Longest Day, Longest Ride – the British 24 hour race championships were epic!

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Held this year on 17 and 18 June, Longest Day, Longest Ride is an annual 24 hour endurance race which also doubled as this year’s UK championship. 24 hour racer and new dad Matt Jones was there to try for the title, and sent us this report.

The Isle of Man has a growing reputation for hosting some great mountain bike events. The End to End event has attracted hundreds over the years, but add in the Manx 100 and the LDLR and the small island is really developing as a hotspot for anyone who fancies pinning on a number and taking on a challenge.

Get to the Chopper! Photo: Chris Watson

The LDLR event is run in a small woodland just outside of Douglas, by a local team dedicated to putting on a fun event for all levels. The crew had managed to put in some hard work to extend the existing short lap, and riders commented how deceptively challenging the course was, with over 300m of climbing per hour or more for the fast girls and boys. The new sections initially provided some front wheel slidey fun, but once bedded in became nice and flowy and a few roots popped up here and there to keep you entertained. In total the lap was about 3.5 miles, with fast sub-20 minute laps doable for most. Current 24 hour champion Max Suttie reckoned it was the hardest 24 race he’s done!

The experienced organisers had a great setup and had attracted a big range of sponsors with a packed goody bag including a nice cycling jersey. What’s more the event is actually run for local charities and has raised £30k over the years – chapeau! You’d think an event run for charity would be a bit more haphazard, but everything seemed really well organised, with a big marquee and the best live timing I’ve seen at a 24 hour race. There was great food and cake by the local WI, friendly and helpful staff, and local hero and current LDLR champion Stephen Kelly taking everyone out for a group practice lap. The only thing missing would be a bit more shelter for those camping up on the hill when the weather closed in, but there are lots of local accommodation options for those wanting a good night’s sleep.

The face of 24 hour racing, complete with thousand yard stare. Photo: Chris Watson

Now to the race itself. Being the British Championships, some of the big hitters that had travelled across. There were 5 or 6 potential winners in the male category, and the prospect of a good battle between British and European female champion Naomi Freireich and local Fay Holland. The Isle of Man has some seriously fast local mountain bikers, but they tended to stick to the team events, which was evident when we headed out into the mizzle on the first lap. The morning had seen a fair amount of wind and rain, but the track held up very well and the conditions soon improved. Solo Scottish legend ‘Kamikaze’ Keith Forsyth went out like a rocket, determined to set a brutal pace and go for the win. Current champion Max settled in at a fast pace but looked concerned when Keith lapped him relatively early in the race. However Keith had also lapped most of the field at least twice by that point as well! Nigel Smith and Peter Nadin are very consistent and well-paced performers and were also setting a solid pace early on as well. Naomi and Fay were very close for most of the race as well. Battles across different categories gave everyone something to race for, with leading singlespeed rider and Manxman Paul Renshaw placing well in the overall.

As darkness fell many of the locals put their feet up for a beer and a kip, whilst those battling for positions kept racking up the laps and miles. Some great racing was taking place with the top 5 males switching places regularly and Keith still setting a fierce pace out front. Naomi was not far back off the top males, impressive considering she only had two weeks to recover after her last 24 hour race. As with any 24 hour race dark moments came for riders. Those who could push through and keep going gained positions, whilst others succumbed and slipped back. The night time brought out some great support from the locals featuring ‘Christmas tree corner’ and a crowd begging for wheelies and skids. Cheers could be heard throughout the woods as riders aimed to please!

The novice and the hardcore all enjoyed the course. Photo: Andy Taylor

The birds started tweeting at 3.30am, which was a horrible false dawn considering there was still over a third of the race to go! Still sunrise always lifts the spirits and the sun shone. By breakfast time some of the gaps had become impossible to change, but riders continued to clock up the laps – 4575 of them in total. The course had also bedded in nicely.

Max had ridden a measured ride and eventually overtook Keith, who couldn’t maintain his full-on attack any longer and called it a day. Naomi came home 5th overall after working hard to hold off local competition. Fantastic prizes provided by Exposure Lights along with prize money from Connister Bank made for some good podium smiles, despite a final change for the worse in the weather. The event also raised £2,500 for local charity Bridge the Gap.

Matt in full flow. Photo: Chris Watson

As for my race. I’d come in with a surprisingly good few months of training despite being a recent father (thanks to Sarah and Rory). However, baby Rory did hand me his lovely cold to take into the race. I tried put on my game face on the day before’s practice lap and kept it quiet that I was feeling like death. On the morning of the race I wasn’t quite sure if getting out of bed was the right decision. I figured I should at least give it a go though and see how far I could get. I hadn’t raced with a cold before so wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, I can say now it was grim throughout. I was really just expecting to have to stop at any point as I didn’t want to make myself really ill and mess up the following days of family holiday time.

As it happened I was just amazed how I managed to keep going. I wondered if my body just compartmentalised the cold and re-focused on the battering I was giving it from other angles. I did have to slow down in the night after some serious tight chest and breathing issues but was always in the mix. I even managed a caffeine-fuelled attack for a few hours and gained some ground, getting second place Nigel in my sights, spurred on by fantastic pit support from our lovely hosts Stephen and Claire’s family and friends. Nigel responded, and kept a decent gap which wasn’t going to be possible to bridge without literally killing myself. I was settled in 4th with the prospect of an early finish, but Keith then dropped out, meaning I was obliged to trudge through a few laps to get 3rd place. I paid a pretty heavy price for those extra hours, and on a sociable last lap with Nigel and a group of lap fancy dress clad riders I managed to chuck up half my gut lining. Even worse my bike took the brunt as well! A trip to the doctors next morning revealed I actually had a chest infection, so racing probably wasn’t the best idea, but us 24 hour racers aren’t all there I think.

The Podium of Pain.

Organiser Gary Cooper said: “This year’s event was extra special thanks to hosting the British Solo 24 hour championships for the first time. The racing was very close across all categories with the locals really pushing the visiting riders to the end. We hope that this will really put the Isle of Man on the map for more competitors to make the journey and experience the great event atmosphere”

If you fancy a trip over the Isle of Man for some great local hospitality and a fun event, check out next year’s LDLR, or the Manx 100 for an equally tough event at the end of July.

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