Monday, September 16, 2013

2013 Flight Centre Epic

A race that is Epic like a boss.

Damn, where do I start with this one? For years I had seen race reports from this event. Like a lot of events, you sometimes just don’t get the right opportunity to get there. It might be for logistical reasons (reasonably lame, just HTFU). It could be for financial reasons (reality of life). It could be due to the fact that it was close to another important race (fair call sometimes). Or it might be as simple as the fact that you ‘didn’t get around to it’.

So….I got around to it. Anthony Shippard sent me through his 2013 race calendar about 3 months ago and I noted that his September was fully packed. And on it, was the Flight Centre Epic. The race was entered onto my training diary and my race calendar.

On the Monday before the weekend, I sorted all the flights, accommodation, hire car and the race entry. That was the logistics sorted. Then I did the packing really early. That is sometimes pretty tricky to do, depending on what training you have on.

Packing for a race for me is always one of those things where you are thinking of all of the things that could go wrong and whether you should bring a ‘spare part’ or not. I always err on the side of bringing a truckload of things so that if and as is usually the case, when something goes wrong, you can sort it. So, as per usual, I packed a lot of extra stuff.

Bike packed - plus some other stuff

This week was pretty much fuelled by listening to Aerosmith. It just got me in a good mood for the trip up. At the Qantas club lounge in Canberra, I bought Steven Tyler’s autobiography “Do the voices in my head annoy you” via Google books. Yeah, I can relate to that question. The inner voice is always working overtime!

We got up to Brisbane about lunchtime and headed out via the motorway to Ipswich. Now, I have mentioned in other posts about the ‘style’ that Ipswich has. I hadn’t been there for a couple of years, and to be honest, it did seem to have gone slightly more upmarket. However, there were certain elements that still existed that did not fail to disappoint. It’s ok…. My mum was born in Ipswich so I feel as though I can speak with some authority on this subject ;)

Race accommodation is however, especially at a new event you haven’t been to before, a bit of a lottery. We got there. We inspected. Not overly happy. Can we inspect a new room? Again, not overly happy. The main reason was lugging up all the bags and bike bags UP flights of stairs. Such a drama! So we did what had to be done and negotiated a deal on the ground floor ‘unit’ accommodation complete with kitchen. Now, we’re talking!

Making ourselves at home

So I cranked Aerosmith’s ‘Sweet Emotion’ and got building the bikes. Kylie went off for a snooze. That’s pretty standard. An hour later, I had everything unpacked and two bikes rebuilt ready to ride. We scouted the drive out to Spicers Hidden Valley where the Epic was situated and went for a spin to loosen up the travel legs and scout out some of the course. As we left the carpark at 5pm, it was somewhat of concern at about 5:45 when it was getting close to absolute sunset and we were still in the forest.

Relief set in when we came out to the cow fields, saw a couple of camels, and the lights of the event centre. Made it using the force! Never truly lost, just a timing issue!!

Kylie was excited to see camel's on our recce

Soon after getting home, I got a message from Specialized Swell Team Captain, Shaun Lewis, asking about tyre selection. As the #PRO advisor, I can be relied on to provide sound advice on tyre choice, sock height and other important cycling issues such as how much of the colour white to incorporate into your entire package.

That night we went and got some Thai takeaway from the Khmer Thai restaurant in town. This was unreal and we booked for Saturday night. We discussed the plan for Saturday and then hit the sack. It was a long day!

Saturday morning we went exploring out the backside of the course and recced the long flat and the super steep climb. I also took the opportunity to check out some of the singletrack in the back 37km of the 87km race. Race registration was sorted and bottles for the next day were dropped off. Then it was back to the motel for a one hour afternoon snooze.

That night we caught up with Anthony Shippard and Wayne Dicksinson for dinner. Dinner is always a great time to recount tales from the recce, previous races, future races, other racer’s form, embellish or play down one’s own form and othwerwise just talk some absolute random shit.

Paradise City, the Brisbane Guns n Roses tribute band was playing at the Booval Sports Club, and it was seriously tempting to go and see this act. The only issue is that they probably would not have started the set until 9pm. And we had a race the next day….However, they do the 1987 to 1993 era of Guns n Roses, which arguably was the best. Whilst Axl had matured as a songwriter for Chinese Democracy, it was not the same without Slash, Duff, Adler\Sorum and Izzy.

Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty

So, because we were in Ipswich, we did the next best thing before bed time, which was cutting laps around town in Shippard’s SUV. He had hired a Mitsubishi Outlander, which had almost stalled going up the Gateway bridge due to its absolute lack of power. Finally he figured out that the vehicle had ‘sports mode’ and he then utilised the paddle shifters to manually get the car to red line and actually get up to speed. Fun times were had taking on other local SUVs at the lights and drag racing them to the next set of red lights. Way too much fun on the eve of a race.

Shippard could probably be a racing car driver if he wasn't driving a gutless SUV

It seriously was....

The morning of the race it was super foggy. It almost even got cold, getting down to 9 degrees on the drive out. However, that fog soon lifted and we were on the start line at 7:50 for a 8:00am start. That is pretty civilised. Most race starts are at 7:00am, so this was an absolute luxury.

Everyone was talking, Blairy was assisting Robbie McEwen with his camelbak, media were taking photos, the HR was just buzzing with anticipation on the start line. The countdown came and we were off.

It was a pretty mellow pace. Justin Morris (Team Novo Nordisk) and Robbie McEwen (Orica-Greenedge DS) , the two token roadies at this race were doing the pacemaking early on, just keeping us moving at a nice pace on the open fireroad. There was 5km of fireroad prior to the first climb, which also happened to be singletrack. Shortly before the steep descent, I went around them both and upped the pace slightly so as to get a cleanish clear run down the hill. A few others had the same idea, and the race was properly on.

The flat valley area allowed the group to swell up again, and when certain people you don’t know start moving up…. Well, things get twitchy and the pace lifts again. That and the fact that the singletrack was coming up. This was the first little heart starter and rose about 100 metres straight up the side of a mountain past checkpoint 3. Over the other side, it was across some grass before getting into the funner part of downhill singletrack. Andy Blair (Swell Specialized) had dropped his chain here and lost a few spots at this stage.

We then lost all of the elevation in a wild ride down a dusty double track through farm lands and then spilled out onto the first bit of bitumen. 8 of us here, Shippard stated “that’s the first selection then”.

As the pace here was pretty chilled in order to get a drink and a gel a few more riders got back on. From here we climbed another 100 metres up another hillside that had some really interesting gravel points just thrown in for fun I am assuming. At this point, Adrian Jackson was climbing about 10 metres in front looking strong. As I was on Jason English’s wheel 8 riders down, it was pretty apparent that some team tactics were being played out between the Merida team mates.

After the traverse around the mountain, we descended this sketchy fireroad. Shippard somehow managed to hit a rut and catapult himself out at 45 degrees into the side of the hill at the base of a large gum tree AND managed to ride it all out as if nothing had happened. Luckiest SOB ever! The run out to this descent was a sweet fast flowing open farm road which we hammered along at 45-50km/hr and we all spilled out onto the bitumen shortly thereafter for a drink, a gel and a natural break for those that needed it.

It wasn’t even an hour in and we had covered over 25 kilometres. That was awesome. However, it also spoke volumes as to what was coming up as the race winning time always tends to be around 4 hours. As we went through the first feed zone, the pace was getting a little too slow. My heart rate was about 130bpm, so when I came rolling through to the front, I just upped the pace about 10% and when I checked behind, no one was following. So I just rode off. I didn’t go super deep, but kept it just beneath threshold and opened up about a gap of 30-40 seconds on the group. I had thought about this the night before after doing the recce.

I was only doing it so I could climb up slowly and minimise losses

My plan was….if it unfolded….to get a gap to the base of the steep climb up Sunset Boulevard, then do the 15-20 % gradients at my own slow chugger pace. Hopefully I would get up the climb and not lose too much time. It worked. I got to the gate prior to the 2nd part of the climb and then just managed my losses. At the top, I had Justin Morris in sight and caught back up to him, and then we soon picked up Shippard who had thrown a chain.

That's how steep the climb was..... stem was thoroughly chewed

Rounding one corner, we came across a herd of cows. Big buggers they were too. They were on our right on the high side of the hill and you could tell that because of the direction and the way that they were moving, that they wanted to run on the trail in front of us. So being 1000kgs each, we let them do just that. One of them got the crazy eyes and chucked in a desperation move off the left side of the trail, which went straight down the fall line. He was running straight down the hills dodging trees on a 30% gradient. Amazing. The other 10 cows were slowing us down running in the middle of the trail. I yelled out ‘track please’ and they finally got it and moved left upside the hill. True Story.

After the bovine incident, we were back on it. This included some super steep pinch climbs as well as one of the steepest and sketchiest ‘doubletrack’ descents I have ever done. I got to the bottom of this climb and could smell someone’s rear brakes absolutely cooked.

Then it was through the creek bed and up a crazy steep rocky loose climb. This then made its way along a rocky singletrack traverse before coming out at Checkpoint 3. At this stage we were only half way through the 87km and I was looking forward to the run to the start finish transition where my esky filled with ice and cold drinks awaited me.

We had lost Morris with a double flat in the singletrack prior, and Shippard and I started hammering the sinuous singletrack. My chain dropped off and got caught between the chain ring and the frame underneath the front derailleur, and it took a fair while to get this sorted. I lost contact with Shippard at this point, but could see him up ahead with Shaun Lewis who due to the team dynamics was getting a nice tow in the vortex. I looked across to some trees in the paddocks, and noted that the camels were there.

The day was heating up a fair bit, and his was soon made evident to me climbing the last bit of singletrack up to the transition point with Nigel James. Yep, the good old cramp in the leg. I quickly downed the rest of my electrolyte drink which made them go away, but the 30+ degree temperatures forecasted were here, and the Garmin said 40 degrees riding up that climb.

I followed Nigel through transition and stopped at my esky and grabbed two chilled bottles. These were to last me 30km until the final checkpoint where I could get some nice sun-warmed electrolyte drink.

The next bits of singletrack were absolutely fantastic, and even in a deranged, fatigued, dehydrated state, I could enjoy every metre of them. If you are a trail builder, you should do yourself a favour and get up here to see what a good trail rides and feels like.

What was slightly amusing was the magpies. To them, we were merely sport, and when cruising the open trails, they were more than happy to bomb us and snap us. It was good because it kept the focus tight. The 30 km were gone in an amazingly quick time, and the time was taken to manage energy outputs with regard to fluid and electrolyte intake.
With 2050 entrants, the magpies would sleep well that night

Heading up the twisty, rocky, switchbacks at the 78km mark, I noticed the green Attaqeur outfit that Shippard was wearing. It is a little known fact that this outfit was inspired by the Versace dress worn by Jennifer Lopez. Shippard even had the zipper fully open to simulate the navel shot that J. Lo rocked. Unfortunately, for Shippard, he was done for the day, beaten by the heat rather than by lack of form. He was flying early on.

OK, this is not what Shippard looked like, but his outfit was eerily similar in colour.

At the checkpoint I grabbed two warm bottles of electrolyte drink and sculled a truckload. Right then. Nigel had bolted, but with an extra 250mL of fluid and salts in me, I was ready to race the last 20 minutes or so. I quickly caught up to Nigel in the singletrack and we weaved in and out of the backmarkers of the 50km pursuit and 87km epic riders who were probably in for a rather long day. At this point of the race, you are just emptying the tank and a lot of it is probably running on the smell of the fumes of the adrenalin.

It feels like you are flying and is an amazing feeling. You are seeing the track and hitting all of the lines. In all reality, you are probably going pretty slow and are just so cross eyed that it is making all of your sensations totally amplified ---- or it is somewhere in between.

As we were going across the grassy plains, we picked up a passenger. Not sure what race he was in, but he must have been an OK guy, because he was on a Cannondale and riding out of the LifeCycles shop in Brisbane that the Stockwell family used to own. Not sure if they still do or not. We had actually passed him back near the barns way back up after a grassy descent.

Just prior to the last singletrack climb he got the holeshot to the skinny trail and led us up the climb. I was on Nigel’s wheel, and he was on Mr Lifecycle’s wheel. We must have overtaken close to 20 people up this last section. I saw Kylie yelling encouragement to us all as well as trying to direct some traffic for our clear egress through this vital section. When we came out onto the fireroad I knew that we were almost done. Mr Lifecycle pulled off to the left, I gave him the thumbs up for his assistance and got into Nigel’s slipstream. I got around Nigel just prior to the last bit of ragged singletrack and crossed the line after 4 hours and 14 minutes in the sweltering heat, which was good enough for 6th place.

Top ten results

I was stoked to see Kylie at the end, and provided Mike Blewitt from with a quick interview before jumping into the swimming pool with all my gear on, helmet and glasses included, to cool down. You simply can not beat a race that has a swimming pool at the finish line!! Race promoters, please take note!

Stating the obvious is sometimes the best policy

We found out shortly thereafter that Kylie had taken the victory in the 50km race, which was sensational for her. She also battled the heat and was extremely fortunate to have Dave help her through the last bits providing advice as to what was coming up whilst she was seeing stars!! Only a little bit dehydrated! Cheers Dave!

So, all in all another great life experience on the books. This event is pretty hard to top. It is definitely the best event that I have been to from an atmosphere and logistical point of view. The awesome trails were just icing on the cake. The promoters managed to put on a superb event for a record 2050 competitors. That is just amazing!

For this event, I chose to race the Cannondale F29 hardtail. With 2500 vertical metres, a light bike will always help me. I can pick lines through the rocks pretty well in singletrack and the way I see it…. It’s going to hurt the next day anyway regardless of what bike you are on. The hardtail is my only MTB and I like it.
I seriously love my Cannondale F29er. Perfect geometry with F1 technology

I’m still running SRAM XX. I like and need the super low gears that the 2 x 10 range affords. However, with a few front chainring drop issues that I have had at crucial time at races this year, I am definitely considering going to SRAM XX1 for next year. I’ve just got to sort the gear ratios for the specific courses.

My Sugoi RS PRO jersey was pretty amazing in the heat. It did end up covered in salt crystals as I sweat like a mofo, but due to the awesomely placed mesh inserts I wasn’t overly hot or bothered. It’s amazing what the technology is capable of in these garments.

So today, it’s 11 degrees and raining back in Paradise City. A stark contrast to yesterday’s 35+ and beautiful QLD sun.

Up next… clean and rebuild in time for this weekend’s Kowalski Classic at Kowen and Sparrow Hill.


Matt Simpson said...

Awesome recap James. As a gumby who struggled in the heat of Saturday's mere 20k, I have nothing but respect for you guys racing hard over 87k.

Much respect. (excpet for the Gunners stuff)

Flyboy said...

Hey James, thanks for the kind words but it was my pleasure.
Great write up that captures the feel of the event (and SEQ) well.