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!