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Keith Bontrager

Carving through the mud

The late spring flurry

Cycling News
July 01, 2008, 0:00 BST,
April 22, 2009, 20:32 BST

OK, I am getting ready to go out on my first two laps of a 24-hour race in Madrid, Spain. It's the...

July 2, 2008

OK, I am getting ready to go out on my first two laps of a 24-hour race in Madrid, Spain. It's the first 24-hour race ever in Spain, Trek is the sponsor, and the turnout is good.

This will be my third 24-hour race in a month, so I guess you could say my racing season has officially started. A few weeks ago I raced on a masters team in West Virginia and we got third, which was a fine thing. Karl Rosengarth from Dirt Rag helped with the organisation and James Shiflett and Charles Rush joined in the suffering. We also imported a pro wrench to help deal with the muddy mess, Sarah Hansing, which turned out to be a good thing. I broke my bike one way or another every lap.

Did you know that the Shimano organic brake pads have a very limited life in mud? They are the best pads for stopping feel and power, so this is not a diss in any way, except their abrasion resistance. I used them on a ride in Baltimore and then on a training lap around the course at Big Bear, and everything was fine. When I pulled them in a twisty high speed corner on the first lap the levers went to the bars and nothing happened. Then I hit the tree. Ouch. I managed to get around the course pumping them constantly. Then there was a mashed derailleur when I fell on a root, and then, and then. You get the idea.

I went out for a crab massacre dinner in Baltimore afterwards. I am not going to try to explain - ask a local when you are in the area.

Then I came over to ride in Mountain Mayhem in the UK. It's the largest 24-hour race I am aware of, and I rode it with Chipps and Dr. John, a singlespeed ace from Scotland. Our fourth team-mate fell off and broke his wrist the day before the race so we were down a rider from the start. Since this was more of a social occasion than a serious race we got some guest riders to fill in for a few laps, and everything was going well, until it started raining.

Yeah, it was the first day of summer, give or take a few, and it was pissing down rain with gale winds. The laps in the mud were very difficult, and some of the very good new singletrack they added was in clay and that became off camber grease when it was wet. In the end it dried back out though and we finished on a wonderfully fast course in the sunshine. Wisely, I took the tequila shot hand up Dr. John was offering (along with the customary heckle) after I finished my last lap instead of just before the steep climb. It worked out...

Back to my first event of the year - a three stage race in France, the Gran Traversee du Limousin. This was my first time racing in France, and I wasn't really in shape to race, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

The event itself was great. It is not as big as some of the other multi-day races, but that is good in a way. It was very well organised, took place in a beautiful place, with rolling hills, lots of woody singletrack, and, of course, amazing dinners after each stage. The stages were 70 to 80 km long and the emphasis was on mountain bike racing, not road racing on dirt. In fact, there was more singletrack on the first stage of the GTL than there was in some of the other prestigious eight-day races like the Transalp or Cape Epic. I don't mean in a stage. There was more singletrack in the GTL's first stage than there was in the entire eight days of the others.

I suspected the food was going to be, well, French, which means great, and I could tell that was right from the first plate of veg that showed up at dinner - a massive plate of roasted beets, carrots and Puy lentils, then grilled steak (Limousin is famous for beef) with a little (just a little) red wine. The incentive to get to the end of stages can often end up as thoughts of the meal waiting for you when you get there, and this was easy here.

The shorter stages were tough because of all the technical trails. But the earlier finishing time let everyone recover and lay around a bit after each stage.

It rained prior to the event so the first day was muddy, the second less so as the mud dried up, and the last a bit less still. I played around with tires in these conditions, as I often do, and decided to take a gamble. I started the race with some very smooth, fast tires (a pair of 2.2 Super X Tubeless Ready) set to very low inflation pressure. They were great the first day. The mud was liquid and the tires found the bottom of most of the deeper holes. They hooked up on all of the rooted climbs and descents too. I felt in good control of the bike all the time, which was a little surprising. I had not been riding off road much prior to this race, and hadn't ridden in mud since last summer in Germany.

The next day the mud started drying out a little, and things were not as good. The tires slid around more in some of the drying patches of mud. But overall they were still working well and probably were better than a full knobby tire. The third day was fairly dry except for some very deep accumulations in the low spots by fields, and nothing would have worked well in those.

Some other discoveries - amateur racers in France are fast. Young and old, doesn't seem to matter, they are hauling ass at the front of the race. I guess that shouldn't be much of a surprise; they have been riding and racing over there for a few years I hear! And they are not all roadies - they ride technical trails well. The Creuse Oxygene (the organisers) team of espoirs were blazing fast. They hung back on the first stage so they could ride through the field, which didn't take them very long. One of the guys racing towards the front was KOM at Paris-Nice too. I came away with a lot of respect for the entire field of racers in this event, and the organisers too.

It might be a long haul for US riders but if you were in England and needed something to do early season, this one would be a fine way to get some early season exercise. Search around for Creuse Oxygene for the details and some photos from the race this year.

I drove around in France a little afterwards and, as one does there, tried some of the local food here and there. This is a good thing to do of course. The most interesting was Gâteau de Foies de Volaille à la Tomate, a chicken liver mousse with a tomato sauce. I have tried to cook it a few times and am getting close, but not close enough to write down a recipe yet.

The other cool thing was checking out the chicken farms around Bourg en Bresse. I am thinking about keeping chickens, not just eating them, so this was important agricultural research. They do in fact lead very good, free-range chicken lives. The DOC the chicken farmers earned there is the real thing. Industrial chicken farms are a disgrace.

OK, the first guy out on my team, Antonio, was leading the race for three laps. This one is going to be a little harder than the last race in England I guess. I have a few more minutes to type before I have to get ready. It's +100F outside and I am a little concerned about my tendency to fry in heat, so I am going to ride conservatively until it cools off a little. Heat is not my specialty, but I'll have to try to get it right this time.

Another tough training ride…

Warming up

Cycling News
May 06, 2008, 0:00 BST,
April 22, 2009, 20:32 BST

It's been a hectic winter and spring but I finally got on a bike with more than a test ride in mind...

May 7, 2008

It's been a hectic winter and spring but I finally got on a bike with more than a test ride in mind a few weeks ago.

First things first – my friend Bruce Muhlfeld got hurt last year, pretty badly. You might remember me talking about him – he is 50 and still racing pro. He is on the way back now. Check it out and give him some encouragement

Second - thanks to everyone who straightened me out about the deer skull mystery. Antlers. Guess you can tell I am not a seasoned hunter, other than fungal prey of course.

Onward. A few weeks ago the Sea Otter came to town and my friend Dror came over from Israel to race. Dror showed me Israel last spring and we rode all over the place there, so this was a chance to return the favor.

He'd had a rough spring too with surgery in the middle of training, but he seemed to be in good shape and was very happy to be racing again. We rode together on the road for the week before the event. He was just recovering from the flight and tapering for the race or I would never have really been close to him on the road. And, of course, if he dropped me he didn't know the way back...

I cooked for him too, which was a challenge. His step mother is an amazing chef - she prepared one of the best meals I've ever had with his family when I was there. He's a pro, and pros eat carefully so they don't have to haul too much baggage up hills. And they eat a lot. I don't cook entirely with fueling athletic performance in mind though I am not that heavy handed with the butter and cream of course. Making sure he was happy pushed me a bit farther though and it worked out well. I've always wanted to see Chef Willi – the chef who worked for the Postal and Disco teams in action to see how this is done. Maybe this year.

Unfortunately Dror got food poisoning the night before the XC event so he couldn't race. I can sympathize – having it all go wrong after training so hard and then flying so far for a big event is not an easy one. He was bummed, but I am sure he will be going well soon.

Now, I know what you are thinking... And, frankly, I am shocked. He had moved on to room with the team down in Monterey well before the event and none of my food could possibly been at fault. No respect...

The Sunday the racing ended down there I rode down for some sushi with Matt and Mike from Mountain Bike magazine. Then I kept going south the next day. I've been showing up at a trail benefit Pasadena Cyclery puts on each year and have used that as an excuse to get in some solid road miles on the way down, and it was on again.

It's a long ride and really good when the weather is cooperative. It was, sort of. The first two days along the coast were sunny, windy and very cold. The arm and leg warmers stayed on the entire time, so I had no chance to work on my farmer's tan at all, which was a bummer. But south of Santa Barbara things improved so I got my stripes going pretty good. I finished up with a short ride into Santa Monica and a dinner at Chez Jay, a favorite of mine.

The next day I was scheduled to ride with the folks in Pasadena and, of course, it got hot. The temperature was in the high 90s for the ride. Ouch. The route started with a 4000 foot climb and then a very good singletrack descent in the mountains behind JPL, so all I had to do was get to the top intact, and I did. Every MTB ride I've done in SoCal has the same sort of elevation profile. The ride is almost done when you are half way in – it's all down from there.

After a very well attended barbeque back at Pasadena Cyclery we watched Klunkers. I had not seen it before. You should if you get a chance. It's a very cool flick and really spells out the details of what happened way back when in the early days of MTBs. Those folks were riding some pretty dodgey stuff down the hills and going fast too. Billy Savage was the guy who made the movie and he was there too, just to add to the fun. It was a fine night.

Also, dedicated follower of fashion that I am, I scored a new pair of square Oakleys, bright white. Hey, I am traveling around and have to look the part, right. So this guy shows up at the breakfast and totally humbles me. It's hard to be on the front when it comes to fashion I guess...

Right after the pancake breakfast the next day I hopped on a plane to Lyon, France. My first race of the year would be a three day stage race in Limousin – Le Grand Traversee du Limousin. It's three days off road, medium long stages, with lots of short climbs and some singletrack. It looks like fun. I am not race fit yet, so I am not sure I should say that I will be racing, but I think I am fit enough to ride well and finish with something like a grin. It's been raining fairly constantly in that area to so my grin will probably be speckled with mud. That is a fine thing with me - way, way, way better than being chalk man again. Way better.

That should set me up for some 24 hour racing and my own 24 hour event in England in July. More on that and the race in France next.


Mushrooms are a yummy addition to meals

Oh deer!

Cycling News
February 25, 2008, 0:00 GMT,
April 22, 2009, 20:32 BST

As you know, I like to find food. That makes it tough to travel sometimes, knowing what I am...

February 26, 2008

As you know, I like to find food. That makes it tough to travel sometimes, knowing what I am missing. Cleaned brussel sprouts are always OK, though not too tough to run down around here. It would be lots easier if it weren't for the fact that the farmers in the area have decided the big money is in providing the entire world with fresh strawberries. Every available acre is being converted, double rows lined with plastic, shot gun wielding guards on patrol, etc. It's good work I suppose, and good for the economy too, what with the thousands of semis involved, and, a little later in the supply chain, a slightly smaller number of jumbo jets, ready to fly off to wherever Whole Foods is with today's breakfast ingredients.

Farmers, bless their rustic souls, seem to be just as willing as the rest of us to hop on the bandwagon. It might work for some of them, too. Folks got very rich doing the same thing with lettuce a while back, though not many. Of course, they will achieve less than ideal results when there is too much of a good thing. Then it will be easier to get the brussel sprouts again. I am patient in these matters so I will wait. The sprouts are very good in a fresh pickle brine. See recipe below. The leaves are good braised too. We don't consider them food here but people in London pay dearly for them.

The wild greens are slightly wilder, and more fun to get. The greens in the shot that aren't brussel sprouts are wild mustard, a distant relative to all the happy cabbage family. The closest surviving relative you would find at your local grocery (but probably not at IGA) is called broccoli rabe or, if they are trying slightly harder with marketing, rapini. It's wonderful stuff, a bit bitter and tough, but very tasty. The Italians have a well developed taste for bitter food and a way to make it work. But then, they are Italians. It is growing everywhere here and all you have to do is go out and gather it by the armful.

But the most important source of free nourishment is the wild fungi. No better way to get in some trail time than a good mushroom hunt. How many kids (outside of France) go off to school after a breakfast of wild greens and an omelet topped with wild chanterelles?

In addition to the challenge, the freegan satisfactions and gastronomic delight, there is an economic incentive as well. These things cost as much as $50 a pound in the shops. I would never buy them for that, but it does make one feel good to know that the backpack stuffed with fungus is worth (quite) a few hundred dollars on the way back.

The chanterelles are going off here now, and the massive deluge we've had for the last week will ensure their continued existence, as well as a decent spring snow pack.

I have been on the road during the beginning of the season, and suffering from acute fungal deprivation. But, disciplined as I am, I coached my oldest daughter Megan on the fine art of finding them, so I could enjoy the season, if only vicariously. Some of her male friends are dabbling in wild foraging so she has that motivation as well. Imagine the props she gets when she leads them to a spot where they score 20 pounds of chanterelles on the first try.

On one of her early forays, she found a deer carcass. It was well on its way to returning to its chemical constituents, but the skull was in good shape and she brought it home. (I also have a very good collection of bones found in the wild - nature or nurture?)

Notice anything odd about it? Someone used a saw to take a wedge of the skull away, probably to retrieve the brain. So, after that lengthy preface, I have finally gotten to the punch line.


Do any of the hunters out there dabble in consuming the varietal cuts of a wild beast? Of the many options available in that regard, the brain would seem the least likely to go that way.

But if the brain was used in research it seems unlikely that the rest of the carcass would have been dumped in the park (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that some of the best foraging is on public lands, which isn't exactly 100% legal. Let's be quiet about that, ok?) Maybe there is a new pagan cult out here with some odd rituals. It is Santa Cruz after all.

Any light to shed would be greatly appreciated?


I like to reuse the brine for a few batches of vegetables. It seems to be good for at least a few months in the fridge. No promises on that, of course.

So the cycle goes like this. Make a batch, eat all of it, or most of it, blanch some more and stuff it in when it is still warm, to accelerate the pickling rate. You can start eating them the next day.

The first (and only!) six hours

Cycling News
September 23, 2007, 1:00 BST,
April 21, 2009, 11:55 BST

I took two quarts of fluids with me on the first lap. Based on the pre-ride measurements, that would...

September 23, 2007

The first (and only!) six hours

I took two quarts of fluids with me on the first lap. Based on the pre-ride measurements, that would keep me close to hydrated. I also stayed topped up well the night before (not with beer) and drank a quart of Gatorade 20 minutes before the race started. I felt slightly full, a feeling that I don't like, but have come to expect before a long race.

The 1st lap went to plan. My pace was a little too high on a few occasions when I was trying to stay out of other rider's way on singletrack. They started the teams 5 minutes behind us and they caught me on the first singletrack section. After the first lap things strung out and it was easier to work out traffic issues. I finished it at 1:30 - I was on schedule.

But the plan was wobbling a bit. I lost my water bottle in some bumps early on the course so I didn't have the proper quantity of fluids. My Camelback was still there though and supplementing from water and Gatorade that was being handed up at two stations along the route offset the lost bottle a little. I didn't make up the entire bottle's worth. I also didn't weigh myself at the end of the lap because I felt OK, hot but not bad.

I increased the fluids for the second lap to make up for the lost bottle and I drank most of an extra bottle on the short paved section around the pits that I tossed back to Ray before heading out on the course. Having that bottle temporarily along with a cool towel on the back of my neck was in the plan for the first 6 hours. I had to drink it on a schedule and I didn't have to carry it up the hills.

About a mile into the second lap I started cramping. I'd actually picked the spot I thought I would cramp the lap before accurately. It wasn't intentional; the thought just came to me as I rode through the section. I didn't think it would happen on the second lap though. I was drinking so much I was feeling very bloated and burping Gatorade back up.

The cramps clearly showed I was getting behind on fluids. The bloat meant my stomach wasn't draining quickly enough. It was less than 2 hours in and my plan for hydration and pace wasn't working because of some physiological process I didn't account for - the slow rate at which the fluids I drank can get past my stomach and where they need to be.

I slowed down so I could drink as much as I could and let it get in and through me (there is a weak relationship between exercise intensity and gastric emptying). I also stopped twice at the feed stations to drink a little and let it soak in. It was very hard to get the liquids down because I was still feeling bloated. There is no simple way to force that short of an IV. I was also starting to feel slower on the bike, a consequence of dehydration I am a little too familiar with. I got through the lap in 2 hours and checked my weight - I was down 4 pounds, and still feeling bloated. There was a lot of water in me, but it was in the wrong place.

I sat for 10 minutes with a cold towel on my head, ate a little, drank an electrolyte dense drink (Pedialyte - ummm, tasty...) and went out for another lap. The bloat got worse and I started to have an upset stomach. My legs felt a little better though (the electrolytes kicked in) so I picked it up just to see what would happen. I cramped occasionally but not in the deep way that kills my legs and got through the lap in 1:35. That was better.

Then I weighed myself again. I was now 7 pounds lighter than when I started. That's over 4% of my body weight lost and since some of the fluid was in my stomach the state in my muscles was worse so I stopped. I've been through this before - it is not an issue of determination or will. I needed to get my weight back up before I rode again. 24 hours with cramps at half power would not work.

That's when the next physiology experiment started.

I got one quart of Gatorade down with some difficulty. Then another. It took an hour to do that because of the bloat and upset stomach, and I needed 4 quarts total. I gained 3 pounds back. But I was still cramping and the skin pull test on my hand showed that I was still in a very dehydrated state. Then I peed and lost a pound back.

Another hour, another 2 quarts, some of it peed back out.

I was peeing clear, but the fluids were passing through me and I was still cramping. I could walk without cramping, but I could induce cramps easily in my calves and hands. With all the experience I have I know how to do this now. My weight was up 3 pounds and seemed stable there, but the fluids were not getting to my muscles very quickly.

I figured it was going to take too long to get back to a reasonable state and race again so I pulled out of the race. I was hoping the steps I had taken would have prevented this, but they didn't. Riding in heat is going to take more than a reduced pace and increased fluid intake. The rate at which one processes fluids through the gut and then how long it takes to get into muscles seems more complicated than I would have guessed, in my case anyway.

I am bummed, but not devastated. It was another experiment to see if there was a way I could get along in the heat. Checking the race report I wasn't the only one to come unglued in that weather. The heat caught up with some of the other racers too.

I do have one bitch about the race. MP3 players were not allowed, not even if you were using one earpiece. The organizer said that it was due to insurance regulations so I didn't argue. (I did complain, but in a friendly way). This is silly. I hope it is not something that becomes the norm.

On a high note the prototype tire I was testing worked. It's a very fast rolling knobby with small, widely spaced knobs, a minimal XC racing tire in every respect. I had ridden a similar Conti tire for years, but only on a few courses. It was like a road bike tire in many respects, but could not take the punishment most off road courses dished out. This new tire has the same sort of fast rolling properties but solves the durability problem with a minimal weight increase.

Whats on the menu?

The Vaude Trans-Schwarzwald

Cycling News
September 21, 2007, 1:00 BST,
April 22, 2009, 20:32 BST

August was going to be a big month for me. I had been riding most of the year with this stage race...

September 21, 2007

August was going to be a big month for me. I had been riding most of the year with this stage race in mind. Unfortunately things did not go my way.

The Trans-Schwarzwald was an event I was looking forward to for a few reasons. It's a beautiful area. My roots are Schwabian, so it was a homecoming of sorts. I have friends and relatives in southern Germany that I was hoping to see. I hadn't had a proper Käsespätzle or Pflaumenkuchen for years. The event itself has a good format for me, shorter, faster stages and rolling climbs on the order of what we have here in Santa Cruz and woodsy singletrack. A number of racers I know from England were going to be there, and I was racing on a team with my friend Julie from Brixton.

How's that for a list?

I don't want to mislead you about the nature of this race. Shorter stages are not short stages, they are just shorter than some of the other MTB stage races. And the pace of a shorter race goes up, right? Higher pace = more pain, just for a shorter time. This was not going to be an easy event.

I'd been riding in the forests around Freiburg many years ago and I thought it was good. The climbs were steep but not that high and there was some very good singletrack (though it was not clear that all of it was open to bikes. I asked a friend and he said there was a rule about that - a trail was legal to ride when it was at least 2 meters wide. He then went on to say that his handlebars were about 2 meters wide. It's the same everywhere…).

I was riding on a team with my friend Julie Dinsdale and, as always, she was going well. She won the women's vets category at the TransScotland this year and was second in the 12 hour solo category at the Twentyfour12. She doesn't get to formally train on her mountain bike as much as she'd like to but she rides all over South London when she works. And she runs. In the middle of a message about how she hadn't been able to ride much and was concerned about her speed on a bike she told me she ran an informal half marathon in 1:33 while spending a weekend on the coast in Norfolk. To give you a feel for how fast that is, I just watched the women's marathon at the Track and Field World Championships in Osaka. They ran the first half of that event in a little under 1:20. Julie was fit.

The first stage went well for us. Despite my poor map reading skills (this is the last climb and then it's a quick descent to the finish… ummm, no, wait, there might be one more… well maybe there are two more… etc). We didn't give Sabine Spitz and Ralf Schäuble much to worry about - they slaughtered the Mixed field and almost everyone else too. But we were riding well and were looking forward to more.

Then I got a message at the finish - there was a family emergency. My grandmother had passed away and I was the one who had to take care of things. She was 94, and had lived a full life. She was in pretty good shape until recently, but that had changed in the last month or so. I had to leave the race and return to California immediately.

There was a positive result from the event was that my friends from England did very well. Ray Hallam and Jane Geddes got 4th in the mixed category and Paul Facer and Jim Dickson finished in 13th in a very fast Masters category. Julie carried on (out of the competition) and did well too. This is an event I will get back to. Since I wasn't there for most of it I'll let others tell about it. That's the best way I think of to make this as long as my usual entries (if only I was paid by the word!)…

First a brief introduction: Paul, Jim, Ray, Jane, and Julie and others who were not in attendance here call themselves the Sunday Riders. I met them in Canada at the TransRockies a few years back. We became friends and have raced in many of the same events over the years.

They will tell you that the Sunday Riders are casual cyclists who like to travel and ride their bikes. These "active cycling holidays" happen to be off road stage races like the TransAlp, TransRockies, Cape Epic, Ruta de los Conquistadores, etc. They will tell you that they are there to ride and finish, and the competition just adds some spice. That may have been true at one point. But they are a bit beyond that now, and their steadily improving results show that. A chat with any of them (especially Ray!) will give you the idea that they are not exactly passive in the way they go about competing either. They are very strong, skilled endurance racers, folks who didn't start as elite athletes but are getting as close as they can at an age when most people are happy to be stretched out on the couch. It is very fun to race with them, and against them!

Here's Ray's synopsis of the event in the Black Forest:

Sundayriders fourth place in the mixed category, Skidmarks thirteenth in the masters category!

Julie finished the race alone, as KB had to return home at short notice. She would have finished around 6th or 7th, if her times were counted.

A very enjoyable race.

After competing in most of the other 'biggest, longest, highest, bestest, baddest' multiday events, at first I thought I was going to be a little under whelmed by this race i.e.: the late starts (10 am), the short stages, no mountains to speak of, the fire roads and fir trees etc. I struggled during the race to understand why I was enjoying it, then I realised I was racing! In all of the other stage races, I've really only been riding to finish every stage, trying to avoid the cut-off.

Here, I was eating well, sleeping well, recovering and getting up to race the next day. I was enjoying the intensity of the competition against other riders. Up there with the 'biggest baddest...etc for me was the raciest multiday race. :-))

And Julie's:

I enter races like this to enjoy a holiday riding in an area I've never visited before. I don't describe myself as a competitive person but somehow I get into these races and it all just comes flowing out. This was a race described on the predominantly German website as 'up and down across the Black Forest' I thought it was just some pretty poor translation, I was so wrong.

The race wasn't going to be the toughest in terms of terrain and distance per day I've ever done but it was certainly challenging. The riding, mostly forest tracks and gravel roads, wouldn't be attractive to those looking for technical roots and rocks (though there's a little bit of that) but the undulations and the fact that you couldn't ever relax and freewheel, even on descents, made this a cross country race once a day for seven days.

This is a team event but the fact that KB had to leave after Day 1 didn't faze me. I've ridden many races solo so I just carried on. It was never an issue although on some of the long road and flat sections it's always good to have someone to pull you along and give you a break. There was quite a bit of that I missed out on, particularly on the longer race days. This and the seemingly endless rutted farmers fields take their mental toll, they're made more interesting by trying to avoid the scuttling harvest mice that dash in front of the wheels, I only saw one squashed one - it wasn't me!

The fact that you're constantly trying to catch the person in front, the team who disappear on the descents and reappear miraculously when there's a climb, detracts from the beautiful scenery and vistas you can see if you look up. Sometimes these are forced upon you when you break out of the forest into a clearing. It's a beautiful place, huge blue lakes and lush green grass with the typical Schwarzwald cobbled street towns and church spires, red squirrels abound and those cow bells, a wonderful sound.

The race was very well organised, sign posted with the utmost precision, as are all of the hiking in biking trails in this area, and the towns and villages we finished and started the days in couldn't have been more accommodating to all of us riders. You meet no opposition to fast riding on the trails, the hikers are generally happy to let you pass and give you great encouragement. I'd recommend this race to anyone, next year it's open to solo riders too.

The Adrenalin 24 Hour World Championships

Cycling News
September 21, 2007, 1:00 BST,
April 21, 2009, 11:55 BST

First I have to say that this wasn't an event I had planned on competing in earlier this year. I had...

September 22, 2007

First I have to say that this wasn't an event I had planned on competing in earlier this year. I had contemplated it because it was just down the road, but it would be a week after a long stage race in Germany. That could be very good (I had one of my best 24 hour races the week after the TransAlp one year) or it could be a disaster (no elaboration required, right?).

My entry was all Matt Carr's fault. He's a friend from Bristol, England. I met him one evening a few years ago at MudDock, a cool shop in town with a restaurant upstairs. I was there to give a talk and ended up enjoying some very good food and wine. I recommend it if you are in town.

Then I met him again a year later at the first Twentyfour12 event. He races solo on a single speed, which is only slightly on the unusual side these days. But he does it with a certain style, constantly dishing out artful (somewhat) comedy and heckling other riders throughout the event. In spite of the extra energy he spends that way he is typically at or close to the front of the race. He finished 3rd overall in the solo category at the Twentyfour12 this year on a 69er, the new Trek single speed, which, given the quality of the field and the amount of climbing, was a damn good result.

He contacted me to organize his pit at the worlds, which was fair since it was just down the road (the event was taking place at Laguna Seca). I'd never done that before, though it was not going to be too difficult to do. I made some calls and dug around in the pile o' stuff I have for 24 hour racing. Megan and Anna were in, so was my friend Ray's son (also called Ray), along with ace wrench Tom Sullivan from Amsterdam Bicycles. Everything was set. He was also, possibly without knowing it, giving me the chance to cook for him and the others who would be involved. Tomatoes are in season, as are wild berries, and I have some fennel pollen I just collected to try. That's the sort of thing I am always up for.

After thinking about it a little, the idea of sitting around the pit at a 24 hour bike race didn't have much appeal. If I could organize everything well enough, I could ride too. I had been riding long races all year and was going reasonably well, all things considered. They had age groups and my results would be good enough to get me in. So I signed up to ride.

Then, a few days before the event I got a message that Matt had been stopped at the airport. UK immigration wouldn't let him get on the plane. Knowing him a little I could imagine a few reasons why that might be, but the actual reason was much less interesting - some sort of digital doodad he needed but didn't have in his passport. Without that the ever vigilant US immigration folks would have turned him around, so the UK officials spared him the trip, but not the grief. He wasn't going to be able to race.

I am not sure, but I think he wanted to win the Worlds in the single speed category. I have no idea whether he would have, or whether the serious effort would have stifled the humor a little. Probably not.

The good part of all that is that, despite rumors to the contrary, I can now say with confidence that our Department of Homeland Security is on top of things - no wise-cracking, subversive Brit bike racers will be allowed into the US of A, with a bicycle without derailleurs, mismatched wheels, and a dodgy passport (one that still works everywhere else in the world). It's good to know isn't it?

Anyway, after setting up the pit for him, I guess I was going to be looked after well.

They say you can't guess the ending to a good story (not that you would ever suspect that a good story would come from me of course - long stories are my specialty). If that's true then the rest of this is not a good story. It was too hot for me - again.

The weather report from the organizer looked hopeful at first (I look closely at these now):

In Monterey warm, clear days and cool nights characterize the autumn months. In September the average maximum temperature is 72.3'F and the average minimum is 59.2.

72.3'F. Nice coastal weather. A lot like Santa Cruz, and heat is rarely an issue for me here in Santa Cruz.

That report was for Monterey though. Monterey is right on the ocean. Laguna Seca (dry lake) is not. I went up to pre-ride on the day before the race and at noon it was 20 degrees hotter up in the hills at the race site. Shite.

If you read my dairy from last year you'd know why. The two stage races I rode in hot weather last year were ugly. I'd only raced in one hot race this year and it worked out, but barely. And it was only a 50 miler. I was concerned. But I was signed up so I figured I would try it and see if I could get it right (or at least better) this time. One advantage I would have in this case was that I would be coming around to a pit after each lap, so I could get whatever I needed in the way of food and drink. The first stop I made on the way home was to stock up on Gatorade…

I'd initially planned to ride a very sensible race even before I knew about the hot weather. That meant a very comfortable pace; steady power, not pushing hard on the climbs, the sorts of things you would imagine doing for 24 hours on a bike. My experience with going out too hard and blowing up was burned in hard - it is not a good way to do one of these. It's not much fun either way; there is no fun way to ride that far. It's tough to be disciplined in that regard too. Someone comes by you and, well, you want to race with them. But I have managed this approach before with some success so I knew I could do it.

The length of the course (close to 14 miles) and vert (2500 feet per lap) added to the difficulty in the heat. 10 mph is a rough average speed for me in long off road endurance events. The Laguna Seca terrain is not technical so I can go a bit quicker there in a normal race. But with the climbs and heat, 10 mph was as fast as I would be going, so the laps would be well over an hour. A lap that long meant carrying a lot of fluid which added weight on the climbs.

My practice lap on Friday took 1:30, riding at a very comfortable pace. The course was sandy in areas, but otherwise easy enough. Measuring the effects of the heat was more important than learning the course though. I drank 2 quarts of Gatorade (one during, one after) and still lost a pound or so. At that rate it was going to be difficult to stay hydrated. 2 quarts per lap is a lot of fluids. For the race it seemed likely that I would have to slow down a little from the pre-ride pace. The sweat rate test was flawed in one vital respect though - I drank the replacement fluids over a longer period of time than I was riding. That was a crucial mistake.

It would cool down by 8 or so, so I would have to figure out how to get through the heat to that point in decent shape. Then once it cooled down things would get easier. I also planned to bring an accurate scale along so I could monitor my weight. This would let me see how the plan was working and make adjustments.

Stay tuned for Keith's next diary tomorrow to find out how it all turned out.

Keith Bontrager

Keith Bontrager is best known as the bike and component design guru behind his eponymous road and mountain bike components, but behind the scenes the man universally known as KB is an enthusiastic and well-respected endurance mountain bike racer. KB has taken part in a over 50 24-hour races in the last few years, and in his diary takes us inside the mental, physical and technical challenges of long-distance mountain bike racing, starting with one of the sport's greatest tests, the seven-day TransRockies Challenge.