Race report | Mads Frank 24h Worlds
Race report | Mads Frank 24h Worlds: This report will be about more than just the 24h Worlds. The race ended far from the way I had prepared for. To understand what this race means to me I will show you some numbers of my specific build-up. I’ve trained more than 20.000 km specifically on my race-bike for the race this year. I have spend +80 hours in the gym to gain specific muscle mass. I’ve aero-tested, weight-optimized, comfort-tested on every aspect. The Wilier bike, wheels from Scope Cycling, gears form Shimano, tires from Schwalbe, saddle from Secret Saddle Club, bearings from CeramicSpeed and clothes form Bioracer, shoes from Shimano and helmets from Lazer sport.
My 24h race-pace has never been higher. My season has been build around the 24h Worlds as my only A-target. A late start to the season to stay fresh and hungry all the way throughout the year. A win in the 400km Race around Denmark in May, a win at the national 24h-race Midt24 in June without emptying the tank. Second half of the season with a third place at the European short-distance 6h-race in Italy in August before a final training block towards the 24h Worlds.
Making it to the Start Line
Together with Caroline and the crew we travelled to the U.S. 5 days before the 24h Worlds. I had worked extensively since July to get the necessary National Interest Exception (NIE). An NIE is granting athletes the visa to travel to the U.S. under the Covid-19 restrictions. More the 50 hours of paperwork, phone calls and emails with embassies, race organization, local authorities, national cycling federations, international ultra cycling association etc. A couple of weeks before the race we were finally granted the NIE. All the actual organizing of ESTA, renting house, cars, boarding passes, Covid-19 tests, vaccine verification documents etc. could start. I have never fought so hard to actually get to the start line.
The heat acclimatization started really bad. Temperature in the Borrego Springs desert was around 40-45 degrees Celsius with very low humidity. My heartrate was 25 beats over normal in our first race pace test on the big loop. I was confused and a bit shocked. Had my preparation been so bad? Caroline had a similar experience so maybe it was my training plan which was not working as it should.
In the following days the race pace testing and weather changed. Lower temperatures and even some rain during the night and all of a sudden my heartrate was 5 beats below normal. The speed was higher than expected with my race watts. With us we had brought a very experienced crew. All worked relentlessly on giving Caroline and me the best possible conditions on race day. Everything was in place. The race could start.
One questions remains. Why did I only ride 11 hours before stopping my Wahoo? Why didn’t I get the result I prepared for in the 24h Worlds?
The start of 24h Worlds
Right from the gun one of the strong guys started pushing a very fast pace. Shane Trotter (USA) left the rest of the group behind while I settled into my own rhythm along with Marko Baloh (Slovenia) and Joshua Stockinger (USA). We all kept the minimum distance between us (24h races are non-drafting like most of you will know it from triathlon or time trials but we start in waives making it quite stressful in the start as people spread out with a minimum distance between riders).
I felt that the pace of Baloh and Stockinger was a bit too fast so the gap slowly grew during the first laps. I tried to stay calm and follow my pacing plan. It can sound stupid but it is so difficult not to chase people down when you see your competitors up the road. Even some of the biggest ultra cyclists in history have made that mistake before and I really didn’t want to blow it all up by going too fast in the start.
The wind on the course of the 24h Worlds was horrendous with strong gust coming from the mountains making the route a lot slower than during my tests. On one of the faster sections with a slight downhill and crosswind I actually had trouble holding the position in the aero-position. Never the less I was right on track after the first 3 hours settled into a pace slightly above my national record from 2020 with 801,08km for 24 hours. Everything was going according to plan and I just had to hold my pace and wait for the 3 guys in front of me to start making mistakes.
Wind, Neck Pain and like Sleeping on an Arm
During the next 3 hours my neck started hurting from the rough roads in the desert and the continuous wind. I think everyone in ultra cycling have experienced that during racing. Normally it is not a problem I experience after only 6 hours of racing but never the less the crew and I decided to take a 6min break in the pit for a massage, extra food and hydration as well as a pie break. It felt efficient even though the wind and earlier break than planned had taken my average speed below my target. Something just didn’t feel quite right.
I never evaluate my day before halfway through a 24h race. I know that bad legs can come and go in ultra cycling and when you start telling yourself that you have a bad day that’s when things turn ugly. Never the less I had the feeling already after the first 6 hours of the 24h Worlds that something was off. I tried convincing myself that the three guys up the road would need to slow down too at some point and that setting a new national record in the windy conditions wasn’t my primary target here. I was just here for the medals.
In the following hours the neck pain got worse and I started jumping forward on my saddle trying to find a comfortable position. I was starting to drop in watts too not producing the power I have done in training. The crew tried calming me but I could just feel that something felt completely wrong. To this day I don’t know what it was. It just felt cramped, shot down and empty. At a pie stop around 8 hours in I noticed the pain immediately when I jumped of the bike. A sharp pain/numbness in the genitals. Like waking up in the morning after sleeping on your arm. Just this was most definitely not my arm.
During the next couple of hours everything just got worse and worse. My power dropped further and the changes between numbness and sharp burning pain was hurting me so bad. The crew did everything they could with new clothes, change of saddle position, painkillers and mental support. Nothing helped. It was just pure pain. At the same time I could see the mental picture of my entire season goal blowing up in smoke as the three riders in front of me were not slowing down.
By 11 hours I couldn’t see how another 13 hours of this suffering would bring anything good. The crew tried to help me saying that I was still in 4th position and a top 5 would still be a good result. But as I set there in the pit, they knew as well as I. I was not going to get back on that bike. The race was over. Crew chief Anders asked for my evaluation number of the 24h Worlds. I replied that I wasn’t half-way through the race yet but the current state and feeling in the body was a 2 or 3 out of 10.
As I set down in our van to relax I felt like I had let the whole team down. All those hours of work for nothing. All that preparation from dear partners like Folkebo Cykler home in Denmark and some sort of saddle/nerve issue would take me out of the race. It was devastating and depressing thoughts as I fell asleep in our van.
A Frank doesn’t go that far just to quit
The phone was ringing…I still don’t recall if I was asleep or awake. Waking up in the van, still in my race suit and with the sunrise in the horizon. A phone was ringing. Anders and Søren was by my side. “It’s your dad” Anders said and handed me the phone. “You don’t go that far just to quit!” The message was quite clear from the voice of my dad. No matter how hurt you are you don’t quit without a fight at the 24h Worlds. When you can not ride anymore that is fine but you do not quit before you get there.
Anders and Søren looked at me. Søren was already holding a new pair of Bioracer bibhorts and my Lazer helmet. Are we going to do this? Of cause we are. A Frank doesn’t go that far just to quit.
Shortly after I was flying out of the pit on my yellow Wilier-bike. I was riding way faster than everyone I passed those first couple of laps. I would have loved to tell you the story about how I went on to finish the 24h Worlds in great spirit but this is not a race report like that. Already on lap 3 I was suffering like a dog. The numbness and sharp pain was unmistaken and the skin friction from trying to fix the problems with new adjustments during the race was also starting to take its toll on me. I was just around top 15 at this point. Not bad considering I had been sleeping for a couple of hours and riding extremely inconsistent. Maybe a top 10 or even 5 would still be possible if I just pulled myself together.
All for Caroline at the 24h Worlds
After 464 kilometers and around 6 hours left I rolled into the pit. I wasn’t going to finish this race. I wasn’t going to get the result I had been working for the whole year. Devastating. But at the same time I felt that I couldn’t possibly have done more during the race. I was beaten and hurt but I would live to fight another day and getting back on the bike after my breakdown was the best way of showing the crew, partners and most importantly myself that I wasn’t finished. A huge congrats to Baloh on a fantastic race showing that age in ultra cycling is only a strength. Also a great race by Trotter, Stockinger and everyone else finishing high in the overall classification.
Right after getting into the pit Simon told me that Caroline was in 2nd place in the women category! Søren handed me some food and asked if I needed anything. “No, save it for Caroline. It’s all about her now”. If you want to know how Caroline went on to secure the best Danish result in history at the 24h Worlds check out her race debrief.
Stay tuned and enjoy the ride.
If you liked this post you might like my race report from the 2019 24h Worlds. All pictures by Simon Roesskov Photo.