St Albans. Wisemans Ferry Crossing. Convict Trail. Del Rio Resort. Sandstone ledges. Waterbars at speed. A bit of climbing.kayak bridge. Anyone who has done this race will no doubt be aware of some of these synonymous terms that go with the territory.
Yes, back for another go at the Convict 100 XCM race. Round three of the Real Insurance XCM series for 2012, and the 3rd XCM race in a row for some, 2nd for me. I raced this last year for the first time and learnt a bit about the course. Course knowledge is invaluable and can make up minutes over 100km in some cases. To assist I did up some race notes in order to mentally help things along.
Luckily the Cannondale Flash top tube is wide enough for my notes.
On the Friday, Kylie and I packed up the car and made the trip up to Sydney. 4 and a half hours later, we were unpacking at the wickedly 80s resort of Del Rio. This year we had got a slightly larger cabin, which made things just a little easier with regard to moving around.
I love the vibe that this event has. When we rocked up to registration that afternoon, the area of St Albans pub was happening. Tents, people, trade demos, massive banners. It just makes you excited for the race seeing all of this. Registration was a breeze. Locate your number on the board, go to the appropriate desk and collect your bag of stuff. Too easy.
The next morning it was a standard 4:30am wake up call in order to get ready for the day ahead. After packing up and eating breakfast the 30 minute twisty road was negotiated with an owl, and two wallaroos almost becoming hood ornaments. Almost as good as coffee as a wake up! Espresso was the first port of call once we had parked the car. Then things started to feel a bit better.
The morning was really cold to me for some reason. There was a really thick fog hanging over the event centre and when I went for a spin to wake the legs up, the bike, my glasses and everything was covered in the fine layer of misty water that you get in these circumstances.
With about 10 minutes to go, I rolled up to the start chute to hang out with the other guys there. A quick scan.... Blairy, Lewy, Fleming, Mather, AJ, Fellows, Hall, Shippard, Trenton, the marathonMTB dudes, plus another 20 odd hitters making up a fully stacked Elite field once again. It was good to see the 2602 of Canberra represented by Blair, Lewy, Hall and myself. Cooper was out with a cold.
Start line. Trying to look #PRO in lycra when it is freezing. Note the number of 29er wheels on that front row. Definitely a trend for 2012.
The start gun couldn’t go off fast enough, and suddenly all thoughts of cold were out the window as we bolted out of the start gate and chased the car in front. Andy Blair gave Shaun Lewis a playful tyre buzz to rev things up in the mellow affair that was the start. The mellow start would only mean that it would light up on the wall. The wall is also where the initial selection is made as well as where the series KOM would be contested.
Suddenly, somebody called out ‘COW!’ and this massive brown beast darted like a scared animal does as the squeal of disc brakes and swearing permeated the still low lying fog. OK, so the heart rate just popped up a twig. Cows, like kangaroos have no respect for the race leader.
A few km later Shippard hit the deck over a slightly muddy puddle. I had done the same thing last year and was counting myself lucky that it didn’t happen again. Through this bit there was cow shit flying up and I breathed through my ears and nose to avoid any of that stuff getting in my mouth and making the day more uncomfortable than it could be.
My plan was to be at or near the front at the 10km mark. The wall was at about the 12km mark. I wanted every advantage that I could get. Then it came. Bang. Heart rate is through the roof, people are scrambling for clean lines, heavy breathing is punching the atmosphere as the legs are screaming. It is a massive shock to the body when you go from cruising solid tempo at 35km/hr on the flat to hitting the 15-20% grades and crawling under 10km/hr in an anaerobic state.
Blair, Mather, Day, English and Jackson had got the gap. No surprise there. I stuck near some good drivers; Fleming, Lewis, Shippard, and I was stoked to see my standard Saturday training partner Andrew Hall up there also. At the top, we worked together for ages to try and see if we could get the leaders back in sight, but they had bolted. Plan B then went into effect. Keep driving.
The 28km feed zone came up relatively quickly, and this signalled the start of the sandstone tech sections. Fleming and Shippard, who have immense knowl;edge of this course as well as the choice of riding dual suspension rigs, stole a minute off Ollie, Hall and myself to the 50km feedzone. Horses for courses.
At the next tech section we saw Fleming at the side of the course, day ruined by a flat tyre. Mechanicals are always a cruel way to go out, when you are well positioned.
The tech section here is just a point and shoot affair over endless sandstone ledges. The choice of the 29er was definitely a good one as it made it easier to roll up and over the square edges. The course was looking vaguely familiar in sections, but I was really waiting until the end of these sandstone sections to actually get some pedalling on.
I got a bit of a scare at a singletrack drop in point, where somehow a small branch from a tree got up under my glasses and poked me hard a centimetre underneath my eye. This scared the hell out of me, and I dropped the wheel in the next corner and unclipped. Hall threw out an awesome sledge as I recomposed myself and clipped back in and got going again.
Somewhere along the way, just like everyone, I picked up a stick in the back of the bike. Time freezes as you hope to hell that it doesn’t rip the derailleur apart. In my case, it did something pretty weird to the chain. I couldn’t pick it at the time, but it had caused one of the inner links to bulge and whenever I was in one of the 3 hardest cogs on the back it would skip under even the lightest power output. Fantastic! Not.
Hard to see, but the inner link was bulged and caused the chain to bind, and skip over the small cogs.
Finally we got descending and rolled out onto the main road below leading to the kayak bridge. This was a chance to have a drink and a gel and get ready for the river crossing. At this stage, Ollie, hall and I picked up a bottle each at the 70km feed zone and were funnelled to the bridge landing to commence the crossing.
The infamous kayak bridge crossing. Just keep looking ahead!
I rolled onto the bridge first, and the other two jumped on after me. I rode this solo last year, however, having the other two on the bridge at the same time made it feel pretty weird. It was like it was bobbing from the effect of the other guys’ kinetic energy and at times felt like a struggle to keep the bike going straight. I’m going with that story and I’m sticking to it!
As usual, the sand at the end of the bridge was the hardest bit to negotiate. A hard left trying not to shove the front tyre too hard, and then a traverse over a grassy paddock to get to the bitumen. As we crested the rise of the bitumen, I looked back and could see Fellows climbing out on the grass. 100 metres later, a kelpie comes barrelling out at me, I yell, ‘DOG’ and throw a hand gesture to alert the guys behind me. Ollie gave it some verbal retribution and it retaliated. We wondered how much fun it was going to have with another 700 odd riders coming through over the next few hours. Meanwhile, Ollie, Hall and I got motoring. We ramped it pretty well along here and were swapping turns all the way until the Webb Creek Rd climb which was at about the 76km mark of the race.
Ironically, I had ridden with Ollie last year at this same point, and it was at this point where he had bid me farewell and I rode off when he could go no further. This year, he was starting to go a bit backwards up the climb, but regrouped a little by the ‘top’ of the first ascent. The gap opened a bit more over the next few climbs and Andrew and I discussed putting the hammer down a bit to put some time into him. 2 minutes later and we had dropped him out of sight.
This bit of the course is quite hard. Even though we had averaged 24km/hr up until this point, the climbs were still a grind with 80 odd km of racing in the legs. I know Andrew pretty well, and as one of Australia’s best 24hr solo and 8hour racers, as well just being a bit of a driver, I knew he was in his pedal hard all day mode.
Inside I was thinking, it reminded me of our standard Saturday ride. Roll through the, at times, sketchy Canberra Bakery Bunch ride, then head out to the Brindabellas to tap out some tempo hills talking crap through threshold breathing.
That’s how it unfolded
At about the 85km mark, we came across Jason English with a broken chain. Yet another bad way to not have your day go. Andrew threw out some words of encouragement, or possibly a ‘race leader’ call to his good mate and we were off on the hunt of the end of the ridgeline and the start of the descent.
After what seems like an eternity we turned right and headed down. Fast. Rapidly losing all of our altitude gained in a matter of minutes. I took the opportunity to have an ‘on bike’ nature break on this descent, which was slightly amusing. But I was busting, and as anyone who knows, you just cannot ride properly when your bladder is full!
We came across the 5km to go sign and I decided to bring up the topic of contesting our relative positions for the race outcome. I told Andrew that I was going to sprint him at the end because I wanted the points for the series. He was ok with that which was fully PRO in my book and we kept motoring. After crossing the river at the shallow level spot, we battled through the energy sapping sand and finally got it up onto the main road and pinned it to the finish. Rounding the finish bend, I got in front and sprinted out of the corner to finish a bike length in front of Andrew and 6th in Elite.
Finish Line. The timing matts were slightly raised, and appealing to hit up as a Double gap jump as they were an enticing distance apart. Clicker thrown in for extra cyclenation points!
Ironically, it was the same placing that I had got last year, but on a positive note, it was 20 minutes faster than last year. 4 hours 4 minutes and 53 seconds. It was one of those days where you don’t feel sensational, but on the flipside, you are not feeling crap either. Hard to explain. That’s racing pretty much....
One of the highlights was seeing my mate Andrew Hall, have an awesome result, bagging a top 10 in a stacked Elite field, as well as enjoying the day out in the hills with him. Ultimately, I was loving the Cannondale Flash 29er for the vast fire-road sections of the course. Being a hardtail it was a slight handful over the rough sandstone sections, but miles better than the 26er hardtail I rode last year. The day after the race, I stripped the bike down to the bone and rebuilt everything. The sand and water just manages to get in everywhere!
Even the cassette body got new bearings!
So now, I will milk the current form I have until Sunday for the James Williamson Enduro, and then it is time to start preparing for the Australian Marathon Champs at Stromlo on June the 10th, followed by the Husky 100 on June the 30th.