Singular rider Steve Day sent though this report of his amazing win in the Singlespeed category of the 24hr solo mountain bike world championships held last weekend in Rotorua, New Zealand.
This was going to be a short trip… Disappointment in Weaverville in October last year left me with unfinished business. After picking up a rotator cuff injury 4 weeks before WEMBO-2015, I was forced to retire after 16 hours having lead for 9 hours in the singlespeed category. Limited holiday allowance meant flying out as late as possible, and straight back, so I would only be in New Zealand for 3.5 days! Once my wife, Ingrid, had agreed to me having another crack at the race, a training plan was drafted with Jon Fearne at E3coach.com to get me ready, including a trip to Southampton university sports science lab to focus the training a bit more precisely. All of this had to work around letting my shoulder recover fully, whilst maintaining the fitness I had built ahead of Weaverville.
I also needed to find a way to finance the trip… A friend suggested crowdfunding. I had never thought that would work as well as it did. Within a few weeks I was on my way, having raised my target of £1500 to cover the flight, hire car & hotel costs. I have been completely taken aback by the pledges and support that people have given me, including Singular Cycles, and am so grateful for the opportunity to have a second crack at the WEMBO singlespeed title.
It also meant it would be the first 24-hour race without my wife & son there to support me due to how the race fell in relation to school holidays – a somewhat daunting prospect as 24-hour racing isn’t just about the physical & mental strength, it’s also about the support in the pits too. However, one of my sponsors offered some unexpected support… Sam Alison at Singular Cycles put me in touch with his New Zealand distributor, Allan Eng. Not only did he offer support in the pits, he also arranged for a brand new Singular Swift to be there as a back-up bike together with a mechanic and accompanying camper van and family. He was also a good source of inside knowledge on the local riders and the trails. Straight away this made me feel more comfortable about the challenge ahead and helped take some of the stress out of being there without my family for support. Allan did a great job prepping the bike, with some high quality kit on what will be one of his Singular demo bikes after the race.
Thursday afternoon saw me arrive in Rotorua after 27 hours of travelling, having met up with Allan in Auckland to pick up the spare bike & tools. I am glad I decided to go for a hire car rather than the internal flight as, due to the really foul weather, a number of flights had been cancelled! Thursday night saw a massive amount of rain fall out of the sky, with my mechanic, Murray, saying the water level in his pool went up 3.5″! The rest of the evening allowed me to stock up on supplies & prep my bikes before crashing on the bed & sleeping like the dead.
The forecast for Friday was significantly better than earlier in the week, with a few showers forecast for early afternoon, but otherwise being sunny, hot & humid. The bikes were thrown in the back of my hire car and 10 minutes later saw me at the Rotorua trails where the organisers were desperately trying to clear the standing water by digging new drainage ditches due to the 200mm of rain that had fallen in the last few days.
Local info was that a rigid bike might be a challenge on the trails over a 24-hour race, so Friday saw me ride 2 laps – one on each bike. The trails… a bit damp in places, but nothing like the North Warwickshire trails that I have been riding for the last 5 months which have been ankle deep in wet clay. It appeared that the rain had simply left the trails in perfect condition, meaning no dust and a fast surface, but still described as ‘muddy’ by the locals.
My Singular Spitfire was spec’d with a rigid fork and was at home on the Rotorua trails straight away, but the Swift with its suspension fork up front helped absorb some of the braking bumps and roots that littered the course. The 2 laps also gave me some idea as to how tough the heat and humidity would be… especially seeing that my last 2 training rides were in conditions hovering at around freezing – a +25-degree difference! However, the course was excellent – 9 miles of mainly singletrack with enough climbing and technical bits to keep anyone amused for 24 hours – just my sort of riding… putting me in a very happy place ahead of race day. It was also good to see some friendly UK faces in Richard Dunnet (Elite men) and Jason Hynd (45-49 men) and have a chat about racing & bikes.
Saturday saw me getting up early after a really restless night’s sleep, nerves finally getting the better of me… The morning was spent filling time until the start, eating, chatting & prepping the pit crew on what’s required in bottles. It felt good to be in such great, relaxing company.
Race start was 12pm and it was getting hot, with clear blue skies. The elite riders got a traditional Hakka and a 10-minute head start over the rest of the pack to spread things out a bit on the first lap. The rest of us lined up, and I decided to get to the front to avoid getting caught up in traffic on the narrow twisty trails. This saw me riding with fellow a group of 4-5 other riders while watching Australian singlespeeder Ed McDonald disappear up the trail looking like he wanted to take some elite scalps. We spent a few laps chopping & changing positions before things started to spread out as pit-stop strategies began having an effect. I had settled in to a comfortable routine, but after 6 hours, at the point at which lights needed to be on my bike, I decided to swap bikes from the Spitfire to the Swift and take advantage of the front suspension as there were very few smooth line choices of the lap and a little bounce would postpone the onset of fatigue in my upper body.
My lap times were very consistent, and pit stops were slick, with Allan describing them as ‘like being mugged’ as they were so quick. I felt that things were going well as no-one had come past me in a while and I seemed to be picking off a few of the elite riders. At about the 1/2 way mark I received a message that Facebook had just ‘gone bonkers’ as I took the singlespeed lead having reeled Ed McDonald back in and finally put a couple of minutes in to him. I tried to keep my focus and to be consistent with my lap times, drinking and feeding which consisted of Torq bars & gels plus cold electrolyte drinks and cold coffee. At one point in the night I was lapping consistently 5 minutes faster per lap than my singlespeed rivals. These laps in the dark allowed me to stretch my lead slightly, my Exposure lights were faultless and allowed me to maintain my speed and open up a 30 minute lead (1/2 lap) at day-break… Not a massive lead, but a comfortable cushion to allow for any mishaps. Local favourite Garth Weinberg was in a close 3rd and just about a lap down, but putting in some quick laps meaning he was still in contention too.
As Sunday warmed up, riders started suffering. At 20-hours in there was a lot of wandering up and down the pits by support crews trying to get the inside line on Ed & Garth’s strategies for the end of the race and the condition of fellow riders. They were also doing the same in return, and on a number of occasions I pulled in to my pit only to be greeted by Ed’s crew asking me how things were going! Unfortunately Garth had no intention of backing off even though he was well clear of 4th, which would have allowed Ed & I to do some loitering and spare ourselves the pain of an extra lap. My lead was wavering between 15-25 minutes, so the last 4 hours were all about not giving in to the pressure and trying not to blow-up. My last lap was painful – my lower back was in agony and I was struggling to hold on with my left hand properly that saw me slip off a couple of times. I finally crossed the line after 24 hours and 21 minutes, collapsing with exhaustion and the effects of the heat & humidity, but had maintained my lead to take the singlespeed win and also finish 6th overall amongst the Elite men. Ed & Garth finished 2nd & 3rd singlespeed and 7th & 8th overall.
So, now I am the 2016 WEMBO 24-hour Singlespeed World Champion. Something that started over a beer after a 12-hour mountain bike race in August 2014, and has been my focus for the last 18 months. I am proud to bring the title back to the UK and hope to defend it in Italy next year. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my wife & son over the last year and a half and I am so grateful for their love and patience. Likewise, all of those people who made the trip to New Zealand possible through crowdfunder and helped keep me focused through the worst winter weather for training knowing that they thought this was possible too. Also, a thanks to Jon Fearne at e3coach and Julian Rider for their belief in me and their words of support – we got there in the end. Thanks to Allan, Murray, Nicky and Sapin for their time and support over race weekend. And finally a thanks to my other sponsors who have kept me moving over the last 18 months training: Singular Cycles, Fibrax, EDS Bikes, Exposure Lights, Torq, Repack and Hope.