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.

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