Riding Ill around the Sick Trails of Awaba
Riding enduro solo, particularly seven hours, takes a special kind of animal. You need to be prepared to suffer both physically and mentally. Any sign of weakness and your opposition pounce, tearing all the hard work to shreds and leaving your race in tatters. Mutual respect abounds between fellow racers, not only for the battering the body undergoes during the race, but for the countless sacrifices made, which go essentially unnoticed during the year. It is interesting to delve into the backgrounds of these riders, which will invariably uncover an impressive resume of previous sporting achievements. Only by entering the world of these strange beasts, can a full appreciation be gleaned of what it really takes to succeed in this punishing form of racing.
Kevin Wynne-Sythe, Jetblack team mate, was making this very switch, from team to solo seven hours, and was approaching his first race, in this format, with a healthy dose of trepidation. His goal was suitably realistic: survival. I wished him luck, as the race start rushed ever closer.
The Awaba track was being raced in reverse and this seemed to cause a number of riders some difficulty. I treated it as racing on an unknown track and set about learning the best method of attacking it. The first two hours passed without too much drama but my physical condition was to make the next five hours a solid test of my mental resolve. My fatigue levels were low (due to the enforced rest) and this provided enough fuel to bolster my mindset. I attempted to ride efficiently, and concentrated on my descending skills which I have been endeavouring to improve in recent weeks. I hydrated as much as was possible and gave my body every chance of surviving till the end. After four and a half hours the track cleared and I was able to concentrate on trying to keep the lap times as consistent as possible.
I ploughed on and was driven on by yet another Jetblack rider, young Sara Mills, racing in a pair and posting the fastest female lap for the day. She was doing a double lap and, as she began her second lap, Pete Selkrig came steaming past. I had to let both of them go, the heart rate far too high to maintain for another lap. I was soon sharing turns with another young rider, whose efforts were temporarily ended when he crashed on a tight hairpin corner, leaving me to complete my final two laps alone.
To my amazement , I was now informed I had squeezed onto the podium, in third. Ian Bridgland, had ridden a solid race to take second and the incredibly strong Hugh Stodart had taken the win in Masters and an impressive 4th overall in the solo category. I was delighted with the final result, considering the poor build-up I had to the race and, to be honest, I had more than bettered my expectations. Strangely enough, my wife had confidently predicted I would somehow find a way on to the podium, despite my condition. Not for the first time she was right, and I can only presume that, if this was the middle-ages, she would have been burnt alive at the stake for her uncanny vision.
It was great to see Kevin Wynne-Smith complete his first seven hour solo. Armed with the first of many stories of heroics, he vows to back for more in four weeks' time with the Series moving to James Estate Winery for the second round.