Triple Challenge Leg One

Van Gaalen’s 24 Hour MTB Race – 2016

The first stage of our ER Consulting Triple Challenge was the 24 hour mountainbike race in the Magaliesburg.

This was Bianca’s and my second attempt at 24 houring. Last year, at the same event, Bianca completed 19 laps and 250 km for third lady home. I shuffled round for 17 laps and 224 km for 11th place in the solo men’s field.

Just looking at the above statement one can see that new targets immediately standout for this year. Bianca decides a win is possible with the right bike ( she rode single speed in 2015 ) and more training.  I just hate 11th place.

Rain upon arrival at the campsite

Rain upon arrival at the campsite

Making the best of hiding from the rain

Making the best of hiding from the rain

We arrive the day before the race to camp and drink beer. Carbo-loading.

As we set up the tents the heavens open and the forecast is bleak for the whole weekend. The race starts at midday on Saturday and the forecasters predict rain from 17h00 and all through the weekend. We prepare for a mudbath and I change my modus operandi. I had scheduled a day of two lap cycles ( Ha Ha! ) and then into the camp for a 10 minute break and back out. The new plan is to ride as far as possible before the rain comes and then take it from there.

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The off-go is a Le Man’s start where everyone runs to their bikes and hops on. I walk and start in last place, no rush for me. I am riding my new Qhubeka Buffalo heavymetalbike, solid steel, single speed, pedal-back brake and no suspension. I am also testing some new parts such as the fork, wheels and BB.

Colin and Bianca just before the start.

Colin and Bianca just before the start.

The first obstacle is a narrow wooden bridge over a deep gully, no problem, then a huge drop into the same gulley (why, can’t they afford two bridges? ) and back up the huge slope out. Luckily I had packed crampons, pitons and ice axe so I managed to get 20kg of Buffalo out the slime pit. Next a lovely flowing single track through the woods and through tunnels cut into massive reed beds. I am enjoying last place on my own, so peaceful, until we turn left onto some mown grass. Bianca called it the Grassy Knoll. This was no Knoll! This was three kilometres of sheer pain in the butt. A Knoll is a large single bump. This next stretch could be described as a MegaKnoll, or one million Knolls per kilometre. Pain, exceptional pain and more pain. Finally back on some perfect single track in the riverine woods with lots of dongas to descend and climb. For two kilometres there is no rest as you have to surge and pedal hard to get out each ditch every 50m or so. No rhythm method could be found on my bike. I reach half way which is a river crossing over a concrete bridge and up the steep embankment on the other side. Walkies time again. Turn right onto a good dirt road and up the biggest hill. Swing off the dirt onto a rough jeep track and a technical burst over a little steel bridge, 1 m high by 1 m wide and 1 m long.

Pick up speed as most of the run in is down or flat. Back into the forest and charge over a long narrow steel mesh bridge at high speed. See odd bits of bicycle detritus in the river as some riders seem not to have made the complete journey across in one piece. Enjoying myself now as the single tracks are so smooth and well prepared, totally forgetting that soon I would have to do the Grassy Knolls again. Three more sharp drops into and out of dongas, through two more reed tunnels and swing right over a swing bridge. It is very swingy but made it in one piece. Nice flat section now to the finish of the lap.

Repeat x 7

At least the weather cleared up and held

At least the weather cleared up and held

Had a break and fitted lights as the sun goes down, the rain starts and immediately stops. That’s it. No rain for the entire race, wonderful, but now my plan is up the creek ( which I have already crossed 30 times today ).

Now comes trouble. It is dark in the depths of the forest and even with lights it is impossible to see all the jutting rocks, slippery roots and mini Knolls. My body is taking a huge bashing and sense of humour failure is approaching. With suspension it might have been fun but all I could do was hang on, slow down  and suffer. Mario Andretti ( F1 Champ ) once said, “ If everything seems under control you are simply not going fast enough”. B*gg#r that, I’m slowing down. I was doing 45 min laps, now down to 60 mins.

Trouble never comes alone. To add to my woes I seem to have picked up a tummy bug and it is very difficult to eat anything or even drink. To avoid heaving on the track I resort to minimal food intake and drinking tea.

By 21h15 I had completed 10 laps, well ahead of schedule but the rest of the 24 hours was looking bleak. I took a two hour rest and resolved to do single laps until I drop. I must beat last years 17 laps and I must not finish 11th again. We soldier on wearily through the night, my legs, which were becoming like tree trunks are now a pair of little okes.

Dawn breaks with 14 laps in the bag, now the lights come off and I can go a little faster, Ha Ha Ha!!!. Even though I can now see the pain coming my lap times are stuck just below one hour. 17 laps arrive with 70 minutes to go to the bell. I drink more tea, resist the urge to hurl the liquid into the bushes and struggle round my groundbreaking 18th lap finishing with a couple of minutes to spare. Dun and dusted, a day of dirt, dongas, ditches and diatribe.

Bianca has a stunning ride and has been swapping first and second positions with another rider for the whole 24 hours and eventually finishes in second with 24 laps, 317 km.

Me, I got 8th with 18 laps and 224 km.

This obviously leaves us with two targets for next year! ( First place for Bianca and 250 km for me )

Colin at prizegiving

Colin at prizegiving

Bianca won cheese. She was happy.

Bianca won cheese. She was happy.

Well done to Victor and family for an excellent race at Van Gaalens Cheese Farm.

Van Gaalens is pretty.

Van Gaalens is pretty, well worth a visit, bike or no bike.

Bianca: I rode my racing MTB, the Hunter Six50. Never one to do things the conventional way, it’s a hardtail and 1×9 speed. I made the cardinal error of not test riding my bicycle after its service and before the event, so it actually ended up being a 1x.6.5 speed. First gear was not engaging properly, while 2nd and 3rd decided a holiday was needed. This lead to some interesting riding up the several short but steep inclines around the route. Still easier than a singlespeed. The grassy knoll took its toll despite the front suspension. By 9pm, my back and my intercostals were hammered. I took to progressively deflating my rear tyre between laps to try get some cushioning, along with possibly toxic doses of paracetamol and (I should know better), Disprin. My major goal, apart from breaking 300km, was to ride through the night in preparation for Everesting – last year I took a nap from 2-6am. I ended up taking a calculated risk between 4 and 5am and lying down. No sleep, just blissful decompression of my aching back. I managed to keep crawling round after forcing down a piece of toast until 11:30ish. A few more lessons were learnt on this 24 hour. I can ride for 24 hours without sleep (about 19 hours were bike-time). I didn’t eat nearly enough to keep me functioning efficiently (sum total: three slices of toast, a bread roll, a mealie, a plate of spaghetti smaller than what I usually eat when not exercising, a rusk and two nectarines). My new lights work well in the dark. Cheese is an excellent reward. Chamois cream needs to be reapplied before the chafing starts. Too much lemon juice in the rehydration solution causes the back of my throat to excoriate and makes eating feel like swallowing razor blades. 

Thanks, as always, to our excellent back up crew of one, Maggie, who ensured we were fed, watered, medicated and always had a fresh bottle of sugar water ready. Also thank you to the team at Van Gaalens for an excellent event (although next year I might petition for a bit more prep on the grassy sections. My poor back). For those who might be anxious about riding a 24 hour event – it’s great fun, enter as a team and see how you go!

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