Race day. Sun beaming in through the mesh of my bivy at 7am. I'd have liked some more time to recover from the previous nights' feast. We'd been with the group from Los Lobos and BWR-e to the local Osteria (set menu, basic restaurant) and after an amazing continuous three hour eating and drinking session, I finally lay my head to rest around midnight. The day ahead will be a long one indeed. Not to worry, take it easy and just meander around preparing, pre-eat and drink, and enjoy the atmosphere. Most of the day is spent in and around my adopted team area of the Singular Cycles tent, and later on I set up my food and equipment stand in the pit area. There's still widespread confusion as to where the track runs and I'm not too sure my pits are well located. The race briefing for teams is held at 10am in three languages, and soon after the first rider of each team rides down to FInale. This is in an attempt to split the field and allow the solo riders to get onto the track and avoid congestion. As opposed to last year, FL24 is now part of the Italian 24h series, and as a result there are 130 entries compared to 60 in 2009, and the team entries are also at record levels. Another change from last year is the extension of the track from 8 to 11km. It included an extra climb and descent and really adds some nice single track to the already amazing course.
Now, let me tell you about the course. At 11km long with about 300m of climbing, it's a good length course and with lap times of 40-50 minutes, it gives for plenty of variation. There's a mixture of single track and 4WD access roads, allowing for enough overtaking opportunities. It's a reasonably SS (singlespeed) friendly track, but there are some very steep sections, that 90% of the riders walk. Not too much of a disadvantage there. I was running a 34x20 gear on my 29er which seemed like a good balance and also forced me to take to foot on the steep parts. It gave me a good chance to stretch the legs. The rocky underground was difficult to get a good foot hold at times, and my shoes are destroyed. I'm sure glad I didn't buy a nice shiny pair for this race. Compared to other races I've ridden in Europe, this was physically demanding, and almost unsuitable for unsuspended bikes. I'm still suffering from foot numbness and my back also had a few unkind words after the race. Pushing one gear puts a lot of strain on the lower back muscles, and after a night of battering, they're crying for a break. It's an ongoing debate. I know I can do it, and I've proven I'll survive, but the question is do I want to just survive again. I had suspension, gears, light, and support crew envy during this race. Since arriving back I've been researching the options for a more forgiving ride. Something to take the buzz out of my feet and prevent the L5/S1 disc from rupturing and DQing me from biking altogether. Well, there's nothing like this race on the cards for this season, so I'll keep this experience at the top of the toolbox. Back to the course. It starts off with a short climb out of the "change" area, into some windy singletrack with a couple of nice rock step drops, out onto the road. Now there's an easy climb, blasting past the spectator cars, neatly parked a foot away from the kerb, allowing just a single bike to edge past on the tarmac, escaping a section of bumpy grass, only to be nudged off by a poorly parked Belgian camper (including middle aged woman in deckchair). Across the road, keep going, watch the course-tape fencing, into the trees, tricky rock garden including photographer, pop up into a campsite, hammer it down a dirt road. The next rocky section requires a good memory of left-right combos as you weave through one section, then wade through the next, fingers crossed for the right balance. This is a wonderfully quick section and the course is full of technical delights. I'll spare you the rest, but it's really a track on which you can pass time quickly, each lap a new test of your memory and desire to find that perfect line. As the body tires, this becomes all the more important.
OK. It's really time I told you about how the race went. 1pm start, all the solo racers in the start "cattle yard", bikes placed in what we thought was the best position. Of course, with a Le Mans style start, you never do know what's "best". We're all herded to another start line and then the countdown starts…..quattro, tre, duo, uno, VAI! And we're off! In the wrong direction, running, in bike shoes, running the course, getting further away, glad I've got a camel back, 30C, still going the wrong way, I want my bike, fast starters are being reeled in, up a climb, what's the idea, a good course recce, drinking water, turning towards the start, still a technical up and downhill climb to go, careful on the ankles, no hurry, plenty of time to ride, ah finally back at the bike, 3km cross-country run, glad I bought my running legs and water, aaaaaand we're off on our bikes! Coach's orders, take it easy, no problem, it's too hot to do anything crazy, but the first two laps I'm averaging 16kph, not too slow. It's a good chance to figure out where I should walk and which climbs are rideable over the 24h period. The cramping I experienced at SiS is not something I want to deal with for 20h of this race. The climbs are generally steeper and shorter and that's the kind of thing that can set off a leg cramp. Anyway, the plan is to ride 2 laps between pit stops which works out to be about 1 1/2h and during the heat of the day that's 1.5l of energy drink to replenish. 30-50g of carbohydrates per hour as the coach ordered, satisfied with a mix of chocolate, nutella twinkles, bananas, and energy drink. It's super dry and there's a perpetual dust cloud hanging over the race course. The combination of sweat and dust makes for some dirty racers as you'll note in the photos. Four hours in and I'm feeling good, the sun's dropping quickly, with many sections hidden from it's beaming rays. I'm feeling confident and I've settled into a good rhythm. It's early days yet, but I feel like the challenge of the heat has been conquered. I keep turning good laps, two at a time, and each time being greeted by other team riders at base-camp. There's good support and always someone wanting to clean and lube my chain. At around 7pm I come in for another stop and gear up for the first night shift. Batteries, wind vest, arm warmers, order some pasta, eat some pringles, chain lube. Marcello was on standby with the squirty bottle to wash my face, only he forgot to have something on hand for me to dry it off, so I was left blinded by my own sweat and dust. Youch! Soon solved, and back on my way. As the day draws to a close I ignite my dyno powered light. Not yet dark enough to make a big difference. At the top of the Toboggan DH, I know it's time to engage the helmet light. Click-click. Nothing. Click-click. Nothing. Stop, pull off my helmet, inspect. Batteries dead. Damn. There are still two tricky descents to do before the pits. This is a challenge I don't need right now. The downside of a dyne light is the slower you go, the less light you get. It's exactly in those slow sections where I need all the light I can get. Thanksfully I know the course OK and I'm able to navigate safely to the pits and replace the batteries. It's broken my flow and I'm very nervous about my energy supply. If there rest of the batteries don't play, I'm in a big spot of bother. I put my burned batteries in the charger and note to my surprise that one of my packs is missing. Expletives run through my mind as I enquire as to the whereabouts of my batteries. To this day I don't know who took them, and I think it's good to keep it that way. I took exactly enough to last the eight or so hours of darkness.
This is taking longer than I thought. I think this is enough of a read for now, but more will follow. Too hot here, melting.