A report from Dickon Hepworth, who rode for Team Santa Cruz along with Marc Beaumont and Will Longden...
Last weekend saw the inaugural Bontrager 24/12 event take place at Lodgewood Park, near Ellesmere in Shropshire. Scorchio weather and what promised to be a 'proper' mountain bike course had us all hot under the collar - but also lacking a few essential items. Namely riders.
The dog days of July are traditionally time off for our DH team, as they recover from the previous few months of jet setting and the occasional 3 minute race. So who better to recruit for a 12hr endurance fest?
A few calls later and the deal was done - our current national DH champ Marc Beaumont, riding his first ever XC race, and the evergreen Will Longden, national 4X champ and no stranger to the odd XC race albeit not for a few years (and a few hair styles ago). Bikes of choice: a brace of Nomads and a Blur 4X. Complete with DeeMax and 2.3 tyres. Baggies were also pre requisite to complete the 'core' look. What else...oh yeah - there was only 3 of us lined up against all the other teams of 4.
First off, the course. And what a ripper! About 80% technical singletrack, steep chute descents, short power climbs and dusty as an undertaker's window sill. 11km of gnadgery trails that would require 100% concentration, and see off all the lycra clad roadies with their hardtails between their legs. The weather was a sultry 30 odd degrees on Saturday, but with the chance of a late afternoon thunderstorm or two.
The start was midday and with an 'on bike' start of around 300 riders we needed a flyer to get into the singletrack first and away from the inevitable carnage behind. So who better to gate it off the line and keep his elbows out than 4X champ Will? As long as he could keep going for more than 30 seconds we'd be laughing (although probably at his expense).
Lining up Will's competitive instinct took over, and with a "I'm not getting behind this lot" he was soon on the front row.
A neutral first 200 metre roll out was soon over and as the riders passed under the start/finish banner Will was well placed in the top ten.
As Will disappeared out of sight and into the dust, our thoughts turned to preparation for our first laps and wondering how Will was getting on. That soon passed however and we sat down with a coffee and a magazine.
Marc was out next with his XC'ed up Nomad. Well, OK he had a narrow rear tyre on. A great first lap by Will had achieved 2 things: one was knacker Will out completely; two was set us up well in the top half of the field. Good going!
Marc rolled out, looking a little nervous as to how to take his first XC outing, but soon got into the swing of things on the technical course and was seen ripping it up on pretty much every section.
Things progressed well into the afternoon, until just as I was about to leave for my 3rd lap the rain finally arrived and a deluge of biblical proportions soon enveloped the course. The super dusty track almost immediately turned to mud, and additionally almost immediately turned most riders into sliding, slithering, cursing shadows of their former selves.
I loved it though, and aside from nearly eating it several times on the initial grass field run out alongside the campsite really enjoyed the levelling experience the mud brought. I think I rode more sideways kilometres than forward ones though.
Keeping properly hydrated is very important during long endurance events, even when it's wet, so it was at this point I decided to start on the 'larger-y' beer.
At this point however the rain stopped. Good you might think. But unfortunately turned the nice sloppy thin mud into glutinous treacle mud. Will bore the brunt of this unfortunately and had a 'bad' lap consisting of 50% running / 50% slithering. After a quick Dirt Worker shower and some food he was soon raring to go. Alright, he had decided not to go home.
Going home was what a surprising number of folk decided to do at this point. Wussies.
However some benefit may have come from this, as on nonchalantly checking our current position we were staggered, nay gob smacked, to find out we were in 3rd position. Blimey. I was pretty shocked at this unexpected turn of events so had to lay down and have another beer.
Dust turned to mud, and day turned to night. The high temperature combined with the deluge had turned much of the forest into something resembling the Amazon rainforest: mist and steam continued to rise through the branches and trees as the track continued to dry itself out, helped along by the still healthy number of riders.
The night laps were pretty fun, especially as the tight and twisty course made riding without a helmet mounted light a bit like a game of match the shadows to the big tree stumps you were vaguely remembering from the daylight laps. However we seemed to consolidate our position and as midnight approached it looked as if we were good for the podium.
Marc was cooked at this point, not surprisingly having put in the fastest lap of the race for our team, so the elder statesmen Will and myself led it home to rapturous applause, fireworks and bikini clad podium girls. OK then - 2 girlfriends, Marc and a cold beer.
17 laps in all (the winners did 19, but with 4 riders so they don't really count), 2 laps ahead of 4th place at the end. Marc's first XC podium and a healthy supply of Wrench Force track pumps to reward us for our efforts.
So, if a team of 3 guys including a 4X specialist, a top 5 world ranked DH rider, some big bikes and baggy shorts can have this much fun and beat lots of lycra wearing XC stick men....then shouldn't you have a go too?