Sunday, 29 September 2013

Chamonix 24 hour mountain bike race - solo

Event website:

Results website:

Dauphiné Libéré article (paywall)

I won the solo category of the first ever Chamonix 24 hour race a couple of weeks ago. I rode just over 300km in just under 24 hours which was 33 laps of a 9.2km course.

It was quite an experience - mentally very tough as well as physically demanding.


The race started in perfect conditions at midday on a sunny Saturday. I had pitched my tent on the camping field and gone into Chamonix for a bacon and egg baguette to set me up for the race.
The first lap was fun with racers with too much adrenaline pumping. I kept out of trouble near the back of the field and was careful not to push too hard.

I had turned up to the race unsure as to what I could expect of my body - I had bruised a rib the previous weekend at the Singlespeed World Championships in Cogne, Italy. This had been causing me some pain when commuting to work and I had actually pushed my bike up the steep hill to our house on the way home frome work.

My thoughts were: see how it feels after a few laps and don't push on if it feels like it's being aggravated by riding.

So 10 laps in the rib was fine - the pain of the rib was actually lost in the other general pain. Both knees were hurting a bit. Hands were starting to be sore - I had chosen to race on a bike with no suspension, but with 4.7" tyres as my shock absorbers. The Moonlander was my choice for the race - I didn't wish to trash my best bike, and there was no question of racing a singlespeed bike on a course with as much flat, fast fire road as this one. The Moonlander set up with 1 x 10 gearing was therefore the weapon of choice in spite of its obesity.

Rain and darkness

At about 8 o'clock it was necessary to put the lights on. Everything was going pretty smoothly and the conditions were close to ideal. This was about to change - at 10pm it started raining. My girlfriend Sarah and our friend Kate turned up at this point to cheer me on - it was good to see friendly faces between laps of the course. A couple of laps later the sections of the course that had been dry dirt turned to mud.

I pushed on into the wet, cold night. I added a waterproof to my outfit and then a long sleeved mid layer. Even with this I was really cold whenever I stopped for more than a couple of minutes.
By this stage I was having a brief stop almost every lap to take on some energy. My food strategy involved a lot of cereal bars, a bit of cold pasta, a handful of gels and some haribo crocodiles. I suplemented this with some chocolate, coke, savoury biscuits and madeleines from the feed station at the start/finish area. I had plain water in the bottle on my bike and some strawberry milkshake in the tent. Not the healthiest of diets, but certainly high in calories!

At some point during the night after a feed stop I set off from my tent at the same time as my campsite neighbour, David from Evian. It appeared from David's entourage and equipment that he was a very serious racer. He was wearing team kit which was coordinated with his gazebo, baseball cap and van. He also had a mechanic to keep his carbon Cannondale race bike running smoothly. I was looking considerably less racy - baggy shorts, just one small tent as base camp with nobody there to look after my kit and a ridiculous fat bike.

In spite of this during the night I followed him round the first half of a lap before pulling away from him on the steep climb. I ventured a cheery hello as I passed, but David was gritting his teeth and staring straight ahead.

This incident gave me a significant morale boost! Having overtaken someone who looked very much like he had turned up to win the event made me think I could be in with a chance!

At about 4am I pulled over having completed 24 laps. This seemed a significant target and I thought to myself I could retire from the race and have a nice sleep - the lure of getting out of my soaking clothes and into a dry sleeping bag had never been stronger. Printouts from the event timing system had told me that I was in third place at about 7pm, but the technician had gone to bed and no more printouts were forthcoming after this. After the 24th lap I worked out that it was possible to get an update from a computer next to the start/finish line. This showed that I was in first place - the guy who had been leading had stopped for a break and I had also passed David.

My first thought was "fantastic" then I realised "bloody hell I'm going to have to keep going"!
At least I had a good reason to keep going now - it would all be worthwhile for a win!


Dawn seemed to roll around fairly soon after that and there was even a brief hiatus in the rain. I chatted to the guy in second place on one lap - he was checking whether I had slept at all during the night. He stayed with me until the descent began, but I was taking it very steadily down the steep, rocky and rooty bits by this stage, so he left me behind after this.

11am rolled round and Sarah and her mum were at the finish line to welcome me in. I had done 32 laps and the guy in second was out on his 32nd lap. This meant that he could still theoretically beat me if he got back in time to set off for another lap which seemed unlikely. I didn't want to leave anything to chance though so I set off for a final tour of the course. The marshals out at the back of the course had stayed cheery throughout and kept shouting encouragement, so I gave them all my thanks on this final lap. I was so keen for it to be over that this last lap was one of my fastest at about 35 minutes.

When I got to the finish Sarah was waiting with a big kiss, but not a hug due to the amount of mud all over me! There was also a photographer from the Dauphiné Libéré and a reporter from Altus magazine - watch out for my interview in the summer 2014 edition!

I finally got to take off my disgusting cycling gear and put on some dry clothes. Then it was time for prize giving! I collected my perspex chamois trophy and also won an Accro Adventure (Go Ape equivalent) voucher in the raffle!

My body recovered pretty quickly. It was feeling sound enough to ride to work after a couple of days. The palms of my hands had been stained black by my gloves, but this layer peeled off quite quickly.

Will I be back to defend my title next year? Possibly.....

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Pormenaz Bivouac Ride from Tom Rowntree on Vimeo.

Had a lovely ride last Thursday night (22 August) after work. Sneaked out of the office a shade before 5 and a few minutes later I was on the gondola up to Planpraz. 40 minutes of hard work followed, riding pushing and carrying up to the Col du Brevent.

With the bike laden as it was I probably only rode 30% of the climb. I spotted a few bouquetins near the top of the col and managed to catch one of them on the Gopro. They weren't particularly shy.

After a few photos at the top I set off down. The trail was 95% rideable, but with some steep tight switchbacks that I didn't attempt. It wouldn't be the place to fall and hurt yourself. I spotted a marmotte scurrying to its burrow part way down here.

This enjoyable trail brought me down to the pont d'Arlevé with the last section down into the gorge being some of the most challenging. The change of environment with the changing altitude is very noticeable. Near the top it was bare rocks and a few snow patches left over from last winter, while close to the river there were trees and a real alpine meadow feeling.

Once across the bridge the trail climbs again up towards the refuge Moede Anterne. This trail is much more rideable than the earlier climb to the col, but still a bit of pushing was required. This brought me past the chalets de Moede and then after turning left off the main track going to the refuge a grassy trail brought me towards the lac de Pormenaz.

There were already 5 or so tents set up around the lake, but I found a quiet spot in the south west corner of the lake. Refreshment was required, so I stripped off and went for a swim in the lake before I had a chance to cool down. Once out of the lake the evening started to feel a bit cooler, so wearing all the clothes I had brought I quickly boiled some water for a cup of tea and my dinner of pasta and pesto.

Unfortunately I discovered at this point that the bivouac bag which had been rolled up around my thermarest and lashed to the handlebars had been holed in a few places by a rough edged bolt on my brake lever reservoir. Not a disaster as it was a dry evening. Some insulating tape around the brake lever was sufficient to prevent any further damage.

Soon after 9 the skies dimmed, so I found a comfortable spot to lie down. The stars were not so bright as it had clouded over by this time, and the moon was on its way to rising. Some bright satellites cruised across the sky which were visible in spite of the thin cloud.

I woke a few times in the night and noted the moon (just past full) making its way accross the sky. The final time I woke and checked my watch - 5.45 and nearly time to get up. A cup of tea and a cereal bar set me on my way at 6.30.

First a slightly awkward push and carry to get over a small hill before a descent to the chalets de Pormenaz. Here the trail becomes much better trodden and the sun could be seen touching the upper slopes of Mont Blanc. The rest of the descent to Servoz was all rideable - just a few dicey steps which challenged me! I had to stop and rest my aching forearms a couple of times down here. The gradient is pretty relentless, so fingers are almost constantly pulling on the brake levers.

I was back in Servoz at 7.30 and managed the climb back up to Les Houches and home in half an hour. This gave me an hour to get a quick shower and change of clothes before riding into work for 9.

A fabulous night out! Couldn't have wished for it to go much more smoothly. My estimated timings which I had not been confident about (the alps can sometimes seem to distort time somewhat) had worked out nicely, arriving at the bivvy site before dark and getting to work on time with even a bit of time to mess about with photos and video.