The biggest race of the FLE season is the 12 Hours of Santos, and not just because it’s a 12 hour race. The race course isn’t just on arguably the best trail system in the state, but in the toughest section: The Vortex. The steep climbs and drops of exposed limestone and clay littered with loose rocks are part of a relentless IMBA Red trail loop, so of course all of those sections were in the race loop. In a row, no breaks. Add in some of Ray Petro’s fun wood berms, whoops, and jumps in between some flowing singletrack through the woods and you’ve got a truly great race course.
All the racers know this is an event that can’t be missed, so RV’s and campers, tents, racers, family members, and even their dogs start showing up in the Vortex on Thursday to get a primo spot and check out the trails.
I got up there midday Friday to get a ride in and see the course layout. Last year was my first and only time riding those trails, and the 2018 course was effectively backwards from that 2017 route which was pretty cool. Several of my racing buddies were showing up too, some racing solo and some on teams, ,and everyone was stoked on the course. As night fell they started going out for night laps, better to see the course in the dark the day before the race than on race day.
Since I haven’t jumped into a 12 hour race (yet), I was in the 6 hour category with some serious heavy hitters. Several of the state’s fastest riders call this trail home, and for others it’s their home away from home. Another unique part of this race is the Le Mans start: riders put their bikes in a marked area and have to start from the bottom of the Vortex pit on foot. We all lined up waiting for the whistle to blow, taking off up the hill as fast as our stiff MTB shoes would take us. I was able to get a good start on the run, keeping up with top dogs like Tim Zimmerman, but once we got on our bikes he dropped me like usual. Some of the 12 hour teams sent out their fastest runner, so those guys and girls were on their bikes quickly but it was apparent their strength may have been on their feet and not on their bikes. We had a modified lap to start so we could spread out a bit and there was a fair amount of traffic to navigate, but after 3-4 miles I was able to get into a groove and start settling into a good pace.
I had a bit of a different strategy for this race, knowing the start was going to be 300 people of mayhem I just focused on keeping smooth and mellow early. Easier said than done, as we flew into the Vortex section with its punchy climbs and steep drops. Each steep ramp was burning matches, but I tried to be smooth and smart keeping my HR in a happy range and staying hydrated. I was able to click off a solid lap or two before my friend & top competitor Philip joined me. We’ve been very evenly matched all season, so I knew my pace must be good so far. We stayed together for a while but eventually I slipped on one of the climbs right as a group of faster riders was passing, putting a few riders between us.
Lap times were in the high 30 to low 40 minute range so I figured 8 laps was likely, and 9 was possible if things went well. I had recently reformulated my custom Infinit nutrition mix to have more electrolytes and less caffeine, and it was working great. As temps approached 80 degrees, I had no cramps or energy bonking at all, just smooth and consistent laps. Such a big race always has traffic and as the day went on we started to run into some lap traffic. I took on an extra bottle of ice water to spray down and cool off sometime around my 6th lap, and just tried to catch the guy in front of me when I caught glimpses of a jersey down the trail. At the start of lap 7 I had done the math and knew my 8th would be my last, so I buckled down and tried to finish strong. The time gap from me to Philip was staying consistent, so I emptied the tank on the last lap and did what I could to catch him.
At the end of the 8th lap I had about 36 minutes left to try and complete a 9th. That may have been possible early in the day, but 5+ hours in that wasn’t going to happen so I called it a day. Philip had done the same and the preliminary results looked pretty good for us both. As the clock struck zero for us 6 hour racers we saw two competitors in our class had actually went out and completed a 9th lap, landing Philip and myself in 3rd and 4th place in class, respectively. More importantly I finished 12th overall out of 110 total racers in the 6 Hour category which was really eye opening as I thought there were surely a ton of people in front of me. It’s always hard to tell where you end up when different classes and teams are out on the trail at the same time, but I was pleased, as I was much further down in standings last year.
One of the best parts of this race, especially for 6 Hour racers, is getting to sit back after the race and watch the 12 Hour solo and team riders competing into the night. As the sun set behind the trees and the riders powered up their lights, it was so cool to see several different teams of my friends and training partners competing against each other for top spots in the Open and Co-Ed team categories. The Team races are a totally different kind of awesome than solo races: smash a lap as hard as you can, rest while your teammates do the same, repeat for 12 hours.
While I didn’t get on the podium, most of my friends did, dominating the co-ed and open classes with some of the races coming down to mere minutes after 12 hours. Such an epic long day is hard to explain, perhaps the pictures and video give a glimpse, but simply there is only one way to understand: you have to go next year. Seriously, it’s too much fun to miss! Don’t take our word for it, check out Jamie Babcock’s race report as well!
Thanks to Spectrum Innovations for this amazing short trailer of the day!
Jemma grabbed a few shots at the race, so be sure to check them out and use them for your latest bike race profile photo! We really hope you enjoy them, check out the full 12 Hours of Santos 2018 Endurance Race Gallery and sneak peek below!