Monday, October 31, 2011

Road Crit racing

This summer I decided to race some road crits. Canberra has a pretty good road scene. Well, it has a pretty good cycling scene in general. At the moment you can race road crits Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as well as Dirt crits on Thursday. There is also different racing on the weekends also.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I know the club handicapper, and he said that I would be fine in A grade. Therefore no sandbagging allowed!
I hit up the Wednesday afternoon road crits, splitting my day up into Endurance Hills (TM) in the morning and riding out to Stromlo in the PM to race the road crits then spinning home afterwards. This nets me about 120-130km onthe bike for a Wednesday. That is just awesome. It doesn't even feel as though I have been out, well sort of. I am creeping by Thursday morning that's for sure!

Friday, October 28, 2011

2011/12 CORC Dirt Crit 1 - Stromlo

The week started with the expectation and anticipation of the Thursday afternoon Dirt Crits being back on. I love these races. You have a good bunch of guys racing a brand new different course each week at sub-maximal output testing the higher abilities of both physiological and bike handling. This was my 86th short track event in the last 5 years. It is pretty easy to build up some good experience in a relatively short period of time with that pure volume of racing.
Tuesday was Stromlo SE repeats, Wednesday morning was pinned runs up Stromlo and Black Mountain, Wednesday afternoon was Road Criterium racing. By Thursday morning I was happy to be sleeping in and not having to get up and ride. Later in the day, Kylie and I rode over to Stromlo as a nice cruisy warmup taking in the fresh easterly tailwind for the 20km over to the western side of Canberra.
The course was the standard crit loop this week. This requires a fair amount of power output as well as technical ability, with log ledges, triples, drops, berms, off camber corners stimulating the rider whilst racing falt biscuit for the relatively short period of time.
On the line were Dylan Cooper, Brad Morton, Mark Tupalski, Ben Cory, Lachlan Paton, Michael Brice and a host of other local fast dudes making for a relatively large group of 15 for A grade. When Garreth fired the gun (metaphorically speaking) I got my patented quick clip in (actually worked this time!) and pinned it for the first straight. The sensations in the legs were letting me know that things were 'muy tranquillo' so I kept it wide open for the first lap and collected the highly sought after first lap prime. \
As I expected, Dylan came by down the start finish straight and I got on his wheel immediately. In the 2nd corner his front wheel started to drift, which was followed by his rear wheel and a tripod to foot drift occurred. As we had hit this corner at about 35km/hr this occurred over the course of abotu 10 metres. Luckily for Dylan, fate intervened and his bike righted and avoided the dreaded highside and he was able to clip back in and not lose too much speed. This obviosuly gave him some good adrenaline as he then took off and got a bit of a gap.
Meanwhile I had Ben Cory, Brad Morton and Mark Tupalski creating a Giant Onya Bike TTT behind me. These guys are talented on a bike so it was taking most of my ability to stay in front of them. By the 2nd last lap, the order had changed and Brad was doing his best to get around me. I can not count the amount of times that Brad and I have contested positions in the exact same circumstances. When the last lap came around, I drilled the start finish straight and kept the pace super high so that passing maneuvres were out of the question. Just as I have done in the past when the positions have been reversed, Brad made one last passing effort down the start finish straight. However, there is no way at all that a move can be made in this location as the finsih line comes up way too early and the sprint is only about 75% wound up.
Dylan managed to hold on with a comfortable 10 metre lead, I was second, Brad trailing me for 3rd. As expected, the crit was run at red-line for the entire duration. I did not see the HR drop below 180bpm which is fairly standard. As usual, the Cannondale Flash performed flawlessly allowing me to pilot it around the course whilst having the internals flushed with lactic acid.
One of the best things about the local dirt crits is the socialising afterwards. Everyone has a good story to tell about the race that just unfolded and everyone is always keen to see who has been training in the leadup and what other races are on your agenda. It was also really encouraging to see 3 of the top juniors step up and race A grade. this will definitely bode well for the future for them and the sport. Even more awesome, is the sheer number of young kids under the age of 5 racing in the Junior category. Some of tehse guys are on bikes that weigh more than they do, push pedal bikes, bikes too big etc, however, they are having the best time in the world and it is great to throw encouragement at them as they just lap it up and smile even more.
When it was almost too dark to see and just about everybody had left, Kylie and I cruised off away from the deep red sunset over to the other side of Canberra. The spin home always makes the body feel better the next day flushing out all the crap that the body has produced in the brief, but violent activity that has just unfolded.
Next race, next Thursday, Majura Pines. Got to be happy when a race is a 5 minute ride from your front door!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dirt crits are back

What a better way to enjoy Thursday afternoon than hitting up tthe Stromlo Dirt Crits.

Throat burning, lung searing, high intensity lactic acid bath.

It's a well known fact that by developing the higher abilities, you are making yourself faster for the future.

Looking forward to this one today at Stromlo

Monday, October 17, 2011

Race Photos

It might be a slightly narcissistic tendency, however it is a slightly satisfying feeling to find a picture of yourself racing or riding your bike on the interweb.
It's even better when you didn't know that it was being taken.
I am pretty sure that this is in the high speed berm at Stromlo just above the 4X track, but it could be in a few different places as there are no real reference areas.
It is in a fast location, I am in the 2nd hardest gear. I am already on the gas (pedalling) as evidenced by the right foot (technically the inside of this bend) being down, and actually pulling throughfor the left to begin the downstroke.
The keen eye will also note that my shoes, helmets and eyewear all match. That's not really an accident. However...... the gloves are not quite right. No amount of Napisan is getting these suckers back to the pristine condition that they require for smooth speed assaults.
So, as of Friday, I am rocking the new 2012 661 Raji gloves. These have been my glove of choice for about 6 years now. Light, ventilated, thin, they just get the job done.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25 Snakeskin Review

For the Scott 24 hour race this year, Bike Box (Australian distributors of Schwalbe) were awesome enough to be able to supply me with my tyres of choice for the harsh conditions at Stromlo. I have ridden at Stromlo since it was constructed and know that Stromlo is incredibly tough on components, especially tyres. There are a lot of rocks. That is probably the understatement of the year. Whether you are pinning the Red lap or smashing the blue lap there are a lot of rocks set up strategically to test your ability as a true mountain bike rider. You need your equipment to be bulletproof as Stromlo will just wreck sub-standard bike gear. If you don't have good tyres, then you are at the side of the trail spending 3-5 minutes practising your tyre changing abilities.
A 24 hour race is a unique beast. As a teams rider you will hit each lap refreshed and wanting to punch out the laps as fast as you are able. Add into the mix up to 500 riders on the track at any time and your ability to pick the 'perfect' line is hugely diminished. When picking your way through traffic some people peel off into the bushes and give you the entire track, some people give you half the track and some people give you nothing! What this means is that your line choice is constantly compromised. We are all aware of the randomness that you encounter at the edge of a trail. The unseen rocks that grab at the sidewalls threatening to shred them and your forward momentum.
Add into the mix night riding where you can see even less, and fatigue where you are just pointing and shooting, and you start to realise how vital your tyres actually are. They are the contact between your bike and the ground.
With this in mind, the tyres of choice were the Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25 Snakeskin. That is a bit of a mouthful so I will attempt to decode this below.

Schwalbe Racing Ralph - this is the brand and the model name of the tyre. The Racing Ralph is the standard tyre in the Schwalbe range for cross country, marathon and other sort of riding. It sits between the Furious Fred and Nobby Nic. It is a 'do everything' sort of tyre pretty much.
It has closely spaced lugs in the middle to allow for straight line speed. It also has strategically placed side knobs to allow for extreme lean angles. The soft rubber compound allows for speed and grip.
2.25 - this is the width in inches. I run a hardtail 26er. The 2.25 allows for a fair bit of float in the tyre and the extra width provides a very large footprint which equals grip. If you haven't looked into the benefit of wider tyres for reducing rolling resistance, it might be worthwhile doing some research on this. Tracks are only getting rougher these days, so the ability to run a bigger tyre at lower pressures is quite a benefit for straight line speed.
Snakeskin - this is the major reason I run these tyres at Stromlo. The sidewalls have a 'light and flexible woven layer on the sidewall which guards against abrasion damage' The picture below shows how this is (the grey component). These are bulletproof when it comes to sidewall protection. I can run these at Stromlo and ride as hard and fast as I want through rocky areas with maximum confidence. I am not going to lose 3 minutes fixing a flat tyre with these on my bike.

Now the 26 x 2.25 size tyre weighs in at a competitive 575grams. Not a superlight by any means, however, when you think about what the tyre is designed for and compare it to a true UST tyre at 650+grams, then you can appreciate that this is actually quite competitive in the weight stakes.

The rubber is Schwalbe's special compound which grips amazingly well in all of Stromlo's conditions. I won't go into the fine detail here about the actual compound. However, as a racer you want fast straight line ability as well as absolute confidence in corners when leaning at extreme angles both on smooth surfaces and uneven rocky surfaces. The Schalbe Racing Ralph has this in spades. They are my 'go-to' tyre for Stromlo when speed and grip is required. I never, ever lose grip at Stromlo with these tyres.

I have used a few different types of tyres in the past 5 years and have about 4 that are favorites. Kenda Small Block 8, Continental Race King, Specialized Renegade and the Schwalbe Racing Ralph. At Stromlo you need 2 things with tyres. Grip, and Sidewall protection. As a racer you need a couple of things also. Lightweight(ness), and Straightline speed. On these, the Racing Ralph Snakeskin scores 3 and a half out of 4. Pretty much th others only score 3. The Racing Ralphs are only reasonably light weight in the Snake Skin version. However, compared to riding Stromlo with 450 gram tyres, you can only really do this for special races where you are taking a big risk trying to avoid sidewall issues, OR you need to have the track to yourself to pick perfect lines.
For 24 hour racing at Stromlo and other locations that require speed as well as sidewall protection, I would not hesitate to recommend these tyres to anyone. They are extremely fast in a straight line, and inspire awesome amounts of confidence in the huge number of corners that Stromlo has. For standard courses where you don't have copious amount of rock, you could quite easily get away with the standard EVO tyre offering from Schwalbe.

This year at the Scott 24 hour race at Stromlo you had just about every condition that could be thrown up at you. Dry and Dusty, Wet and Slick, a bit of mud and hero grip. You can pretty much ride a slick tyre when there is hero grip. It's when it is dry and dusty or wet and slick that things can be highly modified by a good tyre choice. My lap times at Stromlo were pretty consistent, both day and night. Training and conditioning aside, I am getting as much out of the trail as I can. This is purely down to the tyre being run. People who race downhill know that it's in the corners where it counts. The Stromlo cross country tracks have more corners than you can count each lap. If you can take speed, or create speed into and out of every corner then you can go faster. It is pretty much as simple as that. If you are fighting for grip, then you are bleeding precious seconds from your race time. The side lugs on the Racing Ralph allow you to lean the bike harder and longer than you could on other tyres. This creates and keeps speed. Speed is good for fast laps.
A big thanks to the guys at Schwalbe for supplying me with tyres that allowed me to get the 10th fastest day lap and the fastest night lap of the Scott 24 hour race at Stromlo. Consider checking them out for the future. They may make a difference to your confidence, cornering ability and your results.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

2011 Scott 24hr wrap up

The Scott Australian Championships 24hr race. Stromlo. Red and Blue laps. T6PRO category. 533km. 37 laps. 22.21km/hr.

Well, that is the executive summary. Not since 2008 has Stromlo used the hourglass red and blue his format is highly popular with competitors as it allows for the extra track spacing on a track almost devoid of fireroad. To say that the traffic was low would be the understatement of the year. I would have been lucky to pass 20 riders on any of my laps that i did. This is close to perfection with regards to enjoyment of a 24 hour race.

Backtrack to friday and Trev and I went out to Stromlo to set up the tent. We were again sharing with the Specialized crew who were out there with their top end demo fleet. 2 Televisions, change room, 2 patio heaters, 20 chairs, 10 tables, carpet, bike racks, electricity, fluoro lights - this is absolute pure luxury for the handful of laps that we would each do. However, it also facilitates ideal recovery to allow for consistent fast laps day and night.

The team was made up of our core group of riders; myself, Trev Rix, Al Sieper, Ben Carmody, Doug McLean and Will Bowron. We had our plan and Will started us off with the run and the blue lap. The blue lap takes you around the mountain out to the western side of Stromlo. It is considered flatter, but more technical due to the rocky nature of the Western trails. Will handed off to me for the red lap. The red lap goes up and down the mountain. It is reasonably technical, but is also extremely fast. 

From this point on we rotated riders for the next 24 hours with some super fast times being pumped out for both laps. 25-27km/hr avg speed for the red lap and 20-22 km/hr avg speed for the blue lap. Experience and knowledge of one's ability is crucial in 24 hr racing even in 6 man teams. On a six man team you may only do 5-7 laps but each one of these is done at Short track pace. My first red lap was done pretty hard. My HRM was never showing less than 180bpm as I kept the intensity close to 95% max. Each consecutive lap was done just as deep with the accumulated fatigue. The whole team did exactly the same, with the lap times barely differing each time the individual went out.

The basic plan was warm up, stand in transition, smash out a lap, warm down, eat, clean up, rest ---- repeat. 

After my first 2 night laps I retired to the tent to attempt to get some sleep. That never really eventuated, and I spent the majority of the time lying still for 2 hours. At 5am after my graveyard shift lap, I again retreated to the tent after a nice warm shower and this time I managed to get the HGH boost that pure sleep can provide. 1 hour!!! However, when I woke up I felt awesome (all relative of course).

Trev was brewing coffee on his Moka stove top device. Espresso cups were produced and Ben, Trev and John (4 person mixed LSC team) each had a coffee. In the next 15 minutes the caffeine kicked in and they all started talking really quickly to each other. Hysterical scenes ensued. It is no wonder coffee is a commodity in the world.

So, back to the racing, which was actually being done in the 4 and 6 man team categories (as well as the pointy end of the solos) - the positions were moving around a fair bit as teams had their riders of different abilities hit up laps at different times. Around midnight though everything seemed to settle a little bit and we grabbed a hold of 2nd place in the 6 man team and 3rd overall. The young fast dudes of 'Nothing Specific' had set some really fast laps, but halfway through the evening we had predicted that they would fade during the early morning laps, and this did eventuate. The ONYA Bike Belconnen Blokes kept hitting up fast laps like our team and were able to pull consistent time out of us just about every lap, and were the well deserved winners of the 6 man category. GU Sram again topped the leader board in the 4 man team, and also took out the overall win.

Like every 24 hour race that is done, you feel jetlagged after it. The sleep is pure, and it might take a week to recover, however, it is a really satisfying feeling being consistent and achieving pre-race objectives. 

A big thanks to Lonsdale St Cyclery and Specialized for hooking us up with a luxurious corporate tent to chill out in between laps. Also a big thanks to Guy from Bike Box for hooking me up with a selection of Schwalbe tyres which were absolutely perfect for the course. Review to come in the next few days. Also a big thanks to my team mates, half of whom I have known for 20 years. It is extremely awesome racing with a bunch of motivated guys who are also good mates as well.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pictorial version of 2011 Scott 24 Hour Race

Empty Car before heading out to the Scott 24 hour race.

Car with enough things for 24 hours of existing at a MTB event centre.

Scott 24 hour event headquarters at Stromlo Forest Park, Canberra.

LSC team just chilling.

The traditional LeMans style start.

Trev and I checking out results online during the race.

The front of the Marquee that we shared with Specialized.

PRO - making the Sportograph highlights reel.

Kylie and Jayson - 2 of the best people in the LSC family.

Scott 24hr - bust out the podium shoes

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Testing between a 26er and a 29er

It is nice to have all bikes matching and a bike for all occasions, surfaces, trails etc.
29er added into the mix to determine suitability. Testing undertaken over course of the weekend. The Bear would be impressed.
26er and 29er set up identically. Same groupset, tyres, geometry and measurements.
29er Flash out on the secret testing trail on Mount Ainslie. Huge wheels take a bit of getting used to visually. Riding it was a no brainer though.
Fresh coffee (thanks to Trev) to assist with the analysis of data that came back from testing.