Title Photo Allan Ure / photos4sale.co.nz
Going into the 24 Hour World Solo Championships in New Zealand I knew it would take the race of my life to defeat 6 time World Champion Jason English from Australia. I had that race and am still shocked at what went down in Rotorua during those 24 hours as it was in a whole new dimension.
Having finished eight previous 24 hour events, all containing some sort of massive meltdown, I had always dreamt of having a race in which the body fired properly for the whole 24 hours. I told myself I would keep racing 24 hours until I had that ride. That ride finally came as my lap times stayed between 50-60 minutes for all 27 of them with the last lap being just a couple minutes slower then the first few laps at 55 minutes. My support team of Tarren Sohier, Jason Beacham and Justin Price came together the day of the race and magically the four of us melted into a well oiled machine over the course of the race, keeping the pit stops all between 0 and 30 seconds with the average being about 10-15. English pitted a bit faster but he is a Mongrel.
Feeling fresh on the first lap I pushed the pace a bit to test out the field and felt strong but the course was pretty simple and had nothing selective in it physically or technically to split the field apart and 8-10 of us rolled through the start finish together. At this point I new it was going to be a long race of patience and consistency on the flowing trails and backed off the throttle to settle into diesel mode for a while. For the next 10 hours I rolled around the course between 4th-6th position with Adrian Retief from New Zealand as the keeners went off the front at a pretty mental pace. It was a cruisy ride as the course wound its way through some thick green New Zealand foliage with massive silver ferns lining the course. The setting reminded me of Jurassic Park and I kept expecting a velociraptor to jump out of the forest at some point. Just after midnight the time splits were starting to near 15 minutes to the lead duo of Jason English and Swedish rider Tobias Lestrell which set off an alarm, if it grew much bigger the race would slip away.
Normally 1-4 am is meltdown time as the body starts to tire after 13 hours of racing and the mind starts to wander into a sleep deprived daze. Knowing it was going to be rough no matter what I decided to crank the throttle wide open in an attempt to get back up to the leaders and try to build some momentum to carry through the night. The lighting system from Radical Lights was unreal and allowed me to put down the fastest night laps of the race and by 4 am I had worked my way up to Jason English in the lead. Tobias had been riding strong but unfortunately suffered a crash, losing time and energy one lap and the other guys in the top five seemed to be slipping a bit, feeling the effects of their early efforts. It was a welcome sight to finally see English’s Australian jersey in front of me. Not wanting to stir the resting giant I opted to hide my existence by stopping for a piss stop, refuelling the body and then trying to attack him at the base of the only climb on the course, a 3 minute little burner. Blowing bye English at the base of the climb, I managed to gain a small gap but he would slowly close it on the endless flowing single track which followed and soon we were back together. This kicked off the next 10 hours of what was the hardest battle of my life.
The 17.3km laps contained 15.5 km of singletrack and 1.8 km of fireroad. It became clear pretty early I was riding stronger on the fireroad sections, and English maybe a bit more consistent on the rest of the course and also pitting slightly faster. Unable to drop him out on course I rolled through the pit late in the night and told Tarren that next lap I was going to roll the pit stop and try and gap Jason there. It worked brilliantly gaining a 10 second gap on English heading out of the pits. Burying myself on the first part of the course which contained the fireroad sections the gap grew a bit bigger but somehow my friend found another gear and clawed his way back by the end of the lap. I couldn’t believe the guy could come back from the effort and new it was going to be a race to the end at this point.
For the next eight hours we would take turns attacking each other, Jason usually just after the pits and myself on the climbs and fire roads but it didn’t seem to matter what either of us did as the other guy would just grit his teeth a little harder and close the gap. It was shocking the speed we were riding and I was concerned a massive meltdown was going to hit at some point and I would fall into the thick foliage beside the trail and start twitching out and need to be rescued by the medics. Surprisingly that never happened and with four hours to go I noticed Jason was looking a bit shaky and put down another big effort on the fireroad and gapped him good, maybe just over a minute. This was the time, I laid every ounce of energy into the pedals to increase the gap and to finally give Jason his first 24 hour loss in seven years. The speed I was going I figured I had to be gaining on him. It was a crazy sensation as the body was exhausted but feeling good although the legs were pretty numb and not quite firing at 100% anymore. I kept getting glimpses of someone closing in and looked back at one point and saw the beast standing up smashing his pedals just off my wheel. WTF? How the hell did that guy close that gap, he hasn’t ridden that strong all race but now 20 hours in he’s finding another gear!? I looked for another gear and fired another counter attack his way but it was of no use as we were both riding in a crazy state.
For the next lap we cruised together, both screwed but trying to hide it. I had a problem growing as my bladder was ready to explode so I asked Jason if he wanted a neutral piss stop. He was fine and said no but offered to ride slowly and wait while I did my business. It was a camel piss, but Jason stuck to his word and pretty soon I was back to within 5-7 seconds of his wheel as we both hit a long rolling descent. The problem was we were riding slow down it, refuelling etc and there was a small drop off at one point. Hitting it slower then usual my front wheel snagged a root and I found myself being launched 10 feet down a steep sidehill into a entanglement of ferns and plants. It would’ve hurt like hell but the thick foliage broke my fall but also made it hard to get out of the mess. Probably losing close to 45 seconds to a minute getting back up to the trail I had some work to do and chased down Jason for the next half lap, finally catching him. Later this lap he would put in a small effort just before the start finish as he could likely sense I was a bit tired from the chase. He extended the gap a few seconds in the pits and all of a sudden he was just out of sight.
It was go time but unfortunately the body was battling a low point and I dropped a few minutes this lap and had 3.5 minutes to make up heading into the final lap. Yelling and dumping water down my back I tried everything to find any ounce of adrenaline or energy left in the body and pretty soon found myself cruising really well and getting momentum back. I’ve had laps like this before in past 24 hours and had caught whoever I was chasing and figured that unless Jason was riding out of his mind I would surely be gaining ground. There was also another race on the line, if I could come in before noon there would be an overtime lap to decide the title. Everything was being sent on this lap to get in before the cut-off. I’m not sure what would’ve happened the next lap if I actually made it as my body was in a surreal state. Too bad for me Jason is a monster and he was also having an adrenaline fuelled lap and put down one of his fastest laps of the whole race and even extended his lead by 30 seconds. Fighting the clock now, I came in 40 seconds past the noon cut off time and thus ended my bid for my first World Title.
It’s been an emotional roller coaster the past few days, being so close to one of my major cycling goals yet coming up short, but also having the satisfaction of riding the best 24 hour race of my life and having reached farther and deeper then ever before. I’m content with the effort and the race which occurred and keep reminding myself that Jason specializes in 24 hour racing and is the best the sport has ever seen, while I try to wing one once a year around my normal racing schedule. There was a lot learned during this battle and the limits my mind used to set on my body have been stretched. That being said there is a gutted feeling right now and some unfinished business which I look forward taking care of in the future.
I want to extend a huge thank you to all that made this race possible, as it has taken a lot of kindness and generosity from countless friends and sponsors to bring everything together so I could pull this sort of effort out while living out of a bag on the other side of the Globe. The Kona Bicycle company has stood behind me from day one and with the use of my 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe and a loaner 2016 Kona Hei Hei DL from Jonny Mitchel and the Bike Barn in New Zealand I had two sweet rigs for this race, both of them putting in similar lap times and being used consistently throughout the race. I can’t wait to get some more time to dial in the newly designed Hei Hei DL as it seems to just love eating up single track:)
Off to check out more of the North Island before tackling the next race in 4 days time. This one a 7 day stage race called the Kiwi Crusade which will take us through the rolling terrain of one of NZL’s northern Peninsulas!