Marko the 24h World Champion in his Category one more time!

Top Photo by Michael Conti, RAAM finisher

Like in the last four years the cycling racing season ends with the 24hr World Championships Time Trial in Borrego Springs (California). With my season starting with the VIctory at the Sebring 24h Bike Race (Florida), it was another looong season. My season culminated with my best ever performance (and my crew’s) at Race across America RAAM 2019 with a second place in general standings and a victory with a RAAM record for 50-59 category. I topped that off with a great riding and coming to the Finish of Paris-Brest-Paris Super Brevet in the first group for the first time in my randonneuring career. Even with the ever stronger competition in Borrego WCTT, I wanted to finish off my season with a victory and above all with another 500+ mile finish, it would be my fifth one in that race (to that you can count some eight other, mainly in Europe). My last time of finishing the 24h race bellow 500mile mark was the first WCTT in California, which was held in 2012 in Coachella Valey, not far from Borrego Springs. I came pretty close on that course with 495,4 miles. So, anything less than 500 would be a real letdown for me.

I needed some down time after RAAM, but was starting feeling better as the Autumn was nearing, so I was an optimist of my 500 mile target. Dirka started as expected with a VERY fast start. Some of the racers, headed by my category’s competitor Badszus from Germany were pushing like there is no tomorrow (read: another 23 hours to come). The first lap finished in acrazy time of less than 41 minutes, which was some 2 min faster than my previously best lap. So yes, I did let myself be driven off my pace with those guys, but I soon regretted it. After a lap, I settled into more of my own pace and German kept moving away. I have to admit my legs haven’t felt on the top of their game from the very beginning. I know that most of the racers had a problem with the cold at night and of course I was a bit cold, too, but I prepared pretty god with the clothing and there wasn’t much that I missed, except maybe a Buff over my mouth, as I kept inhaling that freezingly cold air. But no, that wasn’t something that affected my legs, at least I don’t think so. What was it? I will probably never know, but it is damn hard doing a race at that level and feeling all the time like you are just racing with some little brake in your system. I was never in a big big trouble physically during the race, but mentally it was hard knowing for more than half of the race that it just isn’t going to happen for me that day.

Back to the race events. I have kept the second place behind the German, some 8 minutes behind him after 5h. One of the other favourites Jackson (GB) passed me around that time. Some racers were in big trouble with freezing temps and among them was Badszus, who actually DNFed after less than seven hours. When another Brit favourite Broadwith has passed me, I was prepared to battle for the second place, just to have my front light die on me on the part of the course the farthest from the Pit Area. All I could do is try to stay with the Brit, so he would actually show me a bit of a road ahead of me. I stopped as soon as we hit some lights at the Stop sign at the other side of the loop. I was able to fix the light contact myself, but it took me perhaps a minute and all my momentum and will was gone at the moment. As I have mentioned before, my legs were just not at the level they usually work at and knowing the lap times I am achieving compared to last years’ made me feel I am such an under performer. I was just slowly starting to lose my mojo. When a couple of laps later two of the screws on the tri-bar on my TT bike came lose maybe a mile after passing the Pit Stop, my first thought of just calling it quits entered my mind. I did resist the urge to turn around and quitting at that time, but continued with one hand holding the triathlon bar for it not to fall down between the spokes and continued on a bit slower. I again stopped at the Stop sign at the opposite side of the lop, this time asking the present official if he has some bike tools, like Allen keys and stuff. He had it all, thank God! I got the right one, tighten the two screws and I was away in a couple of minutes. My bad bad feelings on the bike with added cold temperatures and the mentioned mishaps just pilled up the negativity in my mind and mentioned my doubts when stopping shortly in the Pit Stop next time around. She would have any of it of course, letting me know how I live for this and I would do it rather than anything else in the World. “So, ride on dear!” was what I got and I followed through as a good husband I am. :) Joking partly, but deep down I knew how stupid it would be to quit when in third position overall and still almost half a race to go. It is awesome to have someone by your side, who knows when you need that gentle kick in the butt to keep on moving…

The night seemed to drag forever and the lowest temperature reached as low as 1,8°C by my Garmin. My times kept dragging, too and were way of my pace any year I raced this course. I just never felt on top of my game, but now I had a job to do and that is keep the people behind me stay right there. It wasn’t easy, but I got it done. With the sunrise, the life got a bit better again. It tool another two or so hours to feel the temperature actually go up, but when it did, it felt heavenly. I stopped after 8 AM for my only real Pit Stop, taking my winter clothing off, changing of the lights and reapplying the butt cream. It took us only 6 minutes so we were still spot on this way. Nutrition was working as planned and it is better it was as our phone communication was non existent as my phone resisted to take Irma’s calls and instead did a couple of calls by itself, to my sister in Slovenia in the middle of the Slovenian night. ;) So, with the sun up and the 6min of rest, my legs started feeling a bit better again. Still not at their best, but at least I got to do the 33km/h lap averages, which was not possible at the end of the night. For a few laps the possibility of being able to go over 500 miles seemed remotely possible again, but I do believe you have to be on top of your game to be able to do that. I just wasn’t this time around and at the end it showed I lacked less than 2% to make it happen. I was just 8 miles short of 500, finishing with 492 miles.

I took the short five loops with some speed, but not overdoing it, because I knew no one can catch me from behind and I didn’t have enough time for 6 laps even if I did 11min loops which has never been done, not even with a fresh legs of 6h racers. I was just dead at the Finish, a lot more than in the previous years when I did 502-514 miles. I was considering using Mathieu Van der Poel’s celebration after the Finish and throw myself on the ground, but Irma’s hug felt way better. The feeling after the race are still today, a few days after the race, very bitter-sweet. Happy with achieving another victory in my category and a very solid third place in an awesome racing field, but a little worried about my leg speed that day. Was it only a fluke incident of unknown origin or is it my age catching up with me? I guess we will have to try again to see the answer to the above question. Thinking about that, 492 miles is not actually shabby for a not-so-good day in the saddle, is it?

P.S. I have to mention my countryman Erik Rosenstein, who is only the second Slovenian racer doing the WCTT. He did the 12h race and even with the bad accident in which the car hit him on the bike and he broke a rib or two, he managed to participate and not even that - he became the World Champion for the 40-49 Category and got the second overall. Congratulations Erik!

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