Monday, February 13, 2012

Mount Stromlo National Series Round 3 All Mountain Cup

February 10-12th brought the National Series All Mountain Cup to the iconic trails of Mount Stromlo. The nation’s elite racers gathered in the nation’s capital to lay down some fast laps of the mountain in the new MTBA format of All Mountain racing. For the Stromlo event, which was round 3 in the series, there would be SuperD, Olympic Cross Country (XCO) and Point to Point (P2P) held over the 3 days.

One unique feature of the All Mountain cup is that riders are required to use the same bike over the course of the weekend. You can change components such as tyres, but not the entire bike.

The plan leading up to this race was to come in fresh, and hopefully finish strong. Only time would tell if this would happen... Scanning through the Start List, the mind was doing the mental calculations on where I could fit in within the field. There were so many big hitters and it truly was an Elite field – there would be no hiding out there!

The SuperD was up first held on Friday afternoon, allowing for the riders to get acclimatised to the unique trail conditions of Mount Stromlo with luxurious lifted runs in air conditioned comfort of mini-buses. The bus drivers were digging the adventure and getting into the spirit of racing themselves. There were a few near misses on the tight roads near the top where the buses and the trailers came precariously close to collision on a number of occasions.

After all the practice runs, we were loaded up into the bus to be taken to the start for the actual race. As we were driving up the mountain, it started raining. Firstly, those massive slow drops that cool the air and let you know what is to come. Then it just bucketed down. Then it hailed. And it was windy. The road had turned into a river, and whatever conditions the trails were had now been washed away. We all just stayed in the bus staring gloomily out of the windows secretly hoping the rain would just disappear. Luckily, it only lasted about 15 minutes, and then the sun reappeared.

The show was back on! At 30 second intervals each rider would take on the course that essentially went from the top of Stromlo to the bottom of Stromlo. Skyline, Luge (berm track) and the standard trails that make up the descent were taken at the highest speeds possible. As John Tomac once said, “You’ve got to do SuperD – it is what you do as a mountain biker”.
SuperD – splashing through puddles after the deluge!

The rain hadn’t made much of an impact up the top of the hill, but underneath the DH bridge, where the soil is a lot higher in its clay content, it was a bit of a lottery as to what was going to happen. As the track dried out and more riders went down the hill, it became a fair bit faster.

I managed a time of 10:26 down the mountain to slot into 8th place in the Elite field. Not too bad considering the slick conditions. An interesting side note was that total time on the bike today was 3 and a half hours. Warm ups, practice, racing, warm downs – it all adds up!


After comparing race runs with mates and talking crap, I headed home to chow down some pasta for the Cross Country race on the Saturday.

Saturday morning I woke pretty early, and helped Kylie get her training done before heading out to Stromlo. With the pipes opened up with Friday’s SuperD VO2max, lactic acid bath, I was pretty keen to smack it around Stromlo for another body and mind punishment session. The laps for this race were pretty short. With the change in UCI regulations, the target for the lap times were 12-15 minutes. 7 laps would mean a target race time of 1:30 – 1:45. Nice and quick. The shorter the race, the more intense it is, and the more important that you are ‘on’ at the start and optimise your trail riding ability.


Calm before the storm – grid start for XCO

At midday the gun went off and we were punching it down and around the start loop. This was a 3 minute fire road ‘separator’ that doesn’t really separate anyone. With the first bit of singletrack being a tight left hand entry, I swung it wide right into the corner and was able to sweep around the bottleneck and gain a few precious places. At this point, it was on like Donkey Kong. Flat out pacing up through the tight twisty singletrack, ensuring that the wheel in front was followed whilst not trying to lose any time or make any small mistakes (or large ones for that matter). This was done all the while at XCO pace which is about 92-94% of maximum heart rate. You are constantly fighting the ‘shaky hand’ syndrome where you are battling the lactic acid accumulation that threatens to stop the legs pedalling and the arms and hands from gripping. Definitely an acquired taste!!


Fireroad separator at start of XCO

At the start of the 2nd lap, I was not really wanting to be there. That is a standard feeling and a great sign that you are doing XCO correctly! It doesn’t last too long before you are cursing the climbs and waiting for the descents to recover. Positions were constantly changing as riders were jockeying for position, or having to recover from massive early efforts, or dealing with the dreaded mechanical.

As the laps went by, I was seeing riders ahead and trying to assess if they were going forward, backwards or staying the same. I was also trying to see where riders were fast and slow in case I needed to contend with them later. I was also attempting to pace the race so as to last the 7 laps with consistent lap times as well as avoid the 80% ruling on getting pulled.

Each lap I was getting a bottle hand-up from Kylie through one of the fastest feedzones I have ever raced through! Usually they put them on the slowest part of the course, but this one was on a dead flat fireroad after the start finish chute. There were definitely more than a few bottles dropped by others in this location. With the laps being so short, it was really hard to judge the refuelling vs fighting for positions or even maintaining positions. I had each bottle filled with about 400mL of carbohydrate fluids and I was probably only getting through 250-300mL of that each lap. Luckily, this was all I needed for my hourly intake requirements.


Race Face (ie pain face) on for the XCO

As the last lap came around, the bell was ringing and I put my head down and drilled it as well as I could. An hour and forty minutes later and it was over. 14th place in a stacked Elite field. Not the best feeling day on the bike, but by far not the worst either.



The same theme of race comparison and pasta consumption was done to ensure that I was ready for the Point to Point the next day. It is amazing how quickly you can switch off from one event to the next when they are back to back. Normally I would take a couple of days to analyse the race and determine where time could be gained. It will have to wait for a few days longer!

On Saturday night, the standard pains of XCO racing were apparent to the body. XCO racing is like doing Tequila Shots. It seems like a good idea at the time, but you feel like crap afterwards. I banked on sleep making things feel better.

The next morning was another early start. After my morning coffee, I did the body and mind assessment and was happy with the sensations. Today was going to be good! The Point to Point (P2P) was going to be another smash fest. 20 kilometres of racing in what was essentially a tour of Stromlo’s finest trails. The start was going to be fairly crucial (as it always is) in getting a good position going into the singeltrack. The race had a longer ~ 5 minute fire road separator that actually separated riders this time, before funnelling into the trunk trail. The race course took in the full climb up Stromlo followed by hitting up some old school trails down the back of the western side of the mountain. I hadn’t ridden these ones for ages – probably a couple of years at least and they were as rough as guts. After coming back from the western carpark, I grabbed a bottle from Kylie and dug in for the longest fireroad climb ever – before slipping into the smooth flowing sweepers of Party Line.

After getting back to wombat junction, we headed up the hill again via Blue Tongue and joined up with Skyline before bombing back to the Event HQ and the finish line.

Emptying the tank in the last 1km of the P2P

All up, an hour of racing and 13th place for the P2P. Definitely a great event, and another high intensity smash fest.



So, SuperD 8th, XCO 14th, P2P 13th. Overall for the weekend, I ended up on 11th for the General Classification, which takes into account your overall times for the 3 events. Sort of like a race within the race. With DNF's, mechanicals, bad days, good days etc - the GC takes into account your consistency over the course of the 3 individual races.

This weekend I raced the Cannondale Flash Ultimate 29er. The bike performed impeccably, and after a tyre change Friday night, was railing the specific trail conditions that Stromlo had thrown up.

Big thanks go out to Cannondale Australia and Lonsdale Street Cyclery in Canberra for the best support with bike, parts and nutrition. And a huge thanks to Kylie for all of her excellent support over the weekend.
I was really happy to finish off the weekend strong and feeling fresh which was my objective after only having long miles and minimal intensity in the legs over summer. As of Monday morning, I feel fully recovered and excited to do the finishing touches to tune out the diesel in favour of the turbo. In 2 weeks time, I am off to Adelaide to race the Australian Titles for XCO. I am definitely looking forward to this event. I love Adelaide, I love the course, and after an awesome 3 day block of high intensity training under my belt, I am feeling that some good form is on its way.

Thanks to Russel Baker and Chris Fox for the fine photos of the weekend.



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