Monday, February 11, 2013

Rocky Trail 100 – Stromlo 10 February 2013

I had seen this race happen over the last 2 years, but it always happened to be running at times when I had other races on. I really like racing at Stromlo so it had to be added to the race list for 2013. Through summer I have been racing on Thursday afternoons at the local Short Track series and last Sunday I raced at an XCO at Sparrow Hill. On Saturday I rolled along the Bakery Bunch with Andrew Hall talking the usual crap about crap. Needless to say, in summer, there is no shortage of riding and racing opportunities.
The Rocky Trail 100 race has a few different categories for different choices that people have. 33, 66, 99 and miler options were on offer. With a track length of 25.9km though, the total course length lulled you into a false sense of reckoning that it could be easy. But, Stromlo is never easy and the organisers put together a course that had about 600m climbing per lap and no real places where you could recover or have it easy.

Will tampering with Andrew's spare bike in the background. Robyn practising her bottle slinging technique.
One good thing about this race was the 9am start time. This allowed me to have a relatively late lie in before hauling over to Stromlo. After sorting drinks etc and a basic warmup, I jumped onto the start line and got ready for the countdown. The 100 and 66km racers were lined up together, which would ensure that the start would be pretty quick. We started out on the road crit track before dropping off onto a fast downhill fireroad. 30 seconds later after a few jockeying moments, we were into the singletrack.

Start line tough guy show-off. There's only one guy flexing in this photo!
The course took in all of the standard switchback singletrack that the front side of the hill had on offer. Shaun Lewis had taken the initiative and was choosing to lead from the front through the singletrack. Following him was Kyle Ward (100), Jarrod Hughes (100), Scott Chancellor (100), Troy Herfoss, Garry Millburn (66), Anthony Shippard (66), myself (100), Jayden Ward (66), Will Bowron (66), Nathan Spencer (66), Jeremy Ross (100) and Jason Chalker (100). This order might be out by a couple but it is pretty close. It stayed this way all the way up the climb with everyone following super closely on the wheel in front of them and it wasn’t until the descent down Pork Barrel before the gaps started to appear.

The fireroad after the descent brought the first opportunity to grab a drink, but you still couldn’t afford to cruise yet. At this stage I was following Garry Millburn and Anthony Shippard through the tight twisty, rocky singletrack. Just before we hit Terminal Velocity, we came across Chancellor who had managed to cop a front flat. After Double Dissolution I saw another rider, who I thought was Jarrod Hughes, but turned out to be Troy Herfoss who had copped a rear flat. These two were wearing really similar coloured kit so it was tricky to tell whilst drifting around the off camber right hand corner.

This would have to be a berm that is a favorite with photographers at Stromlo. The braking bumps were horrendous here!
One thought I had during the week was puncture protection. Stromlo is notorious in my own personal experience of being a sidewall shredder. I don’t think there is any other place where tyre choice is so crucial. When I ride here, I like to run brand new tyres (if possible) and ones that have extra sidewall protection. Since my tricep tear, I have ridden off road properly twice, so I knew my skills might be a little shady, so I opted for the massive carcass of a Schwalbe Racing Ralph 29 x 2.25 in a snakeskin sidewall. I also chose to run it at 19psi in the rear. It weighs a ton, relative to my normal lightweight tyres, but I know that I won’t be able to flat it. The low pressure, was to enable me to get as much float and grip as possible on the rear tyre at Stromlo.

I would lose a smidgen of time here and there due to the weight, and maybe in the accumulated fatigue over the course of the 4 hours, but that came with the peace of mind that I wouldn’t waste 3 minutes at the side of the trail fixing a flat.

During the first lap down Party Line I managed to throw the chain and have it caught between the chainring and the crank. No stress. Hop off the bike, rejig the chain, then get back on. That also meant getting back on the wheels I had dropped. 30 seconds later, and I was back on the train with Garry, Anthony, Jayden and Will. I did have to keep in mind though that these guys were dong the shorter race and just to keep to my feeding strategy. First lap in, and I grabbed new bottles and gels to keep me going for the next hour and 20 minutes or so. Robyn slung me the pickups super quick and I was off on my way. During this time, Will had just shot through, Garry was gone, Jayden was slightly up the road, and I managed to get back onto Shippard’s wheel.

Climbing up the singletrack. Could be just about anywhere really.
After the first bit of singletrack, I rode off from Shippard in search of Jayden’s wheel. I could still see Will up the road so just wanted to keep the same pace as these guys doing the shorter race. I caught up to and stayed with Jayden up the climb and we could see Will up ahead every now and then. Jayden slid out on a corner, and I popped through and tried to get back some time on Will. At this time, Chancellor started to claw back some ground after his earlier flat, and came back on the Missing Link climb. He was hauling and obviously was trying his best to get back to the leading group of three. At this stage of the race, I was doing all the mental calculations to see how long the race would take, and what sort of food and drink quantities I had to get down my gob.

I had put my Garmin on with one of the screens displaying temperature. Being a natural ranga, I have my limitations in the heat and know that when certain numbers are reached when under threshold, I tend to suffer a bit. On the 2nd lap it was still only about 27 degrees, which was more than fine. For reference, on the 3rd lap I saw that it was 37 degrees. That would probably get a tennis match suspended due to excessive heat.

Heading up to Slant Six for the 2nd time, I could see Will ahead and saw Jayden walking his bike back to the start, the victim of a flat. Stromlo claims yet another tyre. Onto the road crit track and into the safety and comfort of transition I was craving the drinks I had for the 3rd lap. I grabbed a full bottle of Skratch, some caffeine gels and a full bottle of water. The water went over the head and the torso, and a little down the throat. The realisation that another lap was due became apparent. I was now alone. The 66km riders had finished their race. There were 4 guys up the road from me, at least a couple somewhere probably within striking distance behind me, another hour plus of racing to go. Head down and keep pushing through the pedals. At I crested the hill near the observatory Kylie handed me a bottle and a gel, and her and Blairy said that Kyle’s lights were out and that he was fading fast. Alright then, challenge accepted. A minute later railing a braking bumped berm my new full bottle ejected. That’s pretty rare. I think that has only occurred never! A quick grab of the brakes and run back up the hill to get the bottle, then back on the bike in hunt of Kyle. Half an hour later!! I finally came across him. He was broken by the wombat (Shaun) and was limping home. He waved me through and gave me some words of encouragement.

Right now I just buried myself to finish off the last 20 minutes or so of the race. When I got to the final descent, I let out a shout of relief. That last lap with the 37 degree temperatures had caned the hell out of me. The lack of pure mountain biking this year so far had made itself told in the lack of arm strength and added fatigue. In a positive, the tricep held up over the course of 4 hours, so that made me pretty happy that it is strong enough for the rigours of pure mountain biking that is due to come over the next few months.

Final results from the Elite 100km (which was actually 79km)
All up the race was a shade over 4 hours, with the last lap being a major blowout due to the heat catching up on me. I probably blew out 4 minutes or so due to a bit of cramping, and general fatigue. Lesson learnt for next time in the same circumstances. Maybe next time I would also run a slightly lighter rear tyre, but this has its own extra challenges, risks and stresses.

The race was pretty slow due to the technical nature and all of the climbing. Only Shaun was able to average over 20km/hr for the duration of the race.

I would go so far as to say that this race was in my hardest 5 of all time. That is a big call, but it was mainly down to the heat, the technical terrain, my personal physical condition 9coming back from injury) and possibly a few other things that made it this way. What does that mean really? Not sure. Except to say that, I really like racing in cold conditions, my arm should get better and I probably need to ride a bit more technical terrain should mean that things can only get better from here.

Race stats:

  • Distance: 79km
  • Duration: 4:04:23  
  • Average Speed: 19.15km/hr
  • Placing: 4th 
  • Gels consumed: 12
  • Electrolyte bottles consumed: 4 and a half
  • Water bottles consumed: 1 and a half

Later that afternoon, I felt pretty awful to say the least. I’m not sure if it was a combo of dehydration and sun exposure, or something dodgy that I had eaten, but all I wanted to do was have a spew! Come to think of it, that same feeling had enveloped me earlier in the race. At about 8:30pm, it was time to empty the tank. Out it came, and finally, I started feeling better. No more headaches, no more throbbing temple, no more hot\cold sweating. #serenitynow.

All in all, this is mountain biking.

A tough course.

A full day out.

Good people.

Good times.

Great/interesting life experiences.

I’ve also got to mention that this is the first Rocky Trail event that I have ever been to. I came away really impressed with how friendly and easy going Martin, Juliane, and their crew of helpers were. This gave the event such a good vibe across all levels.

A big thanks to:

• Robyn and Kylie for feeding me at the bottom and the top of the mountain. No way I can do this stuff by myself. These guys are the best.

• Andrew Hall for pre race banter and crap talk

• Superb guys who look after my cycling needs.....Cannondale Australia, Sugoi, Frameskin, Enduro Bearings and The Cyclery – all making the times on the bike easier.

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