– Written by Petr –
24h MTB race: suffering is fun…at least for me! For the last two years, in May, me and my best biking friends sign up for a big challenge: Jihlavska 24 MTB race. The concept of the race is simple, it’s about riding 24 hours in row! Who rides more km wins, simple as this. There are many ways you can participate depending on what category you sign up. You can ride individuals, 2 riders, 4 riders, 8 riders and same categories but mixed with female riders). Our team was composed of four guys and we decided that we would like to, well, to win 🙂
The racing track is set in the beautiful Czech city of Jihlava. Half of the racing track is situated in the old town city center. But don’t think it’s just riding thru tiny streets. No, it is much more exciting than that. It’s mix of old cobblestone streets and sections with downhill stairs and one section with even stairs up, which leads on the city walls. The rest of the track goes around the local dam where there are great single tracks with some technical sections. What is really unique, and what I really love about this race, is the atmosphere. During the race there are lot of cheering people, not just during day but also at night, when you need them the most. Especially in proximity of the downhill stairs section, located in a narrow street with a restaurant’s outdoor garden over it, there is a very big crowd (seriously tons of people) with the only task for the day of drinking beer and applauding to the riders.
Riders starts on the city square and quickly heads down where the base camp for all teams is. During the first lap the super-terrain-steep-downhill shortcut cutting through the camp area is closed and riders have to go around. From the second lap on, this shortcut is open and riders can legally cut the circle about 200 meters. At the edge of the base camp there is section for handover – this is specially made for teams . Riders, by touching a team mate, give signal that they are stopping and another rider is continuing the race. As a prevention for collisions with fast riders, there are cyclo-cross barricades installed which have to be stepped over. Suddenly, after the handover area, riders have to cross a wooden bridge and start a technical climb with stones and log steps. The uphill is followed by a short flat section that connects you to the next uphill, this time an easy one.
The trail around the dam is very enjoyable. Some parts are fast and if you have enough speed, you can even do a couple of jumps. Some other parts are very technical with tight corners and riders have to be careful there. The dam section is in the middle of the course which means that after that the natural part is over and riders are going back to the city.
Welcoming you back to town are a few very steep up hills followed by a real obstacle, stairs up. Most riders dismount the bike and run up the stairs, but there are few riders who can cycle up. For them the reward is a huge applause from spectators. Those who didn’t get a big applause in this section don’t have to wait long as they could be also rewarded with spectators ‘ clapping hands when they ride down the stairs close to the restaurant garden I mentioned before. After this, the fun technical section is over and riders are back on the main square and the circle is over. The whole distance of the loop is about 9 km, one of fastest riders can make the circle in 18:40 minutes.
It’s 11:55 a.m. and about 500 riders are nervously clipping in to their spd’s, trying suspensions, checking tire pressures and fitting helmets and jerseys. In just five minutes the 24 hour race will begin…
Bang! That’s the sound of a cannon (seriously) which tells that the race is on. Our category is one of the most competitive, there are 17 men’s teams. First laps are very fast, everyone is fresh and go top speed. After two hours it’s already possible to see that there will be four teams competing for the victory even though it is hard to predict the final result after only two hours because during the race a lot of unexpected problems can occurs. We still have fresh in mind last year experience… flat tires, break chains, crashes and lights off.
This kind of race is not just about pedaling as fast as you can, it’s also about tactics: How many laps in row will I go? One, two or three? Isn’t that too much? Not enough? Will you be able to ride two laps in row with similar time? Are we going to have the same race tactics during the day and the night? How much do we slow down during the night? Well these questions are running through our heads all the time. What is really helpful is that the results are on-line. We can check them in real time and adjust our riding according the situation.
Our strategy is to change rider each lap during the day and during the night after two laps. We want to gain a bit of time on the other teams during the day and during the night we want to conserve it and have a bit of sleep. We know our team is good enough to be one of the best but soon we realize that the other teams are also really good (what a surprise,eh:D). Especially a team from Germany, these guys don’t give us even a second! After six hours of riding we are in the first place but leading just by 20 seconds which is not ok with our plans. We start to be tired because we are keeping an incredible speed as both teams are trying to tire out their rival.
So our strategy has gone wrong, these guys won’t give us nothing for free. So we say good bye to sleeping and decide to keep the same day tactic hence changing rider every loop. So hard! But it is paying back. Around midnight, half of the race mark, our uncompromising style of riding starts to bring the desired results and the gap between us and the Germans is getting wider and soon we have about 10 minutes. Their strategy is similar to ours, but around 2 a.m. they change and start doing two or more laps in row. Some of their team members are probably more tired or want a bit of more sleep to be fresh again or they are just too tired and scared of getting injured riding through technical sections, who knows. For us this means we have a golden chance to gain more leading and we feel energized by it. We soon start to push again as much as the dark allows us. I cannot describe how hard it is to keep going during the night hours when you feel so tired and want to sleep more than the 30 minutes dictated by our strategy.
Loops during the night are slower, the time is around 20 – 21 minutes per lap. Of course some of us have crisis and few laps are around 25 minutes, but our leading time was still growing. Soon we gain an advantage of one lap, which means around 20 minutes, and we know that if everything will be OK for the rest of the race, we will be winners. Still there are more than 6 tough hours so better to keep the head down and pray that nothing bad will happen.
The sun is rising and pumps new energy into our veins and we feel we can continue the race with enthusiasm. This feeling is priceless. You can see the same thing is happening to the other teams. We have survived the night without crashes or technical issues and we are very happy about that. We don’t want to risk anything at this point so we keep going with the same strategy, one rider one loop.
Time flies and so our bikes and we successfully finish the race in the first place! We have beaten the German team by two laps in the end. With the help of the good weather we have also beaten the record in ridden distance and laps. The final number was 65 laps which is equal to 552.5 kilometers. The race was very physically demanding, but on the other hand, the reward when you cross the finish line and you know you are first it’s indescribable.
Thanks to a good racing track mixed with fun technical sections, good organization, a comfortable camp for riders, great cheering fans and tons of other things, it was an unforgettable experience that I truly recommend.
See you at the starting line.
Useful info about the race
In 2017 the race will take place 19 – 21.5. 2017
When you come on Friday organizers will welcome you with a warm smile and they will offer you immediately a shot of Czech alcohol. Then you can choose the place you like for your tent and start preparing everything for the race. We normally have a tent to sleep and a race tent to stay under during the race. The closer you are with your stuff to the race track the better. In the evening there is entertainment at the campo area and you can listen to live music or taste local beer. Friday is considered as a opening evening so a lot of people from the city and nearby villages will come to party. The party place is about 200 – 300 meters away from camp so if you want relax you do not have to worry, the camp is calm and it is easy to fall asleep.
Most competitors come on Saturday morning (8-10am). This time is hectic, organizers do what they can but you have to wait and be patient, also do not count with the same pleasant welcoming you would get on Friday. Everything will be done as fast as possible. Your place for tent will be point out by organizers and there is small chance to change it. The parking place is in the city center, approximately 1 km from the camp, or on some nearby meadows, but this is mostly occupied by people who come on Friday.
When the race is over, people leave very slowly so there are no major traffic jams. Many stays and listens organizers proclaiming the winners for every category, applauding the winners and waiting for theraffle. Your name can be chosen and you have the chance to win some prize. Every year the prize is different, it is hard to say what it will be this year.
In the camp there are toilets and showers. There are not cooking facilities but you can always buy something from food tracks.
If you sign up until the 2nd of May the price is 1000 Czk per person
From the 3rd to the 20th of May, 1300 Czk per person.
The starter pack includes:
Race number + your name, refreshment during whole time of race (fruits, candies, cookies, snacks, drinks – water, tea, energy and 2x hot meal), health and bike care, time measurement, free parking place, bike wash and entrance on Friday party.
During the whole race, there is a tent with skilled service people who will help you with your broken bike. Service is free of charge. The only thing you pay are new bike parts, if needed.
Each category has different kind of prizes. Mostly the prizes are relative to mountain bike culture (bike cosmetics, car bike racks, bottles, bike tools, jerseys and other equipment). Teams can win also kegs of local beer – this prize is mostly for 8 team.