BikeRoar contributing writer, the mountain bike suffer lover and podium contender aka "Hubcap", recently raced the Kona 24hr solo in Queensland, Australia. We asked him for a report and here is what he had to say...
The Challengers Arrive...
In its 6th year the Kona 24hr saw one of the strongest fields assembled in this part of the world for a long time. The moving of the Solo Nationals from its traditional Easter long weekend to November saw a few big hitters looking for a race to fill the void.
Four current or former world champions, (2 age groupers, 2 in single speed), as well as last year's elite runner up were all on the start line.
While every attempt is being made to remove any rocks or tree roots from our local trails, Old Hidden Vale, (the venue), bucks this trend and remains very rough and raw. The rocky terrain only gets rougher as time wears on. What used to be dust with the odd rock poking through is now rock with the odd dust poking through! In addition to a number of bigger drops, the constant jarring from small bumps created by cattle on the property wreaks havoc with even the softest set ups. Big wheels, low pressure, dual suspension and gel grips are the order of the day at OHV.
I came into the race a little underdone physically; I've spent more time hunched over my text books than over my handle bars this year so I didn't know how the race would go. A couple of 8hr events earlier in the year gave me the confidence I could go okay. A quick perusal of the start list in my category showed I'd have to be on my game.
With a happy sun beaming down on the restless crowd for the midday start, Andrew Lloyd (2013 world solo elite runner-up) and Sean "Bozza" Bekkers (reigning 30-34 world champion and defending Kona champion) took off from the gun setting the fastest laps of day, beating all the team and 4hr riders to claim the hole shot.
A quick blast up the fire road allowed the field to spread before the first section of single track. The remainder of lap was punctuated with gentle climbs and fun descents for a total lap of 16 km/10 miles and about 300m/1,000ft of climbing. Team riders were consistently lapping well under 60 minutes, while by 6pm most soloists saw their lap times creep up over the hour mark.
Most played it conservative through the afternoon and expected performers all started to put big gaps on the rest of the field as dusk brought welcome relief from the heat. As the lights went on a few pace setters started to slow while the diesel powered riders started to make up some ground.
I always try to enjoy the first 6hrs of a 24hr as much as I can. The track is in the best condition it will be for the whole race, your bike should be running mint and there's daylight to see your way with!!
It didn't quite go that way this time though. My lap times were consistent and competitive enough, save for a shifter needing to be taken apart after a few hours costing me 10 minutes on lap 3, yet try as I might, the race just didn't seem to be unfolding nicely for me.
“My hands very quickly went numb thanks to some residual nerve damage from last year's event...”
My hands very quickly went numb thanks to some residual nerve damage from last year's event and I seemed to lack any real power in my legs forcing a lot of granny ring climbing where I had no choice but to cede places. I was 4th in category and about 10th overall at sunset.
Thankfully 24hr races aren't won in the first 6hrs, although having already being lapped by the 2 riders in my category who happened to get first and second last year overall did dent my hopes of a high overall finish.
As the night wore on I started to feel better and better. I can recall passing through the pits having ridden 160 km and telling my pit crew "now it's time to party". I'd worked my way up to 2nd in category and about 6th overall by this point. This feeling continued until around 5-5.30 am, all of a sudden I felt terrible, very tired, slow reflexes, weak legs, it was all falling apart. I couldn't even ride up the gentlest of gradients so I got off to push my bike then it went black, for a while. The next thing I knew my mate Gavin was shaking my shoulder telling me to get up. He nursed me around the rest of the lap (got to finish your lap!) and straight to the medical tent. A quick blood test was done and turns out my blood sugar had dropped so low that I blacked out.
A coke and a pizza immediately lifted both my mood and my blood sugar! It was decided that I should have a lay down for a while to reassess my condition when I woke up. Third place had also stopped to sleep but my lead was down to 1 lap with a 4 hours to go so after a 90 minute sleep I needed to get back onto my bike if I was to keep the podium position I desperately wanted.
With Aaron in the pits feeding me coke and sandwiches and my training buddy chaperoning me around the course, (dressed in Rabbit onesie no less!), I was able to get back out and do a few more laps to ensure I held onto 2nd in my category and 8th overall.
In the end I only rode 270 km down from over 300 last year. Given the circumstances, rougher track, hotter temperatures plus my little episode I'm happy with the result. No one from last year's top 6 managed to ride further this year which reflects the less ideal conditions of this year's race.