I was lined up on the start/finish line. My heart rate racing as we counted down to the start of the world 24 hour solo MTB championships in Conyers, Georgia, USA. Here I was at my first world championship race, wondering what the hell I was doing here.
The course was the same one as used for the mountain bike cross country race in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. It consisted of a 12.9 km figure 8 loop. The first half being single track through the forest with lots of ups and downs, rough rutted track and smooth slippery tree roots. The second half being predominantly rock garden on a very rough steep granite mountain with a great single track descent.
The gun goes off and off we go on a 1/4 mile (400m) sprint out round a marker and back to the bikes. I'm in the back 3rd of the pack as with 24 hours to go not much point busting myself at the start. The run helped to rid the stomach of some of those butterflies as I hit the bike and off we go.
The race plan is to complete 2 laps between pit stops (approx 2.5 hours) where my support crew (Guy the girlfriend and Kim the long term adventure racing partner & sponsor) would change packs and administer some solid food and drinks. Stops were limited to only a few minutes as short transitions times were the key to placing well. At the completion of the first lap my support crew would meet me at the entry to pit lane (about 200m long) and as I rode slowly they would ply me with food and drink.
At about the 4 hour mark I suffered from a touch of heat stroke with nausea and struggling to eat and drink. Kim got some salt into me and as night fell with cooler conditions I recovered. I now moved from 5th into 4th during the first half of the night. Midnight ish and some hot stew was in order. Man it tasted good and it was hot. Second half of the night and I now moved into 3rd. And the poor old butt was starting to feel the effects of the rough track. No amount of Vaseline was easing the pain now. The sun began to rise and my 3rd was being challenged by 4th. I had to keep lapping consistently.
With 6,470 m of ascent for the race the butt was, shall we say "raw", the hands blistered, the feet numb and the body just plain battered and bruised.
I planned to complete my last lap round 11:30am ish in 3rd place. Race rules dictate that you can finish any time after the 23 hour mark but have to be over the finish line by the 25 hour mark. As I rolled into the finish line at 11:30am, exhausted, I was met by Kim who was pushing me back out. My 3rd place had been taken by a guy who'd not even passed me who had lap times impossibly dropping from 1 hr 30, to 59 minutes and then down to 17 minutes! As there was a need for discussion to be had between Kim and the officials to sort this mess out, I had to go another lap in an attempt to regain my position in case the official timings were somehow, unbelievably right. So off I went, digging deep into my depleted reserves like never before. Kim and Guy would meet me where the course exits the forest and update me on what was happening.
After 6 kms through the forest I hit the open space to see my support crew waiting for me. I fully expected for them to tell me that I'd have to kick in the after burners. To my huge relief Kim waved me in. I had 3rd in the bag - it was all a timing error. I collapsed on the ground and just lay there. Eventually Kim and Guy picked me up and supported me back to the pits. On seeing the official placing's, cementing my 3rd in the 50-54 category, the pain was momentarily forgotten. I was ecstatic. Not bad for an old bloke. This was the toughest roughest course I have ever raced and the poor old body was feeling it.
My Scott Genius RC10 bike performed above and beyond expectations. Only maintenance required was to lube the chain as I passed by other riders with broken chains, flat tyres and gears making grinding noises that made me shudder.
It was an Australian invasion at the 2006 worlds with us winning the Elite men's, 35-39 men's, 45-49 men's, third in the 50-54 men's and the 30-34 men's and fourth in the Elite woman. All the Aussies present were top 4 and higher........
The road to Conyers wasn't an easy one. What with flight delays, missed connections, lost luggage, 2 flat tires on the hire van, taking wrong off ramps on the freeways, American airport security, it was indeed a trip to remember.
A huge huge thanks goes to my support crew in Atlanta, Kim Stokeld and Guy Williamson (they pushed me to the very edge of my endurance/life). Also my coach Ben Wisby (www.fitsense.com.au), my bike mechanic Mike Raison (www.cranksbikes.com.au), my physios Deb Creamer and Steve Felsher (www.physio4all.com.au), my sponsors Assorti (www.assorti.com.au), Assorti Outdoors (www.ambc.com.au), and Civica Pty Limited (www.civica.com.au) and all my fantastic friends who joined me on the many long hours of training rides. And a special mention goes to Marc Sier of Bigfoot Bags (www.bigfootbags.com.au) for a custom bike bag that protected my bike in all my travels.
Almost didn't make it:
As an aside to the world championship adventure I almost didn't make it. 12 months ago, in October 2005, I was attempting to ascend a mountain in the Himalayas, Ama Dablam ((6,812m / 22,349 feet) when I took a fall at 6,150 m just below camp 3 and finished up with grade 2 tear in my MLC (Medial Collateral Ligament) and bruised the Femur on my right leg. I spent a couple of days at camp 2 on my own and then climbed down to base camp on day 3. Then a 3 day hobble back to Lukla to fly out and back to Australia for some intense physio and recovery.
Six months later at Easter 2006 I raced in the CORC 24 mountain bike solo race in Canberra where I took out 1st in the 50+ category which then qualified me for the World Championships in Atlanta. With a lot of fantastic help and support from my physio, coach and friends I pushed my body beyond what I though it was capable of and became the 3rd fastest 50+ year old in the world.