Another early morning start, in preparation for the drive to Forrest on what was going to be a busy day. We were the nutrition sponsor for the Kona 24 hour ensuring every rider got fuelled on some of our delicious bars and gels.
We set up everything we needed and I managed to shoot out for a quick familiarization lap in preparation for the next day's racing and loved it. Unfortunately, later that night the heavens opened and we all thought there was no way the race was going to be on.
We had two six-people teams, comprising of a mixed team which included me, Jo Wall, Jenni King, Paul Weymouth, Katherine O'Shea and Mark Tuppalski. The all-male team was made up of Luke Fetch, Steele Von Hoff, Brenton Jones, Robbie Hucker, Tim Hucker and Dan McConnell. Unfortunately the best plans don't always go like clockwork and the teams needed to be changed before we even started due to the dreaded flu (possibly the worst case of flu, ever) which left Dan very sick and Katherine had some family matters she needed to sort out.
Young Mark, our new team rider, was moved across to the men's team, having to step into Dan McConnel's shoes. A very hard feat but he did his best and rode as hard as he could (thankfully there can only be one rat-tail hair cut).
There was over 800 riders all keen to get the race underway. The weather was overcast and the course was still pretty wet but had a good mix of tracks with varying types of climbs and descents to test your skills. The majority of the course was singletrack, with the odd fire trail thrown in to allow you to catch your breath and consume some food and energy drink.
And they're off...
The start was at 12 noon and comprised of a prologue lap. Steele went first and managed to position himself up at the front but struggled to clip in. It was bedlam.
Every rider pushed themselves around the prologue course jockeying for position before they hit the singletrack, trying to ensure they were well-placed but unfortunately nearly killing themselves in the process. Paul Vandy really wanted the $100 up for grabs for the fastest prologue, edging out Steele and Adrian Jackson.
Steele had a great first lap and kept the power down despite a loose headset scaring everyone around him when he turned! Thankfully he managed to have a clean run and came back in one piece with the other two leaders - Paul Vandy from Felt and Adrian Jackson from Merida!
He handed over to Luke who, like Steele, put in a blistering lap keeping the pressure on the Felt team (who on paper now had the stronger team). He handed over to Brenton who put in a great first lap and handed over to Robbie (a bit of a comeback race for him and certainly great to have him back in the fold so to speak).
Robbie rode his socks off and kept the pressure on the other teams. It carried on like this for most of the day and into the night, swapping riders and them pushing as hard as they could. Eating, drinking and trying to keep warm was a priority whilst the conditions kept getting worse and worse, really taking its toll on the bikes.
The men's team was flying which was far better than our mixed team due to us being undermanned. With Katherine MIA, Mark moving over to the men's team and my bike being sacrificed for the common good of the men's team, this meant Jo and Jenni used the race as a training ride.
We also managed to find a ring in with Jimmy L (he'd lost his team all together). With my bike being seized by Tim, I turned my skills to cook, bike cleaner and organizer to ensure everyone got up at the right time, had their lights on etc., etc.
Head-to-head vs. Felt
Through the night Steele, Luke, Brenton, Robbie, Tim, and Mark opened the lead to around 10 minutes on Felt. They were absolutely smashing it (with their new light setup from Light & Motion). Felt then had their fast guns awoken from their slumber in an attempt to close the gap. It was still too close to call and by the morning we were still in the lead by only five to six minutes.
We headed out on our last night lap at 5:57 a.m. and Felt came back through the transition at 6:03 a.m. and went into doing their first day lap on a completely different course (always controversial having three different overlapping laps). It's normally ok but with the race so tight and marshals not doing a smooth swap over on course, young Scott Listen from Felt was sent the wrong way and came in at the same time that our rider got back from his night lap, essentially nullifying the gap we had, closing the lead from 5-6 minutes to a few seconds (although the issue was raised with race management, we were told ‘that's life').
So we got on with racing. Felt management also admitted the lap time was definitely wrong and it should have taken around 38-39 minutes, not 32 minutes.
We then managed to open the gap again to three minutes, giving us some breathing space, but Felt changed tactics and kept its big guns doing more laps to close the gaps so we did the same. We were holding them 'just', until the unthinkable happened - a broken dropout (our first and only mechanical) on the penultimate lap making it all but impossible to come back from.
Luke ran 2/3 of the course cursing and swearing at his bike coming in only six minutes down. Needless to say he was slightly devastated that it had happened to him, feeling like he'd let the team down. Robbie went next and put in a smoking lap leaving big brother Tim to finish the day for us. We held the gap at seven minutes but with less than an hour we had no chance of closing on Felt.
From my point of view I was a very proud team owner. I was impressed with how the guys raced and their positive attitude throughout the whole race, even after the unthinkable happened. The only shame about the whole event was the appalling weather conditions. My guys smashed themselves for 24 hours putting everything on the line in the true spirit of mountain bike racing. They say the winner of a race is the first team to cross the line but in my eyes, the TORQ boyz won the Kona.
Well done to everyone that rode. It was a great event despite the torrential weather conditions. The course and tracks were great despite the weather making it so challenging.