So I shaved my legs. I had to. I needed to feel like a cyclist. I know. Feeling like a cyclist can be achieved other ways. Ingesting the contents of the medicine cupboard, for example. Oh, I jest. No, the reason I needed to feel like a cyclist if because I was going to race. Now, the best preparation for racing is training, and careful planning and discipline regarding your sleeping patterns and food. Everyone knows this. However, we also know that this isn’t always possible. Try being ill in bed for the time you set aside to train. Try being delayed at airports so that sleep is just a distant wish and getting to bed at a reasonable time is out of the question. Try having to eat junk food in an airport as a result. None of these things were actually preparing me in any way that would actually give a slight advantage. Now realising this, I did the only thing left that I could think of to demonstrate my dedication to the cause. I shaved my legs.
The race in question was Bontrager Twentyfour12, in Newnham Park, Plymouth. Back in 1994 I had watched Johnny Tomac, David Baker, Barry Clarke, and the whole ‘Grundig’ World Cup crew race here. It was now my turn. Only…. It wasn’t. I was stuck 15miles from home on a closed motorway going nowhere. Getting there for the start of the 24hr period was out of the question. Luckily I had planned with Rory from USE to ride duo for the ‘Torch Bearer 12hr’ starting at midnight. I had wanted to be there to see Sally Bigham start though, not to mention Trevor doing 24hr solo.
Once racing it went well. I felt pretty good despite piss poor preparation. I also remembered just how much fun riding in the dark could be. Rory was flying too. Admittedly, he has been a better athlete than I ever have, but his lap times were giving me something to live up to. I had to push to keep us in the game.
Endurance racing through the night is a strange old thing. I don’t know if you can like it. At the time, there is a little voice saying softly and menacingly in my head “you know, you don’t have to do this. This is silly. Go to sleep”, on the other hand, you get in after a lap and want to do the next one. It is like a reverse drug or something.
The events themselves do the best to be a little surreal too. From the jazz singer belting out the songs in the arena at 2.30am, to the full on disco with smoke machine and lazer in the furthest part of the forest. It makes you raise a wry smile.
The course was great. I mean really really good. Really good for a days ride through the woods. Possibly less well suited, if we are being honest, to 24 hour racing. The technical sections were pretty technical, and there was little respite throughout the lap in which to recover. The singletrack though… it was all worth it for the singletrack.
Back to those technical sections….. well, the effect of 2500 people riding on a course doing laps is that anything that might be slippery will be polished by skidding tyres and become like glass. Tiredness also sets in, and as daylight comes, there is a little thing telling you that you should be going faster. That is when it happened. On my fourth lap, in the rooty section something went wrong. The bike suddenly stopped moving forward and I was thrown over the bars. I landed on my face and head, smashing my helmet and giving me a mouth full of mud. The high pitched ‘you’ve been hit hard in the face’ sound rang in my ears. My nose must be bleeding. I must have lost teeth. I will certainly have two black eyes. Will I be able to ride back to the arena?
I decided to take five mins at the side of the course to gather my thoughts. Not that “fuck” really needs much gathering in the thought process. My knees hurt, and my face did. Grab the water bottle and wash yourself off a bit, was the only thought going through my head now.
Most of it was mud. Some of it, on my knees, was blood. But most was just mud. My teeth were all in my mouth and fine. Vision was okay. Helmet, well, muddy, but appeared all right. Bike, okay. I got on and gingerly rode back to the arena.
Rory was there, waiting…. “You know what bud, I think it is over for me. I landed on my head.”
“Go and see first aid, I’ll be back in a bit”.
The helmet was smashed, cracked in a couple of places and clearly having taken a knock with compression visible too. There were no other injuries, and I was patched up. My neck ached, so I called it a day. I became a spectator, and that was almost as good.
Sometimes its nice when you can recognise some of yourself in someone else. Trevor, riding around there with the gritty determination that I now lack in my riding, reminded me of how I used to be. He was clearly pushing things farther than he had before and was in a trance like state. He knew that he just had to hold it up to take third. He did, and everyone, all of the crew and myself were delighted for him. It was a great ride, and he deserved the place up there on the podium,
That afternoon I drove back to my parents place to shower and eat. There, pealing the dressings off, I couldn’t help but think how much more it would have hurt if I was ripping hairs out too. My preparation had paid off after all.