The weekend saw the European 24 Hour Solo Championships take place in Davos. Our man Jason Miles was fresh back from the Rumble in the Jungle in Sri Lanka and circumstances conspired to stop him getting to the start line in Davos as planned. When Jason reads this race report we reckon he’ll be torn between happiness he missed out on the suffering, and sadness he missed out on a hamper of ‘Power Beef’.
Words By Matthew Jones, Pictures by Minz7
Staying off the beers for a couple of months prior to the European 24 hour solo championships in Davos was a sign that I wanted to take this one seriously. The euro champs come under the WEMBO banner with last year’s race taking place in Finale Ligure where I managed 7th. With a smaller field hopes were high for an improvement and to get amongst the 5 man podium (and the Swiss francs!).
We had been incredibly fortunate that last year’s euro champ Daniel Schmidheiny who is a Swiss based half Brit kindly offered to help with logistics to get there. I was heading off for a downhill holiday in Morzine straight after the race therefore carting an Enduro bike around on top of the two race bikes. The Swiss are pretty organised and Dan having sourced a trailer for the weekend and sorted all the pit logistics and equipment was a massive help. Getting all this stuff arranged for a 24 can be pretty stressful.
The race was held in Davos in the Swiss Alps so I expected big lung busting climbs and super techy alpine descents. Unfortunately although the race setup was excellent with a well-stocked pit area, the practice lap on the Friday revealed a pretty dull course which was pretty wet from recent thunderstorms. A mix of mainly fireroad and grassy lumpy fields with one half decent singletrack descent was a real disappointment. For a European championship I think we should be aiming to make sure the course is up to standard. Some long gradual road climbs really added to the frustration as you rode past awesome looking singletrack. Let’s hope the guys at WEMBO can ensure a quality course in future.
Course winge over, it’s the same for everyone etc. We started the race in the town centre which involved a 10 minute ride down from the race HQ in to the town. It was pissing with rain so on arrival to the race start so we were all cold and soaked. Huddling inside the hockey stadium out of the rain shivering wasn’t a great start to the event. We were eventually sent out in to the rain to line up. The lead out was supposed to bring the crowds out in town but there was pretty much nobody around so we followed the car up to the race start wondering what the point was as they didn’t use this to string out the field either. Off we went on lap one with the usual fast group out front which I let drift away. Shortly into the lap I was following a couple of guys in front and it quickly became apparent that we were going the wrong way. We turned around and re-joined the route with general mayhem ensuing as everyone tried to work out what had gone wrong with the course marking. Coming back in to the pits it turned out that there was an issue with course marking from the kids’ race earlier that morning so most people had gone wrong. I just about managed to work out that the race would be restarted 20 minutes later, what a mess! A quick change of clothes and gathering of composure before we lined up again this time from the event HQ and it had stopped raining, thank God.
Off we went again but now in a 23 hour race and I seemed to be in a better position this time and felt nice and fresh. Perhaps those who went off the front learnt their lesson quickly and decided to ease their way in to it more. I felt a bit nonchalant in the first few hours at the prospect of doing likely upwards of 30 laps of the 12km course which was a tough mental prospect. I talked myself around a bit and made the most of the more fun parts and started playing games like what’s the quickest line up this section. These things are as much about mental toughness as having the legs to get round so it was a real battle to keep focused.
A few hours in I heard that strong pre-race favourite and my buddy Dan had pulled out after not really being able to get his head in to it. This put me up the order a place and I gradually eased my way up the order in to around 4th with some really consistent laps as we headed in to nightfall.
I always like night time of 24 hour races as everything gets a bit more technical and concentration is key. It’s also the time when I caffeine dope which as a non-too frequent drinker of tea or coffee makes the first hit pretty epic. I think I had passed a couple of others riders in the dark then I was gaining on the chap in the lead and taking big chunks out of him. Bloody hell I was going to catch this guy! I was sort of still in denial of my position not really wanting to take anything for granted. I had considered changing my usual race strategy of ‘do my own thing’ for this race to see if there might be an overall faster strategy to be had. With the help of Jon at e3coach I’ve been able to up my speed making my usual strategy still sound but a faster one. I approached the first place rider and did what I think you are meant to in this situation and try and ride straight past to break their will or something! I went past but the chap instantly realised who I was with the English “hello how you doing” giving the game away, doh. He set off after me and I didn’t want to push too hard so let him catch up. He was drafting me for a little bit before I thought sod this and put on full gas which probably wasn’t that spectacular after 11 hours of riding but was enough to drop the guy on the road climb and his lights faded backwards down the hill. I made sure on the next descent that the gap was going to stick taking a few more risks on some sketchy flat fire road corners. Me dropping someone on a climb, racing manoeuvres, who’d have thought it!
I put down a couple of quicker laps to make sure the gap held then dropped back in to the usual ticking over pace. I built a good lead over the night enjoying some of the tame but high speed downhills with lights blazing. Although I knew I was in the lead by the this point I didn’t let this come in to my head at all, I was sort of in denial I think. Some mad things go through your mind in a 24, at this point I was thinking I could slip loads of places back and still get on the podium rather that genuinely wanting to hold position.
With the volume of riders out on course eventually some of the grassy climbs became a mud fest and although short really sapped the energy levels. In fairness the Swiss organisers had put some wooden matting stuff down that helped a bit and people were out on course keeping it in decent nick when it rained.
Due to the later than usual start time at 2pm the normal sun up jubilation wasn’t quite the same as we had almost half the race still left. This was the hardest part for me as time slowed cruelly. My pit crew just told me to keep doing what I was doing. Dan had stuck around to help my wife Sarah which must have been tough for him having pulled out but was a great help having some wise words on tap coming through the pits.
I kept on pushing the pedals and the legs kept responding. The guy behind wasn’t giving in and we were lapping at a similar speed so I had to keep pushing. Everything came together and I even ended up with a couple of strong laps nearly lapping the guy in second and having time for another lap but given the gap behind it wasn’t needed so I finished the shift a little earlier. Coming over the finish line with a borrowed mini British flag felt rather surreal and I still can’t quite believe the result. After the Brexit vote at least my Swiss Francs will be worth a bit more when I exchange them! The box of locally produced ‘Power Beef’ added to the prize haul.
I had no mechanicals and only changed bike to clean a bit of the mud off from the intermittent rain showers throughout the race. These things are only possible with the help of people like my extremely understanding wife and Dan helping out on logistics. My bikes worked perfectly thanks to M Steel Cycles and Roll for the Soul whilst Weldtite kept me lubed and running smooth. Exposure lights through the night were perfect running the lightweight Toro and Axis combo whilst USE components kept my bike weight down to 20lbs. Tenn Outdoor clothing kept me comfortable throughout with only a few syringe top ups of chamois cram required to the same shorts for 24hours (much to the bemusement of other pits crews). ESI grips kept my hands in one piece and my stomach was on song thanks to Torq energy.
I was super happy with the ride and how strong I felt, it’s a real shame that Dan pulled out and Jason Miles not making it to the start line meant I couldn’t quite benchmark my ride. There were some very experienced euro racers that were put to the sword so I can be happy with that but I’m now looking forward to see where I can place in the UK champs against a stronger field at the end of the season.
The next day I headed on to a mate’s stag week in Morzine to remind myself that riding bikes doesn’t have to be all about numbers and weird self suffering. I drank more beer and ate more bread than the combined 6 months previous. Like Graeme Obree I think I need the yang to offset the taking racing too seriously yin now and again. After all, whether it’s slogging round in circles or getting smashed by alpine descents it’s all just riding bikes with mates and that’s what I love doing.