It's early August, the clouds are parting (for one weekend at least) and riders show up at Catton Park - it can mean only one thing; SITS! Joolze Dymond was there to capture the little bit of mud, the smiles and the slightly foxed gazes that only a 24 hour mountain bike race can bring.
After two years of mostly inclement weather it was about time that Sleepless had a dry one. However in the weeks running up to the event the heavens opened at regular occasions, saturating the area and despite competitors being greeted by the rare sight of a blazing yellow orb on the day, the going under tyre was soft - to incredibly squelchy! This was undoubtedly going to be another hard slog! With the weather and conditions uppermost in their mind the course designer crafted a short 11km lap that skirted as much of the soggiest bits it could, the thinking being should the weather gods be displeased and unleash another torrent at least it wouldn't be too far to push or cajole your bike round to the transition area. Fortunately the weather was perfect throughout the event, something that we haven't been able to say for many enduros this year, or last come to that!
At 2.00 pm Saturday the start line was buzzing with those chosen to do the dreaded run, looping back on themselves heading for their bikes to start the first of many laps. As predicted the course was tricky, with the underlying water turning the trails to a sticky porridge, making each pedal revolution a battle in itself, uphill and down. Once again the RAF 1 led the charge, bringing the runners in and headed for the trails first, eventually finishing 24 hours later with 35 laps and two podium spots after scooping the services competition and third spot in the Enthusiast men's race.
Top honour for that race went to some more boys in blue, representing Raleigh/Avanti/Cyclelife. Consisting of Geoff Giddings, Ian Wright, Matt Gee and Matt Williams, these four scorched their way through the event and weren't just satisfied with racing against the Merida boys but they also had the Salsa Factory team in their sights who were racing in the elite men's section.
Just five minutes separated these two teams in the end with the Raleigh boys winning their category and taking the satisfaction of just squeezing ahead of Salsa in their own mini battle!
The Salsa team meanwhile as well as fending off advances by the Raleigh crew were keen to keep themselves in the running for the Elite men's race, but they were up against some tough competition with Clee Cycles/KCNC team consisting of Jon Pugh, Dave Winter, Ben and Andy Jones steadily increasing their lead over the race to eventually finish one lap clear to take the win. Jon Pugh also added to his team honours, by picking up the King of the Night prize after recording the fastest night lap.
Salsa Team honour was upheld however by the women's team, who despite a lack of competition, rode the race like true experts, not shirking at any time to record 28 laps and they also saw team member Anna Buick pick up her prize as Queen of the Night as she went on to record some pretty impressive night laps.
There were fortunately a few more women's teams in the enthusiast's category with the Pink Heifers in the mix once again, would this be their year, after at least three years of being the female equivalent of Raymond Poulidor, surely this 2009 would be theirs. Unfortunately despite their best efforts they couldn't quite unseat the mighty MINX team and had to settle for another commendable second just one lap adrift.
The men's pairs found themselves with one team extra than anticipated after Yeti Cycles/Chris King, found themselves reduced to just two riders, Christian Aucote and Matt Dennis, with other riders going AWOL. So just hours before the off, they were given permission to change to pairs. At the time I guess it seemed a bit daunting, but in the long run it worked a treat as Aucote and Dennis racked up their first team win of the year, recording 32 laps to earn them the right to the top step on the podium, leaving runners up, Red Kite Cycles 2 laps down in second.
The women's pairing of Jemma Powell and Zoe Frogbrook, made it look relatively easy as they tackled the slippery trails, racking up 22 laps to take the win three laps ahead of Sian James and Rachel Sokal.
After a convincing win at the recent Twentyfour/12, the Beyond Mountain Bikes team of James Poole and Malin Tindberg, were hoping to make it two in a row, however they hadn't reckoned on Mike Bossard and Hannah Barnes who gave them a worthy battle, eventually taking the lead and the win racking up 31 laps, two more than Poole and Tindberg.
The solo race proved to be victorious for absolute beginners with both the men's and the women's races being won by 24 hr solo ‘virgins'.
New Zealander Amanda Brookes first rode Sleepless two years ago where with her partner took the win in the mixed pairs. Back then she decided she'd come back one day and have a crack at the solo and fast forward to 2009 and here she was. Hoping to complete the double, however, was main rival Sally Daw, who just weeks earlier had ridden her first 24hour solo to victory at Twentyfour12 and now she was hungry for more.
As the race unfolded, each rider was virtually side-by-side as they racked up the laps. It was only as the night closed in that Daw began to feel the pain from her earlier excursions and Brookes began to steadily move ahead. Come the morning and Daw began to pick up and chase hard but the damage was done and Brookes took her first 24hour victory and maybe not her last, as she now seems to have the bug!
Meanwhile over in the solo men's camp, 78 competitors were slugging it out over the full 24hrs. Fuelled by ice cream and long Tuesday night rides Rob Dean resplendent in his dashing Morvelo kit, cut a dash as he blasted off, heading into the unknown. The darkness ours is a twilight time for all riders but none more so than the soloists, this is the time when the tiredness hits and your mind starts to wander and play tricks. You end up imagining all sorts and you can lose your way in the muddy fog that your mind becomes as you force around pedal after pedal.
As daylight broke, Roberts found himself doubting his own ability and he started to wonder if he could ever finish. With excellent support, he dug deep to come home one lap clear to take the win, with just thoughts of ice cream on his mind! Runner up Mike Hall held off Jason Miles, both finishing with 25 laps to take the final podium positions, with Hall taking second 30 mins clear of Miles.
As the clock inched ever closer to the much welcomed 2pm, riders and supporters basking in the blazing sun, cheered those who sprinted for the line to eek out those last laps. Soloist Clare Bowyer had more than a creditable ride to be delighted about, celebrating her birthday in style she was greeted with huge cheers as she crossed the line, making it a birthday to remember for all the right reasons! It was endearing to see Catton in the dry after what has seemed such a long time in the wetlands, the appearance of the sun certainly transformed the weekend into a relaxed ‘glove in' as sponsors Endura coined it as they part exchanged old hand wear for new. It certainly was a sizzling, soraway, sensation.... At last!
Ian Wright - Enthusiast Men Team
The team comprised off Geoff Giddings, Matt Gee, Matt Williams and myself the weak link! It was such a tough course and these guys were fantastic, all we wanted to do was just cruise around and hopefully finish in the top 3 of the enthusiasts, but it soon became apparent that we were putting ourselves head to head with the Salsa boys. We were yo-yoing the lead between us and although we were both racing in different categories, Geoff was determined to beat them overall! So we ended up trashing every lap. As I said it was relentless out there, the course was so soft under wheel you just felt you were pedalling in treacle. In fact we had to pedal everything, including the descents almost! The weather though it made it, brought us all out smiling and we all had a laugh. It was hard but so rewarding.
Salsa Factory Racing - Women's Elite
It's unfortunate that there wasn't any competition for us again out there, but that didn't mean we took it easy. Anything but, we treated it like any other race and rode hard all the way through. Unlike last year where the weather was awful and the course disintegrated we stuck it out through all conditions this year and we were putting in pretty good lap times and hopefully other teams will look at our lap times and realise that we deserve the win because of our hard work not just because we were out there on our own!
The course was absolutely relentless, my back is knackered as it was just so sticky out there, you just had to pull on the bars and really push to get anywhere, but compared to last year it was wonderful!
Yeti - Christian Aucote/Matt Dennis - men's pairs
We originally planned to be in a 4-man team but thanks to some dodgy moves by some of the team, we ended up doing pairs 2 hrs before the race kicked off. It ended up in our favour though, but it was a painful race! We ended up with 32 laps between us and there were no nice bits of the course it felt all of it was immersed in treacle. We managed to extend our lead by an extra lap by just squeezing out a lap before the cut off. We didn't need to do it, but we just wanted to make sure!! It was doubly good for us and every team event we've ridden this year we've come third, this is the first one we've actually won, so bonus! Now looking forward to catching up with sleep.
Jon Pugh - King of the Night
Yeah it's gone pretty well this weekend, the team have ridden well and now this, fantastic. I wasn't really targeting this at all; I just did a hard lap my 3rd time out to help the team catch up after slipping from the lead. I can't say I was at my best either but I just went out and did what I could to get us back up there, I don't think I was the fastest by much, I suspect I just got it.
I was surprised how tricky the course was seeing how it wasn't raining, it was so sticky out there and when the dew came down that made it even more interesting.
Couple of punctures and a few missed/late transitions
Anna Buick - Queen of the Night
I had no idea I'd got this, I did think I might be in with a shout, so gave it everything I could on my first night lap, thinking that I might as well. I'm really chuffed to have scooped it though, I didn't want to make too big a thing about it when I went out, I just put in a bit of extra effort and to be honest I don't think it was that much faster than my other night laps, I was fairly consistent but I'm really pleased and it makes our win in the team event, even more worth while as it shows we all put the effort in the full 24hrs.
Jemma Powell/Zoe Frogbrook - Women's pairs
It was so tough out there, lots of women's pairs giving us a real run for our money and fortunately the weather played ball. We were really lucky in that respect but it was still hard and there were so many people everywhere, just carnage really but it was so much fun. I think our legs are going to drop off now. Tactic wise we did a bit of everything, we started off doing a lap each, then 2 each then 3 each and back down the other way. Great fun!
Dragon XC Racing - Mixed team
We just decided to take it steady for the first 6 - 7 hours and we just seemed to be getting quicker and quicker as the race progressed. By the end of the first 12 hours we'd taken a lap lead and carried on from there so overall a perfect result for the team. The team rode brilliantly and Sarah did some amazing laps so yeah it was a great set up and a great weekend.
Minx - Jen Hopkins - Women's team
Team racing is a little bit different to soloing and seeing how I've done pairs and solo here, it was time I had a go at team racing. It was ace as I had fantastic team mates, they were really really good. They fed me tea and brought me bacon sandwiches I couldn't ask for more. We started doing singles and then paired off during the night each pair doing 4 laps, giving the other pair a chance for sleep. It was great fun, really well organised, I'm just not used to seeing a white board with times and transition expectations neither am I used to sleeping at and event and it was a real chore getting out of a warm sleeping bag, but it was worth it in the end and we had a great time.
Amanda Brookes - Solo woman
That was a lot of fun, especially as that was the first one I've done. I was here 2 years ago and won the mixed pairs with my partner and I thought back then I'm going to come back one year and have a go at the solo and here I am. I surprised myself. It was a really good course too and of course the weather helped, but yeah I loved it. I just plugged away, stopping every so often for a bit of food, but yeah just kept chipping away and felt quite strong all the way through. Sally (Daw) was keeping quite an eye on me for the first part of the race and we were virtually neck and neck, then during the night I managed to pull away and maintained my lead. I loved it, can't wait to do another one, bring on Mayhem!
Robert Dean - Solo male
That was fantastic; my first 24 hr solo too! I set off so fast it was a bit of a shock to the system and I really struggled through the night and when dawn came I wasn't sure I was going to make it and then the guys who are supporting me at USE and Ian Leitch did such a fantastic job that I just did as I was told in the end, my brain switched off. Rockers ice cream is my secret to my success I think and the Tuesday night rides. I guess I'd been persuaded by Rory from USE to do some longer racing, I was doing more and more miles and this is something I'd never done, I've done virtually everything you can on two wheel, so this completes the circle of silly things to do on a bike! I might even be back for another go next year. It was awful, I can't in anyway recommend it to anyone, it was shocking, but strangely satisfying knocking seven shades of stuff out of yourself, so the plan will be to come back, I mean you can't not can you....
... Still I can't wait till Tuesday; its ice creams all round in celebration!