Monday, April 29, 2013

Tathra 100km - 2013

Tathra Enduro 2013

I found out about the Tathra Enduro from somewhere. I can’t exactly remember where or how to be honest. I may have even entered in a previous year and not actually raced there for some reason. This year, however, I was pretty keen to give it a whirl. After the Wombat 100, I changed a few things up with my preparation of both the bike and other things. I could feel that there were some positives that came out of the Wombat, even though there were some things that weren’t great. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad and be able to analyse things to determine the way out.

2 weeks can be a long time, or a short time in cycling. That was how long it was between the Wombat and Tathra. It’s pretty tight to be able to turn around a season, and quite unrealistic to be honest, but I wanted to at least give it a decent chance. I won’t go into what was changed, as these may or may not be what have assisted, but suffice to say, being thorough with these sorts of things does allow some view into where to improve.

Bike prepped for the race

On Saturday morning, I woke up and did the standard roll down to Woden for the start of the morning bunch ride. 40km later, I was back at home warming up a little as it was a pretty cold morning. I was also trying to eat some food. It’s pretty hard to force down food after such a relatively easy effort. The body isn’t really receptive to it. At 11:00am, my team mate Andrew Hall turned up at my place to pick me up. Somehow he had managed to convince the lovely Robyn Ramsay to let him drive her new Subaru WRX STI R-spec car, with no less than 120km on the odometer down to the coast! It was probably not too risky as it was double demerits for the long weekend, the car couldn’t be hammered because it was too new, and Andrew drives like an old man towing a caravan (sorry Andrew, it is true!)

Bikes loaded

Fortunately, I was in charge of the music for the trip down. With the phone\MP3 player hooked up, it was all about 80s rock and rap to keep us awake for the 3 hour drive down to Tathra. 3 hours of being in a car with someone makes for some interesting conversations. So many topics about random crap. Pretty standard really.

Road trips require music - GNR is always a good choice

When we got to Tathra, we headed straight to the Country Club for registration, which was an easy affair. We then went for a quick recce of the first 20km of the course. After a bit of a drive, the last thing I want to do is hop on the bike and ride. But the course intrigued me as in the first 50 metres there was a nice left handed berm. 10km later and after a trip to the top of the hill and back, I had put this bit of trail in the top 3 of all time highest rated singletrack. A big call, but I think it is pretty fair to say that these trails are amazing, and definitely appeal to my definition of what trails should be like.

We then went and checked out the first bit of the fireroad climbing section. Fairly standard fireroad, quick and easy recce. By this stage we were both starving, and packed up and headed back to Bega where we were staying. After checking into the motel, which turned out to be not too bad at all, we headed off to Coles for some supplies and then to the local Chinese\Vietnamese\Thai restaurant. This should have set off the alarm bells. It is probably a little dodgy to have such a mix of cuisine. However, the internals looked authentic with the standard Asian paraphernalia that restaurants have adorned on the walls.

Recce along the waterfront
Andrew wasn’t too keen to sit near the fish tank, so we sat on the side wall. Probably freaking out the hostess, we ordered exactly the same meal: Panang Prawns, rice, spring rolls and lemonade. Yeah, that’s not too weird. Not more weird than wearing the same T-shirt, cap and sunglasses.

The spring rolls came out and they were bone dry. This was not a good sign. I’ve never seen spring rolls like this. They were also boiling hot. I tried to break them in half and burnt my fingers. Andrew just ate them! They joys of eating at an unknown establishment.

After dinner, we headed back to the motel and chilled out watching a David Attenborough documentary on sea life, followed by Ghostbusters 2. Quite frankly, I do think that the original Ghostbusters was the better movie of the franchise, and that the shark had definitely been jumped by the time the 2nd one came around.

The morning couldn’t come around any quicker after a fairly standard ‘race-night-sleep’ – at 5:20am, we were up eating, dressing and pretty soon after were on the way to the race event HQ.

Russ Baker had his kick-ass 80s music mix blaring and the vibe was really positive, 5 minutes prior to the race start, it was announced on the PA that there was going to be a Le Mans start. There is nothing better than running in stiff soled mountain bike shoes, however, the saving grace was that it was on grass. The only plan here was to get through without pulling a hamstring, and get into the singletrack in a fairly decent position.

30 seconds after picking the bike up after the run, we hit the singletrack with Andrew Hall, Shane Taylor, Lewis Cressy and myself threading the needle through the singletrack. Half way up the climb, Shane started to lose Andrew’s wheel, and let Lewis and I through. The single track climb was punctuated by a lot of 180 degree switchbacks, which equalises a lot of the efforts making it easier for a group to stay together. In what felt like 5 minutes (but was probably closer to 25) we were down heading across the grass through the event HQ out towards the next 40km of fireroad.

Shane Taylor had reattached himself across the tarmac when we were crossing the bridge and as a group of 4 we meandered our way around the coast line before heading upwards. Andrew had decided that he was going to drive the bus for today’s race, and he set a pretty solid pace up through the hills. There was a varied mix of hill types out here. Big gear power rollers, and granny-gear grinders. Once we had made it as far out the back as possible, we turned around and headed down some super sketchy descents with water bars, sandy corners and random conditions all pretty much unknown and hit at crazy speeds over 50km/hr. Coming down one particular descent, Andrew as amused at the ‘Caution signs’ that also included a skull and cross-bones. After the descent, he asked us both if we were scared? I replied, ‘only with the lines you guys were taking’!

At the bottom of one steep descent, we saw a creek which looked wide and deep. A quick neutralisation was called and we crossed over via a strategically placed fallen tree. Short discussions were had recalling tales from every Husky and Fling race we had all done where we had to cross some water. We were thankful for having the opportunity to stay dry in this instance.

After a truck load more up and down, we were headed back on the tracks that we had already climbed out on. Some of the descents were unbelievably fast and let us know how steep the climbs out were. Back around the coastline and we were soon onto the tarmac heading back to the event HQ and half way point.

We all stopped to pick up bottles, and headed out for the 2nd 50km. After crossing a ‘stile’ we rode across some grass. I was having flashbacks to the Highland Fling first hour, but this grass more reminded me of the grassy bits from the Mt Joyce Marathon Champs. Energy sapping, random holes, angry cows and a 1 metre wide mowed strip to ride in was the story for 5km. We finally got off the grass and were headed up a nice hill with a few teaser signs posted by the organisers.

At this point, Lewy decided to have a bit of a tester and channelled his inner MC Hammer and lit up the climb. Boom, he was gone. I knew that he had ridden the back 50 with the ONYA crew the day before and knew this part. Andrew was a little hammered from the grass section and waited until the top of the climb before making chase. I chose to wait until the flat section as well before putting the hammer down. I went past a family that was cheering for us, and gave them a little wave as I mainly just wanted to keep the boys in sight, as I could see that after about 3 minutes, Andrew had caught back up to Lewis. By the time we crossed the top road on top of the real hill, I had latched back on also. Good to see where everyone’s form was!

This next section was the most amazing singletrack. Open and flowy, even with a truckload of 180 degree switchbacks. These switchbacks were the type that you didn’t have to break for, as you just stopped pedalling and let gravity slow you down whilst you hooked into the corner. Andrew was back in front through this bit and driving the pace once more. Lewis had another crack at a slightly open section and went around Andrew and gapped him a little. I went around Andrew also and got onto Cressy’s wheel, calling to Andrew to get onto mine, sitting up momentarily so he could get the wheel back. He was quick to get back on and Lewy drove the pace just that little bit higher.

We soon passed through the 80km feed zone, which pretty much meant that there was about an hour or so to go. The next 20km were the most sinuous I have ever ridden. 100% singletrack, with a mix of flow, technical, up and down, with some sucker bits that ended up with you having to climb out of the bottom of some valleys.

The last 10 km of singletrack went forever. In the tight and twisty singletrack it would have easily taken half an hour. There were some awesome steep gullies that had some wicked little bridges at the bottom to keep you alert. Finally we saw the 5km to go sign. Then the 3km to go sign. We could also see the event village and ocean to the side as a reference point. Andrew asked me if I was visualising the Acton Tunnel in reference to the Bakery Bunch final sprint point. I replied that I had been for quite some time. Actually, I was just focussing on the wheel in front and counting down the switchback turns.

At this point the reality of a 3-way sprint finish was coming through. It had been in the back of my mind since I caught back on after Lewy’s attack on the hill. After getting back on, I knew that I would not let the wheel go again. The only problem was that the sprint was on grass and was straight for 100m followed by a left hander and maybe 60 metres to the finish line. Whoever made it to the left hand turn first would easily have the victory. My plan was to be as close to Cressy’s rear wheel as possible as we exited the final dirt berm before the grass.

As the script played out, Andrew led it out to the final berm, then pulled off to the side. Out of the saddle, Lewy ramped it and I matched him all the way up the grass inching back bit by bit, but ultimately, he got the corner first, and with it, the victory for the day. Over 100 metres it is pretty hard to get over someone in a sprint for a corner. Probably needed another 100, but then ultimately, who knows and who cares as it didn’t pan out like that.

How it panned out on the day

So, going back to the 2 weeks question posed earlier in this blog and whether you can turn things around in that length of time..... well, I think that I can improve upon certain things. I was pretty happy with how the day had panned out, and whilst I didn’t get the victory, it was a lot better than how I had felt on the bike for a while, so hopefully at the very least, it is a turning point.

Pretty cool trophy

The Cannondale F29er was amazing out there. It ate up the 45km of fireroad and tarmac with absolute ease, and allowed me to rail singletrack for the remainder on total autopilot. I chose the Adidas Crystal Silver lenses dude to the dappled shade all through the area. A good choice, as seeing clearly is quite an advantage. Where Andrew rode SRAM X11, I was more than happy with the SRAM XX, utilising both chainrings constantly, getting full use of the entire gear ratios.

A massive thanks also to the Tathra community for putting on such a cool event. I will definitely be back for next year – the singletrack is worth the trip down from anywhere I reckon. Having showers on site also is amazing. Being in 3rd wheel for the majority of the race, I was thankful to be able to get clean before sitting in a car for the 3 hour trip home.

A huge thanks goes out to Andrew Hall for the roadtrip and especially for driving the pace for at least 95km on the day. Thanks also to Lewy Cressy for the company in our group of 3 and for showing his class on the bike.

So, what’s next? Well, for starters, it is the Convict 100km this Saturday – back to back weekends of racing – how good is that?!?!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Wombat 100km Marathon - Woodend Victoria

Originally part of the mystical XCM series, this event suddenly became a standalone event again, but definitely drew some pretty big competition in from just about every state in Australia. Kylie Webb and I flew in Saturday around lunchtime to Melbourne after enjoying the fine service at the Qantas Club lounges. I had a really awesome double-shot espresso which had me buzzing nicely for the flight and the short drive up the road to our accommodation.

Accommodation at a new location is always a gamble. Being late into the race logistics game for this event I had the option of either a $200 a night ‘Spa resort’ or a $100 a night ‘3.5 star motel’. Being that I am a bike racer (this weekend) I went with the latter and hit the jackpot. Way off the main drag, quiet, clean and only half an hour from race HQ, it was everything that we needed. My team mate Andrew Hall, however had hit the ultimate half-wheel jackpot with a cabin at the race site of Cammeray Waters only 50 metres from the start line.

The same guys that run the Convict 100 also put this race on. I like their style. They are super organised and it is a breeze to pick up your gear for the race that includes a pair of socks, a couple of Gu Gels, a phone case, some paraphernalia for other races, zip ties and the all important race number.

Some tweet sledging always gets the competitive spirit flowing, and negates some of the pre-race nervous tension that is always present.

Seriously, how good is sledging?!

Before I left the motel I had scouted us out some Thai for dinner. Andrew, Kylie and I had to resort to Google Maps and the GPS to find it in Woodend, but it was well worth the effort, as it was unreal, and a great way to talk some crap the night before the race.

After dinner, Kylie and I used the force to get back to the motel and for some reason, they had blue lights on outside the motel room the whole night. The curtains...yep, they had curtains, but they only had a straight rod, so there was about a 4 inch gap that existed between the curtain and the window. The blue ambience in the room was amazing!

At 5am, the alarm got me up and going. We sped over to Cammeray Waters, where the race was held, and got everything sorted by the internal light of the car in a foggy paddock.

At 7am, everyone had been corralled into the start chute and were sent off on a gunshot start. About 1 kilometre in I couldn’t see a thing. My glasses had fogged up – on the outside due to all of the fog. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone had taken their glasses off, and poor Naomi Hansen, who was relying on prescription eyewear was pretty much rendered blind by the conditions. To be honest, I have never experienced that sort of thing ever.

After the ordinary run at Capital Punishment, I just wanted to achieve two things at this race. First was to hang with the front bunch for the first hour. The 2nd was to have a strong last 2 hours. When you don’t know a course, you are just following wheels of guys who have done a race course before and know when and where things are going to happen. Like where the singletrack is coming up. You can however, ‘feel’ where this is occurring, because the pace picks up as people are trying to jockey for position.

Heading into the first bit of singletrack, I was ‘jockeying’ with another guy mainly because I didn’t know who he was, and I wanted to be on Hall’s wheel going through this compartment. They say that ‘rubbing is racing’, and well...we rubbed. Homeboy wasn’t overly happy, which is understandable and he let loose a verbal torrent that was heard up the line. Andrew responded “JD are you overtaking people in a race again?” . Laughter ensued through the 3 riders in front of me. I replied, “Yes”, then I did the right thing and apologised to the guy behind me who I had ruffled. Interestingly enough, I didn’t see him when we finally exited the singletrack onto the fireroad. I guess then, that I probably made the correct assessment to undertake that particular overtaking move.

I was feeling pretty good in comparison to the last 3 months of racing. Sure, it was hard – it is a race, but I was able to keep up and right within the limit reasonably well. At times, it may have been a bit scrappy, but after getting dropped in the first 5 minutes of Capital Punishment, I was looking like achieving the first objective of today’s race – stay with the main group for the first hour.

Somewhere around the first half hour mark, we hit this amazing bit of fireroad that was made up of lumps of fist sized coal. OK, it may not have been coal, but it was black and large. They weren’t like cobbles, as they were all loose, and soon everyone was riding along the side of the fireroad along a rabbit track trying to keep everything smooth.

Eating and drinking in the first hour is always pretty hard. This race was no exception. We had a reasonably large group at this stage, and I think that there would have been about 15 riders in it. There were probably only two that I did not know, but their jerseys I did recognise, and that is always a sign of ability. Note: this last sentence is only applicable if in a race situation at the front end. If you see someone on a bikepath in a World Tour team kit, they may or may not be affiliated with said team, and therefore ability is an unknown quantity.

At the hour mark, I didn’t exactly pop, rather I just unceremoniously slowed down a little. The mental calculations of the speed we were going and the duration remaining had me ensuring that I would at least have a component of energy to bring it home with. Over the next hour and a half, I had that awful feeling that you get in these races, where you just feel ordinary, but you know you have to keep pushing on. Sometimes, you know (through race experience and training) how long it will take, other times you don’t.

Around this area we hit up what felt like an hour and a half of singletrack that felt like it was a maze. Based on the map of the course, it should be pretty easy to see where this is.

In this area, I saw just about all of the riders who were in front of and behind me. At times you would get excited seeing a rider going in the opposite direction to you on the right, and think that you were going to catch them, only to then turn left and head downhill in the opposite direction! Your thinking suddenly goes to other dark thoughts!

It was tricky through this bit, and I am sure that it did take forever. I had to constantly remind myself to eat and to drink to ensure that my energy levels were kept up.

At the 2 hour mark, it felt as though we were finally out of the maze and making headway at eating up the kilometres with the occasional foray onto fireroads and slightly more open flowing singletrack. I knew from last year’s results from a slightly moist wombat, that Shaun Lewis had done a 4:30. So, I decided to ramp it up a bit at this stage to try and finish with a strong latter half.

focus you must, centre of the bridge on .....#jedi
Ramping in the last 2 hours of a marathon race is a relative term. You are pushing hard, but at times, you may feel like you are treading water. The Wombat course would be classified as ‘rolling’. Rolling usually implies that you are working a hell of a lot, mainly because there are no massive ‘non-pedalling’ sections. The singletrack through this region is fantastic, and extremely satisfying to ride, and a bit of a privilege to race on. It is super tight and twisty in places, yet open and flowing in others. They also tend to have the hardest stuff in the first half, and the more open flowing trails in the 2nd half. This means when you are tired, you can still keep it pinned.

There were a few notable bits in this race

• First water station – 28km – where were you?!

• Super technical downhill off-camber section – akin to a DH race, not a marathon – totally awesome!

• Bridges – 50cm wide bridges across gullies – amazing!

• Singletrack – some of the best that I have ever ridden on

• Backmarker traffic – some of the most courteous people I have ever come across in a race – thankyou hugely!

One thing that was not ideal, and something that is a first for me was missing a turn. I was coming up through some backmarker traffic weaving in and around them as we started what seemed to be a fairly long climb. At a ‘Y-split’ in the fireroad I was fixated on the rider in front of me on my left going up the right hand turn, so took the right hand turn and headed up the hill in the lowest gear I had. I saw a bit of pink tape half way up, but started to worry a little when I couldn’t pick out any tyre prints on the ground. That awful feeling that something has gone way wrong, was confirmed when I reached the top of the climb and came to a T intersection with no arrow or marking for the trail I had just come up.

I looked right and saw an arrow. I looked left and saw a rider. Not my trail. The thoughts going on in my head at the time can not be explained in words, needless to say they were not all that positive. I turned around and descended back to where I had seen the last bit of pink tape. Old singletrack, logs across it, no tracks, damn. That is not it, turn around again, and head back down. When the descent seems to go on forever, you realise how much you have climbed and how much time it has cost you.

Finally, I got back to the bottom and glimpsed sideways and saw some official marking. How I missed it, I am not 100% sure. I recall having followed a dude (backmarker) up the right hand side at this point, so maybe that was it. I might have kept going on and he figured it out. It would have been nice to have got a yell to come back. Anyways, it happened, and it was ultimately my fault. Time to get the hammer on.

With the thought in your head that you have lost a seriously huge amount of minutes you just want to smash it. So I did. But I also tempered it with knowing I had a couple of hours to go. Got to keep eating and drinking. So objective number 2 was now going to be tested. At Capital Punishment, I cannot describe how ordinary the body felt in the last hour and a half. At the Wombat, however, the sensations were extremely positive. The power output was high and the drive was strong. I was muy tranquillo. I was now counting down the course marker signs. 30km. 20, 10, 5 were now being reeled off. I was in a good groove and trying to get as much out of the trails as I could.

After seeing the 5km to go marker, I had Phil Orr come up behind me. Where the hell did he come from? I have raced him a few times and know that he is pretty handy, so burnt another match and got on his wheel. After recovering for a bit, I came through for a turn and drove us onward. Through the trees I could see the event centre. I made the quick deduction that we would descend, go around the dam, and then 30 metres afterwards, we would cross the line. Usually in a 2-up sprint, you would sit behind and then jump. However, in this case, I made the quick determination that the good money was on staying in front on the descent due to the curve of teh road around the dam and the speed we would hit it at. We hit the flat section across the dam at about 45km/hr and in the left hander of the dam, I was two wheel drifting across the blue gravel. 5 pedal strokes later and we had crossed the line, me just in front by half a bike length for 13th place!

Great team results for Cannondale-Sugoi Factory Racing from Andrew Hall. I took away some good feelings from this race. The missed turn was unfortunate, but what can you do? It's done. Time to move on.

After the race, it was awesome to talk crap with Andrew who had quite a strong race and ultimately had finished 6th in a 4 – way sprint for 4th. Kylie had axed herself in a moto rut, but had kept going to finish a strong 3rd overall in the female 50km event. What was even more awesome was using Andrew’s cabin to have a shower – a serious highlight of the weekend!

We packed the bikes up and trundled off to the airport at Tullamarine, sat in the Qantas club and talked some crap about the day eating pumpkin soup, apple juice, licorice allsorts, and sandwiches. The general consensus was that this was one of the better races with regard to track variety and that I definitely will be back for next year’s edition. A bit of course knowledge at this race will definitely go a long way.