Written by James Pierce
This weekend just passed Darren and Ryan lined up and took on WEMBO – the World 24 hour solo mountain bike race at Mount Stromlo. Chucky, LJ and I lined up for a different race, the one on the sideline in the team pits.
Darren and Ryan, with the green machine at T-minus 30 minutes
When you turn up to a 100 kilometre marathon or a 6 hour enduro a few spare bottles and some gels will normally get you through. A pairs enduro: add a down jacket and a chair. A teams enduro and you need more chairs and a tent. A solo 24 hour race however is a whole other thing. This is our story from the other side of the line.
The mission seems simple: keep your riders moving for as many of the 1440 minutes in 24 hours as possible. The reality is a bit more complicated. We armed ourselves with a half a bike shop of spares, tubs of food, bags of clothes, chairs, sleeping bags and a massage table.
The race starts with blue sky, dusty trails and searing sun. By mid-afternoon there are many cases of sunburn in our pits, yet we had spent most of the day sitting in the shade of our race tents (graciously loaned by SRAM). Our riders however are cooking. After 3 hours they look like they had been racing for 8 – salt-crusted faces and kit. By the time we swap Ryan onto his spare bike to set up his lights for the 5:30 cut off we'd already mixed and administered 17 bottles of hulk juice (Staminade).
Each lap follows a familiar rhythm: note what time the rider came in, how long their last lap was and estimate their next arrival time. Then prepare more bottles, guess what food they will want next time and make that as well. Every few laps give the chain a quick clean and lube. Ryan became predictably easy to look after – he would only eat potato salad lap after lap despite us trying to tempt him with everything but. Darren on the other hand took a different feeding approach – roll in, sit in a chair and eat whatever was pushed in his direction. He also gave us a tweet quote every lap at the same time.
The first break from routine comes when night falls and lights go on and we start to get more clothes ready for us and the riders.
Darren, as night falls
They call the early hours of the morning during a 24 hour the witching hour. Past half way but it's still a long way to go. The temperature drops, your natural circadian rhythm dips and the pain really sets in for the riders. With a support crew full of active riders used to going to bed early, staying up all night is hard for us too. We take it in turns to try curling up under a sleeping bag, to stay warm and maybe drift off for 20 minutes. The temperature however had dropped so much that down jackets and ski jackets are not enough. Outside the safety of a sleeping bag we all shiver while we jump up and down to stay warm waiting for our riders.
It's really hard at this stage to see your mates on bikes hurting. We wipe their faces and push more food (that they don't want to eat anymore) into their mouths. We jam another bottle onto their bike and then slap them on the back with some cheerful words as they ride off into the dark again to suffer for another hour.
As the sun rises both our riders are on the sideline with us – but that's their story to tell. For the pit crew our morning looks a little like this.
Chucky and LJ, grabbing some sleep
On the trip home, support crew and riders alike are starting to plan and improve our approach for the next one.