extra pressure of past experience not being very positive.
The plan was get there, get a lap in, relax, eat, find my happy place and race. I was fortunate that work helped support me for the trip, so straight away some of the pressure was off. However, my last day at work was a tough one, nearly pushing me to the point of booking a few extra hours off just to avoid mental meltdown. In the end, I think this helped me not to think about racing and probably did me some favours. At least our trip up the M6 was clear with no traffic what so ever!
Friday was a soggy morning, but a sighting lap was still sorted. This flushed out some issues with a dodgy chain tensioner. Apparently there’s not much call for singlespeed bits around the bike shops in Fort William and the Nevis Range – can’t think why… Even the lad in Off Beat Bikes said he stopped using his after moving to Fort Bill! An old mech was donated from the shops hack bike to get my spare bike up & running. Cheers chaps! The afternoon was spent getting the Lezyne easy-ups in place (thank you Rory) before running & hiding and dinner with Ingrid. Mark finally turned up 6 hours late after a hellish trip from Austria.
Race day arrived, Mark & I dropped the van and kit off early, then ran for home for breakfast in a nice warm holiday house, with the plan being to get back to Nevis Range as late as possible to avoid being dragged into any pre-race, pressure inducing banter. A quick introduction to the Bikeshak lads that were with Andrew Burgess & Team JMC was about as much conversation that I could handle. We had enough time to unload the van and for me to finalise a few things before the start. Perfect – everything was falling into place.
The forecast had looked grim for a few days, but come the start of the race, it looked like the weather might hold off a while, making clothing choice a little easier. The start was relatively frantic, with the first, short lap running up the fireroads to the top of the Whiches Trail. There was the usual shuffling to get a good place in the queue for the long singletrack descent back to the pit area. Last thing I needed at this point was a crash, but first switchback on the Whichcraft descent resulted in the unexpected, kit scattering, head against rock fall down a short stretch of boardwalk. Doh! Slight panic ensued, followed by a few moments to pick everything up, straighten the bars and calm down before getting back on to hit the rest of the descent and try to avoid another crash on the rocks and roots.
The next lap was always planned to be a slightly higher pace, but catching back up with Steve Chapman and Matthew Jones over the next lap gave me a chance to manage my pace for a while, get my head straight and my heart rate back in check before finding the pace I felt could keep me going for the next 23 hours.
The race would all be about riding at my pace for my race, so I had no interest in where I was, who was in front of me or who was chasing me. The next few hours were so different to some of my recent races where I have pushed to be out front. I was swapping places with a few different riders from around the world, but there was no discussion about positions. Jason Miles asked, but seemed amused that I had no idea! I was feeling great. Jon (e3coach.com) had been on the phone to Ingrid to check I wasn’t pushing too hard, but my feedback on average heart rate seemed to settle him. My brothers constant reminders about pace were a good reminder of the plan each time I came through the pits.
Darkness set in, Exposure Lights came on, rhythm was well settled and my TraversBikes.com Angus-II was running smooth and problem free. The rain threatened a few times before midnight, but it wasn’t until after the witching hour that it really kicked in… The wind started picking up, to the point where at times, the rain couldn't have been far off horizontal. At least the last kick up to the highest point on the loop had the wind on our back taking the sting out of the final bit of climbing each lap.
It wasn’t until 15 hours that my riding kit needed to be changed. The cold had started to seep in and the dry kit was much needed. Thanks to Mark for effectively helping me get changed as my hands were so cold I was struggling to grip anything. The pre-soaked porridge & dates went down a treat. Chain was lubed (the pre-impregnated Squirt Cycling Products chains take a lot of abuse before needing lube), lights checked, cockles were warmed, feeling came back into my hands and I was back out after 20 minutes. A few hours in the rain had me chilled to the core, so a rain jacket was applied rather than dry kit, the theory being boil in the bag rather than constantly chasing dry kit and long stops.
By 5am there seemed to be a dip in the number of people out on course, with one lap seeming particularly lonely. Normally you can always see lights, but this lap was very quiet! The race was clearly becoming a seriously mental battle as well as the physical challenge a 24-hour race presents. It had also been dark for close to 11 hours now, with still 2-3 hours to go before it could be described as light. I was grateful for the support and encouragement from my pit team, but also from the Exposure boys and those still up and about in the pits (thanks Tom & Mark).
19 hours in was the first time Ingrid & Mark had asked me if I wanted to know what was going on in terms of positions. My muddled head took a moment to compute that they thought there was something I needed to know. This was when I first knew I was lead singlespeed and that Paul Renshaw was snapping at my heels about ¾ of a lap behind me. Enough info to get me head down to ensure he know I wasn’t backing off.
Come daybreak I had started getting the feeling that my brake pads were about to hit their limits of wear as I could hear the squeal spring just starting to touch the disk when the brakes were applied. At just before 8am I went for a bike swap, with the plan being to get the pads changed by the Bikeshak guys over the next lap and swap back on the following lap. However, the bike swap instantly showed the spare bike still had an issue with the china alignment and with a pedal stroke I was off and grabbing back the main bike. The next lap was ridden without touching the rear brake unless really necessary – certainly a good way to regain focus and concentration so far into the race.
Arriving back in the pits was amazing - Ben Benjamin Othen & Luke Sprout Verheyden had been waiting for me for close to an hour ready to change my brake pads. 6 minutes for a pad and wheel change – super slick! This really put Ingrid under pressure to get more porridge warmed up and down my neck while mark did his best to keep me warm.
The last few hours were about managing the gap and taking care. As I rolled through the pits for the last time, the message from Mark was clear – go careful, go for something close to an hour to seal the deal. It wasn’t until I rolled across the line at 24hours 7minutes of riding that I found out that as well as first singlespeed, I was also third overall and first Brit back. All I could do was laugh – I simply could not believe it, what a way to end a race that had felt such a long time coming.
The first time I went to Fort William, my initial impression was that this was my kind of course. WEMBO-18 confirmed that was the case.
So, last but not least, thanks to everyone who has stood by me this year and supported me after my back issues at the end of last season and DVT diagnosis earlier this year and loss of a big chunk of this seasons racing: TraversBikes.com, e3coach.com, Exposure Lights, Lauf, Fibrax Limited, Precision Hydration, VeeTireCo UK, Squirt Cycling Products, Lezyne, Upgrade Bikes, Velotech Services Ltd, Physiobikefit & Mudhugger
Thanks also to the team at No Fuss Events and Russ Baker & WEMBO for a great event, and Anthony Pease for the images.
Now, just enough time to get ready for Lap of My Mind - a very different challenge!
HAND BUILT TITANIUM FRAMES.