Two years after our first outing, we returned to the forests of Norfolk, hoping to put our SITS experience to good use and improve on our 2005 performance here. Surely, after we'd finished a 24 hour race, a 12 would be easy?
In 2005, ridiculously, we'd arrived barely two hours before the start. We found ourselves camping miles from the arena, we didn't have time to ride more than a couple of miles of the course, and basically we were terribly ill-prepared. We did much better this time, making an early start out of London and arriving at the course at a sensible time. We'd only been able to get hold of a small-ish van, and Eldrik had taken one for the team by volunteering to get the train up instead of joining me, Steve and Andrew in the van. Thanks to his efforts, we already had a great camping spot bagged by the time we arrived.
We managed to pre-ride half the course this time, and it seemed infinitely better than the 2005 course. That had been fairly monotonous and flat, and was just a long circuit that went out into the forest, wound around for 11 miles, and then came back into the arena. This year's course looped back in twice, breaking up the lap nicely, and also went through six bombholes - lots of fun in the daytime but a slightly worrying prospect for the night.
The 2005 race had been in September, and had started with just a little bit of light in the sky at 8pm. This year's was in October, and it started an hour earlier but night had long fallen by the time Eldrik lined up to do our first lap. The race got underway with a rolling start, to spread out the field a bit, but just around the first corner some people got entangled and triggered a minor pile-up. Luckily Eldrik was already through, and he got us off to a great start by coming round in 56m54s, placing us 15th out of 53.
Steve and Andrew were out second and third, and put in some solid laps - Steve's interrupted by a high-speed fireroad crash but still a decent time. I was the last rider to go out, and was looking forward to my lap, not least because I was on a brand new bike. This was not ideal for preparation, but my previous bike had been stolen a couple of weeks before the race. I bought a new one on the evening before the race, and now, barely 24 hours later, I was giving it its first proper workout.
Everything went pretty well for about eight miles. I got through the first bombhole with no problems, then flew through the second and caught a whole load of air on the exit. I looped through the arena in good time, gave my team mates a wave and then headed back into the forest. A couple of miles on, disaster struck - without really knowing what happened, I suddenly found myself heading groundward with my bike following rapidly behind. After a couple of startled seconds lying on the trail, I picked myself up and moved to the side. Then I noticed two forlorn pools of light on the trail. Both my lights had been ripped from their brackets.
I managed to get one of the lights fairly well fixed on again, but the other one was properly broken. After a few minutes to catch my breath I got back on the bike and covered the last three miles of the course as quickly as I could. I was pleased that I still managed to overtake a couple of people, despite a painful knee and limited lighting.
Back at the arena, I handed over to Eldrik, and then investigated my injuries. I had a pretty decent cut on my knee, and went off to a medical tent to get it cleaned up. Eldrik did his second lap in just over an hour, and then Steve was out for his second. Unfortunately, trouble struck for Steve when his light batteries started to run low, and he had to do most of the lap with the lights in flashing mode. This is not an ideal way to cycle through a forest in pitch darkness.
Andrew's second lap was quick, and then theoretically it was my turn again. But in the three hours since I'd crashed, my knee had become painful enough that I couldn't bend it at all easily, and I decided that my race was run. Steve was also now suffering the effects of his earlier high speed crash, and he wasn't sure if he could do any more. While we grumbled about our wounds, Eldrik went out for a third lap.
By the time he came back, Steve and I had both decided we were out of action. Andrew needed more rest before he could go out for a third, so unfortunately an hour and a half passed with no-one from our team on the track. By 6am I wondered if Andrew was really going to be up for another lap - I remembered two years ago waking up at 6.30am with the idea of doing another lap, feeling horrific and deciding emphatically against it. But he roused himself, jumped on the bike, and went out for a swansong lap. It was getting light when he started, and day had more or less broken by the time he finished, just a few minutes after the 12 hours was up.
So in the end, we did nine laps between us, covering about 105 miles. We had a rider on course at the end of the race, unlike last time, but still had not managed to have a rider on course throughout the entire race. But it was more experience gained and a fun end to our racing season (of two races). As the sun rose over the forest, we wearily packed everything up, and by 2pm we were ready to go. Eldrik had to cycle back to Brandon station and I didn't envy him at all. Next year we'll get a bigger van, and hopefully our incremental improvement will continue. We might even finish in the top half.