Friday 25 January 2013

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:01 | 2 comments

Oak Valley 24hr 2013

My wheels were barely stationary after another gruelling 24hr mountain bike adventure at Oak Valley when I got a call from no other than Oprah Winfrey. The same Oprah who is notorious for her battle against loosing weight, who made couch jumping a national pastime, and more recently extracted the confession that was a non-confession from Lance Armstrong. It turns out that Oprah got some really good publicity from the whole incident, and with Phil and Paul stumbling their way through Tour de France after Tour de France, she has an eye on a career change, wanting to become the new voice of cycling. Be warned - wherever there is a cycling story to be told, Oprah will be near at hand.

The other Lance, and a baggy wearing single speeding 24hr pro
My support's supporter's setup. Riding/chilling in style.
Once the niceties were out the way, we got down to the hard questions about 24hr racing. The first thing Oprah wanted to know about was what exactly motivates a person to want to sit on their bicycle and pedal round and round for 24 hours. It's a good question and I'm not really sure what the motivator is? Fear? Glory? Honouring Rule 5? The possibility of a pair of Dirtopia socks? If anything, it's a great day out, just a guy and his bike, riding some really great trails in a beautiful part of South Africa.

In the zone
After that rather non-committal answer, Oprah changed tack and tried to delve into the racing strategy of a solo 24hr bike rider. Some guys like to go super hard from the gun and build up a lead as soon as possible. I prefer the other approach - more tortoise and less hare. Get into a rhythm and tap out a tempo, ignoring the goings on of all those around me. In fact, I place a moratorium on all race info for the first 6 hours. And of course I have my secret weapon in the form of my pit bitch and wife. DislocatedMTB has a definition of a pit bitch: "someone who wants an excuse to feel part of an event, but can't be bothered with all that painful riding". I tend to prefer the following: "someone who takes over the brain work, looks after the nutrition and hydration, and can give the competitors and their support crew the evil eye".

8hrs in and things were starting to hurt
Moving along, Oprah then enquired about the route. Oak Valley is probably the best 24hr course that South Africa has got to offer. It's got a little bit of something for everyone, from the first timers to the seasoned regulars, the gentlemen racers to the hipster singlespeeders. With around 80% of the course being hallowed single track, the fun factor is maxed out all the way. That's not to say there isn't any suffering. A Dirtopia event just wouldn't be the same without a bit pain and anguish. Meurant, the course designer, is as sadistic as the riders are masochistic - a match made in heaven, or possibly the fires of purgatory. The first half of the lap is a slow, twisty, single track meander up the side of a mountain, which is then followed by a blisteringly fast descent, through narrow shoulder hugging thickets of trees, down near vertical dips, over blind descents and around tight hairpin bends. Mountain biking at its very best. With only 220m of climbing per 11km lap, the course is relatively easy. But after 16 hours of riding, each lap felt like an ascent of Everest with no oxygen, and no Sherpa's to carry your stuff.

Night stretching, deserves a quiet night
Some night action
Getting back into the swing of things, Oprah wanted some nitty-gritty, "teary eyed Lance"-like descriptions of the racing, the human emotion, the tactics and the drama. As I thought of dying puppies and failed learner's licences, trying my best to conjour up some tears, I described the racing from the small view that I had of it. It's always a fast start - months of training finally being let loose, and the toughest thing is actually trying to slow down. The race isn't won in the first 6 hours, but it certainly can be lost. Throw in some temperatures approaching 40C and looking after your body becomes way more important that trying to build a lead.

Breakfast time - FutureLife shake and coffee
Time to get back out on the bike
While the solo riders are slugging it out in slow motion, like punch-drunk heavy weight boxers, the team riders are ripping up the course, putting in faster and faster times as the field spreads out over the lap. As a solo rider this creates another thing that we have to watch out for - rapidly approaching race snakes from the rear. Think of pantechnicon trucks racing Formula One cars through narrow country lanes. Fortunately most mountain bikers are quite considerate and the hills were filled with the cries of "Track please", followed by an appreciative "Thank you".

The end is almost is sight
By the time midnight came around the racing in the solo categories was pretty much sewn up - the exertions of the opening hours having caught up with several competitors. Now it was time to ride conservatively, take as few risks as possible, mark the competition, and hope that any last minute back room mechanic jobs would last till the end of the race. In the teams section the racing was as frantic as it had been all day, if not worse. With most competitors heading off to bed, lap times were improving as the race snakes had clear runs at the course, in addition to having learned every inch of the track. The competition in the teams category would go right down to the wire as the riders duked it out for glory, clocking some impressive laps times on some very tired legs.

Last lap of the 2013 Oak Valley 24hr
Sensing no big revelations or confessions, I could see Oprah wanted to end the interview, and my suspicions were confirmed when she got to the point and asked about distances, stats and results. I'd managed to complete 30 laps, totalling 330km with 7100m of climbing. I'd also burned 18 200 KCal (the average male my height and weight requires 2700 KCal per day) - 6 times the daily average. I'd managed to retain my title, once again pipping Hentus Baard into 2nd, with the clean Lance rounding out the podium. A carbon copy of 2012.

24hrs worth of snacks
Oprah's eyes finally lit up. The stats and numbers clearly grabbing her attention. There was a short pause before she looked me in the eye, and rather tentatively asked, yes or no, if I took drugs to survive the rigours of 24hr racing. I almost fell off my chair. I wasn't expecting that question, and I don't think Oprah was expecting my answer.


I quickly started to explain that I'd taken two Panado tablets at around sunset as I had quite a headache from the heat. But it was too late. Oprah sensed a turning in the interview and asked if there was anything else I wanted to confess. Scratching my head, confused at how the conversation had become so confrontational so quickly, I slowly started nodding my head. Looking Oprah in the eye I told her that deep down I am a roadie at heart, and I love lycra, skinny tyres, shaved legs and clean bicycles.

And just like that the interview was over.

Rider and support - the perfect team
The podium - same as last year - flanked my Meurant and Vissie
 Thanks to Chris Hitchcock for the photos, and TrailTag for keeping all those who couldn't make the event updated on the action