Monday, May 14, 2012

James Williamson Enduro – Smashing Wingello trails for a good cause

Sunday the 13th of May must have been one of the coldest days that I have spent racing a bike for quite some while. That is saying a lot as being from Canberra, and someone who races club races through winter, I do happen to see a few cold days on the bike. Added to the cold was a fierce wind that cut straight through the 4 layers of clothing worn and was just bitter.

The Saturday training ride was cold also, but not as cold as the Sunday. Saturday had no wind. I punched out a little over 100km in 3 hours with the Saturday morning bakery bunch to assist with my rebuild for the marathon champs and Husky Enduro later on in June.



A bit fresh in the morning upon arrival

James Williamson was a full on legend, who in addition to living in the 2602 postcode, loved riding and racing his bikes. I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile on his face. He raced everything from short track to solo 24 and I always saw him out training. He just had a raw, pure enthusiasm for the bike that was infectious. In memory of him, after he passed away 2 years ago at the Cape Epic, CORC got together a bunch of his old sponsors and decided to put on an enduro race in his memory at the Wingello State Forest. This was his old stomping ground before he move to Canberra.

Yesterday saw the 2nd running of this event with people coming from NSW, ACT and Victoria from what I could see to support the memory of Jimi as well as kick some wicked trails on the mountain bikes. 470 riders made the journey and weren’t disappointed with the trails. They were in sublime condition. The singletrack was flowing and the fireroads you could just haul some serious speed on. Just perfect!

Upon arrival, Jack Henderson plugged in the massive speaker which was blaring Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” which, happens to be my favourite Bon Jovi song. The first thing on the cards was to register and get a number plate. It was quite impressive to see a sign on board at the start. This added to the awesome atmosphere at event central.



Fully PRO setup by CORC having a sign on board at the start

Next up was the mandatory figuring out the right clothing for racing, getting bottles ready, and visiting the trees regularly. For my warm up, I tried to stay as warm as possible. The wind was just tearing through the layers and chilling me. I applied the number 2 level heat embrocation and just to be sure applied another level. Come race time, I would be shedding all the layers and wanted to ensure that I would still be warm.



Bottles sorted, now off for a warm up

At 10 minutes to 9 we all rolled off towards the start line. I was fully rugged up still at this stage and I was just trying to prolong my warmth as long as possible. Arm warmers, full leg warmers and long jacket were my comfort layers. On the start line with about 3 minutes to go, like a snake shedding its skin, I got rid of the leg warmers, and the long jacket and hoped like crazy that the start would come soon. For some reason there was a 2 minute delay and everyone froze some more, but no one really cared, the racing would come soon enough and we would be warm, or too hammered to even notice.

Three laps of a 25km loop were what we had laid out for us. This would take 3 hours or so, maybe a little longer with the cold and the wind. So all up 75km, and for me, the 3rd marathon in as many weeks.


On the start line using Jedi mind games and my jacket to stay warm

BANG!! The start gun went off and we all clipped in and scrambled up the start hill trying to get the cold limbs to get some fire into them. The organisers had put a fireroad start loop into the race to attempt to sort out the start of the race. This did the trick relatively quickly and an initial selection was made really early, before the course proper. Dylan Cooper went off the front early and was going just that little bit faster than everyone early on. Brendan “Trekkie” Johnston was next in line followed by me, Mark “Tupac” Tupalski, Will “Fat Will” Bowron, Troy Glennan and Ondrej Slezak.

With Dylan up the road, his team mate Troy Glennan had the luxury of being able to sit on and enjoy the ride offered up by the rest of us. Bit of a shame really as I was quite looking forward to be able to hide behind him when going into the headwinds! Into the first bit of singletrack and Trekkie got the inside line and looked at chasing down Dylan. I was right on Trekkie’s wheel and Tupac was glued to mine.

The first bit of singletrack was mesmerising. So mesmerising that my 700mm wide bars were put to the test with a tree gap of only 701mm. Hello!! Wake up call! The ensuing nose wheelie at 45 degrees ensured that I got things together and paid a little bit more attention to things at hand! With the blood and extra adrenalin flowing Trekkie started making up a little bit of time on Dylan heading into the KOM. He was dangling enticingly off the front only about 15-20 seconds or so. As we grovelled up the KOM hill, I am sure Dylan was breathing through his nose doing it pretty easily and rode off some more. At this point, Tupac decided to give chase and rode away nicely to latch onto Dylan’s rear wheel. In hindsight, I should have gone with Tupac at this stage, but that’s racing. At the time, I thought it was ok to let him go. About 5 minutes later we caught him again as he had picked up a stick in his rear derailleur and had stopped to sort it.

Shortly after this Trekkie slashed a sidewall around a rocky fireroad corner and his day was done. He fixed it and kept going, but any mechanical will change the course of your day in a big way.

So back as a bigger group (minus one) once more, we kept on smashing it along. Somewhere in the next 5km, Tupac went off again, eager to chase down Dylan. When we hit the last bit of singletrack, Will took the lead and nailed all of the corners flowing them together to keep speed as high as possible. This bit of singletrack, I remembered from the Highland Fling where Troy Glennan and I were riding together. Ironically, Troy was once again behind me through these trails as we followed Will who was riding awesomely today.

Out onto the fireroad I had scoped earlier, I knew we were coming up to the feedzone. Troy led us over the line and we all got fresh bottles and gels in readiness for lap 2.

I had a chat to Will and let him know that Troy wouldn’t need to work because Dylan was up the road, and that we should just roll turns on the fireroad to keep the speed up. With the knowledge of the course now in the mind, it was a matter of eeking the most out of each section.

Troy must have been thinking this also and going up a fireroad rise, decided to ride away. Having raced with Troy quite a bit over the last 2 years, he has this way of just sneaking off from you using his immense power to overcome gravity. It is not a violent attack, it is more like a ninja attack, you think you see it, but ultimately, you just don’t. All you see is the gap created.

We kept him in view for the next 15km just probably hovering between 30 and 45 seconds. With the nature of the course, sometimes, you couldn’t see him, then other times he would appear, and keep things motivated. Somewhere along the line, he let up and joined back into the posse. The wind had started to pick up a fair bit here also. There were times when you would be crawling along the fireroad barely touching 25km/hr, then in the other direction, you would be cranking out 45km/hr just hauling.

The start of the 3rd lap came up quite quickly after Ondrej has led us through the final singletrack section. We all gathered bottles and gels to hit up the last lap. I was feeling pretty good at this stage, and was already thinking of how I thought the race could unfold. With this group we were racing for 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th as Dylan and Tupac were up the road. Dylan had daylight to Tupac, and we were 80 seconds behind Tupac.

I had made mental notes of where I was weak and strong compared to the others as well as scoping out their particular strengths and weaknesses. It would take some major smarts to pull off a ‘Tom Boonen’ ride away manoeuvre with the hills, wind and cold weather playing a small part in the overall scheme of things. The other option was a sprint finish. OK, it was good, I had options.

These options unfortunately, came to a grinding halt as in the first major bit of singletrack I went to pedal and the bike felt a bit weird! I looked down thinking my chain had popped off the chainring. It had, and it was lying on the ground about 10 metres behind me. I said quite loudly “oh, that’s a shame” or words to that affect and bid farewell to my crew, and scampered back to the bit of the track where my chain was lying.

I ripped my gloves and glasses off, the chain breaker came out, the offending snapped link was removed, the chain threaded around the cogs, the chain link threaded though the links and voila, I had a chain once more and a functioning bike. I stuffed everything back in my pockets including my gloves, and threw the glasses back on. I noticed that 2 to 3 people from my class had snuck past, as well as a few others. To the MTB community credit, every single person who went past, asked if I was ok, and had what I needed to get the bike going. Totally awesome.

I can fix a flat tyre in three minutes. This I know from experience. I am pretty sure the chain took about the same length of time. I haven’t checked my Garmin file yet. And to be honest, it is purely academic. As a racer, you know that some things are just purely mathematical. Three dudes racing at a pace that you were also racing at. Put yourself 3 minutes behind them. Are you coming back? On a last lap? Probably not. Did that stop me from chasing hard? Hell no!

I got started back in the singletrack, made sure that I started slow, got my feel back and ramped it from there. I knew that Graeme from MarathonMTB and Ollie from Velosophy had passed me whilst I was fixing my chain. I wanted to get past these guys at least in that futile hope that I could catch up to the pod that I was racing with.

Every corner, I was out of the saddle trying to eek out speed and precious seconds. At the KOM climb I caught and passed Graeme. I could see Ollie up ahead, and I caught up to him in the next bit of singletrack. To his credit, he let me pass, and I told him to latch on. I kept smashing it as hard as I could. It was the last lap after all!

The singletrack was ridden in two-wheel drift style as I sought all the grip that the fast rolling Renegade Tyres offered. They don’t offer a lot, so I was working the corners a fair bit, relying on the Cannondale Flash 29er’s low centre of gravity and superb geometry to rail me and carry speed.



 Last lap past Rob Parberry’s camera lens. Apologies for the Thomas Voeckler style tongue action
As I came out of the last bit of singletrack, I had a few emotions going through the brain. I was stoked to have been able to race wicked trails (in the dry) in memory of James Williamson. I was happy with my ability to hold decent form over the course of three weekends of hard racing. I was devastated to lose valuable time with a mechanical. But, as they say in the movies, “That’s racing”. Well, they say it somewhere, probably at races where things go pear shaped.

I crossed the line in 6th place. The 3rd 6th placing in as many weeks. It was a case of facepalm, or appreciation of consistency depending on how I looked at it. These two thoughts went back and forth for quite a while. Pretty funny. Oh Well.





Results. Dylan smoked it.

After crossing the line I congratulated all those in front of me and talked some crap with a whole bunch of people. The consensus was that the racing and the trails were awesome. As was the cold weather. After cleaning up, I put on a truck load of clothing including beanie, and puffer jacket. To be honest, on the drive home it took until Lake George before I unzipped my jacket. I was chilled to the core!

So, next up, I will start continue rebuilding prior to the Marathon Champs on June the 10th and also keep the 30th of June in the back of my head, which is the XCM round of Husky in Callala Bay. After that, I might head to Thailand for some rest and recovery!



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