Stromlo was once again awarded the location priviliges of hosting the 2013 Australian Mountain Bike Titles for Olympic Cross Country, Downhill and Eliminator.
Personally, I was struggling with getting a good run of riding off road. A few untimely injuries had left me really sketchy with regard to my skillset for riding well off road. The injuries had involved crashing where there shouldn't have been crashes. Both times opening up massive gashes that required stitches to fix up. That sort of stuff can knock you around a bit with regard to confidence as well as just getting enough time on the bike off road. The other injury was my tricep which was a bit more recent and had actually been torn whilst riding up the World Cup climb. In turn, it had contributed to me crashing in a handful of location on that same ride leaving me battered and bruised and seriously considering other forms of entertainment.
However, I built a bridge and got over it. You just have to. Last week I went out to Stromlo to scope out the course to be in use. I took the 26er hardtail out to see if that would be a nice little weapon on the tight and technical trails up on Stromlo. When I got out there, I realised that I couldn't ride anything properly. There was no rear brake! All it did was slide through the rotor, unable to skid the rear wheel. Good brakes are crucial on such technical terrain, so I gave up trying to pretend, rode home and got the 29er, then rode back out and did 4 laps of the course.
At this stage, the course was still really raw, and whilst I managed to ride all A lines at least once, I was inable to piece them all together on a single lap. No big deal, it would be how it would be on the day.
On Wednesday, I did a pretty solid time up Black Mountain, which as Trevor Rix says, is the only hill in Canberra to gauge your form on. The gauge said everything was pretty good.
On Thursday I went out scoped out the course, which at this stage was nicely marked out with all the bunting. The World Cup climb was in a much improved state and I managed to clear all A lines on the first go. That was vastly different to just 4 days ago. In addition, there were sections that were concreted in, such as hammerhead, which changed things up hugely.
On Thursday afternoon, I raced the local short track event out at Isaacs, and opened the pipes up a bit with some good solid efforts. To this day, I really like supporting the local racing scene, and the vibe here is pretty chilled.
Saturday morning turned out to be really interesting. It was cold for summer. It was overcast. It was humid. The trails, however, were dry and sketchy which is standard Stromlo. This was good.
When the race got going, straight from the gun I knew things were going to be ordinary. Sometimes you get a feeling in which you just feel blocked. Today was one of those days. When you get dropped going up the first 500 metres of trail, you realise that the next 90 minutes or so will be super long. At this stage, I went to plan B which was to not go too deep and just to slingshot positions once the singletrack arrived. As expected, I latched onto the end of the conga line that was struggling to negotiate the concertina affect of the singletrack and the technical sections.
Back in contact with at least a handful of riders I made sure to just limit the losses. Unfortunately, I just could not 'go'. There was a lot of effort being expended, but the fluidity and explosivensss required for good cross country racing was just not there.
The next 3 laps were just an awful affair, and I considered pulling the pin on one occasion whilst trailing way back in 2nd last position. But, that would just be a cop out, and ultimately, I would regret it later on, so I kept going. I was technically riding ok. I was able to hit my lines and get a bit of flow happening, however, it just seemed like I was riding in slow motion.
At the start of the 4th lap, I started to feel a bit better, and the flow started to come a bit as I saw a few riders up the hill and actually started to feel as though I could raise the speed a bit. Unfortunately, if you want to race XCO properly, you need to go fast at the start. 4 laps in just won't cut it. And doing negative splits really just confirms that you didn't go hard enough at the start.
In the last 2 laps I managed to claw back 5 positions. That made me feel slightly better, but it didn't take away the empty feeling of not being able to ride to your potential or expectations. The last lap is not the lap to finally 'feel' fast. Even then, it is just relative to the other laps.
I managed to finish 19th overall in a stacked Elite field. When I scanned the start list initially, there were 25 great riders in the field all of whom I respect greatly, and I honestly was hoping to not finish last. Best case scenario, I would have liked to have tried to nudge the 10th position. Today was not the day.
Even on the bad days, I will always put in what I can. The teller that it was a blocked day, was that at the end, i didn't feel like I had been run over by a truck, which is the true sign that you have raced an XCO properly. No pain at all.
Fortunately, I do know what caused me to feel blocked up and this is something I have control over for the next race. The lesson learnt has been documented and should not occur again. Even when you want to race fast and strong, it sometimes just doesn't happen. It feels worse when it is a 'once a year' race like the National Titles.
Right now, writing this will assist me to get on with my training for the next race on the calendar which is the Capital Punishment 100km race. This, I am looking forward to. The next few weekends will involve a bit of course recce for this event as it is in the Canberra region. It wil be a great opportunity to spend some good time on the mountain bike!
I would like to also acknowledge and thank all of the supporters who were out on the course screaming and yelling encouragement to me as well as all of the other riders. I truly appreciate it all and it probably contributed to me keeping going when I was having a bit of a crappy performance.
A huge thanks as always to those who support me through the good and the bad. Cannondale, Sugoi, Adidas, SRAM, Frameskin, The Cyclery, Enduro Bearings, Lonsdale St Roasters and Kylie for slinging bottles unselfishly so I didn't get thirsty!
Alright then, that's that off my chest! Dumping my thoughts into the blog is way better than paying for couch therapy!!
Railing a rocky section on the World Cup course at Stromlo - photo by Russ Baker
Enjoying some of the track and the race. Last lap cross-up over the gully jump on the Luge Track - photo courtesy Jarrod Hughes