"If you're going through hell, keep going." ~Winston Churchill
Very poignant words indeed, which may have struck a cord or two with many of the competitors lined up in the village of Newcastleton last weekend ready to start their own personal journeys in pursuit of European and UK victories in the third edition of 24 Hours of Exposure.
Once again this prestigious event attracted riders from all over Europe to battle it out over a demanding 11 mile course, comprising of enough flowing singletrack to keep you grinning and enough leg burning climbing, over 1500ft per lap, to help keep you awake!
The weekend was kicked off by two new additions to the race format - the 12 and 24 minutes kids races that saw children as young as 4 take part in their own mini versions of the championships. Braving the weather, a multitude of youngsters tore up and down their own special course to much cheering and shouting from the spectators. This of course set the tone for the weekend, fortunately without the wet weather!
As race time neared riders headed from the event village at Rock UK for the traditional sign on and start in the welcoming village of Newcastleton, who once again lined the street ready to cheer the legions of riders about to start their epic race. Whether riders were embarking on their first attempt at the distances, had personal demons to put to rest or scores to settle it was clear it was going to be another great series of personal challenges colliding to produce an action packed event.
With two time 24 Hour UK champion Matt Page now opting for the 12 hour, along with veterans Rich Rothwell and Ant White who had also opted for the shorter distance, the door was wide open for a new 24 hour champion. Keen to fill that spot was Josh Ibbett, the young rider having led the race for many hours over the previous years but failed to be in top spot by Sunday afternoon. Swapping his singlespeed for a plethora of geared bikes returning 2011 singlespeed champion Dan Treby had his sights firmly set on the overall title, along with 'Big' Rob Dean, also keen to put his demons to rest on this course.
At noon the Copshaw Common Riders lead the peloton through their village to the strains of Bonny Prince Charlie and the familiar Bag Pipe lead out. Hours of pedaling, pushing, freewheeling, bonking, pleading, cajoling, crying, laughing, eating, drinking, had begun….
Dutch veteran rider Ronald Kros led the race up the hill, with big hitters Page, Treby, Dean, Ibbett, White and Rothwell heading up the peloton. As the procession of brightly coloured riders left the tarmac and disappeared onto the challenging trails the spectators, supporters and essential pit crews settled down ready for the burst of life that would be unleashed every hour or so as the riders hit the event village at the end of their lap.
First through the arena was Rich Rothwell, a man certainly on a mission trading in his usual 24 hours for a mere sprint of 12 and an eye on the Giro 'Hot Lap' competition. Ant White was close by, followed by a fast moving Josh Ibbett in the 24 hour open race, with Matt Page keeping them all in his sights.
In the women's 12 hour, elite cross-country rider Maddie Horton went out fast and opened up a blistering lead on lap one, consistently churning out 10 laps to take both the UK and European titles, along with the fastest female lap of the day. Second place in the European race went to Polish rider Iwona Szmyd with 9 laps, who took the Rookie jersey for her troubles in her first 12 hour race, and UK rider Jane Chadwick clocking up 8 laps to grab 3rd in the European Championships and 2nd in the UK Championships.
Meanwhile in the veteran men's race, Rothwell's opening pace was starting to take its toll. Six laps in and Rothwell was being reeled in, by lap 8 his times were dropping off, leaving enough room for White to squeeze past and grab the 12 Hour European and UK titles by just over 12 minutes, leaving a disappointed Rothwell to pick up second, both finishing on 11 laps. Michael Powell picked up 3rd and despite dropping a spot from his previous years silver was delighted to be on the podium in such a quality field. All eyes were now on the younger rider Matt Page who has carved out a formidable career in endurance racing over the years, scooping numerous wins along the way.
On paper it looked like this might be another win to add to his extensive tally, however, a blown tyre at the start of lap six put him firmly on the back foot; travelling light, Page didn't have the right tools for the job and lost valuable minutes weighing up his options. This left a narrow window of opportunity for the lead to change and Dave Powell grabbed it with both hands. Soon the event village was awash with the shock news that Powell was now in prime position with Page in hot pursuit and over the next 5 laps Page pulled out all the stops to make up the lost time. Powell rode strongly and held off the challenge to be crowned the open men's 12 Hour European and UK Champion by just over 3 minutes. Page took second place, his only consolation was grabbing the fastest lap of the day with a 56'55" and was handsomely rewarded with a custom Giro Aeon helmet in the new 'Hot Lap' competition. Phil Simcock, Powell's team mate, grabbed third just ahead of Morvelo Rookie winner Tom Wragg, who in turn just headed off singlespeed winner Chris Noble, who picked up a cracking set of Halo 29er wheels along with the snazzy Halo Singlespeed European Champion jersey. The new Interservices category 12 hour award went to seasoned Royal Navy rider Rob Smith finishing 6th overall in the veteran category.
While celebratory beers were sunk on the finish line for all those finishing at midnight, the 24 hour racers still rumbled by into the small hours of the increasingly cold night. As this race unfolded, one by one the pre-race favourites fell by the wayside. First to go was Rob Dean, his commitment to the race underlined when I was informed he had swallowed his own vomit twice along the way, "to keep the calories in". This wasn't enough and after 9 laps he climbed off. Close behind was a very disappointed Dan Treby who called it a day after 10 laps when a dodgy stomach left him unable to continue. Meanwhile out in front, fresh from his adventures in Africa was affable youngster Josh Ibbett. Could this finally be his year? Unfortunately despite leading the race well into the early hours, with an incredible 16 hours and 14 laps under his belt Ibbett took the hard decision to abandon the race, meaning it wasn't going to be 3rd time lucky.
Stepping up to the challenge and leading Wales to a successful day was Huw Thomas. Last year he grabbed silver as a Rookie 12 hour rider and decided he'd like to tackle the 24. With just two 24 hour races under his belt and six months of focused training he achieved his target a took the open men's 24 Hour European and UK titles with a massive 20 laps and a comfortable buffer of two laps over 2nd placed Portuguese rider Rodolfo Dias who had produced consistently steady laps to work his way up through the diminishing field. Whilst a delighted Gareth Hayes completed a grand day out for Wales by grabbing 3rd in the European race and second in the UK race.
One of the epic rides of the day had to go to yet another Welshman Matthew Duggan. His decision to ride the 24 hour on a singlespeed only occurred 4 weeks before the event. His reasoning being that there would be a lot less to go wrong… Despite best-laid plans he only finished his bike on the morning of the race and his first experience of riding it was down to the start line. It was certainly a learning curve! Despite this he carved out an incredible 17 laps to place himself 6th overall and the Halo Singlespeed Champion, topped off by a lie down in an ambulance as his efforts took their toll whilst waiting for the prize presentations.
Another epic tale comes from rider Chris Howell who, thanks to a mechanical, found himself plunging from the top 5 in the early stages to the depths of despair as he slid way down after a 2hr 30min lap on lap six. This may have been the nail in the coffin for many riders, but Howell pushed on undeterred, and over the remains of the race clawed his way back to an incredible 5th spot, with I suspect the words, "What if?" ringing in his ears!
Mark Spratt successfully defended his European and UK title in the 24 hour veteran category also churning out an incredible 20 laps, ahead of top placed Rookie rider Jason Hynd in 2nd and Dave Griffiths in 3rd. Former Portuguese champion Pedro Maia narrowly missed out on a podium position with his 13 laps bringing him home in a worthy 4th spot, bettering his 2011 position by 6 places!
This time last year Rachel Sokal had her eyes set on making her debut in the 12 hour race, but an unfortunate accident put paid to her ambitions. Fully mended and raring to go this year Rachel upped the anti, entering her first 24 hour race. She led from the start, only losing time to nearest rival 2011 European Veteran Champion Emma Cutler in the closing 4 laps, but she had enough in the tank to hold off the threat, coming home to be rewarded with a grand tally of 14 laps to grab the European, UK and Rookie jerseys, plus the Giro 'Hot Lap' helmet for the fastest 24 hour women's lap. Cutler took second with Amy Baron-Hall in 3rd holding off a Portuguese challenge by Sonia Lopes.
Graham Mcconaghy, affectionately known as 'Irish', took all bulls by the horns, entering his first 24 hour on a singlespeed. Unfortunately he grabbed second in both the rookie and singlespeed categories but managed to get an apt reward by winning the 24 Hour Interservices category for the Army Cycling Union with 15 strong laps.
Yet again the 24 Hours of Exposure provided an amazing day of epic rides and epic tales with more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. Luckily the rain held off for the majority of the race and the course was a worthy test for crowning UK and European Champions. All that rode were winners in their own rights. Many thanks to everyone who helped make the event the special day that it was.
Congratulations to all who took part, but thanks to all the behind the scenes people without whom events like this would never happen:
Exposure Lights, Rock UK, Halo, Giro, Morvelo, Kinesis, Saddle Skedaddle, Torq, Juice Lubes, CIC 7Stanes, BikeSeven, Joolze Dymond, Forestry Commission Scotland and the people of Newcastleton.