Finale Ligure – The world’s toughest 24h MTB race
For the 20th anniversary, the organizers came up with a special format. Different from the last few years, when the competitions for individual starters and teams of two took place one day before the faster teams of four, eight and twelve, everyone started together this year again. Due to the higher number of athletes on the track, the overtaking processes and getting into a race rhythm was considerably more difficult.
This year the lap was the longest ever with almost 12 kilometres and an altitude difference of approx. 550 metres. Especially for single starters, this was a big disadvantage because catering was only possible in the transition area of the race and dehydration of the single starters was pre-programmed right from the start.
In the preparation, I started some units at 3 o’clock in the morning to prepare myself optimally for the racing situation at night. I started with a super light bike and wanted to have an advantage on the up to 22% steep climbs. Since I always start with racing shoes and pedals, the power transmission is higher than with mountain bike shoes and you are also more firmly clicked into the pedal. However, running is a lot more difficult. To my disadvantage, the organisers decided to let us single drivers and teams of two start three hours before the other teams in the Le Mans starting procedure. This means, after the starting signal, we had to run about 800m to our bikes first before the actual mountain bike race would start for us.
Right from the start, I was able to put pressure on the front pack and kept up with the best teams of two. In a descent, however, I noticed that I had a flat rear tire and had to repair it. Accidentally, even my spare hose was defective and almost the entire rider field passed me. Fortunately, though, a German participant stopped and lent me his own spare hose. However, in the hurry, I had inflated the tyre too little and after a few kilometres on a steep, technical descent I had another flat tyre because I hit a stone with my rear wheel too hard. Being the last, I had to run three kilometres into the catering area and changed to my second bike while my care team repaired my bike.
From that point on I had a lot of catching up ahead of me because like every year in Finale Ligure, some of the best endurance mountain bikers in the world compete at this race and every meter has to be worked hard for. After two laps my actual racing machine was ready for use again and I was able to resume the ride properly. With temperatures around 28C and just a few shade-giving trees at the ascents, it seemed as the sun would literally suck the energy out of the body. After three hours of racing, I already got the first cramps in my legs, which indicated a dehydration. Some of my comrades-in-arms even had signs of a heatstroke at that time and the heat also left its mark on me. The cramps should get worse in the next few hours.
After four hours, I had a more serious fall a blind bend and crashed into the bushes. I tried to rinse the little wounds at elbows and knees provisionally with water and after a short check of the body, I decided to continue racing. A short time later, however, I noticed that I had unfortunately lost my sports watch in the crash. Now, I no longer had an overview of which hour of the race I was in, how my heart rate is or how many calories I burned. It was all about my experience and how well I know my body from now on. To not risk too much, I slowed down a bit after the crash.I had already been able to work my way into the top 10 within the short time and, simultaneously, some of the favourites also had to quit the race. The multiple winner Rudolf Springer from Austria had to finish the race before nightfall as well.
After almost nine race hours, I took a short break to pee. The first one. My team used this time to attach the lamps for the night session to my bike and helmet. The night is always a bit riskier at this race compared to other 24-hour races, because the track demands full concentration all the time. Especially the sections at the cliffs do not forgive any mistake. I knew that 24h races would be decided at night and that’s when I could make up a lot of ground on my competitors in front of me. An advantage over my competitors was also my gear. During the night it got rather chilly and whereas the others had to stop to change or put on jackets, I simply kept on riding in my X-BIONIC gear. Trust me, it keeps you performing under all conditions!
In the morning at five o’clock, the sun rose again and throughout the night I was able to claim the second place. However, I was aware that the last four hours are always the toughest of the race. You’ve been in the saddle for 20 hours and you think almost made it, but there are still four hours to go before the finish. Yet, this remaining time alone is usually longer than a normal bike tour. Four hours at this point of the race is a lot. A lot to make up or also lose positions.
As expected, the last hours were once again gruelling. Why do I keep on doing this to myself? In the meanwhile, I had cramps all over my body – in my legs, arms, fingers and even my tongue. The body was maltreated. Since last year. I have been working for and with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferers and could now imagine for the first time how such a boost with cramps must feel like. It was no different for the competition and the leading Frenchman even had to give up the race a few hours before the end. I was now in first place and could actually put a lap between myself and my pursuers. By the end of the race, I even managed to increase the gap to two laps.
Over the moon, after a whole day and a whole night in the saddle, I reached the finish line of the biggest and toughest 24-hour MTB race in the world. In the first position! Victory!
Without the support of my family and friends, no matter on or off the track, this great achievement would not have been possible. I’m really thankful for how everyone helped me to achieve this success.