Race report: Bontrager Twentyfour12

July 10, 2012

The Weldtite Endurance team won at this year’s Bontrager Twentyfour12 event so a big well done goes out to them! All of the hard work and training is paying off! Team member, Chris Cooknell, has kindly written a race report for us to share with you guys, so here’s how they got on …

Race Report

Police:  “Would you like help to evacuate the campsite?”

Martyn Salt (the man behind Bontrager Twentyfour12):  “No thanks!”

It was the small hours of Saturday morning, the world’s coolest 24 hour mountain bike race was about to start its (magnificent) 7th edition in 10 hours and after two of the wettest months ever recorded in the UK it was raining cats and dogs.  The met office had issued Plymouth with a red weather alert for the whole of the weekend, and the river that bisects the course was threatening to top the bridge and cut off a couple of thousand happy campers.

Martyn is no push over, and after all, this is not some trivial matter like a music festival or the British Grand Prix, this was a bike race!  Meanwhile I was sleeping like a baby.  By 9am the whole team had assembled, Marcus Williams, Ollie Taylor, Julian Grundy and Iain Payne – this was a very rare alignment of the planets!

Walking down the Newnham’s beautiful open valley that runs along the aforementioned river is the spine of the Twentyfour12 course and the event campsite – it was becoming clear why the Police were so worried. Carnage.  Where the evening before had stood encampments of expectant racers there was now knee-deep pools of standing water, and at least one new stream.  I hope that these folks had simply moved to higher ground – because they were about to miss some proper mountain bike racing!

bike infront of tents

Twentyfour12 is a massed start bike race, no running, no “Le Mans” style nonsense. A sprint out of the arena and alongside the river through the camp ground leads to short climb and forest track that was enough to thin out the hundreds of starters, team riders and solos, before returning to the arena and then crossing the river to join the course.

We knew that Iain was going to be quick, and he never lets us down,  first lap, including 6 min start loop knocked out in 44 min – now that’s fast!  Ollie was next off, if only to keep him from exploding (if you snapped him in half it would say “I love racing!” all the way through), Julian was also keen and went away third.  Marcus was more relaxed (or was it the lure of the family and the home-cooked delights of the William’s race van) so I went off fourth.  By now the course was getting pretty cut up in places, so lap times were starting to slow (well, that is my excuse!).

bike at bontrager

Bluebell Wood, with its sinewy single-tracks, roots and bomb-holes, a perennial feature of racing at Newnham was getting sticky, the “pits and whoops” feature at the top corner of the course began to resemble the communal team bath after a 1970s rugby match, and the off-camber return to the shooting ground as a trail feature to decisively separate the real mountain bikers from the rest! (Note to self – more practice on filthy off-camber roots.)

I’m not going to pretend that this wasn’t hard work.  Unlike Mayhem the rain had stopped and the mud was drying out.  Lap by lap conditions shifted, one section became unrideable, while dry lines developed on others, there was pushing to be done – but this is mountain biking!  If your idea of a challenge is staying upright on a wet chicane at Castle Coombe and  you want bone dry racing then dump your freewheel and get over to Newport – welcome to the elements.  Deal with it!

Overnight, as lap times stretched, the organisers took sensible decisions to shut some of the most cut-up sections of track, and this helped everyone waiting in handover to keep smiling. There was still plenty of challenge, and some new lines were opened, that were at least as fun as the originals (Newnham has so much riding).

At midnight we decided that a lap and a half buffer in the Open Men category was comfortable enough to allow us to switch to double laps and get some proper kip (for some this was the third big race in four weekends) at the end of our third full rota.  Finishing my lap I quickly ran through the routine:  dump bike in the river (better than a pressure wash and no queue), dump self in river (not as cold as it looked), TF2 the drive train/headset/bb, eat, wet lube the bike, check lights and then bedtime!

Darkness and sticky course conditions meant our double laps were taken a steady pace (except Marc who sped up).  At breakfast time a total of 27 laps looked doable.  I was done and safe for 2 mugs of tea and 2 bacon baps (courtesy of Iain’s family – now that’s what I call in-laws!).  After Iain’s lap it was clear that conditions were now better than ever and so 28 was on the cards.  Although cheerful as ever, Julian’s eyes looked like Wylie Coyote after a heavy night out (the mud not being kind to them), it would be cruel to let him go. Muggins, again.  Digging out my last set of dry kit I headed to transition.

Lucky. How things can change in a day.  This is the delight of 24 hour racing.  The constantly shifting conditions and fortunes mean that if you push on through adversity you get your reward.  With the Sun shining strongly this was a cracking lap, grippy, flowy and fun.  Entering the final descent I spotted the team in second place, let go of my brakes and seized the chance to nick another lap off them (fair play Kernow – very consistent lapping).  Entering the arena with 45 seconds to spare I was offered the chance of another lap, but funnily enough my team mates were all changed into civis, so instead I shook the hand of Keith Bontrager, accepted a bottle of local-brewed beer from Martyn Salt and Weldtite Endurance called it a day, 3 laps up.

Special mention to last year’s Weldtite team find – Kate Burley, racing solo this year and winning the Open Women’s 12 hour with a gutsy display of consistent riding – now you are a fully-fledged proper mountain biker!

Many thanks to all the organising team for persevering through nature’s trials to put on a very good event.  Thanks to patient and supportive families, whether present in pits or holding the fort elsewhere.

The Weldtite Endurance team

Another great weekend:

1 Camping in beautiful countryside

2 Living amongst generous company

3 Racing on a classic course

4 Feeling the warmth of the morning Sun

5 Shaking the hand of an mtb legend

6 The rock solid team spirit of old friends

7 Being a part of something


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