A huge amount of work by professionals and volunteers (Including myself) and over seven million bucks have transformed the area, adding a variety of cycling, running and equestrian facilities, including a network of mountain bike tracks. There are still no trees though, only saplings, but Stromlo lies no more than ten minutes drive from the Canberra CBD, which is clearly visible from its slopes. Indeed, the views by day and night are spectacular, although you can't gawk at them while riding if you don't want to go over a cliff.
The race, which originally had only 178 entrants back in 1999 now hosts over 3,000. The ample space at Stromo for camping and parking came in handy here. Instead of the regular loop, the race now had two loops, the Red and Blue. The Red Loop started on the Criterium, and did a bit of a Cook's Tour of the east before climbing to the summit of Mount Stromlo. It then did a fast descent, using part of the Downhill Track and ending up with a sprint down the Criterium again. The Blue went out over the 4X track, ran along a few km of fire trail to reach the western part of the main loop, which it then followed back to the Event Centre. There were two transitions, arranged so that if you wanted to do a double lap, the end of the Red was the Start of the Blue and vice versa. Teams had to alternate Red laps with Blue laps. Despite the steep climb, the Red was faster than the Blue.
Apart from a nasty wind, conditions were good. A fall of rain the day before the race settled the dust but there was no rain and no mud during the race. Temperatures were cool, although a bit cooler overnight than some people would have preferred.
The race started at 12 noon on Saturday and ended at 12 noon on Sunday. This year a team didn't have to do another lap if the last ended after 1130, thereby avoiding the logjam at the end of the race (because people would stop just before the finish line and wait until after noon so they didn't have to ride another lap). Teams of four ride in relay fashion. Except for school teams, there were no batons this year, so the riders just tagged each other (although I saw a couple using a baby as a baton, with the one riding handing it over to the one resting). My first lap was on the Red at 1500, my second on Blue at 2030. I then rode a double lap at 0230. For my fifth and final lap, I chose a red lap at 1030, which was the team's last lap. Between the four of us we rode 22 laps. I believe that the winning team of four rode 35 laps.
The Solo race was won by Andrew Bell, a Melbourne bicycle courier. Six weeks ago he came 19th in the World championship. He rode 29 laps. German rider Alex Kiendl won the solo women's race. Jindabyne solo rider Glen Inches stopped no less than four times to help out fellow riders in mechanical distress and was awarded a prize for "best man on the course".
This year's race hero didn't even race. Wollongong's Craig Gordon was hit by a car just before he was set to travel to Canberra to participate in a team of four and had to be replaced by Canberran James Meadley. Gordo won the Australian 24 Hour Solo race back in 2005. He then went on to the 2006 World Championships. The story then went like this:
- The six time World Solo Champion, Chris Eatough, was attempting to make it seven wins in a row, thereby equalling Lance Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories.
- A huge film crew was on hand to record this momentous event.
- Somebody failed to give Gordo a copy of the script.
- Gordo went after Eatough from the gun and the two went at it for half a day, lapping and transitioning together, till Gordon got the advantage during the night and eventually lapped Eatough.
- With his do or die attitude, Gordo very nearly accomplished both. On his final lap he ground to a halt as excruciating pain in his damaged muscles - especially his calves - became so intense that he could not walk. One of the camera men carried him to level ground where he could ride again. As a result that lap didn't count; but Gordo still had one lap in hand, and won the world championship.
- Gordo spent two days on dialysis to protect his liver and kidneys.