#rockytrailracer in focus: Claudia Fiess

Claudia Fiess and her partner Hans-Ulrich Haegele have been regulars at our Rocky Trail cross-country and marathon events. Claudia is one of the most successful female #rockytrailracers – not just because she has climbed many a podium at our races, but because she genuinely represents what we want our events to be all about: the joy of riding and racing mountain bikes among and with like-minded people.

Claudia competed in the Basil Ride 2019, which hosted the World Endurance Mountain Bike Championships (WEMBO) and spectacularly claimed the 24 Hour Solo World Championship Title in the 50-54 year age category.

In these challenging times we’d love to share a feel-good story – here is Claudia’s account of the travel and racing experience of a lifetime. Enjoy.

Words by Claudia Fiess:

MY race in Brazil – World Solo 24 Hour MTB Championship 2019, Costa Rica Mato Grosso do Sul Brazil: More than a race – a stage in my life

3 years ago, in 2016 I did my first 24hr solo mountain bike race in Canberra, Australia and was hooked straight away. In 2017 I decided to compete in my first 24hr world championship held in Finale Ligure, Italy where I – very much to my surprise – won the world champion title in my age category.

This year’s World Solo 24 Hour MTB Championship (WEMBO) was held in Costa Rica Mato Grosso do Sul (MS) in Brazil.

Preparations & travels

My race preparation certainly wasn’t ideal. In February I started a challenging IT project in New Zealand, which meant a weekly commute from Sydney (Australia) to Christchurch (New Zealand). Luckily, I found a Fitness studio in Christchurch where I could continue doing indoor bike training sessions during the week. Back in Sydney on weekends I focused on longer MTB rides including as many as possible of the races organized by Rocky Tail Entertainment. Amongst other races, the 24hrs Solo MTB race in Rydal earlier in the year was certainly a major milestone to see where my fitness was at and to determine what training regime, I would need to follow to be in good shape for WEMBO.

Finally, July 2019 arrived, and I officially had 2 weeks off work for a “holiday”. First, we flew from Sydney to Campo Grande (Brazil) via Santiago and Sao Paulo and decided to stay for 2 nights to acclimatize. Next, we travelled for 6 hrs by bus (arranged by the WEMBO event organizer) to Costa Rica MS Brazil where we finally arrived on Wednesday night. Everything went well and none of our luggage was delayed, therefore it was just upon us to get race ready.

If anyone you would have asked me where Costa Rica MS is located, I would have said “no idea – somewhere in Brazil”. Funny enough even my Brazilian colleagues at work had never heard about this town before.

Costa Rica MS is located in the state of Mata Grosso do Sul which is in the central-west region of Brazil. The main income comes from agricultural business.

For the next 5 nights we stayed at Hotel Ives, which was the perfect place to settle into the next few days of pure adventure and excitement.

Unfortunately, the official race course in Brazil was not open for a practice lap before Friday morning, so Thursday we decided to attend a local ride – led by the race organizer – together with current and previous World Champions, European Champions and many other riders from all over the world.

After the ride on Thursday we also made lots of new friends with the locals at the pump track which was part of the race course.

Getting race-ready

Finally, on Friday morning we were able to do a practice lap on the race course.
The course was around 30km long (with 500 vertical metres of climbing) per lap. Very long by 24hr race standards. The course wasn’t technically very difficult but had some tricky sections where you had to be alerted all the time. The length of the course meant most likely long suffering towards the end of the race.

The weather forecasted for the race day was 30+ degrees with low humidity, which was not for my liking. But as I have raced in hot Australian conditions before so there were no excuses.

On Friday afternoon – as a gesture of honour – all non-Brazilian riders were asked to attend a tree planting ceremony in town. I must say this was quite an emotional moment – looks like I will have to come back to see how “my tree” is growing up.

Friday night was when the excitement settled in. The night involved rider registration, race briefing and checking out the pit location. I was very happy to see that our pit was “fully equipped”, including lights, power connection, a table and chairs.

Race day 1

Finally Saturday arrived, and it was race day! On race day you try to stick with the same routine you’ve done for many other races before – having breakfast even though you aren’t hungry, packing all the food and necessities needed for the race and getting to race start – funny enough in Brazil this meant you waited for the “school” bus to take you to the event centre. Not unexpected, but now the nerves really started kicking in and it felt like I didn’t sleep at all.

The event area was already buzzing with competitors, TV crews and volunteers. While getting my pit organised, I was asked to give some interviews to the Paraguayan and Brazilian TV stations. Luckily, we found another competitor from the neighbouring pits who could act as a translator. Funny enough, the most pressing question from the interviewer was which Brazilian football team I do support (????!!). Luckily Hans-Ulrich my “support man” is mad about football and could give all the right answers.

Now it was time for some last photos in the pits of the only 2 Australians racing at this WEMBO before heading to race start.

The WEMBO does get started via the Le Mans-style start where we have to run to our bikes. I am always wondering why do we have to run at a mountain bike race?

I was very glad when this run was over and I could finally get onto my bike and onto the course. I settled quickly into my race tempo but unfortunately only a few km’s into the race we had to stop as one the wooden bridges over a fence needed some repair. Oh dear it was hot, really hot – when I looked at the display of my GPS I could see 37 degrees and there was hardly any shade on this course. Soon I felt that I was struggling in this heat and the only escape for me was to make it into to the night, with sunset in Costa Rica MS expected around 5pm. As sunrise was expected around 6am the following morning, this meant the night would last for almost 13 hours.

One of the best parts of the course was getting out of town and high-fiving nearly every child in the neighbourhood. This was always a very welcoming distraction.
Another highlight as well as a distraction of the course were certainly the spectacular bridge crossings.

The night

After 2 laps I had to get ready for the night (change of helmet and mounting of batteries). Luckily the temperature dropped which was a huge relief. I actually enjoy riding at night as everything gets quiet and I feel that I am more focused.

Along the course there were huge herds of Brazil cows which I was hoping that they will not interfere with the race track too much (especially as many of them were literally on the side of the track without any fencing). But luckily these cows were a lot friendlier, then the stray dogs in some of the streets of Costa Rica MS. In fact, now it suddenly made so much sense that we went through the pain of getting through Rabies vaccinations amongst quite a few other vaccinations.
At this point in time I had no idea how I was positioned in my age category. When I arrived at the pit having finished my 4th lap just after 9hrs, Hans-Ulrich told me that I am currently 3rd in my category but he also mentioned that the two Brazilian woman in front of me are certainly still in reach. Unfortunately, at that time I was struggling to eat so it was up to Hans-Ulrich to get any food into me even I didn’t feel like eating at all.

Finishing lap 5 after almost 12 hrs I managed to move into 2nd position with a 3 minutes lead to Brazilian rider in 3rd position and also making up some time to the Brazilian rider in 1st position.
Knowing that a 24hours race really starts around the 12-hour mark by then the race gets more and more difficult, physically as well as mentally as fatigue and tiredness taking over and from now on the mental battle has to win the physical one…and therefore, everything is still possible.
Unfortunately, during my 6th lap (14 hrs into the race) I had microsleeps on the bike and very much feared of crashing if I continue.

This was not part of my plan, but after a 30-minute power nap I was ready to go again. I changed my clothes, shoes and had big sip of coffee, coke and ate some noodles. With cheering on from the neighbouring pits, I jumped back on my bike and off I was for lap number 7

Race day 2

This following lap was special as I knew that this was the “sun rise” lap and which was quite spectacular. Amazing colours on the horizon and countless parrots greeting me to say hello for the start of the last 6 hours.

I actually felt not too bad and did a pretty solid lap number 7. Still in 2nd position but now around 1:30 hr behind the leading Brazilian woman. At this point in the race I just wanted to secure the 2nd position and would have been happy to finish the race in this position.
During the 8th lap I cemented my 2nd position and even made up time to the leader, but I was still 40 minutes behind.

Back in the pit area Hans-Ulrich told me that the leading Brazilian rider seemed to be struggling and she just had a lengthy break. He also told me that now she is only 25 minutes ahead of me and with my current lap time there could be a chance that I might be right on her heals in this upcoming lap. Game on!

As I had no idea how my competitor looked like, Hans-Ulrich told me that her number was 1051 and that she rides a green bike and wears a red jersey. Oh my god, I wondered how many competitors in fact did wear red jerseys and had green bikes.

The fight for podium positions

But now I was determined, and I was trying to go as fast as I could, considering we were already 21+ hrs into the race. All the time I was looking for a female rider wearing a red jersey and riding a green bike, but no luck for the next 2 hours. Approximately 2 km’s before arriving in the event centre I finally saw someone riding a green bike and wearing a red jersey. From now on there was no holding back anymore.

I came closer and closer and eventually also saw the rider’s race number on the back of her jersey – race number 1051. What a relief and somehow a very awkward moment when I overtook her and tried to keep “spinning dose legs” as fast as I could without starting to cramp – whatever fast means after 23 hrs into the race.

This time arriving in the pit area I was in 1st position, 3 minutes ahead of 2nd position – what a feeling. Amazingly this 9th lap was my fastest lap in the race – not sure how I did this.

Now what to do? Should I wait what my competitor is doing, or should I go again?

Everyone who knows me a bit better also knows that this was in fact not a question at all for me. I already made up my mind for a 10th lap. I really wanted to fight until the end, not really thinking that I had any chance to catch her at all on lap 9 but lap 10 would certainly test the endurance and determination of both of us. There were quite a few people from the pits close by watching me and waiting to see what I would do. After refuelling food and drinks, I got back on my bike and went out again for my final 10th lap. Wow, I it was amazing as all the people around me suddenly started to cheer me on – they for sure knew that this was a very tied race and they appreciated the effort every rider is putting in.

Now I was the hunted one. During this final lap I was constantly looking back to see if “the red jersey” was behind me. In this final lap I was struggling a lot, especially as the heat started to get unbearable again, but I didn’t want to let slip this 1st position so I fought on as hard as I could after 24+ hrs.

The victorious arrival

Coming back into the event centre was an awesome feeling and a BIG relief that there was no “red jersey” behind me. One last time riding the pump track and then crossing the finish line.
The feelings and emotions I had were hard to describe. What a race and what a FINISH. I could barely hang on to my bike anymore and had to lay down to let the result and everything around me sink in.

Age Category – Solo 24 hrs MTB World Champion 2019 😊

World Champions 2019 – World Solo 24 hrs MTB – All categories

Big Thanks to

  • Hans-Ulrich my support “man” and training buddy who always finds the right words and who just happened to also helped supporting 2 more fellow riders during the race
  • Coach James Lamb (aka “CHOPS”) for getting me race ready
  • Koha Fitness in Christchurch New Zealand for letting me keep on riding after the official “Killerwatts” cycling class has finished – as instructor Andy would say : “You can stop pedalling now, unless your name is Claudia”
  • Okesley from the Brazil Ride Team for answering all my “endless “questions
  • Stu Cornell and Andy “Crasher” Howett for the nice company in Brazil
  • Neighbouring pits for cheering me on and lifting my spirit
  • Mauricio the cab driver in Campo Grande who safely drove us and our luggage multiple times to and from the airport
  • All the other people who we met along the way
  • Roma Sports MKT for organizing such an amazing event

Would I go back to Brazil? Absolutely, as we had an awesome time, never felt unsafe and met so many lovely & great people.

What an awesome experience – Brazil now has a special place in my heart.

This was certainly not just a race – it was a stage in my life!

Photos provided by Claudia Fiess.