This last weekend on the 29th of May 2010 was a race known affectionately as "A Saturday in Hell". I do not use the word epic much at all with regard to describing any of the riding I do, as XCO and XCC aren't all that long and are more about going as fast as you can for a relatively small distance and or time. My training rides I do are also relatively standard, and whilst I do train in rain, snow, sun and wind - chasing down buses is as exciting as it gets.
I eagerly watched the weather forecasts all week, trying to figure out how wet it was going to be. I pre rode some of the course on Friday with my 'Rocket Ron' shod wheels. Overkill I thought - she'll be apples with the Small block 8s. Kylie and I chased each other through Majura enjoying the tacky trails and hero grip that was abundant. I packed the car on Friday night with 2 sets of wheels just in case - one with the standard SB8s and one with the Rocket Rons.
Saturday was, however, EPIC..... It started at 4:30am with the alarm going off. 2 cups of espresso high altitude Vittoria coffee, bacon and eggs and 2 slices of toast and we hit the road at 5:30am for the drive out to outer Kowen. It was pitch black, with rain hitting the windscreen the whole way out there. Then suddenly looming in a paddock off to the right was a massive set of lights. The offcial car park and the start of the 100km race.
We arrrived at about 6:10am so had about 50 minutes to take in the serenity, go for a 5 minute warm up to check the start firetrail and the trail conditions. All good, I thought, I stick with the SB8 tyres. The lights suddenly turned off at about 6:55am and I moved over to the front row of the start grid and popped it in the big chainring and talked some crap with some of the other guys there, just biding time.
In an instant we were off, pretty much same start pace as an XCO race. With 3.3km of firetrail there was a pretty big pack riding together. We hit the first bit of singeltrack and it was like someone turned the lights off. It was so dark! Then we hit the first puddles, which set the scene for the day. Kowen is the site of many 24hour and XCO races in the past, however it gets a fair bit of use by moto dirt bikes, which leave massive ruts all over the place. With the huge amount of rain, these had all filled with water and we were all getting wet and cold pretty much immediately.
In the first 10 minutes, I saw Jason English off to the side fixing a flat, a bit of bad luck. Whilst following Brent Miller we were chatting about how hammered this section of trail would be for the rest of the 100km participants who were starting in the various waves behind us. The first 25 km went reasonably slowly. Some of the puddles were about an inch deep and others were well over a foot. I hit one at about 40 clicks and disappeared and got the worst whiplash. I cricked my neck side to side on the next available smooth bit, and laughed it off!
The track was wet and slow. That is just how it was. when we finished descending out of Sutton Road MTB we threw a hard left and slammed it into the granny gear to climb up the escarpment. At this stage I passed about 5 guys who were walking - I didn't see them again. The climb didn't last too long and before long I was pinning it down Kowen Road in the 44x12 - so fast this bit - good to be rolling quickly.
I saw Kylie as I crossed Sutton Road, she gave me some details on time splits to the guys in front. She does the best DS job always. Through the defence land, Jason English caught up and was motoring after fixing his initial flat plus a secondary one that he said that he had got. This section was just like out of Paris Roubaix. Lots of right angled turns, with grass tussocks instead of cobbles. Same effect though.
I rode with another guy through here, and over to Mount Ainslie foothills. This marked the start of the second fifty. Holy crap! The clay soil base with the tyre marks of 500 or so 50km entrants had made this bit like a greased licorice stick. Luckily the climb up and over the saddle was just damp. The other guy took off up the climb and put a fair bit of time into me. I just kept riding my pace, well aware of what was to come for the latter 50km.
By the bottom of the first bit of Majura singletrack, I had caught him and decided to get in front before the 2nd bit of singletrack. The rest of Majura was just a mudfest. I have raced a few muddy races in the last few years, adelaide national round 2007, Geelong National round 2008, a couple of Majura short track events, but this was like nothing I had ever seen. Mud tyres would have worked here it was that slick and gloopy. It was slightly amusing trying to spin a nice smooth cadence whilst keeping the tyre from spinning wildly. I looked for grippy pineneedle lines wherever I could just to hook up some power traction.
Finally I exited Majura, fixated on getting to the Federal Hwy to at least have a normal bicycle motion. The paddock across Majura Vineyard was a bit cobbly again which had me trying to figure whether to have the lefty locked or soft. Catch-22 here.
After the Federal Hwy underpass it was kilometres of painful grassy crap that was mud riddled from the previous 50km riders. Finally after making it to Flemington Road, I knew that I could get pedalling smoothly again. Through the laneway along to Bellenden Street I kept the power on to make it to the untimed section of the GDE.
I am not a fan of an untimed section in a race, but understand why it had to be. 6-7 kilometres is a decent amount to have untimed. I took this time to put a fresh set of gloves on and clean my glasses so that they were clear as when I had started. 15 minutes later I was flying down the fireroad at 50km/hr + before heading under Caswell drive to Black Mountain Nature reserve. I ride this bit of trail fairly regularly - It has a beautiful DH slope and you can pretty much average 35-40km/hr. Through this bit though, it was the biggest mud worm set I had ever seen and it was just hard to keep some sort of forward momentum at about 25km/hr. Once onto the bikepath at the bottom I knew it was only about 20km to go. Pretty much where you just empty the tank.
I pinned it through the cork plantation and along the 'Superhighway' which is the fireroad that runs parallel beside the Tuggeranong Parkway. This bit was relatively fast and it was good to feel the legs turning over the 44x12 - even though they were relatively solid with cold.
I knew we were heading through the old school Deeks drive Singletrack but I did not believe what I saw when I got there. Chocolate Mousse mud! Holy crap, this was insane. The thickest clay crap ever. It was a battle to keep the bike going in a staright line and upright through this bit. A total battle, but I kept on it knowing that the fireroad up to Uriarra drive was coming up pretty soon. I was happy to be doing about 15km/hr through this stuff, whilst others were battling aong pushing their bikes.
Once into Stromlo, it was a matter of getting to the trunk trail and settling int for 185 vertical metres of switchback enabled climbing. Paul Rowney came through at about the blue gums are and I latched onto his wheel. The climb went by reasonably quickly as we negotiated the 50km racers and were also pleasantly rewarded with a tacky perfect trail. Paul dropped me a bit up the top, but I couldn't wait for the descent. I caught back up to him on the berm track, and we pretty much aired it off every little roller and kicker that existed down the trail. This was defintely the best bit of the whole course. After being out in the elements for about 5 hours we were attacking it like it was the first lap of a XCO race. That is how good this trail was! By this stage I had no brakes on the rear, the pads down to the metal, wearing down the rotor also, I also had developed a slow leak on the rear, so I babied it a little over some of the rollers and corners. Coming down towards the carpark, i still manged to do the drop off as I knew there would be a photographer there :) !
Then it was onto the bitumen road crit track and through the finish line. Totally EPIC. Covered in mud, soaked to the core and border line hypothermic! But stoked to finish.
Later that night when the results were announced, I found out that I had got 5th place in Elite. I actually think that this was 6th because Joel Ryan wasn't included in the results listing, but I had achieved my pipedream goal of top 10, and far exceeded my expecations result wise for this event.
My time was 5 hours 12 minutes, minus the untimed section took it down to 4 hours 57 minutes.
Some random stats
Calories burnt: 6135
Avg HR: 155
Max HR: 180
Clothing: Knicks, jersey, wind vest, Assos roubaix socks, 2 pairs gloves
Glasses: Oakley Radar High Intensity Persimmon Range lens
Drink: Verofit - lemon lime
Gels: EFS - 3 flasks - gees that's about 15 gels worth I think!
Temperature: lucky if it was out of single digits.
Mud: just a little bit
I will go so far as to say this was probably the 2nd hardest or close to the hardest thing that I have done ever on a bike. The repair bill for consumable parts will be interesting also!
Photos courtesy of Dan De Witte and Kylie Webb. Thanks again to Kylie for being the best DS ever and assisting with everything on the day.