After months of training and preparation it was time for theCRC-supported riders from Team City College Norwich to take on the big one: the 12- and 24-hour European and UK Solo MTB Championship!
The 11th May was the date etched into the mind and training journals of the leading long-distance riders of the land. Representing the CRC-supported Team City College Norwich was endurance specialist Alex Nichol and former ‘around the world racer’ Richard Dunnett. For the first time in its four year history the race was heading south from Newcaslteton to the Wasing Park, set amongst the rolling hills of the Berkshire countryside. And so south to Berkshire it was for Alex and Richard to take part in the 12-hour champs.
Arriving on the Friday to set-up base camp and get a feel for the circuit, Alex discovered she didn’t like it one bit; it was tight and twisted, with tree roots from all angles and muddy off-camber descents – one with a log-drop on a switchback (which she wimped out of riding during practice). The course was seemingly relentless lacking any real flow. There was, however, a rather striking section through a bluebell wood that was approximately five minutes from the arena at the end of the seven-mile lap. Contemplating the technicalities of the course, Alex and boyfriend Olly went to fuel up with a carvery, and to get a sound night’s rest ahead of what was sure to be a gruelling race.
Alex’s careful preparation and well-rested condition was quashed on the final night due to an obscenely hot hotel room. Having slept very little she met with team mate Richard and brother, Martyn, who – along with Olly – was to ensure all the racers had to focus on was riding their bikes for 12 hours (easier said than done if you haven’t slept!). With a few last minute preparations and checks of the bikes, they were signed on and ready to race.
Ready to rock.
With the race getting under way at midday it was time to get focussed on the next 12 hours. Richard was competing in only his second 12-hour race (the previous seven months earlier) and was eager to see how he fared against the best in the country.
As expected, the race went off at an electric pace. He kept pace with the leading three for the majority of the first seven-mile lap; aware this was beyond him for the duration he backed off to settle into his own rhythm. Endurance racing is about getting the best from bike and body over an extended period of time, and backing off at this point was certainly the best way to go to achieve his best.
Alex too kept the leading female in her sights for the first lap, but sensing her legs were still asleep she eased up, aware they was still a long time in the saddle left. Richard rode with the second group of six riders for the next couple of laps. With the course beginning to take its toll on his back and arms he focussed on his nutrition and concentrated on riding as smoothly as possible. Fatigue was setting-in, and worryingly only four hours had elapsed! Alex also physically suffered early on, but keeping focus by breaking the lap down into sections, each time trying to improve her technique on the preceding lap – including conquering the sections unridden during practice. Uncertain whether sleep deprivation or nutrition was the cause of her suffering, she decided sleep wasn’t an option and that munching down more Torq bars was the way to go in attempting to keep the tank topped up. By the six-hour mark both had overcome their troubles and were starting to feel human again. Alex, renowned for grinning whilst riding, continued to smile.
The defining moment of the race came around dusk: sheets of rain fell on Wasing Park washing away the singletrack lines and drowning the spirits of the competitors. Both riders were soaked through and very cold by the time they got back to the pit area, which happened almost simultaneously. With Olly and Martyn on hand to help, the riders were soon in fresh kit and feeling good, spirits raised by the cheery banter from having all come together again since the start of the race. Both were back out on course again, but not before Rich warmed his hands on the kettle.
Conditions deteriorated rapidly resulting in previously rideable sections having to be walked. And combined with riding in the dark, lap times lengthened considerably. With Alex having consolidated her race position of second, she battled on aware that anything can happen in these races. Alex’s performance spurred Rich on, who was being fed by the pit duo of Olly and Martyn who informed him he was moving up through the field. Pushing on for the final two hours he had made his way up into the top five. Alex, in a commanding position, didn’t need to ride the final lap, but for self-satisfaction decided – with the encouragement of the pit duo – she would anyway. Later she told us the story of her final lap:
“I got back on my bike one last time! It was a shocking lap. I kept cycling into bushes off the course as I was so tired that I had lost all my concentration and I didn’t have the strength to manhandle the bike through a lot of the muddy sections. I walked the logs this time. The lap seemed to be taking forever – where were the damned bluebells! Finally I saw them and I was on the home straight; I rode past our pit and over the finish line to secure second place.”
Rich stormed over the finish line minutes later at 23:11, to secure fifth spot, having ridden 16 laps. He said: “I am pleased to have finished fifth against such a strong field of riders, and when I found out Alex had secured second it topped off a great weekend’s racing.”
A very welcome sunrise.
Alex on the podium.
To top off a great weekend Olly and Martyn were awarded ‘Best Pit Crew’ for their sterling efforts helping anyone and everyone who needed it throughout the day and night. This included coming to the rescue after a toddler had put his dad’s track pump on the firepit, sparking a fire amidst the tented area!
UK and European ‘best pit crew’ Olly and Martyn.
And just like Alex, Olly was ‘still smiling’ the next day.
Team CCN would like to thank the following sponsors, Chain Reaction Cycles, Torq, and Streetlife Cycles.