A cow and a bird were the mascots on the free water bottle received in the race pack. The cow represents Kowen forest, and the bird represents Sparrow Hill forest. Genius right? This race was promoted as having close to 90km of singletrack for the 2nd running of this MTB marathon.
I first rode Sparrow Hill in 2006 and was mesmerised by the network of trails that Alan Anderson and Paul Cole put together. Heavy Cow – in the anti-clockwise direction was the ultimate standout. What was also a standout was that Alan had let Kylie and I be the first people to ride it ever. 4km of perfectly groomed trail with amazing berms, rock formations and most importantly….flow. It took him 3 months to build that 4km of trail. We rode it 4 times in a row that day.
Over the years, the Mont 24hr and numerous club races have also allowed me to figure out that there are a lot of kilometres of trail out at Kowen also. As a Canberra local, I do not ride much out there any more, except for racing really. Living in 2602, I am spoilt for choice. From my house I can get to the following off road destinations in these timeframes (by bike):
• Mount Ainslie – 1 minute
• Mount Majura – 5 minutes
• Bruce Ridge – 14 minutes
• Black Mountain – 15 minutes
• Mount Stromlo – 40 minutes
Kowen\Sparrow is a whopping 30km or so by bike, and would take me at least an hour or so to get to!!! #firstworldpains.
So, when Self Propelled Enterprises organised the 2012 Kowalski Classic, I can’t remember what else was on…. But I missed it.
For 2013, I got my entry in and did the usual research on it. Wow. Mostly singletrack…..as in 99% singletrack. That is pretty unique….and potentially a little different with regard to race dynamics, feeding, overtaking, speed, and recovery spots.
This was made evident in the course recce of the first 50km that I did two weekends ago with my teammate Andrew Hall. He had done a recce the weekend prior to that with the Specialized Swell team mates Andy Blair and Shaun Lewis, and had logged the course into his trusty Garmin 800.
Initial thoughts were as follows:
• Fireroad start ability-sorter climb
• A truckload of singletrack
• Flat fireroad across ‘Rossy Flats’
• Super steep fireroad pinchers
• Switchback city through gum trees – super loose
• Roughest bit of bumpy singletrack up to the top of the climb – sort of soul destroying it was so tough
• Going backwards around some of the Mont trails.
That was 50km and our recce took 3 hours and 15 minutes!! Damn, this had us worried. What was also worrying was that my entire body ached the next day. A course made up of almost entire singletrack is going to take a lot of physical handling to pilot the bike around.
So, come race day, Andrew Hall picked me up and we cruised out in the cold morning, complete with fog and zero degrees to boot. Ahhh got to love a good Canberra morning.
We came across Ed McDonald who was doing some serious training on his road to Wembo in about three week’s time. He was riding out for extra training. Of course, this was a prime opportunity to hang out the window to offer some encouragement for a fellow competitor \ 2602 #PRO. However, I just yelled out “What’s up baby?” to which Ed replied “Nothing much”. Andrew was going to ride out with Ed that day, but having already reached his secret training quota of 30 hours of riding for that week, wisely chose the car option. It was at least 28 degrees inside and we had heated leather seats. Ed looked a little cold!
Driving out to Kowen, it was 0 degrees and foggy. Thankyou canberra!When we finally got to the event HQ, Andrew negotiated the CX7 up onto the graded verge and got a totally boss carpark for the day. Awesome start! We sorted bottle drop, table for other bottles, nature break, and then went for the standard warm up. We just went up the first climb. That was plenty – it was a little slick and I didn’t want to get the bike dirty just yet.
Al Vogt called everyone up and we did the standard race briefing. He rattled off a bunch of Trail Names that made up the course. I can’t say that I knew any of them! I was just going to be following either wheels or arrows or course bunting. We were finally off and racing. The pace was medium-fast, sort of like Glenn McGrath on a good day. 100 metres from the top, everyone remembered that we funnelled into singletrack, and so ramped it up to Brett Lee pace for the coveted holeshot. I am pretty sure that Seb Jayne got the holeshot, and then we all followed. A lot of us.
I knew that we were in for about 40 minutes of singletrack before the flat fireroad section known as “Rossy Flats”.
I am pretty sure this early in I had done the right amount of #fabianese ‘position-fighting’ to be around 10th place or so. But it was hard to tell. It might have been anywhere up to 15th. Even having a chugger day, Andrew Hall had managed to get a few wheels in front of me. Sneaky bugger! As we spewed out onto a fireroad section, I summoned my entire inner strength not to sledge him as I rode past with the mission of getting back to the wheels that were cruising off in front. Instead, I showed him my back tyre and got my drift on through the forest.
I managed to get on to Lewy Cressy’s wheel and every now and then would look back and see a truckload of riders through the trees following. This must be like what solo 24hr racing must feel like ;) When we flowed out onto Rossy Flats (the long fireroad priot to the super steep fireroad), we had a decent bunch of riders. From my vantage point I could see the following
Seb Jayne, Andy Blair, Mark Tupalski, Jarrod Hughes, Kyle Ward, Lewy Cressy, Jason English, Chris Fisher, David Nairn, Chris Hamilton, Anthony Shippard, Troy Herfoss and maybe a couple of others
The only notable exception was Shaun Lewis who had copped a massive rear flat earlier on and the duo of Ed Mac and Andrew Hall. These guys were dieseling along with the allure of a specific race in 3 week’s time.
As we neared the end of Rossy Flats (so named in honour of Jeremy Ross who loves this sort of terrain in order to smash anyone who wants to suck a wheel. He and Chuck Norris have restraining orders out on each other because ultimately, the world might end), riders were getting rabid as there was a short bit of singletrack prior to some super steep fireroad.
This fireroad required you to chew a bit of stem, and whilst pretty short, it was about 20% and a little intense! We then hit the gum tree switchback climb and then went into the next section after a short fireroad interlude\recovery. This section has great potential, however being freshly cut, it was a little energy-sapping. It was bumpy, tight, and lacked a little flow to be honest. When it packs down with some more use it will be a bit of a pearler because it climbs to an extremely high point in Canberra, and is technically the highest singletrack in the ACT at over 1000m above sea level.
It was through this section that the natural secondary selection occurred. Mark Tupalski and Kyle Ward had taken off. Andy Blair was biding his time with Cressy and Hughes in hot pursuit. Jason English had probably the easiest first hour of a marathon ever, Seb Jayne was somewhere up ahead. Shippard, Nairn and I caught the Kow-train onto the next section.
So that was pretty much the top 10 selection happening right there. It took an hour and a big hill, but as was expected, the race was in relative pieces and the war of attrition that was expected, was now playing out.
The next 25km went by reasonable slowly to be honest. The first 50 took about 2 hours 13 or so. The wet ground definitely played a part in this. It wasn’t muddy, but it wasn’t superfast either. I was riding with David Nairn and Anthony Shippard (again) and every now and then we could see flashes of team kit through the trees. Sometimes you would look over and see the rider coming straight back at you and think, ‘you beauty’ I’ve got you only to discover that you had another 300 metres of singletrack to ride before you hit the switchback. Damn!
One point of note. We were riding through the trails that the Mont took in. A lot of these trails we were actually riding in the opposite direction. And, they had amazing flow and such a different feel to what you were used to.
After coming through the 50km point, we crossed underneath the start\finish banner and then started up the second part of the race. We all stopped for a beverage top up and motored on. Up ahead we could see Cressy and Shippard drove the bus to hunt him down.
We hit up a specific climb for the 2nd time and this one had definitely had 950 riders already over it. The muddy sections were pretty mashed up. I hit one thinking it would be an above average line, only to have my front wheel sink down a foot. The bike stuck still standing there by itself. It took 5 yanks on the handlebar to prize it free from the mud-porridge. This probably cost me 10 seconds or so, and I laughed at the mud rode off and caught up to the boys who were now hitting up some of the absolute best singletrack on Kowen.
After going through that mud I had to get some Towels to clean the bike with. Cheers Trev!
This took us all the way down to the entrance to Sparrow Hill. We were now in store for a bit of a singletrack treat. The trails over this side of the road have a little better flow, and we were hauling, with Nairn driving the pace. Cressy had rebounded after being caught and was in our group . I would have to say that an hour in Sparrow felt like about 5 minutes. It was mesmerising, hero grip was aplenty, and even the muddy bits were not a hassle. It was almost like being in the zone.
Occasionally, certain things happened that woke you up out of it. Cressy hitting a stray pine cone, the boys concertina-ing on a tricky rock section, the shriek of a black cockatoo. The occasional fireroad crossing. Otherwise it was left, right, left, right, outside pedal, inside pedal --- then repeat. Awesome.
Through this section we picked up Jarrod Hughes who was broken for the day. He didn’t last long unfortunately. We also came across Kyle Ward. Again, like Cressy he rebounded after being caught and joined our group.
I could ‘feel’ where we were in Sparrow and when we went past the 78km feed zone, the lovely volunteers offered me a bottle handup. I didn’t need it so just waved to them! That is seriously cool!
We began our descent of a trail that I am sure that I have pretty much ridden up every single time I have been at Sparrow. Going down was pretty cool. That is a bit of an understatement. When does descending not end up as being fun?
When we went underneath the highway, Shippard was leading, Nairn following, with Cressy and I in hot pursuit. Kyle found some hidden energy and attacked hard. Up the rise, then down the fireroad descent. Nairn got on his wheel, but Shippard was a little slower to react. Cressy didn’t go around either. Damn. The K-train was leaving Sparrow Station and I needed to be on it. I sprinted past Cressy and Shippard through the last section of the fireroad and got back on to Nairn’s wheel. Kyle was driving like a man possessed. We must have been doing 30km/hr up the gully rise trail that takes us over to Kowen. I went pretty deep here to catch the wheel.
We got through the next bit of singletrack and came out onto the old Highway section that takes us over to the Natural bushland of Kowen. Nairn attacked Kyle here, and I quickly responded because I had a feeling we were pretty close to the finish. Unfortunately, Nairn was about 0.5% faster than me through this last section and I just could not close the gap at all. And it opened up a little more as well. What felt like 5 minutes later we crossed the line in a shade over 4 hours for the 90km of wicked trails.
For me it was 6th place. Jason English sprinted Mark Tupalski for the win, whilst Andy Blair recovered from a late race flat to take 3rd place. When you do the math on how long it takes to fix a flat, and how much English beat him…..well, you get the picture of what might have been.
A day out in the mud, in the forest and across a lot of singeltrack
Top 20 results. So great to see a really strong fieldI had a good time racing around the forest with some good company and enjoyed the course that Self Propelled Enterprises had put together. I really, really liked the Sparrow Hill loop that they did. That was a bit of a treat for the second part of the race.
Andrew Hall, whilst in chugger mode still managed a very respectable 10th place. With 30 hours of training under his belt. I guess all of the secret training is going to pay off sometime soon! Anthony Shippard came across the line in 9th place on a ‘new’ loaner Cannondale Scalpel from City Bike Depot. That was pretty cool. 3 Cannondales in the top ten!
Ok, up next, Andrew Hall and I will train through the Scott 25hr race in a 2 man team. Make sure you drop by the tent and give us some good sledges!