24 hours Solo (a humdrum thing done by one person unaccompanied day and night for a period of time equal to twenty-four hours)
I had anticipated the weekend of June 23rd – 24th for weeks as I had a starting slot at the Sella Ronda, a legendary mountain bike race in South Tyrol. Even the weather forecast was excellent. That was until I heard of a 24 hour single-speed bike race in a parking garage in Vienna which changed my mind instantly. The beautiful scenery of the Dolomites? No match to garage-architecture! Fresh air in the mountains? Too much oxygen! Great single trails? Nothing compares to a nice spiral up in a garage driveway!
I changed the gear ratio on my track bike, a Specialized Langster, from 48/16 to 42/18 which turned out to be an ideal transmission. The racing course utilized all four floors of the brand new parking garage in one of Vienna’s developmental areas, first leading up three spirals to the third floor, then going down through all floors one after another. One lap had 1.2km and 12m difference in altitude. At 12:30 p.m. on Saturday me, some other soloists and double-teams entered the contest.
The most sophisticated part of my plan for the next 24 hours was to change my Solo jerseys every 4 hours and my Solo bib-shorts every 12 hours. Apart from that it would be a rather dull routine of cycling up and down in circles. As the rain had only stopped an hour before the start the spiral ramps of the upper levels were rather slippery causing some crashes and cases of road rash in those who were too ambitious right from the start. I somehow managed to stay accident-free albeit rather slow and defensive. Soon the sun would peek out of the clouds and dry up the dangerous spots. From then on with every round my confidence in the tire’s grip and consequently my speed increased. Soon I was in second position with lap times around 2 min 50 sec (my fastest lap would be 2 min 30 sec).
The start and finish area was always a welcome place to pass through bringing some change with music and cheering folks. I had gone with no ambition whatsoever into the race just wanting to see how far I could go. Hence I had a lengthy break in the evening to savor some pasta and coffee & cakes. During cycling my mind went into some sort of auto-mode – afterwards I could not point out any specific thoughts I might have had. Probably an EEG would have shown brain activity close to hibernation. After nightfall the harsh neon light made everything even more monotone, creating a surreal kaleidoscope of the the four floor colors black, red, green and yellow. Around midnight I noticed an alarming decrease of focus with the danger of a painful encounter with one of the many concrete pillars. I was still in second position and although the thought of gaining a podium place had become increasingly appealing and even realistic I thought better of it and decided to take a break for a power nap.
While I slept the 12 hour contestants had joined the race at 12:30 a.m. bringing back some panache to our endeavor. Although it was just one hour of sleep on a camp bed I woke up surprisingly refreshed. To claim that it was a pleasure to get back in the saddle would be an exaggeration. Even more so as I had lost my second rank and was in third position now, my adversary being half a dozen laps in front of me. The rest of the night are just a blurred memories. The worst time of the whole race were the small hours. I felt hung-over like having spent a night on booze instead on a bike (whatever is worse…) With the grey light of dawn creeping through the light shafts of the garage came the morning chill and I was glad for having brought my Solo Équipe Jersey which kept me comfy until first rays of sunlight chased away the shadows of the night.
Along with the sun came my wife Sabine who refilled my drained carbo reservoirs with freshly baked croissants and revived my spirits with coffee and a kiss. The second place still seemed out of reach but I wouldn’t give up and threw my aching body back into the battle. Round after round the lead of my rival in second position diminished. My mood oscillated between hope and resignation. Some stubborn part of me wouldn’t give, though. Meanwhile I yearned for a break. Every time I approached the finish line I fantasized of stopping only knowing too well I wouldn’t. The last three hours of the race passed by in an psychedelic blur, round after round after round. I even didn’t perceive that my rival had long given up and was utterly flabbergasted when I finally finished my last lap shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Sunday in second position after 366 rounds, 460km and more than 4,267m of altitude gain.
Circling a parking garage for 24 hours was a very challenging experience both physically and mentally. I didn’t get a sore bum which I contribute to the excellent chamois of my Solo bib shorts. It took me some time though to get my mind straight again which kept going in circles for the rest of the day. The few beers I had in the afternoon didn’t seem to improve this condition…