Thursday, May 16, 2013

Alice Springs Enduro - Stage 5 and 6

Dot points again for this day I reckon....

  • Individual Time Trial in the morning.
  • Course extremely wet and soggy from a full day of rain yesterday
  • slow time recorded pedalling through lots of sinking soil
  • Had a blast on the trails - they are fantatsic
  • an hour in the pool talking crap
  • Subway for lunch
  • Strip bike down - a little muddy
  • Prep lights
  • Mass start night race over exact same course
  • 40km/hr into a massive puddle at end of start straight 
  • Instantly drenched - instantly awake
  • Chain troubles, lost contact with my group
  • rear brake rubbing disc - like riding through mud!
  • still beat time from morning - track got a bit faster!
  • Most exhilarating experience I have ever experienced (top 3 probably)
  • late dinner
  • late strip and clean of bike
  • watching cricket to try and get me to sleep
  • Also listening to Guns n Roses ballads to help calm me down
  • Unreal trails today
  • Final stage tomorrow - 40km
If you want to be a player, you must report to the #pro shop

Finish line adjacent to the 18th green.

He smashed out a 52:30 during the day, then a 49:26 at night - we'll put it down to 'atmospheric conditions'

You don't often see a mass start night XC style race - this was absolutely amazing!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Alice Springs Enduro - Day 4 Saint Teresa to Alice Springs - 88km

The Queen stage. That is how the 'major' or 'biggest' stage of a stage race is often referred to. Why, not sure, but if I am bored later (more than likely) I will Google it.  This stage was 88km over what was stated as being flat. 400m vertical climbing of flat. That means one thing. It could be relatively quick.

An early start had us bussed out in the darkness that was only illuminated by the sun trying to raise its self up over the ranges. The day before we had placed our bikes in the hands of the organisers who decided to double the value of the semi trailer hauling them out to the race start for us.

This box was massive. Andrew probably could live in it if he wanted to.

Ok, your bike goes in here with 200 other ones

The day before, I had discussed our race plans for Team Cannondale. Andrew and I discussed every possible scenario that we could think of. The morning of the race, we discussed some more with Kyle Ward.  In our final pedal strokes of the warm up, Andrew said "you know, I reckon everyone will have the same idea and none of our plans will pan out". I responded, "yeah, more than likely".

At 7:30am we were underway and due to the flat nature of the race, we were hauling along quite nicely. The bunch at this stage was probably 50 or so, and had the 'washing machine' nature where people are just jockeying for clean air, or a fat person to sit behind to keep out of the wind.

It seems that everyone got the same memo that stated "no attacks will be allowed to go off the front this morning" - that was Plan A gone. So, it turned into a standard first hour of a marathon race. Ie - the initial selection moment. Tempo was upped, dudes and chicks dropped off and then we were down to nine. Blair, Lewis, Hall, myself, Bennett, Marshall, Hanson, Hogarth and Crosbie. In the first hour we managed to cover 34km. That's not bad in a mtb race.

The next hour had a few hills, some sand, some creek crossings, some corrugations and some fences to cross.

Throw the bike, then throw yourself.

Driving along the main thoroughfare between Alice Springs and Santa Teresa.

We sort of stayed in a holding pattern for a while, Hogarth dropped off, Hanson had a flat and we were then down to 7. The pace was still high, but manageable, until we hit another fence. This one was about the 80km mark or so I think. Shaun scurried under as if he was burrowing a wombat tunnel and then gassed it. Being in  5th or 6th place at the fence, it took a huge effort by Crosbie, Marshall and myself to get back on. My heart rate was showing 183bpm for this section just totally dangling off the back. The corrugations, bumps and horse footprints were mental through this section.  

I had just caught back on when we were stopped dead in our tracks by a woman on a horse that was not happy to see a bunch of cyclists. The horse was spooked so we gave it some space, and got going again. 

At this stage we were less than 5km to go according to the Garmin, so Blairy was attacking off the front quite hard. Hall brough back the first one with relative ease, just prior to the horse incident, then the next one took a small effort to bring back and had the effect of stringing out the bunch again. Ben Marshall was behind me and we again chewed the stem to get the wheels back. This one took about 30 seconds for me to get back on. I utilised a slight downhill slope to slingshot back onto the bunch. Happy days again, with a nice 29er wheel to follow.

This was where things got funny. I think the picture below of Hall's Garmin log sums it up. We were 2:51 out on course with the distance showing about 85 - 86km or so.
Just a slight detour out on track today.
We were all sitting up as we were rolling along, as we had just got lost. There is no easy way to put it. The course marking was just not there. We crossed the river, got onto a bitumen road, went up the road, turned around then went down the road. Went through a roundabout, felt as though we were too far north, so went back to the roundabout.

At this stage, we just stopped. Blairy called the race director. "John. It's Blairy. Where's the finish?" yadayadayada. At this stage, it was pretty much over. We neutralised the race for us, then came across the next group of riders who had also got lost. We finally found our way to the real finish and crossed the line at 3:08. That's 17 minutes after we originally figured we were lost. My Garmin still said 30km/hr even with the pissing around trying to find the course.

Unfortunately, someone had tampered with the course markings at such a critical point in the race for 7 of us, as well as those in the 2nd group. The result that was given was the position we were actually in at the 80km point. We all got the same time, which is no where near what would have been the eventual time if we had stayed on track.

It is an absolutely hollow feeling to have drilled yourself for 3 hours to not be able to contest a result. Fortunately for Andrew and I having missed stage one meant that the GC was a non-issue for us, however, with Hogarth and Hanson not having ideal days, there was a bit of a shake up with Bennett and Marhsall moving up some places, but their times would be compromised and truly reflective of what went down out there.

Anyway, it's been run, was not technically won, but we'll just never know what could have been for each of the 7 #lostboys. 

Highlights of the day though would include the following
  • 4:11 wake up
  • 30km/hr + average speed
  • one section of the course with amazing views -- we were all eating gels at that point\
  • Lewis going under the fence like a scalded wombat
  • Hall driving it on the front like a boss
  • Crosbie and Kyle Ward hitting some early ruts and pulling off some 180 degree aerial maneuvres
  • Kyle Ward's reach-around on the Safety mascot at the start
  • Talking crap on the way home trying to dissect what had just gone on
  • Last 5km intensity
  • Thai for dinner
  • Sleep in the afternoon
  • Chilling in the spa after the race
  • Sledging - you had to be there, but there were some awesome moments out there - as they say,  what happens in the race, stays in the race!

Andrew could pass as an Hispanic Gang Banger, but he is not Spanish, nor in a gang because they don't tolerate compression socks.

Up tomorrow the ITT in the morning followed by a night stage on the same course, but as a mass start event.

Oh yeah, it's raining in Alice Springs. Everytime I have been to Alice, it has been raining.

Monday, May 13, 2013

ICME - Alice Springs Enduro - Day 1

I'll dot point this one....

  • woke up in Sydney.
  • Drank bad coffee
  • Got to airport
  • drank better coffee

got a book to read on the flight up

  • Picked up bikes.
  • Got on plane

Lake Eyre - last time I saw it, it was full of water

  • Got to Alice


  • Missed Stage 1 #sadface (see previous post for details)
  • Got a private car sent for us at the airport thanks to John Jacobi
  • Got to Lasseters Hotel
  • Built bikes up
  • Got on bikes at 2:00pm
  • Found John, got registration sorted
  • Went for Stage 3 recce

Andrew Hall - pondering where the hell he is

  • Had a blast searching the awesome trails around here
  • Got back to Hotel at 4pm
  • Went to Start of stage 2 - hill climb
  • Practised hill climb - 300m
  • Raced at 4:36:30 -- early start due to lack of seeding
  • Posted an ordinary time
  • Went off for more recce of tomorrow's stage

So excited to be finally on the bike - had to do a wheelie!

  • Came back to town
  • Went in search of Thai in town - closed.
  • Failed
  • Went back to Hotel
  • Found that there was a Thai Restaurant at the hotel
  • Winning
  • Really tired now
  • Bottles sorted
  • Dropped bottles off for tomorrow's stage
  • Back to room
  • Clean and prep bike for tomorrow's stage
  • Watching TV, surfing the net, social media
  • Off to sleep - what a day, but I am here!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

When travel doesn't go to plan

I like it when Hanibal Smith from the A-Team says "I love it when a plan comes together". I tend to plan pretty thoroughly when it comes to my racing. It is really just a logistics game. Today, however, it was nothing short of a disaster, in which the saving grace was that it wasn't my fault. I am off to the Alice Springs Enduro, which is a 5 day, 7 stage mountain bike stage race in the centre of Australia. About ten years ago I was working up here for a couple of months doing hydrogeological studies on the town's entire water source collecting water and analysing it for quality as well as age-istope analysis. Rivetting stuff.

Bike packed - almost

The last time I was there, it poured down, and I crossed the Finke River in the Toyota Land Cruiser with the water washing over the bonnet. Pretty wild whilst crossing a 200m long bridge. But I had to be somewhere. Speaking of being somewhere, I should be sitting in a hotel in Alice Springs, however, I am sitting in a hotel in Sydney.

The day started well

Why?.....well.... as I was driving to the airport at stupid o;clock this morning, it was pretty foggy. A little more than usual. Getting out of Canberra can be a handful at times if the fog is strong, like it is when it gets colder. I was going CBR to SYD, then SYD to ASP. Kylie and I had some coffee in the Qantas club and also something to eat. When I got on the plane, I was surprised to see that Andrew Hall had changed his flighttime to be on my flight out. Legendary!

Sitting on the tarmac el capitano says, visibility, blah, blah, blah. Yep short delay. Then we were off. Well that was easy. 5 minutes later and we are doing circles around Sydney which is enshrouded in fog. At first we seem to be landing, then as Fenner would say, BOOM, we are taking off again. Wheels not even touching the ground. Captain says ' off to Melbourne as Canberra is too foggy to land'

A bit foggy in Sydney to land

We landed but they said, you couldn't get off the plane as they would return back to Sydney. Andrew and I entertained the thought of a mad road trip if we could get from Sydney to Adelaide. I have driven Alice to Adelaide in one day before so know it can be done in 12 hours. When we got back to Sydney, the only option offered was the next day flight and a romantic stay at the Mercure Airport Hotel. Rockin!

Fashion Police Called - Andrew Hall, please return that outfit to Andy Blair immediately!

So, it took 7 hours to go Canberra to Sydney with no food. That's not bad, I wasn't overly hungry. When we get to Sydney however, they say ' we can't find your luggage'. You're kidding me!! Kylie said she saw my bike go on as we left. Anger was rising as we spent about 30 minutes sorting this out.The pilot had also said that we could redeem our boarding pass for food at any of the airport outlets. The dude at the coffee shop downstairs hadn't got the memo,however, and wasn't keen  on me having a freebie. Stomach was rumbling now...

So, now I am watching Ghostbusters 2,which ironically I was also watching the night before the Tathra Enduro 2 weeks ago, and I am hoping that I can at least make it to Alice tomorrow. We will miss the first stage, but should be right for the 2nd stage in that afternoon. Unfortunately, now our General Classification chances are gone, so maybe it will be stage hunting that will be on the cards. There are sure to still be plenty of opportunities out there hopefully to stake a claim of sorts..

Like they say in the big ones, 'shit happens'. There is nothing left to do but suck it up and rejig the plans and start again tomorrow. It could be worse!!!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Convict 100km - 2013

I’ve raced the Convict 100km event twice and this year would be my 3rd year at this iconic event on the XCM classics calendar. As it races the exact same course year in, year out, it is definitely one in which you can gain experience the more you race it. It also allows itself to the inevitable comparisons that can be made based upon the time, but as is often the case, this is not always black and white.

Kylie and I loaded up the Ford Territory hire car on Friday morning in readiness for the drive up to and through Sydney. In what was probably the easiest run ever, we made Sydney in record time and amazingly, made Windsor via the M7 motorway without any hassles at all. Windsor always allows a brief stop for lunch before the last stage of the trip down the winding road to Wisemans Ferry and finally to St Albans.

Obligatory ferry crossing photo - enroute to St Albans

First off, though was to check into Del Rio Resort. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Del Rio is a total spin out. Nestled on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, it is like the proverbial duck out of water, and stereotypical of your 1980s style of resorts. Kylie had managed to get us the last of the budget cabins which was excellent. We at least had a roof over the head and a place to shower. 20 minutes after we had arrived, so too had Andrew Hall. We met up and discussed the plan for the afternoon. Andrew was going to scout out some of the starting hill, whilst we would check out the back section of the course prior to registering at the Settlers Arms at St Albans.

King of Del Rio - check out the 80s wood panneling
Eerily enough, we both ended our respective recces at the same time and decided to go and scout out Webb’s Creek Road climb down the road. It was too early for registration to open and this climb is always a good one to know as it comes into play at about the 70km mark, always a crucial time in a 100km race.

Discussion after scoping out the course

In my Tathra 100km post I must have struck a nerve with Andrew about his driving techniques. (Ie, he drives slowly) Heading back towards Webbs Creek Road, we showed the hire car no mercy and loosely obeyed the 80km/hr speed limit. As this road is super twisty and windy, and the Ford Territory is probably the most awful handling SUV on the planet, this was a true handful. Andrew stuck to my back bumper in his Mazda CX7 and we rallied up the fireroad climb of Webbs Creek Road.

With that initial excitement out of the way, we headed back to St Albans, got our registration sorted, dropped off bottles and were soon on our way back to Del Rio. Again, we gave the roads a solid workout, this time in the dark. Kylie was on the lookout for roos, whilst I was trying to avoid oncoming cars, and keep it between the ditches. Andrew invited us over to his mini-mcmansion at Del Rio Heights and we cooked up some pasta and Thai and talked smack about the usual bunch of nothing. This is probably what people did before the internet came along. Actually, we had really limited internet at Del Rio, so we talked instead. Novel.

Excited by what was included in the registration show bag

Kylie loves to tease Andrew about anything, and mentioned that his driving seemed to have gotten better since last weekend. After a little pout he mentioned something about having raced on a proper track in a proper fast car, there is no point in going fast anywhere else. Kylie sledged him back hard, and got a ‘Whatever’ from Andrew for her troubles. On a roll, Kylie came back with a resledge that rhymes with ‘ditch’ and we all cracked up laughing. Perfect start to a race weekend.

Second start occurred at 5:00am on Saturday morning. Everyone who was staying at Del Rio also had their alarms set for that time and pretty much everyone loaded up the car and departed en masse to St Albans 20 minutes or so up the road. Rugged up just a little, we made St Albans and had about 75 minutes before the start, so toilets were visited, casual warm ups were done, and last minute food was consumed.

Fresh start to the morning

As anyone who has ever done a 100km event knows, these races can be quite tactical. There are many ways to race them as an individual, and there are many ways to race them within the dynamics of the bunch. Another interesting thing is that some particular courses suit certain rider’s characteristics more than others. Andrew and I had discussed this one late last year, in that this particular course would probably suit his characteristics of being a driver and being able to put out a strong steady effort. Within a race, there are the obvious team dynamics and also other dynamics that occur based on what is happening in the world at that moment in time. 20 minutes before the start, we had a chat with Andy Blair from the Specialized Swell team about a certain tactic that the 2602 coalition would try to employ early on to shake things up.

Start line - note that Mike Blewitt's socks are slightly too tall in relation to his calf muscle #details

At 7:00am, the gun went off and we were off also. Straight away Shaun Lewis (Specialized Swell) tried to smack it down the road. This was brought back by someone reasonably early on. A few kilometres later, Brendan Johnston (Target Trek) attempted to break away, Shaun also went with him, as did Andrew and Mike Blewitt (Marathon MTB). In my mind, I am thinking, perfect.... a good combo of strong riders. At this stage, Andy Blair went to the front of the main group and sat on a false tempo. I was on his wheel, and took over for a few km. Looking down at the HRM, I was quite comfortable with the heart rate at 150bpm doing 30km/hr. I knew the 4 guys in the EB should be able to peg this section at 40km/hr with no problem. Having a team mate up the road who was strong enough to drill the entire race was a good feeling, even this early in the race.

I was pretty blown away that the rest of the bunch was letting Blair and I control the pace at such a mellow tempo whilst the 4 went away totally out of sight. When we hit the cattle grid however, the pace was back on, and the group was starting to get strung out in the lead up to the first hill. The hill takes about 8 minutes and has a bunch of steep stuff which includes switchbacks. You basically chew the stem for a while and then you come out on the top of the ridge line. After having a few random dudes pop off up the climb, I sort of took my time, not going too deep up here. I kept Anthony Shippard (Cannondale\CBD), Jason English (Merida\OnTheGo) and Sebastian Jayne in sight in getting to the top. After cresting, it took a couple of minutes to reattach myself to this group. I was under no obligation to do any work, as I had a teammate up the road, so Jason sat on the front the whole way, with Sebastian assisting with the work when he could. Shippard had an alliance with Andrew and myself, so was also not really obligated to do any work.

Soon enough we caught sight of the small group in front of us. This now contained, Blair, Lewis, Blewitt, Kyle Ward (Rockstar) and Michael Crosbie. English asked me if Hall was off the front, to which I replied in the affirmative. You could see his mind start ticking away. So now we had a massive group of 10 riders sort of chasing down 2. In hindsight, I now know that Andrew was stuggling with some crap that had gotten into his rear derailleur and was limited in his gear choices. This race traverses through some major virgin bushland areas and there is the huge potential of catching a stick in the wheel or derailleur (lie Michael Crosbie did) or even just some random stuff to ruin your ride.

At the first feed zone, I grabbed a bottle after rounding the corner and readied myself for the start of the rocky trails. I got around Sebastian Jayne and stuck like glue to Shippard’s wheel, as I know that he had scouted this area quite a bit being a local, and knew all the good lines. After this first sector, we had dropped Jayne and had also unhitched Blewitt. However, we had also been unhitched from the rest who had gone off the front to hunt down Johnston and Hall.

Through this next section I was feeling pretty good, so went around Shippard and just kept driving it. Pretty soon enough I came up to the 50km feed zone. It felt like the race was going really quickly, and it probably was. The conditions were pretty close to perfect for fast racing – nice and cool and the ground was pretty grippy. This next section had a good long uphill drag at about 2 – 4% (maybe). I looked back and could see Shippard and Blewitt still back there. Probably 30 – 60 seconds or so. At this stage, i decided to keep pressing on. The next sector contains a lot of rocks again, and requires a fair bit of concentration to ride. Through here I came across Andy Blair who had suffered a rear flat. I know how strong he is, and definitely would not be counting him out of contention just yet.

Just prior to the descent down to the famous canoe bridge, I looked around and caught a glimpse of Shippard, probably at about 15-20 seconds back. I quickly made the assessment that it would be good to have someone to work with along the bitumen section after the bridge, and through the back 30 along the ridgeline. I had something to eat and sat up a bit. After the descent, we worked together along the road down to the bridge and the next feed zone. Down the ramp and across the bridge. Easy Easy. Sort of. The bridge is made with scaffolding lashed to canoes that float on the water. It is probably 40cm wide, which easily accommodates a 5.5cm wide mountain bike tyre. This year there were two bridges, one for riding and one for walking. I got across the bridge, through the sand and was heading up through the paddock towards the bitumen when I looked back to see Shippard doing the #euro tripod manoeuvre made popular last year by Mike Blewitt.

After he got back on, we made haste getting along the bitumen, and up Webbs Creek Road to the ridgeline. We discussed the possibility of beating the 4 hour mark, but it was going to be tight. For the next 10km we worked together, each taking the lead where we could best eek out power based on our individual strengths. We came across Kyle Ward who had internally exploded after contesting the high pace at the front of the race. With about 80km to go, I was feeling good and felt Shippard falling back on one of the climbs. I quickly made the decision to press on as anything can happen in a mountain bike race, and sometimes you need a buffer. Pretty soon I was descending the escarpment over the steep waterbars which would lead me out onto the farm roads and closer to the finish.

Every now and then I would look around to see if anyone would magically pop out of nowhere and be hunting me down. At last I saw the turn which meant it was time to cross the creek. This pretty much signified the 4km to go mark. The next 8 minutes or so was just a continuation of an individual time trial against the clock to the finish line. The road was clear of riders this year, as the organisers had started the 50km racers half an hour later to allow for the 100km racers to race to the finish unimpeded if need be. As I counted down the landmarks, I finally rounded the corner and crossed the line. My mental assessment of 6th place was confirmed by Andrew Hall at the end, with gear troubles putting him in 5th behind Crosbie, Johnston, English and Lewis, who ultimately took the sprint finish in the end.

Crossing the finish line

With 3 starts in the convict 100, and now 3 6th place finishes, I was mildly amused, but ultimately pretty happy. I had managed to knock 4 minutes off my time from last year, which was not too bad. To my satisfaction, we had also managed to get Cannondale riders across 5th, 6th and 7th place in a strong presence in such a hotly contested event.

Results -- good day out for cannondale riders, taking 5th, 6th and 7th

Half an hour later, Kylie came hauling into the finish to take out the female 50km event, and managed to outsprint one of the blokes in the same event.

After the race, we all swapped race stories and recounted small details in the way that the race panned out for each of us. It is always fascinating seeing how things go for everyone at different places along the way. No race is the same, and I think that is what makes racing bike so interesting and stimulating. You just never know what is going to happen.

Andrew and I with Rachel Sampol, Cannondale Australia's marketing guru.

After hugs and kisses all round, we got the hell out of dodge and made it back to 2602 in a record 4 hours flat still buzzing from a great showing by the Cannondale Factory Racing Team and Kylie for smashing the 50km event. Coming back to reality is always hard though....