This year has been a long journey, starting way back in February with my first races of the year and now I am ready to take on the biggest, most important race of the year. I have travelled all the way to Australia to do so and will be racing the Scott 24hr race in the Solo category. Held annually at Canberra it has become the largest 24hr race in Australia and one of the biggest in the world. It has been almost 18 months since my last 24hr solo, which was the 2011 UK/Euro Champs that I won. This year I decided to only do one 24hr since they take so long to recover from.
Why travel all the way here to race? Simply because this is set to be the hardest, most competitive 24hr race of the year. Jason English is an Australian rider who has dominated the discipline for years, unbeaten in a 24hr race. Cory Wallace, top Canadian racer will also be here. Cory won Old Pueblo earlier this year, the biggest 24hr race in America and finished 2nd in the 2010 World Solo Championships. Then there is Ollie Whalley, Tour Divide racer and something of an unknown and some incredibly strong Australian riders, including local Canberran Andrew Hall, Ed McDonald and Sam Chancellor, all names to watch out for.
Since arriving in Australia we spent one day in Sydney, but headed down to Canberra as soon as possible to get as much time on course as possible. I raced here in 2010 during the WSC and have some really good memories but also some painful ones as I had a disappointing race, suffering with the heat and exposure of the course, ending up finishing in 6th position when I really felt able to challenge for a podium. Hopefully I can put that right this year! Read About it here
Mt Stromlo is quite a venue, the whole mountain and parts of Canberra were devastated during the 2003 bush fires. Before then there were trails on the mountain, but nothing official. The process of rebuilding Canberra included building the facility that exists now. As well as a running track, crit track and equestrian trails there are the MTB routes, designed and built for the 2009 UCI World Championships. Over 60km of XC singletrack, a DH course that gave Steve Peat his rainbow stripes and 4X, dirt jump and trails tracks. It is simply amazing.
The course for the Scott 24hr is a little different to back home, essentially there are two loops: red & blue, each roughly 15km long and takes about 45min to complete. It sounds complicated, but it actually pretty simple and means that all the team/solo riders are spread out over 30km, rather than 15km but you can still have pit facilities after each loop. The terrain is extreme for such a long race, brutal in fact. Rough, rocky, hilly and relentless. The climbs are twisty and mostly singletrack and the downhills are fast and rough. There really is no chance to rest or recover and I’ve even had to get used to drinking when on singletrack because there is so much of it. Probably the most fun section is called Skyline and here is some Go Pro footage of it.
Since arriving in Canberra everyone has been extremely helpful, the race organisers can’t do enough to help and fellow racer Andrew Hall has shown me some of the local riding and even invited us round for food. Just like back home the 24hr racers here are all good friends off course. I have also met up with Steven Callaghan, a bike shop owner in Canberra who will be my mechanic for the race. The connection was brought about through Wiggle, as they are huge here in Australia simply because the prices and service is so good. Steven has embraced Wiggle and is the service centre here in Canberra. It is a great solution for people here who order from Wiggle, Steven offers a free first service on bikes, warranty help and support and 25% off labour should people require help fitting anything they have bought. Great idea!
The race kicks off at midday on Saturday (2am back in the UK) and there will be live timing during the event, so anyone can track the progress. On top of this Nia will be in the pits and as well as supporting me she will be tweeting updates to my account, @mattpage24. The forecast is for cooler weather, which will hopefully suit me better than the heat of 2010. You might think Australia is just hot and dry, but Canberra has a different climate. It is capable of getting hot, but now in Spring the days are mild, up to 20 degrees at the moment but the nights get very cold, even to 0 degrees. That will be a real challenge to deal with.
Roll on Saturday, I am ready to give it everything I have!