What a day we had for the Eastern District Championship on Sunday – the CCB 12 hour is the EDCA Championship – with brave souls from around the country descending on Norfolk early on Sunday to do battle with the clock, the roads, each other and, above all, the elements. Men and women, stars and novices, young and old, all were there for the challenge.
I went down to the Eccles Road turn about 1030 – first rider started at 6.01 – to meet one or two marshals and helpers and then made my way up to the Browick / Mulbarton turn (the top end of circuit 2, the southern/western end being Eccles road) for 12 noon along with 4 other marshals at the same place (the turn consists of two roundabouts separated by a bridge over the A11) all doing our EDCA marshalling duty without which these events could not take place. With two different circuits on the A11 – each about 20 miles and each being covered by the cyclists up to 4 or 5 times – followed by a cross country lane trek to the finishing circuit, plus an official feeding station, this time trial needs almost as many helpers and officials as competitors. Half a dozen or so time keepers are located on the finishing circuit in order to time and stop the riders just as their allotted 12 hours elapses.
A unique atmosphere is found at 12 hour events with great camaraderie between the cyclists and with helpers for one or other also giving assistance to others in need, say, of spare wheels or bottles. A large crowd assembled at the Hingham village turn on the finishing circuit with every competitor that was still going – this is an attritional race – getting a gladiatorial clap and cheer as they rode past, many of them temporarily increasing their pace as a result, despite 11 or so hours in the saddle. I got to the finishing circuit about 5pm and would have cheered them on myself but I was too tired and dehydrated to find the energy. Strangely, quite a few of the finishing circuit cheered me as well, leaving me wondering as to the mistaken identity that was apparently taking place, until someone more alert than me pointed out that it was because of the ‘elderly’ car that I was driving. Funny things, bikes and cars, really, but it is the the people that are more interesting than the metal.
This would have been a fine day for the 12 hour with wind speeds below 5 mph all day, except for the unrelenting heat that made the day so attritional. If I were doing the 12 hour (optional guffaws cost extra) I would most certainly pull out of the event after a few hours to avoid this kind of exposure. Temperatures officially reached 30 Deg C by mid to late morning and did not drop until 5 or 6 pm, but the A11 is largely exposed and with the heat bouncing back off the tarmac, probably riders were experiencing temperatures in excess of 35 Deg C. How they kept going is a mystery to me, but many of them did and some even looked strong in the last few hours. Suffice it to say that my marshalling point had no shade and I got burned on the face and hands.
My 4.5 hour stint of duty started interestingly when National 100 mile champion, Alice Lethbridge, who also broke her own competition record in the EDCA ‘100’ 3 weeks earlier, turned up at Browick on a road bike asking me where she was supposed to be for her own marshalling duty. My hopes that she had turned up to re-acquaint herself with me being dashed and much as though I am sure I would have enjoyed the company, I had to tell her that she was due at the Eccles road turn and so send her on her way 10 miles down the A11. Despite riding an ordinary bike and with a back pack, apparently she managed to overtake one or two competitors on the way. We never did that in my day (it was regarded as bad form) but I guess she was worried about being late to marshal!
Andrew (Andy) Wilkinson was last man off and said to be on a mission to regain the competition record (of 318 miles) that he had established in this event 6 years ago. He has been back the previous two years but in support of his wife, Jill. As far as I know, this was his first attempt at the 12 hour since he regained comp record in 2012, the driver for him being that Adam Duggleby had the temerity to take his record with ride of 322 miles (when the aforementioned Alice Lethbridge also broke her own national record achieving 290 miles) at the National 12 hour championship a few weeks ago.
Wilkinson first won championships and BAR’s back in the mid and late 1990’s and I assume that he is now approaching 50, so coming back for a tilt at the 12 hour record after a long gap always seemed like a tall order. He started very fast – as he did 6 years ago – but we saw him stop on the Browick / Mulbarton bridge (his helpers were there) after 6 or 7 hours. He later told officials that he was suffering with back pain and I noticed that his black skin suit was stained white by body sweat as he struggled to remove it. The bike position is always tough on a long distance event – no one knows more about this than Wilko – but the heat of the day was also gruelling for the riders.
The fastest rider that I could track at my station was Charles Mitchell at number 30, a novice in the 12 hour, but the winner of the EDCA ‘100’ a few weeks before with the very fast time of 3 hours 26 minutes (an average speed of just over 29 mph) who was taking about 46 minutes to cover the 20 or so miles of circuit 2. Mitchell also had his team mates from A3crg back, the same guys that did the ‘100’, with Stephen Williamson (number 40) looking very strong taking about 48 minutes for each circuit. Mark Smith of Crawley Wheelers was also back after the ‘100’ and looking strong as did Victor Chetta of Artic Tacx (a man who had ridden the 24 hour event only two weeks before ….) at number 45 and likewise Matt Ivings (Buxton CC) at number 25.
Local man and vet Dave Green of the promoting club (number 20) started well but seemed to struggle in the heat, but he still finished with a fine 289 miles (provisional). Simon Hardy of Kings Lynn was one of those that seemed to get stronger in the second half of the event and still looked fresh after completing his 240 miles, 6 miles more than he achieved the previous year. John Swindells of Iceni Velo, however, really seemed to struggle in the heat of the day (after starting well) finishing with 240 miles, but again he rode without a helper. As a man on or about 4 hours for the ‘100. and covering a lot of miles as he does, I believe that he cud do 260 miles on the right day with the right back up. This was a day only for people with remarkable resistance to heat exhaustion which, sadly, did not include me. What was that I said about the marshals trade union?
The ever popular John Golder (Chelmer CC) chose this 12 hour over the ECCA event later this month and was chasing a national age record. (I am guessing that he is 63 or 64). It is believed that he achieved comfortably over 260 miles (probably about 264) and that he therefore achieved his goal, but provisional results were only available for the leading riders and all are subject to verification.
Rebecca Murley of Wisbech Wheelers, making her first attempt at this distance after a top season and a tremendous sub 4 hour ride in the EDCA ‘100’, was the subject of much interest and cheer and was provisionally given the win with 267 miles, however she believes that this is miscalculated and will be corrected to perhaps 260 miles. Helped on the day by her loyal parents, she started cautiously and, as a result, finished strongly, as did John Golder. She said the heat did not trouble her too much except for her feet which, at her request, her parents regularly doused with a bucket of cold water. Many riders got the Tour de France mountain stage treatment with a bucket of water being tossed over the whole torso. I think you possibly needed that every 10 minutes. i know I did. I had bottles of water with me, but they were hot….
Christina Mackenzie of the Stirling Bike Club was accredited with 266 miles, a Scottish National record, and this may be the winning distance for this event, she also having done the 24 hour event two weeks previously. Some people just wont give up. The men’s team win has provisionally been allocated to A3crg – Messrs Mitchell, Williamson and David Shepherd – with a combined distance of 891 miles, a new National Competition record assuming distances are confirmed. Finally, special mention should be made for the husband and wife tandem team of Becky and Howard Lewis (mid Shropshire Wheelers) who recorded 286 miles, also provisionally a new Competition record for the mixed tandem.
Charles Mitchell won the men’s event with a provisional mileage of 311 miles, an average speed of about 26mph, an extraordinary effort on the day provided the distance is confirmed, Mark Smith is provisionally second with 296 miles with a further 5 riders recording distances in the 290’s, Dave Green being 8th with 289 miles.
Personally, I am not sure if 12 hour events should take place under temperatures like these, but the riders, or many of them that finished, clearly have other ideas. I got home about 8pm for a cold shower and some after sun lotion. I had worn long sleeves and long trousers advisedly, but I should have taken a face mask and gloves. Some might say that these accoutrements could usefully be permanent, but I could not possibly comment. Later I switched the TV on and came across an old edition of Morecambe and Wise; “Bring me Sunshine’, they chortled…
Photos are courtesy of Fergus Muir