Monday, November 12, 2012

Highland Fling – 2012 – The most anticipated race on the XCM Series

Without a doubt the Highland Fling was the most anticipated race in the Real Insurance XCM Series. Apart from being one of the most highly coveted races in its own right, the overall series had a handful of players who had a vested interest in a good result in order to nab a good final points adjustment. With a heavier weighting of the points algorithm for the Fling it was going to be apparent that everyone would bring their ‘A’ game.

As usual when the entrant list was released earlier in the week, much hype was made to the fact that this was arguably the strongest Elite field ever assembled for a single race in Australia. Over 50 top riders had put their name into the hat for the chance to battle it out over the 4 or so hours.

It was impressive to see all of the twittering with the #highlandfling hash tag getting a lot of attention. With over 1500 riders the event itself is definitely one worth being on your calendar.

For me, the Highland Fling is an hour and a half up the road from Canberra. This made for a pretty chilled drive up. First stop was Wingello. Here I did a bit of a recce of the 2nd stage (Shimano Stage). I noticed a couple of changes in the course from last year. I also drove a bit of the other sections of fire road to familiarise myself with some of the sections that I would be faced with the next day.

Arrived (photo Kylie Webb)

At registration it was good to catch up with some familiar faces and talk some crap whilst waiting in line. There was the usual crap talking that goes along with a race like this, as well as the nervous mumblings of form analysis and talk about the course.

Waiting in line at registration

I have now done the Fling twice, and I have to say, the course is tough. Slight understatement for sure if you have done this event. The inclusion of what seems like a hundred kilometres of grass paddock (slight over-exaggeration no doubt) is one that strikes fear into the heart of many a mountain biker brought up on a steady diet of groomed single-track and I dare say, road riding on smooth tarmac!

There is also what seems like an endless supply of hills, be they rolling, steep, up and down. There is probably only a couple that are hard to ride, but they endlessly just keep getting thrown at you. The single-track is really quite varied. You have the slightly sandy twisty Wingello trails, and then the more loamy trails through the back 20km of the race.

In mountain biking, everything is a compromise. At the fling, you need a race weapon that can handle everything that is thrown up at you. A 29er hardtail seemed to be the bike of choice for most of the Elite men. A few were running dual suspension bikes, and I am pretty sure that Dylan Cooper was the only one on a 26er hardtail.

Waiting for a mountain bike race for me is like the feeling I used to have as a kid in the lead up to Xmas. It is full of anticipation, anxiousness, nervousness, excitement and a million other emotions that come into play based on what sort of race is coming up. I seriously could not wait until Sunday morning. Saturday night’s sleep was pretty standard for a mountain bike race. Lie awake for what seems like hours trying to get asleep, trying to get the brain to slow down. Then getting smashed over the head with the alarm at an early time in order to get food and travel to the event centre sorted.

Finally, we were there! After dropping the esky off at Wingello with food, drinks, spare gloves, glasses and other stuff, we were getting the bikes sorted and heading off for a cursory warm up. I rode around with my training partner, Andrew Hall and Kylie Webb just rolling the legs over seeing what they felt like and just opening the pipes a little.

At 7:45am we were corralled into the start chute and the countdown began.... Skip forward 20 minutes, the gun went off, and so did the bunch. I remember actually smelling the gunpowder smell as we left the start line, clearly showing that the senses were pretty switched on today.

The bunch took off with a few little scurries going off the front. My main objective was to just conserve as much energy in the first 5 minutes because like I learnt last year, the first stage was so crucial for positioning. As soon as we rounded the corner into the farm, it was on. It was as if someone gave everyone electric shocks. The pace went from medium red up to maximum red (well at least for me anyway!) – At this stage, it was about burying myself in the place that is known as the box and clinging on for dear life. During this stage, I chewed the stem as hard as I could, and sucked in a lot of dust. A select group of about 12 in the full fling, and 3-4 from the half fling formed and proceeded to tear up the paddocks.

The dynamics of the racing were really interesting. Andy Blair had to pretty much beat Shaun Lewis to take the series title. Blair is pretty bulletproof when it comes to racing. Like most at the pointy end, he has a lot of natural ability and a hell a lot of experience. Lewis is the same; however, the difference at this race was that Lewis also had a lot of teammates helping out. Dylan Cooper and Troy Glennan were in the mix to basically steal points, or tactically change the dynamics of the race.

In the first section Troy was doing the latter and rode off the front and gained a 20 second lead. This forced the other contenders to work, and Cooper and Lewis to ‘sit in’. The other contenders included Adrian Jackson, Ben Mather and Brendan Johnston. Trenton Day had formed an alliance with Andy Blair and tactically was working for him in the middle stages of the race.

After going through the transition zone in a shade over 52 minutes, we were treated to the 5 minute break and I headed straight to the esky. I grabbed two fresh cold bottles and energy gels were stocked up on as we made our way to the other side of the railway tracks (hence the untimed 5 minute grace period) to where the race restarted.

Last year, everyone waited the full 5 minutes and rode off as a group. This year the dynamics were vastly different. Glennan and Jory took about 3:18. Trenton, Johnston, Mather, and Jackson took off after only 3 and a half minutes or so. Cooper, Hughes and I took off after only 4 minutes. Lewis and Blair marked each other so closely that they took 5 minutes and five seconds. The tactics being played out here were going to shape the course of the race for the day.

In the train with Cooper and Hughes we had the front bunch in sight and kept the pace line rolling through in order to keep the pace up at about 40km/hr along the flat prior to the climb up into Wingello. After about 15 minutes of this, I knew that I had better back off as I still had 80km to go! I let those two go and just got into my own rhythm after achieving the first objective --- get to the first transition with the main group.

When Lewis and Blair came along, I jumped on this train, pulled a couple of turns then when we turned right into the pine needle climb, I let them go. Blair took off from Lewis up this hill putting a fair bit of distance into Lewis and myself. At this stage we were starting to hit up the remnants of the earlier starters and as we were coming up to the single-track, traffic management was going to play a bit of a part in the race as well.

The single-track through Wingello is pretty awesome. Ideally you would get your flow on and rail through what seemed like the endless corners, switchbacks, sweepers and occasional rocky sections. The single-track was broken up by fire road sections. In these sections it was an opportunity to eat, drink and burn up the kilometres in a straight line. The flat sections were drilled, the climbs ground out, and the descents done fully tucked in order to just keep the pace as high as possible.

Pretty soon ‘The Wall’ appeared. I knew where this was going to occur after the previous day’s recce so had dumped the gears a fair bit – pretty much going from 40/11 to 27/36 in the transition from down to up. It was pretty awesome to get encouragement from those walking up who had started in the earlier waves that morning. I think the wall is pretty much close to 20% in some parts – it might even be more. It’s pretty tough to say the least!

The next 30 kilometres followed the pattern of up/down fire road and twisty single-track --- repeat. I saw Blair on the side of a fire road after suffering a flat tyre. That would ultimately be a really expensive problem. Half an hour later he came past me riding like a man possessed. He knew he had a truck load of time to make up and was motoring to try and limit his losses.

The number on my computer I was looking for was 70. 70km was where we exited the forest onto the 8km of graded dirt road back into transition. There was a slight headwind along here, and I tried to get as aero as possible in order to go as fast as I could (sensing a theme here?) and ultimately get to transition as I needed to restock on fluids and gels. I took the opportunity to take in every last remnant of gel and fluid left in my collection and sprinted to the timing mats. Objective two complete. Get to transition two with not too much damage done to the system.

At transition I stocked up on more fluids – 2 bottles, gels – a fair few, fresh gloves and wiped the dirt off my arms and legs for the last transition. By this stage my computer said 78km. I rounded it up to 80 based on the course mappings, and the mental calculations reminded me it was now 32 km to the finish.

As is the case with racing any marathon event, having other to work with can be handy. However, since the 33 km mark I had been pretty much going in ITT mode. Every 20 minutes or so I would look back to see if anyone was coming along. Nothing up until the 2nd transition. Suddenly looking back I could see the form of someone who looked good on the bike. My initial thought was that it looked like Blair. That meant to me that he must have had the longest 2nd transition. Sure enough, he soon motored past me and I feebly tried to get on his wheel. Sure enough, he had taken 7 minutes 40 in the 2nd transition sorting a rear wheel issue. Sometimes luck is not on your side.

The back 32km takes in some pretty nice single-track. This would be pretty fun to ride if you were fresh. At this stage of the race with over 3 and a half hours of the hardest racing already done, it is merely a matter of getting through it, riding as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The hard granny gear pinches did their best to sap every last remaining bit of energy out of the legs and by the time I got to Brokeback Mountain it just seems to laugh at you. However, for me, I laughed back because I knew it was the 2nd last climb to negotiate. Well, I tried to laugh, but it was more likely just a whimper that came out. To be honest I enjoyed some of the next bit of semi-technical single-track that included a few bridges, rock rollovers and other unique things that kept the mind stimulated and just tested out your other abilities on the bike.

Huw Kingston is probably a voyeuristic masochist in putting this course together. The inclusion of a couple of massive mirrors in the last section allows you to sneak a look at how awesomely smashed you look after having ridden for 4 hours and about 100kms. The drummers on the side of the hill also bombard your senses and allow you to push through the pain and get up and over the hills. The sound of the helicopter above filming the lead group alerting me to both the position of the front runners (way far ahead) and how the importance of the series and the sport has risen since the CycleNation crew have taken the initiative of setting up the XCM series.

The descent down off the hill over the grass was a sweet feeling. From here it was just “Your Call” – yep, take the left hand route, the long blue groove descent, a short pinch, then the final run through the farm. At this point Kylie, Jase and Garry were waiting at the corner before the farm and cheered me on. I gallantly got out of the saddle and tried to show that I had heaps of power left in the legs. Having raced this race correctly, I didn’t have much of anything left in any of my bits. But, up ahead, I spotted Troy Glennan. Here I tried to summons the last 0.05% of reserve energy to reel the big horse of a rider back in. Down, the hill, under the bridge, watch the rocks, get up the grass hill, around the barricades sprint to the timing mat. Bugger still couldn’t catch him.

Everything was gone. No more energy. Thank god I had my bike to prop myself up on. At the finish I caught up with Simon and Gorge from Cannondale, Kylie was there with a fresh drink. Race stories were swapped, crap was talked. The fling was done for another year. The body pretty much wrecked from 4 and a half hours of racing.

After the race: Photo courtesy Kylie Webb

Results..... Top 10 for me in a stacked field - the top 20 alone are all guns.

Some random stats and stuff:

Full bottles consumed: 5 full large bottles – electrolyte drink (just enough – probably could have gone a bit more)

Gels consumed: 14 – Science in Sport mixed flavours.

Bike ridden: Cannondale Flash 29er at a shade over 8kgs --- with comfier saddle mainly for the grassy sections. Tyre pressure 22/24 on Stans Race Gold Wheelset. Big thanks to Cannondale Australia’s Alastair Burgess for hooking me up with arguably the most technologically advanced bike on the market. F1 technology in the MTB world. Even when I feel ordinary, the bike has my back.

Total Distance: 108km on my GPS – through the forest it doesn’t pick up the satellites all that well.

Average HR: 170bpm – a hard race, and for me, the heat plays a part in this. My arms and legs have copped a fair bit of sun and this Ranga does not tan all that well!

Average Speed: 24.86km/hr – slightly surprised at this – with all the climbing it feels like you are crawling all the time. The payback is the fire road hauling-ass zones.

Elite field: Huge stacked field. The best represented field in racing history for marathon racing.

Canberra riders: 5 in the top 10, 6 in the top 15. 5 of these from the 2602 postcode!

Half Fling: big shout out to my girl Kylie Webb for taking out the Female Half Marathon Series for the second year running, but more importantly realising a life-long dream of winning a massive prize cheque!

The Cyclery Canberra: Trev and the crew always sort me for all my parts and nutrition needs. I can always rely on things being in stock, and if I need something for a race, I know I can get it. THE best support for the hardest sport in the world!

CycleNation: the Real Insurance XCM series ---- to say that this has re-energised and lifted the profile of MTB Marathon racing in Australia is an understatement. Huge props to Theo, Aryana, Damo and the crew from CycleNation – thank-you for making the sport I love even more awesome!

Wild Horizons: Huw and the crew from Wild Horizons put on a kick-ass event with the best race atmosphere going. This alone makes up for all the grass we have to ride across!! The course itself is so varied and unique in that it tests a mountain biker’s full ability. There is no hiding on a mountain bike. At the Fling, you just have to have it all together to just finish the race, let alone do well. The free food voucher was also awesome for the after race refuel.

I'll put some more photos up as they come in!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Highland Fling time

The countdown is almost complete to the most anticipated marathon event in Australia, the Highland Fling. On Sunday the 11th of November over 50 Elite racers will join the 1500+ strong contingent of keen mountain bikers to battle it out across the fields and hilsl around Bowral.

For me, it is my 2nd attempt at the Fling. Last year was done on the trusty Cannondale Flash 26er hardtail. This year aboard the 29er Flash I am hoping to float across the rough stuff in the first hour of racing.

Tomorrow I will drive up, register, and check out a few spots around the course to open the legs up a bit. Then come Sunday 8:05am, the racing will commence with a bang.

Only time will tell if the form and the cards fall well on the day. There are a couple of races within the race. Firstly the overall title is between Shaun Lewis and Andrew Blair. The fight to be the last one on the podium might also be tight, with myself, Andrew Hall, Anthony Shippard, Dylan Cooper and potentially Ben Mather all capable of sneaking into the top 5 over the injured Jason English who unfortunately has to miss this race after a run in with a car in far north Queensland.

Top 15 in the Elite XCM rankings - 5 riders in the top 15 from the 2602

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back Yamma Bigfoot 2012 - Event report

The title of this post says it all. This race is an 'event'. Importantly for Canberra, it is the official 2602 World Championships, even more important than the hotly contested Bakery Bunch on Saturday mornings. There is a lot of pride on the line to be able to back up the smack talk that goes along with this in the lead up.

The Friday before there were over 100 emails sent out between a handful of 2602 protagonists in an attempt to demonstrate dominance, question tyre selection, sledge other opponents, being beaten beaten by chicks (in the numerous ways that this can occur), set up questionable race tactics and increase morale whilst the nation's productivity ground to a halt (sort of).

We sped up to Parkes on the secret back roads getting to the race HQ in a time of 3 hours from door to paddock. Kylie and I decided to scope out the back 25km of the 50km lap to stretch the legs and to see what else was new. Some questionable bogans were seen out being shady around the top end of Back yamma state forest and had even told some of the riders to go the wrong way and had even moved some of the course markings. Bogans, they are everywhere .... and you can't kill them.

Later that night we all headed down to the local Thai restaurant where Ed McDonald was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to meet a special someone that he met there last year. Unfortunately for Ed, that person no longer worked there so he left that night sad and lonely, but was probably buoyed by the text messages he was receiving from his special person all night long.

I had a pretty ordinary night's sleep, but fortunately, the nights leading up were alright, so I wasn't too worried. I was mulling over the wheels choices possible on the course and reciting the lyrics of some of Slash's new songs off Apocalyptic Love. That got me from 12:30 to 2:30am - after that my brain switched off and it was all very peaceful.

The alarm came and we were out to race HQ in a flash. It was about 30 minutes drive so Kylie was on 'kangaroo spotting patrol' and I drove the getaway car. We pulled in net to my brother's campsite and started getting the bikes sorted.

After my warmup / toilet stop I was looking over my bike and noticed a gash on the sidewall. Great. in about 5 minutes flat I had a new tyre on it. That was close. It is highly likely that it would have held up, but I wasn't prepared to take the risk. I must have picked it up somehow in the warmup spin. Not sure how though...

That extra drama made me run a little late and by the time I got to the start line, all of the self-seeding sort of riders were already on the start line. However, this time, it all appeared to be the appropriate riders and they graciously let me slot in, with a little heckling. Nice one. I wouldn't have expected any less!

Pissing about with my number plate, which I had managed to break on the start line.

The starters horn went off and we were all off in a massive cloud of dust. It was mental! With a slightly downhill run to the first singletrack Brian Price was drilling it and there were about 20 riders in the group. At this stage, I was in about 15th place which was really ordinary, and this was confirmed when I disappeared in a rut. Sensing that this was suboptimal, I took a deep sigh and ramped it straight up the outside, around the final corner and entered the first piece of singletrack in 3rd place. Like a Boss. By the skin of my teeth. Winging it. Whichever way you look at it!!

After we got through the first singletrack, everyone had a slight break to eat, drink, assess and slightly recover. Brett Bellchambers with the 36:16 fitted had other ideas. He was off. That's cool. we had the '2602 plan' going on. Andrew Hall had somehow not made it through to this initial selection. That was pretty unlike him. 

For the next 20 minutes a few of us kept the pace positive with Ed doing some solid tempo riding to take us down to the top end dam. By this stage Andrew had sorted his bike and had drilled himself to get back on. In good form, as soon as he got back on, the elbow was flicked to encourage him to come and do a turn on the front. This led us into the 'Forest of Arenberg' as Kylie had christened it last year. Due to some extremely wet weather the motos and cows had turned this section into the roughest bit of trail you could imagine. Maybe the real Forest of Arenberg within the Paris Roubaix might have been smoother. 

Soon however, we were out onto the fireroad, which was not much better, but we could at least go about 35-40km/hr. The bunch was staying together with those that drove the pace, and those that were enjoying the day out in the sun.

When we were heading down into the final bit of singletrack, Jeremy Ross was following Andrew Hall and pedaled out of a corner a little eagerly and his downward pedal stroke hit a hidden stump and he high-sided his 29er big time and flipped out into the scary side of the trail where you don't know what lay beneath. We checked that he as ok, and ensured that he got back on before we drilled the lower creekside singletrack. The group hauled along here at 35km/hr due to the slightly downhill nature. The headwind worked against us a little, but the trail here had been reversed from the last 2 years and was absolute prime two wheel drift territory. Nice work to the organisers for tweaking this!

Throughout the first lap, there were many "Tupac" calls as the sledging was kept high as people were eeking the best they could out of the trails. Everyone was thoroughly enjoying the trails, the positive spirits, warm weather and fast racing.

The first lap was done in a time of 1 hour 52 minutes and a bit. That wasn't too shabby at all. The mental calculations done in the head indicated a very achievable sub 3:50 time for the 104km.

Coming into the feed zone transition area, I stopped to pick up some bottles and extra food to get me through the back 50km. Interestingly not everybody did this. Each to their own however, and it took me until the start of the singletrack to get back on to the end of the train. At the A/B line creek run, we had finally caught Brett and he went for the uber-PRO non existent AAA line, which unfortunately whilst being awesome and off the side of what essentially was a small cliff, took all of the flow from the exit out of the creek. Everyone was scrambling at this point and it as here that Jason English did his ninja attack and essentially just rode off from the group. 

The pace was kept high through the next bit of singletrack with Andrew 'Red' Lumley ultimately deciding that after the bottom dam,  he was going to try and chase down English. Good move I thought, as I sat at the back of the pack, after regrouping finally at the end of the long bit of sweet flowing singletrack. But ultimately, I thought it may have been a bit tricky to chase English down solo. At about this point Ondrej decided that he needed some wind in his face and came to the front to up the pace a bit. He ramped it up testing everyone though the slight singletrack climb that led to the sweet slightly downhill flow that made the kangaroos really excited. 

The kangaroos out in this part of the world have no respect for the calls of 'track' , 'race leader' or even 'Tupac' and they viewed us merely as 'fair game' as they did their best to induce fear into the city folk. Andrew Hall had a few close calls, but his jedi experience of dealing with the crazy roos from Stromlo's infamous Skyline and Old Duffy runs allowed us to get through relatively unscathed.

Kylie getting the nutrition and railing sorted at the same time #PRO style - for a three-peat in the 50km

Once we spewed out onto the super long freeway of fireroad I assessed the situation. The group was still together. English and Lumley were up the road. We still had some passengers who were allergic to the country air in their face (or were just hanging on for grim death - we've all been there before!) At this point in time, I thought that I might channel the GDE section of the Bakery Bunch into my legs to test everyone. I think at this point we were about at the 65km mark, so there was still about 39km of racing to go, which is a fair bit, but sometimes you just have to go with the feel. The good thing about this bit was that we were into the SSW head wind but the downhill slope here greatly assisted the build of gradual speed - I think we nudged 50km/hr here. The thing that excited me the most, however, was the 90 degree turn after about 1km of this. 

I disengaged the lockout to allow the Lefty to smooth out the trail imperfections, then re-engaged it to lock it out before putting in a good one minute burst of speed to peg it at 45km/hr in the hope that the crosswind would do the rest. Hall and Ross were onto my plan of attack and just like the Bakery Bunch, about 5 minutes later we had the pleasant satisfaction of the elastic stretching to person behind who let the wheel drop. I quickly let the guys know and we kept the pace high as we could see Lumley in front. By the time we had descended the singeltrack down to the dam, we had about 15 seconds on the group that was splintering behind and had caught Lumley. 

Through the next fireroad section up to the 'Big Climb' out on course at the 75km mark, the pace was kept super high as we looked at capitalising on our earlier efforts. Andrew and Jeremy drove the pace superbly as  we worked together to take us to the finish. Lumley was probably paying a little for the solo effort he put in earlier to try and go with English and unfortunately would dangle a little off the back of the freight train up some of the climbs. After negotiating the open fireroad with the huge headwind we rounded the 180 degree bend that had the nicest tailwind you could imagine.

Yo! MC Hammer called....

Andrew detonated a small hidden stump that was hidden in the grass as he passed by one of the backmarkers that we had caught. I seriously thought that he was going to either kill something on the bike or flip it, but like a farmer, he just plowed it.

The next 10km was just drilled. We were all equally strong in our relative sections, and actually going this deep (threshold and above) allows you to be in the zone for the shifty, drifty singletrack. It was like we were all on autopilot. We knew the corners, we were essentialy just dumping whatever excess energy we had left into the last 20 minutes of the race. Soon enough the creekside singletrack appeared, but not before Jeremy had attempted to highside himself off the same hidden stump that he had done on the first lap.

'I can't believe you drilled that stump twice'

The creekside singletrack was done faster than the first lap, which was not easy as the volume of traffic that had been through before had definitely chewed it up a fair bit. I was loving it, this sort of riding makes me smile and I let the Renegade tires do their thing which, due to their low knob height which facilitates straight line speed, is to comfortably drift.

Unfortunately at one of these drift points Andrew high sided off something hidden in the thick dust and lost contact with Jeremy and myself. This meant that we were now figuring out the next 2 steps of the podium after we had failed to reel back in Ninja English.  I know Jeremy's strengths as I am sure that he knows mine, the only way to get the better of him in this case was to potentially get into the last little bit of singletrack first, maybe block a bit, and then ramp it to the line, which was about 200m or so following the exit of this section.

I totally screwed up the entry into the last bit, which had a slight drop and a few turns. I had a heart in mouth moment when I went over some spine shaped rollers which I had never seen before. I scrambled for the exit, then just dug deep drilling to the line. By the skin of my teeth. 2nd place. 3rd to Jeremy, 4th to Andrew and 5th to Lumley. After his earlier solo efforts over the first 52km Brett came in for 6th.

Time to bust out the Podium Shoes

Working with Jeremy and Andrew, we had managed to do a negative split for the back 52km in about 1:50 that made for a total time of 3:39 for English and 3:43 for us. About 9 minutes faster than last year!!! I knew it was faster, even though it was longer. 

Not the Back Yamma Bigfoot, but his cousin 'Jeebus'

A bit thanks goes out to all the fellas racing as this as clearly one of the best racing experiences I have had on so many levels. The lead up, the race and the apres-race talk-fest was fantastic. This event definitely has the best vibe going on of anything that I race at. A big shout out also goes to the organisers - the coalition of the Central west off road guys who established the race initially and continue to run a super tight event.


For me, the Cannondale Flash 29er made this course 9 minutes faster than that of last year. I might have gotten a little better than last year, but not 9 minutes better. Got to give the bike some credit there. I also relied heavily on my SiS gels. The best thing about these ones is that they contain enough water in them so that you don't have to rely on the bottles you're carrying to help digest the goop. Too easy, bike racing is hard enough, no need to make eating on the bike harder than it has to be. Trev from Lonsdale Street Cyclery (soon to be 'The Cyclery' ) sorted me with everything I needed to equip myself and the bike with the goods to go fast. He is the bicycle jedi master from way back. He won't make a sale just for the sake of it. You will only get #PRO service from the boys at the shop. No BS.

Thanks to Kylie Webb and Tim Ruckley for the great photos!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wollombi Wild Ride 2012 - Round 5 Real Insurance XCM Series

Round 5 of the Real Insurance XCM series was held on the 1st of September up in Wollombi. This is west of Newcastle pretty much on the other side of the mountain of where the Convict 100 is held. OK, so that might be a bit of a stretch, but it's within 100km of that location.

On Friday, Kylie and I loaded up the Kluger and hit the road for the 4 and a half hour cruise up north. We took the scenic Peats Ridge Road down direct to Wollombi to check out the Tourist drive and scenic surroundings.

Before leaving I put together a road trip playlist to make the hours on the road tick by. Top ten were as follows

1: Paradise City - Guns n Roses
2: Back from Cali - Slash featuring Myles Kennedy
3: Dude looks like a lady - Aerosmith
4: Kickstart my Heart - Motley Crue
5: Pour some Sugar on me - def Leppard
6: Nothing but a good time - Poison
7: Walk this way - Run DMC featuring Aerosmith
8: Gone Away - The offspring
9: Wanted Dead or Alive: Bon Jovi
10: Sweet child of mine - Guns n Roses

Ok, so I probably had a bit of a theme going on here, but it got me through the Sydney traffic, which after cruising at 125km/hr on the freeways, felt like a rat race.

Driving down into Wollombi we crossed an ancient bridge which, according to a plaque, stated that it was made by convict labour back in the 1800's. That was pretty cool.

The next thing I thought of, was, 'what do people do out here'? I mean, this is about 90 minutes from Newcastle and Sydney. Apart from farming, what do you do? I guess you could be retired, running/hiding from the law, or doing some shady undertakings. It was pretty remote to say the least.

During the week, I assisted Jason McAvoy and Garry James with some race recce intelligence in the form of some total BS about there being 200 metres of fireroad before hitting up tight twisty singletrack that climbed for 9km. This got them a little worried about start tactics and thoughts of crazy climbing conga lines.  I also mentioned that there might be mountain lions out there also. It seemed funny at the time, but all I can think of now is that Jase will use his IT skills and hack into my blog and make it look different....

I also made two other predictions for the weekend. First one was that the race could be done in 2 hours and 31 minutes. The second one came after the Saturday morning road bunch ride where Andy Blair was riding 'like a man possessed' to quote Phil Liggett. After that ride, I logged onto centrebet and put $1000 on 'Manly Flair' for the win.

Guys, I am telling you.... SO much singletrack climbing out there!

We hooked up with the Radical Factory Team boys for a bit of course recce late friday arvo. We scouted the first bit all the way up to the KOM point. Seemed like 4% over 5km like the profile displayed. NOT! There were some cool 15% stem chewing gradients out there that would take a bit of sting out of the legs, and as we predicted, would pretty much be the initial selection point.

After regrouping at the bottom of the decent, we were amazed by these 3 train carriages covered in moss, totally in the middle of nowhere. There was a dog outside the nearby house and eerily enough, after saying hello to him, he just stared at me blankly. Not even a woof.  Garry went for a look inside one of the carriages, not exactly sure what for though. Far off in the distance, we could hear some banjoes playing, a cold wind blew through, and we decided collectively to get the hell out of dodge. Pretty freaky!

We then drove back to Cessnock for the night, at the Cumberland Motel. This turned out to be a pretty cool spot. Not bad for $113. Huge rooms, plenty of room for all the associated crap that you take to a bike race.

'Dinner' - pretty close to Dog Spew - yes, I ate it.

Where we decided to go for dinner, however, was a bit of a fail. We went for some pasta carbonara which seemed like a decent choice on the menu. It was however, more carbonara than pasta, and as Andrew hall so eloquently put it, 'looked something like his dog threw up' - The Rad Team boys wisely went to a local thai restuarant. Kylie was not keen for the pasta, so put in a mercy call to Andrew for some emergency Pad Thai to bring back.

After getting a decent night's sleep (for a race) I was up before the alarm, and we were soon on the road to Wollombi munching on banana bread for breakfast. Being a local Canberran I am pretty used to the cold, but it never gets easier. To say it was a bit fresh would be a slight understatement. Warm up was a relative term used for a process of going through the motions. For a fleeting moment, I thought of even racing in arm and leg warmers, but ultimately, I thought a cup of HTFU would be more appropriate.

At 8:10am, we were off. A totally stacked Elite men's field scampered to get out of the start chute and get the race on. With a fair bit of fireroad on offer for 4 or so km before the climb started, the pace was the usual up and down pace depending on who was on the front. as soon as we hit the steep climb, the fireworks started going off. Blairy and Trenton Day flexed their climbing muscles and were off. I looked around and could see Lewis, Morris, Hall, Hughes, Glennan, English, Fleming, Shippard, Jackson, and a few others. This was ok, pretty much who I expected to be there at this stage.

After the 3rd climb we were through the KOM point and in for some descending. We weren't let down. I hit 80.7km/hr fully tucked down a super awesome descent. as usual, these never last long enough, and you realise that it usually means another block of climbing. This next climb however, was not as steep as the initial climbs, and was more like a 4% true gradient. The pace was high, everyone was still there, and we were only 16km into the race.

There were a few interestingly marked corners where we had already blown through a wrong turn. A bit to do with race head, and a bit to do with ambiguity of signage. At around the 35km mark, I could sense Jason English starting to get a bit twitchy and got on his wheel. We saw a black arrow and took the left. To a dead end.... We called back to the group ' wrong way' and proceeded along the firetrail again. Again, about 5 minutes later English and Troy Glennan started to up the pace going up a slight rise.

I was sitting on Hall's wheel and noticed that the pace was starting to rise, and could feel no one sitting on my wheel. It was time to up the pace myself and get over to that train that was about to leave. Pretty soon, we had a gap, and it was not being brought back. A couple of minutes later we saw Blair and Day heading back towards us!! Oh yeah, this was the dual direction bit of road. A minute later, we had our 180 degree turn. Luckily this allowed us to see the pack that was still chasing hard. So Troy ramped the pace. After about the 46km mark, I was dangling a little off the back of English and Glennan having lost contact by about 50 metres  and falling into no-mans land. However, I knew now that all of the climbing was complete, and worked hard for a minute or so to get back onto the wheels of the two motors in front of me.

After dropping back down to the lowlands beside the creek, we were now hauling at 40km/hr working as a group equally to keep the pace high. We hit a few of the creeks and were met with some freezing cold water that made the legs feel a little bit shorter!

Wheels of choice - ENVE deep dish carbon. #PRO white spokes

Now I could probably beat Glennan in a limbo contest and definitely beat English in a 'smooth legs' stand off, but today like most days, I was not beating them on the bike. Glennan attacked and I just worked hard to minimise the losses rolling in for 5th place. Andy Blair had taken the win from Trenton Day, with English and Glennan for 3rd and 4th respectively.

Drama unfolded 2 minutes after I crossed the line with a bunch of about 5 riders trying to hit the narrow entrance for the finish chute at the same time. Out of the cloud of dust, Andrew Hall led through Justin Morris whilst the others picked themselves up off the ground.

Magic 8 ball - what will be the time taken to finish this race?

I was pretty stoked with the top 5 result and as a bonus my time was 2 hours 31 which was not too bad a call from my earlier prediction in the week. It worked out at an average speed of 29.8km/hr, which for a MTB race was pretty quick. Blairy finished in a time of 2:27 which was pretty awesome. He was flying.

Bit of a fast race going on here.

Next weekend is the Back Yamma Bigfoot up in Parkes NSW. This is another fine event on my calendar that I am looking forward to. Time to get the playlist updated for this road trip!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sydney Bike Show - Photos

Sagan's actual bike brought over especially for show

Sweet lines

Stealth Nano - classy

Cyclocross is going big in Australia for 2013 - Disc equipped SuperX

New Cannondale helmet

Finer details

If you need to get to the races, then travel in style

Keep in touch socially

If you bought your female partner one of these, imagine what sort of bike you could get yourself!

Cyclocross - Ultegra Di2

Not even the ultimate - F29er 1

90mm of 29er travel

Trigger - 26" trail bike

I had a set of these on my SuperV4000DH back in the mid 90s

old skool \ new skool

Internals of a Lefty fork

I love these cut outs - RockShox Damper


Slice - style plus

Peter Sagan's power meter

Quick turn around if you win big races

Nice little run around

Integration of the electric kind

Good for mad acceleration and easy cruising or motorpacing for friends

old skool masking

Integrated handlebar light

2013 Lefty - super sneaky pics

Carbon Trigger - swoopy lines

Aero tight - 23 mm tyre

Function \ form - one following the other

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's new?

It's July. It's really cold in Canberra. The Tour de France is on. There's crazy fog in the morning.
June and July in Canberra are great months to take stock of what you want to achieve in the later parts of the year, put the plan in place and get things happening. Bulk loads of training are what has been on the cards for me over the last few weeks. It's not always easy with the cold weather, but on a positive note, the days are getting longer and the sun is out a fair bit more which makes it mentally easier.
Upcoming races
In the immediate future, there is round 5 of the XCM series with the Wollombi Wild Ride followed by the Back Yamma Bigfoot. Two super flat races. So, obviously the emphasis has been on making sure the endurance and power are increased to cater for these sorts of races. The Wollombi race is a super short event at only 75km. This is going to be a flyer!! I am expecting that this will pretty much end up being a road race from the get go. The vast majority of the course is fireroad so drafting, and potentially a bunch sprint will be the outcome.
The Back Ymma Bgfoot I have done a couple of times before. I reckon that this race has exactly the perfect ratio of firetrail to singletrack around. It also has a super vibe at the actual event headquarters itself. I can not wait for this one!
What Else? Well, I have been doing my twin peaks mountain bike training loop over the last few weeks. It is interesting looking at all of my stats over the last 5 years on this loop. I am now doing this one on the 29e and have 3 runs on it. The interesting thing is that the tails have been really moist due to the cold weather. I have been experimetning with tyre pressures of 20.5 in the front and 21.5 in the back. This is super low for me, but seems to be ok with the 29er wheels. There have been a few rim strike on the ENVE carbon rims when going through super rocky terrain. Only a little bit of tweaking here and there to get this to perfection.

A fair bit of this action going on.