My first ever (and only!) National 12 hour win. Sunday 17 August 2008.
We (la famille Cammish) touched down at London Stansted at 5.20pm, which was less than 14 hours before I was due to start the 2008 National 12 hour championship. I’d covered 906 miles in the two weeks we’d been away (which included a taper for the event!) - my last ride being the gentle 28 miles or so from Limbrassac, a small hamlet located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, to the airport at Carcassonne.
There wasn’t therefore too much time to get stressed out about the race.
A meal for four from the local take away (most of which was for me of course) and a quick telephone call
to David, my brother, to make sure he hadn’t forgotten that he’d promised to hand up a few bottles and it
The alarm went off at 3.30am. An hour later, after even more food, David turned up and we were on our way
to the start near Duxford.
Although this was a National Championship, I was far from excited about it. I’ve taken so many
hammerings in 12 hour events, I decided to take the view that this one would be another in the very long
list of 12 hour events that I’d start and ‘see how it goes’. I hadn’t even asked my sponsor, Dave Loughran
at Planet X, for a new bike! In fact, I’d asked him if he was okay with me using one of my older ones (a 7
year old Bob Jackson resprayed Steve Goff) which had a pretty steep seat tube angle (78 degrees or so)
which I’d found stopped me getting back ache over longer distances. Comfort’s the key for 12 hour races
… I’ve grovelled in agony in so many, I’m now of the view that if I’m going to grovel it might as well be in
comfort! In any event, and although I’m sure he would have agreed to build me another bike, I couldn’t see
the point in building one up specially for an event I wasn’t 100% certain I’d finish. Hardly the eternal
During the drive down to the event, David asked how the training and racing had been going. The year, so
far, had been an exceptional one for me. I’d completed my third fastest ‘50’ ever (1hr 40min 25sec at the
age of 51 for goodness sake) and had a half decent ‘100’ under my belt (3hr 41min or so in the BDCA), so
the 12 hour was naturally the next step in order to (try) to complete the BBAR distances once more. I’d
missed the CC Breckland ‘12’ while on ‘holiday’ getting the miles in but had picked up on what had been
done (280+ by Dave Green) which provided me with extra training motivation for the rest of the fortnight.
I covered plenty of miles … good hard ones too.
Limbrassac is within 40 minutes of Tour de France climbing country. While climbing hills isn’t particularly one of my specialities I do quite enjoy the climbs when I’m on my own … which I invariably am when riding in company simply because I can’t keep up! ‘Touring’ / training while on holiday is a completely different ball-game though. I usually spend the first week doing long rides over as many Ports and Cols as I can find. I’d done rides of up to 7 hours this time around. Not many miles mind you … but an awful lot of hours. Rather than break the training down in to two or maybe even three rides a day, all I did this time round was get one long ride in a day – probably right for 12 hour training (I rarely ever got it right in the past so why not continue experimenting eh?). I covered 589 miles in the first 7 days … but took nearly 36 hours to complete them.
The second week was an easing off process – only 317 miles in 17 hours.
So I wasn’t short of miles or hours by the time 6-35 am on Sunday 17 August 2008 came around.
It was cool and overcast when we arrived at the start. The weather forecast wasn’t good …. showers early on … brightening up later. Winds light to moderate from the south-west.
I rode my Jackson (or was it a Goff?) with a Planet X Pro Carbon 50 front wheel and Campag Ghibli disc in the rear. Tubs were Tufo Elite Jet in the front and S3 Pro on the back. Gearing was a single 53 chainset with 175mm cranks and a 12-17 block.
I wore a long sleeved skinsuit (with pockets) with a long sleeved helly hensen underneath. I also chose to wear
some ‘racing’ neoprene overshoes … just in case it rained (as there’s nothing worse than cold feet!). The sun-
glasses served two purposes: one, to stop squinting if it turned out sunny (squinting has caused me headaches in
the past … squinting wastes energy too and I wasn’t minded to throw an ounce of that away!) and two, to stop all
the muck and grit getting in my eyes if it rained. The aero hat was a ‘must have’ item too (well I cling on to every
yard I can get in a ‘12’ don’t I?).
I had an approximate schedule in mind. Before Glenn Longland achieved the feat, Bernard Thompson used to say
that the first person to achieve 300 miles in a ‘12’ would most probably go through the first ‘100’ in 3 hrs 50 mins.
The second ‘100’ would maybe take 4 hours - the third 4 hrs 10 mins. So since then, I’d always used that as a
guide! (so I am an eternal optimist after all!). When I did my personal best in 2000 I’d had splits of 53-25 for the first
‘25’, 1-50-20 for the ‘50’, 3-45-00 for the ‘100’, 5-53-00 for ‘150’, 8-03-00 for ‘200’. On that occasion I’d planned to
average 26.1mph for the first 100 and 23.1 for the second. This time around, I was on 26.7 and 23.3 respectively so I
knew I was going well. Maybe that was a more realistic target then? Anyway … that was all bouncing around in
MY head and wasn’t really anyone else’s business. In any event I didn’t want or need anxious helpers around if
they knew I was down on schedule so I thought it best to keep that all to myself.
The first 90 miles or so used basically the same route as the superfast E2 ‘100’ course – up and down the A11 a
couple of times. The rain came early on, as forecast, when we were charging up and down the dual
carriageways ... I’m sure if it had been a shorter event, it may well have been cancelled because, to be honest, it
was quite dangerous and I was relieved to get into the lanes which were less busy and (fortunately) more sheltered
from the wind.
The course then moved on to three circuits, each of about 12 miles. The faster riders were scheduled to leave the
first circuit at the 150 mile point but I seem to recall they made us move on one lap early. Either that, or my
brother can’t count! It took him 25 miles to find me. Fortunately, I’d plenty of gels and a full bottle to keep me
going but, as ever, it’s the psychological side of things that take effect in ‘12’s more so than the physical (that’s
what I’ve found anyway). I made a point of telling myself to relax and just get on with the job as I headed into the headwind down towards Duxford and the second of the circuits.
That one was a brute! 5 or 6 miles on poorly surfaced roads into a block headwind before joining the A505 for the wind-fest tail gale back towards Duxford … 4 or 5 times in all (it was me who was losing count now!).
The course went straight from that circuit on to the finishing circuit, the hardest part of which was the steady drag from the A505 / A11 ‘interchange’ to Great Chesterford which was made worse by the strong head wind which had continued to buffet us all day long.
Until then, I think I’d paced my ride quite well. I’d been eating and drinking well. SIS Go bars and banana flavoured Powerbars being the order of the day early on, moving on to SIS Gels (God-damned awful … not half as nice as Powerbar ones – the vanilla ones especially are top notch) as the day went on. I’d been drinking SIS Go until I reached the finishing circuit where I moved on to water which seemed to freshen everything up a bit.
The main contenders, as I saw it, were Ken Platts, Carl Ruebotham and Bradley Johnston. I’d already caught the likes of Joel Wainman, Mick St Ledger etc earlier in the day so it was a matter of taking a look to see exactly how well (or otherwise) I was going when I reached the finishing circuit as it was only then (due to the short dog-legs at Lt Chesterford and Duxford) that I could see how I was going against the other riders.
There wasn’t much in it.
I caught Johnston as he stood at the side of the road having a bike change and although he came back past me, he wasn’t pulling away fast enough to take back the time he’d lost with his problems. Platts wasn’t far down but the main threat as I could see it was now Ruebotham (who’d started 5 minutes behind me) and I was able to take two time checks myself on him at each end of the circuit. This was going to be a pursuit match!
There aren’t many ‘12’s where I’ve finished ‘racing’. OK to be honest, until that day, there’d only been the one. That was the aforementioned Eastern Counties event back in 2000 when everything went exactly right. I remember charging round the finishing circuit on that occasion, sprinting out of corners going for every last yard I could muster. This event was the same.
It was great (not often I say that about ‘12’s!). 10 hours in the saddle, then 2 more on the 12 and 13 sprockets hammering round the finishing circuit. My time ran out just after Stump Cross roundabout but I had to carry on riding to the next time-keeper, Wendy Dorling (who very quickly became my favourite time-keeper in the whole of Cambridgeshire … ever!), who was seated just after the far turn at Little Chesterford. I’d made a mental note of exactly when my 12 hours had run out … and coasted back there on the bike (as a warm down) where I waited for Ruebotham. 5 minutes (and a bit more) passed by … I knew I’d got him. Not by much … but I’d got him.
I got changed while David loaded the car before we / I anxiously drove back to the headquarters at Great Chesterford village Hall. Standing around result boards is not something I usually do … particularly after ‘12’s, but as with the Counties ‘12’ in 2000 I felt remarkably fresh and was even able to walk up the steps at the prize presentation.
After 37 years in the sport, and lots of National Championship wins and National records, I’d never won the National ‘12’. There’d been several occasions when I’d won both the ‘50’ and the ‘100’ in the same year and had been all set to join the very elite few (maybe just Albert Derbyshire?) who’d managed to win all three BBAR distance National Championships in the same season – but that’s something I never achieved. Although this win didn’t give me any hat-tricks (as my last National Championship win was in 1989) it still gave me one heck of a ‘buzz’. There’s a first time for everything I suppose, and I'd like to think it was always just going to be a matter of time before I pulled it off.
Joining the finishing circuit.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Brooke
On the drag just after Six Mile Bottom.
Photo courtesy Davey Jones