I lost the 2012 Single Speed World Championships (SSWC) tattoo by an inch to Burry Stander, this year's 5th place cross country Olympian from South Africa. Needless to say, it was close. So close in fact that the promoters had to check the finish line camera to see who crossed the line first. From what I've heard, this is the first time a SSWC finish has been decided by the finish line photo.
Now you may be asking "Tattoo? What tattoo?" Well, the prize for winning SSWC is a tattoo (actually, sometimes it's a brand). And the only people who get this tattoo are the male and female winners of that year's race. And while there are very few rules at SSWC, the one you have to follow is "if you don't want the tattoo, don't win."
In true SSWC fashion, the race start was ridiculous. Almost everyone was in costume. I saw smurfs, Braveheart, Borat, beer maids, Adam (but not Eve), superheroes, and an incredible assortment of wings, animal print clothing and non-cycling spandex. The bikes ranged from $5000 carbon hardtails to munis (mountain unicycles) and I even saw a tandem single speed heading out. Many of the spectators were also in costume and even though it was 11AM, the beer was flowing freely.
During the official pre-race photo, the spectators were asked to relocate as many bicycles as possible and after a speech by Braveheart the chaos began. Once everyone had found their relocated steeds and been directed to the field that acted as our "holding pen" a pair of crop dusters (airplanes) signalled the real start of the race.
Once on course I quickly found myself in the lead group of with with Burry Stander, Nate Miller (USA), Stephan Reyneke (South Africa) and Garth Weinberg (New Zealand and the winner of the 2010 SSWC). We stayed more or less together for the 12km start loop, but as we hit the climb on the 26km main loop, the group fell apart. Burry was riding a lighter gear than the rest of us which gave him an advantage on the climb and he was able to put a 30-second gap on me. I, in turn, was able to put a gap on the rest of the group then buckled down to catch Burry. And about 5kms from the end, I did.
I found him riding without his saddle (he lost it in a crash on the descent off the top) and as we came over the final rise, I attacked. I got ahead of him, but as we came around the final turn into the finish, we hit a surprise beer feed (good old SSWC). From the beer feed to the finish line was about 100 ft and it was here that he caught up and beat my by an inch.
Once things had calmed down a bit, some of the spectators pointed out that Burry hadn't finished his beer at the final beer feed. With the prevalence of video cameras at the finish, it wasn't hard for the promoters to check, and after reviewing the footage, they agreed that he had only drunk about half of his beer before sprinting for the finish line. Obviously, this made a huge difference so they asked 3rd (Nate Miller), 4th (Stephan Reyneke) and 5th (Grant Weinberg) place to decide who was the 2012 single speed world champion (they also considered a beer drinking competition to decide the winner, but Burry chose to leave it up to 3rd-5th place). They chose Burry, which I was pleased about since I wouldn't have wanted to win because of a protested finish.
The afterparty was everything I was told it would be: chaotic, loud and drunken. After a delicious dinner at the tented village, the Red Bull truck showed up and started pumping some serious dance music. Bottles of Hansa Pilsener (a local brew) cost only $1.50 and people were clearly enjoying it. I called it a night relatively early, but from what I understand, the music continued until 5 AM and the next morning it was clear that some people kept going after that.
All in all, I had a great time. I made new friends, get a killer sunburn and rode some wicked African singletrack. I still want that tattoo though, so I guess I'll have to go race SSWC 2013 in Italy...Bummer.