This race was longest race I have ever done. By far the longest on a hard tail SS. This race for me started Friday afternoon when I went up for a test lap of the revised circuit, to confirm tyre choice and bike settings in general. Good thing I did. My tyre and suspension settings were way to firm for the bumpy stuff. My 15k lap was complete in a cruisy time of about 50min including time to mess around with tyres and suspension. So with that in mind I decided to aim for 24 laps and/or 300k min goal.
Friday night and Saturday morning were spent packing the car until it was overflowing with bike gear, clothes, camping and food. We arrived at OHV bang on target time of 10am, found our "Premium" site and managed to get the car right next to it to unload. We squeezed our tent in to what remained of the allocated space and set up camp.
Race start was changed from a 'Le Mans' start to a standing start, which is my preference. For the first time at OHV (for me at least) it wasn't the SS nightmarish flat start around the Billabong, but rather some sweeping downhill..a 29er dream. So, I lined up mid pack, because there was still some significant flat stuff early in the lap. I pretty much just held position until the first climb. Getting off of the saddle, I passed a few riders, but only as many as I needed to maintain momentum. By this stage riders had spread out, and I tried to keep my heart rate below 80%. I cruised the first few lap just chatting to riders and letting them set the pace, and after all its a long race that is not going to be won on lap 1..or even lap 10. The laps just seemed to disappear. I had no idea or even cared about lap times, I just concentrated on maintaining controlled momentum and picking good lines through the rough stuff to avoid punctures. The highlight each lap was seeing Ali and the kids cheering me on as I rode by or offering me a selection of food and drink when I stopped.
As day became night, it was time for a hemet change and to put the bar lights on. It was cool, but not cold and it wasn't until 8pm that I added a vest and decided to carry arm warmers. It was also time for some warm food and 10mins off the bike. These short stoppages were a double edged sword because it certainly recharged the batteries, but it made the start of the lap feel so much colder. At around 11pm Andy showed up with some bandages I needed to try prevent some blisters which were forming on my palms as they moved inside the gloves. I added a some more layers and pushed on. Midnight came and went, the number of riders on the track dwindled and I often felt like the only person out there. Back at camp Ali and Andy were brewing coffee, cooking noodles and checking lap times. At some point, I found out I was leading the Single Speed category. I'm never sure if that knowing is good or not. On one hand it does give you some energy, on the other you feel you have more to lose and adds some pressure.
Sometime in the early morning I thought there was a fog rolling in as I couldn't handle the lights on full bight and everything looked a little faded. After a while, I suspected my contact lenses were dirty, but though that when the sun came up things would clear up. So I decided to push on and if things still weren't clear when the sun rose, the contacts were coming out.
Always with these overnight events my favourite lap is the sunrise lap, and I could not have timed it better. The colour in the clouds as I crested the climb up "Escalator" were magnificent(even with my dodgy vision), and only 6hrs to go. When I got back to camp Ben and Lee had arrived to lend more support. I removed my contacts, and my vision was still cloudy. I was surprised and a little concerned, I sat with my eyes closed for a few minutes and still no improvement. Ali found some eye wash, but that only helped slightly. At this point I decided my vision was no worse than it had been most of the morning and the light was now better, plus after 18hrs, I could almost ride the track with my eyes closed. The remaining laps were ridden lap by lap, getting updates on the rider in position 2 and maintaining or extending a healthy lead. After my 22nd lap we decided I needed at least 1 more lap to ensure the win and headed back out win a minimal break. I finished lap 23 with about 45 mins to go and a 2 lap lead and calculated that I didn't have risk another lap, because even by this stage my vision was not perfect.
So for the final results in SS category;
1 Anthony Zahra 23 Laps 23:11:05
2 Mark Bristow 21 Laps 23:47:37
3 Tim Clarke 18 Laps 24:20:57
Really I couldn't have asked for a better intro to 24hr solo MTB. Not bad considering I honest just showed up to see if could even ride for that long. Congrats to all the SS riders. It is certainly a big undertaking just to enter as SS. So whilst I didn't enter with visions of being competitive, those final daylight hours became more so, and I was really pushed by Mark Bristow when I was hoping he'd stop. Top effort.
The event as whole was awesome. There was a great vibe on the course and heaps of energy around transition.
Thanks to Ben, Lee and Ali, packing the car happened magically between race finish and presentation. Thanks also to Andy for night supervision and to Nick and Graham for pointing Ali in the right direction.
Oh, sorry if I sounded a little unsympathetic to the rider behind me complaining that his "Dual suspension(lounge chair) bike had been setup too stiff" ...because I wasn't;)
1 day later I actually feel pretty good, my achilles tendon which has been playing up since Insomnia 1 year ago has really flared up. I haven't inspected the bike, but apart from the squealing brake, I could hear some pinging spokes that might need attention.
21:37 Ride time
The Course (as experienced by a SS hardtail 29er)
The 14.3k course could really broken down in to 2 major climbs, 2 technical descents with some fire road and flat single track in between. The first climb was "Old Man's Schlong"(so named because of a crackpot neighbour who has be known to appear naked near this part of the track.This climb) climbs about 100m over 1.5k, It is a somewhat innocuous for 1 lap, but it just got longer and longer(pun intended) as the race progressed. The first descent "007" drops about 60m in 1.5k punctuated with rock gardens, logs, a NASTY pinch climb on a right angle turn and slightly curved but fast final descent. Getting through the main rock garden without a puncture gave me a boost, because there was a rider fixing a puncture in this part of the course about every 2nd lap. The next climb up the end of "Gully" is easy to discount as a nothing climb, but there are a couple of parts which at the time were quite taxing. The fire road to the start of Aeroplane was my favourite part for some food and a drink and even a good chance to really push on. "Aeroplane" itself is the most technical bit of flat fire road I have ever ridden. With roots, rocks and bumpy "cow prints" divets combining to steal momentum and sap a surpising amount of energy whilst adding to discomfort for us poor hard tail riders. I usually love the descent in to "Rockbottom", but my squealing rear brake totally stole the fun out of it for me. Nonetheless, it was its old rocky, dusty, steep, technical and rutted yet wonderful self. The run through "Bear Valley" was very spinny on the SS, but good forced recovery in preparation for the challenge that is "Escalator". The SS 29er was made for stuff like "Escalator", and even on lap 23 I chasing those "Gearies" all the way to the top. Of course the circuit changed through the race. Some parts got dustier, some bedded down with the dew, random rocks moved, and I even saw a snake on lap.