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.....


  1. Tom!!!
    This is awesomely awesome!
    You look like coming from another planet, in the arrival picture.
    speak soon,

  2. you're an absolute legend Tommy

  3. He comes of another planet, the Moon from where his bike is, the Moonlander...

  4. Hi Tom,
    I was riding at Chamonix as well (in the x4 category) and was very impressed by you ! Congratulation !
    I also want to thank you because thanks to you I've discovered what is a Fatbike and have bought one (the Fatty). Now, i only ride it, and will probably come back in September to Chamonix on my Fatty. Hopefully you will be there !
    Fabien Archimbaud