It doesn't seem that long ago that we were unpacking the mass of kit from the last 24hr MTB race, the Original Source Mountain Mayhem sorting out the piles of camping gear, half eaten food and clothing that could have walked to washing machine by itself!
Sleepless in the Saddle (SITS), this year sponsored by Singletrack Mountain Bike Magazine, is the second creation from 24hr event supremo Pat Adams: traditionally it's the more laid back of the two events, smaller in scale and generally with fewer of the Elite teams. It's held at Catton Park near Burton-on-Trent, not a name that immediately leaps to mind when you think of mountain biking destinations but as a 24hr course its good fun, a nice 8-mile course which includes some flowing singletrack and a surprising amount of climbing. None of it brutal but testing enough for the huge range of abilities you get at this event and after 24hrs, any amount of riding is pretty tough!
Racing got underway at 2pm on Saturday with the traditional Le Mans style start, a run of about 800m to the bikes accompanied by jangling cowbells and cheering from the spectators. At this point the weather was pretty decent, the course was fast and dry and some quick laps were being put in as everyone was really keen to get out and give it everything before settling into a sustainable pace.
At 6pm the weather intervened, throwing in a torrential 30-minute downpour which, from the waterproof and cosy confines of my tent sounded like a giant ripping Velcro off the roof. Catton's mud is famous in its ability to turn even the lightest XC race bike into a 50lb immovable lump, turn 1.5" mud tyres into 3" mud-caked slicks and generally destroy mechs and (in some cases) the will to live. Fortunately the course also recovers very well too and although the jetwash area went from being deserted to being a 30-minute queue in a few seconds the mud didn't actually last that long. Helped by cool clear skies, a freshening breeze and the continuing passage of riders the course rapidly dried out to a rock solid hardpack and lap times returned to sub-40 minutes for the fast boys and girls.
Sunday dawned with a spectacular sunrise, the low golden light driving off the last of the muddy conditions and mentally reviving tired souls still plugging round. There were some close battles out on course with 2nd and 3rd placed Solo Men separated by only a few minutes at one point. Out on course though the banter remained good with riders, marshals and spectators all joining in the fun
We sent Richard Seipp along to sample the atmosphere, write a report and take a few snaps. Oh, he also competed as well - over to Richard.
Sleepless In the Saddle 2011 a Rider's Perspective.
SITS is traditionally the last of the big 24 hour races in the calendar. It is characterized by a mellow atmosphere. Not so much a race race, as meet up drink a few beers, the night before, and then let's go ride our bikes and have some fun! The course is bumpy, not especially technical, some short hills. A course good for all abilities of rider.
With a couple of days to go to SITS, I was supposed to be elsewhere, but then a chance to revisit Catton Park appeared. A quick @twitter ask of the mountain bike massive, and ten minutes later I find myself enrolled in a mixed team of five. Good.
Our team conspired of Charlotte, Kat, Ben whom I knew and via a text I enquired, "who else?" ... "a man called Dave" So twitter by tweet we formulated a sort of plan. We were all cyclists of sorts, though only a couple of us were veterans of this event. I was to found base camp. Early doors we headed for Catton Park, and how the sun shined. But not for long.
Catton doesn't need to be pre-ridden, it's not a tech course and what there is, either slowly evolves, or should it rain...well more of that later. I drew the #5 slot for riding in our team. My team mates each returned from their first laps, to tell me how fast and dusty the course was.
My go, I'm off, I'm not the fastest, but I was aiming for a quick lap. Short sleeves weather soon turns into, drizzle, and then into "full on where-are-my-waterproofs?" I'm bathed now in an emulsion of what's been cast from the skies, and what was until recently Catton's dust, now mud. This is fun. Sketchy, slimy rooty, and wet. I push on.
Through the swoopy wood's singletrack a couple of times my rear wheel attempts to overtake my front. Still I stay upright, but only just. With only a quarter of a lap to go, what is feared most on this course shows itself. The grass and clay soil begin their collusion, their aim being to increase one's bike's weight tenfold and to destroy the bike's drivetrain. I stop briefly before the last proper hill to remove the worst of the conglomeration, before racing onwards for the changeover.
There have been tears shed at Catton Park in previous years when the rain has continued, but this year, we were lucky, as the rain did not last. Though the aftermath for the next couple of laps was a thirty minute queue for the free jet wash.
As evening fell, the course started to reveal a fast line again, though the now exposed roots in the woods caught more than a few out. One particular section by daybreak, had near every bit of tape broken by riders, not seeking a short cut, but by their bikes lack of traction choosing an alternative route.
Our team of five rode through the night, an average of one hour on per rider and four off, meant you could grab a sleep but only a short one. Of course whilst we slept the soloists, the stars of this event, rode on.
Thankfully, the weather stayed kind for the rest of the event, and all that was left to do was enjoy the riding and the friendly vibe.
Some comments now from my team mates, and below, from the winning soloists.
Charlotte Haworth, a regular mountain biker, and our team leader interviewed before her final lap.
"I'm lying on my bed in a tent, on the second day of SITS, and am a little bit, but not completely broken. It's been hard, mentally challenging, as well as a bit physically challenging. Not the type of mountain biking I normally do, I'm more into big ups and downs with a cup of tea at the bottom. This hasn't been like that. But I've really enjoyed the course. I might do it again one day."
"I've really enjoyed it. I've ridden mountain bikes for eight years, but have never ridden anything as long as this before, having only done one short mountain bike race before. I enjoyed the challenging riding conditions, especially the slippery rooty bits. I loved the night laps. I want to do this again"
Dave Owens, Swimmer, closet roadie, not a mountain biker.
"Good, hard work. I enjoyed it, a really good experience. It is competitive but in a friendly way, there was a great camaraderie from the other riders on the course, with everyone looking out for everyone else, especially when the course was really muddy.
Amy Baron-Hall, winning lady soloist with 20 laps.
"I've done this before, and again have done the same number of laps. It hurts, but I don't feel as dead as last time. I paced myself better this time, resisting the temptation to ride fast at the start." Preperation? "I ride to work, and for work, so I guess I do 1-200 miles a week."
Mike Hall, men's solo winner with 28 laps.
"That was good, vindication for last year. I had some demons to put to rest after last year's blowing up. It was hard work, some of those lads are strong, even in the last few hours Nathan and Pete (in 2nd and 3rd) were still having a good old battle. I think I'm done with this course now though."