Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 Highland Fling

The Highland Fling is pretty big. Once again, keeping true to the theme of the big races, it is in the middle of nowhere in a big paddock. Well, the race HQ and the carpark is anyway. It is big in many gets over 1500 entrants. It is a bit longer at 110km long. It is pretty relentless and suits a rider that can drive and keep on driving as there are lots of fireroads on the course. It has creek crossings. It has a mirror, bagpipes, trees with signs on them and it is simply freaking hard!

This was my 4th Highland Fling and I've got to say that it was probably the hardest. It was hot, dry and dusty and long. The new course that was put in place was way better than the previous 3 editions that I have done. Gone was the endless grassy paddocks that we had to ride along that were very far from smooth. However, the replacement fireroads were pretty hard in their own right. But, I'll get to them a bit later....

The race morning was really warm. 15 degrees at 6:30. It was going to be a warm one, and it was. When the starting horn went off, it was the female racers that took off first! Naturally, being gentlemen, we let them go, as it was easier to just sit in and get a tow. They cottoned on to that within the first 300 metres and allowed a few of us through which was nice. The pace at this stage was really mellow. It belies, however, what is to come. As soon as we hit the farm, the pace was lifted as this is where the trail gets a little narrow and it is pretty much easy to thin the crowd out a bit. And it got thinned indeed!

Glenn Columbine commented on Facebook that he was putting out 400 watts at 68kgs and stated that the "first 30 minutes of 110k was 5w\kg and getting dropped'. For those of you that understand how power works then you can probably figure out what Mark Tupalski was putting out in order to be driving it on the front of the lead bunch. Tupac is probably one of the nicest guys in the entire world, but when he drops the Watt Bombs (TM) shit gets real, and you see the dark side to his mellow character!

Like I said earlier, the grassy paddocks had been removed and replaced with long hauling fireroads. These were super fast and so much smoother that the lumpy, bumpy paddocks that were out there in previous years. After 20 minutes or so I decided that the pace that Tupac was setting was not going to be sustainable for me for 5 hours, so I pulled the rip cord and bid farewell to that front group, and drifted back to a group with Ondrej the giant, Lewy 'Man in blue' Cressy, and Glenn 'driver' Columbine where we rolled turns together. Well, it was together until we saw a sign with the double arrows and the word caution on it. Ondrej hit the right hander really hot and under a fist full of rear brake and I ducked under him railing the corner. Behind me, Glenn and Lewy took a crazier line than Ondrej and hit the sticks and I think Columbine went over the bars. Excellent....nothing better than an angry triathlete!!

I kept motoring and it wasn't until the last kilometre before transition that they finally caught me up again with Columbine putting out his 397 Watts of fury. As he latched on, I ramped it up again for no other reason except that it was probably a good idea to hit transition in front of this 2nd group because that was the start of the 5 minutes of untimed section. I grabbed bottles, gels and some race intel from Peta and headed off to the restart up the road.

As I rounded the corner for the restart I saw Dylan Cooper and Shaun Lewis about to head out. Cooper said, 'we're heading out in 10 seconds. Are you keen?' to which I replied 'You bet!' Nothing beats a train at the start of this section. We rolled out and the pace was kept at 40km/hr leading into Wingello state forest. Martin Wisata, one half of the Rocky Trail Entertainment crew also jumped on and rolled some solid turns for us keeping the forward momentum going....well, you know....forward.

I had done a decent recce through this section on the Saturday and knew what was coming up and that helped in a huge way as I wasn't overly stressed through the pines. Except when I binned it in front of Jason McAvoy on the exit of a super sandy corner. That was a tough 10 seconds to make up in the singletrack on these two! We all worked as equally as we could to keep the pace on. They were about 90 seconds back from the leaders, and I was getting a nice increase on my distance to those in the 2nd group with these two drivers.

Cycle racing is essentially a massive maths equation. Before, during and after your brain is running through scenarios, processing algorithms, doing deals and simply working it all out. Here are some thoughts about this race as well as the Maverick Series that I had during the week leading up and during the race.

  • Maverick Series took 3 out of 4 of the races for the overall
  • Leading into the Fling I was sitting in 2nd in the Fling.
  • Shaun 'Wombat' Lewis had the series sealed up with 3 strong 2nd place finishes prior to the Fling
  • Dylan Cooper and Jason English were the only two who could potentially leap frog me.
  • Cooper has won the Fling before and is a #hitter
  • English is English - he goes alright for someone who does not shave his legs
  • 90 seconds behind a front group - not getting that back
  • Group behind is 2 minutes back - that is risky
  • Figuring out where I am placed in the race
  • Trying to figure out how far left to race
  • How many bottles to take
  • How many gels to eat

I'm not motivated by racing for money, I do it for other intrinsic reasons, but the  Maverick Series had a 2000\1250\750 prize money split --- so when I was with Cooper and Lewis, we were riding with 3 virtual giant novelty cheques in the paceline that we had formed. However, if there is one thing that I know about English, is that he can sniff out a good dollar and he can close out a race like no one else. And true to form at the 50km mark he came past Cameron Ivory and myself, had a quick chat and then was off fresh as a daisy after a nice 2 hour warm up!

There are a few hills out on course in the Fling. There is the 'Wall' which is a brutal 25% loose bastard that tickles a little. I got up this one following Cooper and Lewis - interestingly, I used the SRAM XX1 34 tooth for this one. I had to muscle it a little, but it was adequate. Probably one of the harder climbs is the Half Way Hill....which ironically comes at about the 55km mark - it just seems to go on forever, as does the climb at the 67km mark. Then there is Brokeback Mountain, and to be honest, I don't think that there it too much in the way of flat gradients out there.

David Lyell asked me to do a wheelie up Brokeback Mountain. So I obliged.

When I left the 2nd transition feed zone, I hooked up with Darren Smith and we rolled turns along the fireroad heading out of Wingello. I really appreciated this as I had pretty much ridden solo since the Wall and every little bit of assistance counts. Darren is a true gentleman, and even though he was hurting he pulled through strong turns every time. In the Fling, the last 30 km are by far the hardest. And the longest. I grabbed a truckload of drinks, gels, lubed the chain and essentially set out to empty the tank for an hour and 20 minutes or so. The single track through this sector is really quite taxing as it requires a lot of concentration as well as all of your skill to negotiate it. All this when you are pretty buckled already!

When I crossed the line the tank was well and truly emptied. I crossed the line as the 8th place Elite rider and with that also picked up 4th in the Maverick Series. This by far had to be the hardest Fling that I have ever done. I've only done 4, but this was tough. I sat under a tree for about 20 minutes before I started to feel vaguely human once again. It's all relative....I was smashed, everything hurt, and I was both dehydrated and hungry but not interested in eating or drinking.

The Fling is a unique one....I don't think I would ride these trails ever for enjoyment, but when they are linked up and presented in a race format then the challenge is laid down and must be taken. I would like to applaud Wild Horizons for the best course I have experienced. It was very hard, but I really liked this year's changes. Nice work taking on some of the not so subtle feedback provided by racers in the past and removing a lot of the ugly, bumpy grassy crap!! It was greatly appreciated!

I am impressed with anyone who did the Fling yesterday. It is super tough and left a lot of people pretty buckled, myself included! Hopefully I am up for the Husky 100 in Nowra in mid December!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Interview with a gentleman in blue - Lewy Cressy

I was really fortunate recently to be able to sit down with Lewy Cressy of the Giant-Onya team and cover off on the important issues in life. I rate Lewy vey highly and he just continues to impress with both his ability and class on the bike. As a bonus, he is a good mate and a serious gentleman.

Name: Lewis (Lewy) Cressy

Age: 32 (as at 2014, he'll get older as time goes on)

Race Category: Elite

Sponsors: ONYAbike Canberra, Giant Australia, Hammer Nutrition, Lazer Helmets, Bright Consulting


Twitter: @LewyCressy

This is what Cressy looks like from the front. Not that many of you would know
Do you have a day job at all?

Some people call me a Librarian. But to be more accurate, I manage the video resources and video collections at the National Sport Information Centre (The library at the AIS). I work with sport videos all day… Dream Job! I also get the chance to film/record countless Sport Science lectures and conferences that cover topics like sport nutrition, strength and conditioning, recovery, supplements, physiology etc etc etc! I love it!

How long have you been racing \ riding bikes for?

My first MTB race was the Gravity 12hr back in 2010. My Bro in-law Matty and Father In-law Johnny, drove down to what was a super muddy but fun track! Afterwards I was exhausted on a level I had never experienced. It was a good feeling and it's what got me hooked on racing!

I have ridden bikes since I was a little tacker. I still have my first REAL BMX at home. I bought it from Big B bicycles (Now ONYAbike Belconnen) back in the mid 90s . It's pretty much restored to its former glory. I used to ride it all day every weekend at Belconnen Skate Park throughout my early high school years before I got Into Skateboarding. My best trick was a 360 out of the donut!

The donut at Belco skatepark was legendary wasn’t it? So how did you get into bike racing?

It was pretty much the in-laws that got me into racing. They ride and then I joined them a few times and we thought we'd have a go at racing - it just snowballed in a big way.

Did you do any other sports before getting into cycling?

I was big on the board sports! Skateboarding, Snowboarding, Wakeboarding. I played Basketball in high school. Then finally I had a crack at Soccer for a couple of years there before cycling took over!!!

Cressy showcases his ability to coordinate blue right across the entire presence. It is not easy, that is why he is #pro

How many bikes do you own?

None! ONYA own my bikes. Oh actually I have my BMX! Haro Group 1b 90s model!

You do a lot of racing aboard the road and the mountain bikes. What particular niche (XCM, XCO crit etc) is your favourite\preferred one?

I don't think I can single one out! They are all tons of fun! Marathons are brutal but rewarding. XC is fast. Actually I probably enjoy the team races the most. The most fun I have had at a bike race was while racing the Scott24 or one of the Chocolate Foot rounds. Hanging with the ONYA crew in between laps is always a laugh!

You are looked after by the mighty ONYA Bike Empire of Michael Brice. How much does this support ensure that you are looked after throughout the season? Is it true that Micko gets to name the firstborn of all sponsored riders?

The only rule is that your child's name must be able to be shortened to include an 'O' or 'Y' or 'IE' on the end. So our daughter Ellie qualifies.

What can I say about ONYA...? The day Micko called me and said he was going to start TeamONYA, also known among the onya crew as - the 'white jerseys' or the 'A team' - it was, at the time, the second happiest day of my life... :) ha-ha The support is incredible, from bikes to our gear to servicing - the riders are looked after first class!

Recently we have started to look outside of the empire. We did a lot of work, with the help of design and web guru Madison Giles, to build an online presence for the team. Our website is very slick and it helps to 'showcase' the team and the riders and our achievements. I think all the little things help when trying to attract sponsors. We recently teamed up with Hammer Nutrition and we are stoked. They sorted us out with tons of their goodies that keep us fuelled in training and racing. Their stuff tastes awesome as well!

For me though Onya is more about the crew and I think a lot of people can see that! We have such a tight knit group of riders who ride all disciplines and at all levels. We hang out, we ride and race together - it's sweet! It's the ONYA Family.

Yeah, nice one. It definitely comes across that way. You have your image on an advertisement on one of Canberra's buses. Do you get free bus rides? Requests for signatures? Other perks? Seriously though, this is marketing genius, but how does it make you feel?

So the FIRST time, I got a text from Micko one day and all it said was "you don't mind if you are plastered up the side of a bus do you?" I just thought WTF? Then I thought hell yeah that'd be sick!!! Ha-ha the street cred and social media banter was off the charts! Azza (Aaron Bashford) and I were overnight celebrities.

I remember that. It was going mental!

The second time, Snadzy (Andrew Snaidero) and Timmy Eaton got all the attention. Their pictures are HEAPS bigger and I got relegated to the back window.

The bus thing gets mentioned at work and by my family all the time! I am still milking it as best I can.

Action Buses can't afford to give out perks, they're Government funded.

So true! You guys seem super tight as a team, and perform extremely well at the races across all grades. What do you think the reason is behind this?

We feed off each other. I think we are lucky that there are so many strong riders in our group. It makes for some awesome training rides. If you come on any ONYA ride you will see that it inevitably ends up in a race. We used to do a Wednesday night federal highway road ride. We would swap off all the way to the tulip farm and then race full gas to the top of washing machine hill (I think we still own the KOM). On the way back we'd just race all the way - nonstop attacks. It was probably the sketchiest ride I have ever done, but the most fun as well.

On Saturdays we help the riders who are in the lower grades get stronger by not stopping. Ha-ha Saturday ONYA Ride is a race with no photos (no stopping). If you get dropped, we'll see you at coffee. Sounds rough but the crew all know that's how it works. It makes for funny stories at coffee and the slower riders don't stress about 'slowing everyone down'.

That is the best way to help your teammates out! Is there any dirt that you can dish out on any of the members of the team?

Where to start? Brad Morto Morton has the WORST socks I have ever seen.

Yes, don’t get me started….you can take the boy out of Kaleen...

Eliza Kwan doesn't know how to frown. Jarrod Hughes loves a crash and finally, I can't understand what the f$@k Ed McDonald is talking about in his blogs.

I am not sure that anyone knows what those words that Ed uses actually mean, but he is quite eloquent in his articulation! I have to ask you Lewy, are you really comfortable with the colour blue?

Yeah I was born with these eyes! That is what you are referring to right?

Um, yeah right….Speaking of blue, Giant recently adopted the 27.5 (650b) standard for their fleet. How do you feel that this wheel size standard has influenced your riding? Are there any Pros and Cons that you can let on about?

I'll be honest. I was surprised when Giant decided to drop the high end 29er. But the addition of the 27.5 SL in 2015 is exciting and I can't wait to get on one!

Now that I have ridden the 27.5 hard tail for close to a year I think there are both Pros and Cons when compared to a 29er hard tail. I haven't ridden a 27.5 Dually so I can't comment.

I can only go by feel on this, but I think the 27.5s are at a slight disadvantage on the long fireroad sections that u might encounter in a marathon.

Pros are in the tight stuff. The 27.5 accelerates easier. It is also very agile. Changing direction and throwing the bike around is a breeze! They really are suited to techy XC and the team based formats where you just race all out.

Nice analysis mate! It makes sense. I will attack you hard on the fireroads then! So, how many races would you do in a 12 month period?

Nowhere near as many as you JD!!! I have never counted and am not going to try. Let's go with as many as I can within a 5 hour drive of Canberra.

Racing is definitely awesome. I rate it. But to get there you need to train. What does a standard training week look like for you? Distance, Time, MTB:Roadie ratio

12 hours, give or take a couple, is pretty standard for me. That's about all I can fit in. Any more and I'd never see my family! I do a lot on the road, especially since I bought a power meter. Now I just try to drop watt bombs. What is a watt bomb anyway? Normally I'll try to increase my MTB hours a week out from a race.

How do you train in order to be fast? Heart Rate, Power Meter, Feel, Jedi Force?

The last 12 months I have started to try 'structured' training with the help of ONYA physiology guru and age group XCM weapon Tony Rice. More recently the famous

Triathlete turned elite MTBer Glenn Columbine has started to help me out. Both of these guys have taught me a lot about 'how' to train and I have learnt a lot about what my body can handle.

Before I teamed up with these guys, I just rode as hard as I could as often as I could. That method makes you fast in a short period of time, but unfortunately it isn't sustainable. I found that out the hard way, just like many of the other elite riders have at one point or another. I got sick and stayed sick for months. It's a long slow road back from that point. Tony Rice helped drag me out of that hole mid last year, I owe him big time!

Cressy laying down some 'Watt bombs' against some other dude

Nice one. It is all about consistency and sustainability that is for sure. What is your favourite event on the race circuit?

The Highland Fling is awesome. But I'd have to say Nationals is my favourite event. Seeing the best riders go at it is a buzz. Bright this year was awesome as we had a good group to hang out with as well so that always makes it more fun. From memory you introduced me to pre-race Thai food that weekend. We also snuck an Onya Bike sticker onto your teammate’s Cannondale that weekend, he didn't find it for months! Good times!

Thai food the night before a race is hands down the safest option anywhere in Australia. That is a life #protip right there for free. We definitely talked some smack that night! What is the toughest race, mentally or physically, that you have ever done?

2014 Giant Odyssey. I had a SHIT day, it was easily the hardest mental battle. At the start of the race I went out way too hard on a 10km climb and blew up within the first kilometre of the climb. I lost maybe 20 places and then crashed in a huge mud bog at the top of the climb. With 80km to go I was covered head to toe in thick mud and was way back in the field. I was so ready to pull the pin on that race but managed to talk myself out of it.

I learnt a lot from that day. The two main things being; Scout the major features of a course (like 10km climbs) and ride your own race.

Yeah, I remember you crossing the line totally covered in mud. I thought it was a good idea to just give you some space after that one. Is there a standout result that you have had that you think, “Yep, I dialled that one”

It was cool to beat you and Hally at Tathra. Racing head to head with guys like McConnell, Van Der Ploeg and Jared Graves in the National Eliminators of 2013 and 2014 was a real buzz too.

Scott 24hr Overall in 2013 with great mates was awesome. We had never won the overall.

Yes thankyou for reminding me about that one! I am still pretty pissed that you outsprinted me to take the win at the 2013 Tathra Enduro! I still have flashbacks of that race, damn it! When you attacked Hally and I at the 60km mark did you do it as a ‘tester’ or did you think that you could take it home for 40km?

Well Hally had been on the front for about 58 of those 60kms. I tried to roll some turns but he would just roll back around 2 secs later. So in that light, it’s not my style to sit in… so I thought I would see what happened. I knew the hill was coming and I made up my mind that I was going to hit it all out. I hadn't thought past that hahaha I was no chance of solo-ing for 40km, that's also not my style

Could you beat Brad Morton in a sprint?

If Brad had done as much work as what I normally would have done then maybe I could beat him in a sprint. But if Brad is fresh with no wind burn, not many people will beat him in a sprint.

He is definitely the master of sitting in. Probably so that no one can see his socks! What is your take on the XCM races that are currently on offer. Did you prefer the Real Insurance XCM series or the Maverick Series this year? Do you think that having a dedicated single series would be better for the sport?

One series that links the established and already popular XCM events is the way of the future. I hope they can make it happen again like the original Real Insurance Series. I think there were a lot of devastated MTBers when the news surfaced about the old series.

The Maverick series definitely gets my vote with established events and excellent scheduling.

The attempt at a national series was pretty ambitious. I think they shot themselves in the foot when rounds were scheduled with XC events and on back to back weekends in different states.

I had to laugh at the quote from The Deputy Mayor of Eurobodalla who said the event would bring 3000 riders and supporters as well as inject $900,000 into the local economy! Someone put on an excellent sales pitch to sell him those figures!

Yeah I reckon! How do you find balancing a young family with the demands of training and racing? Any #protips?

It is hard and it is something that you learn. You just need to learn the intricacies of female body language, facial expressions and what they 'really' mean when they say 'yep whatever'.

For Jess, Ellie and I it is about balance, planning and communication. Weekday mornings are a given, most are training days - on training days I don’t see Ellie or Jess in the morning at all, I find that aspect hard. Evenings are family time, except maybe one night per week. Weekends are also family time except for Saturday morning when I get In a long ride.

A xmas present from the men of #2602

Did Jess appreciate the 2014 Men of 2602 ™ Calendar that Hally and I sent to her for XMAS?

Yeah no doubt… That was by far her best present. I had to throw it out though, I was getting all insecure.

Ok, I will make sure that you get your own copy for your workshop next year. Where is your favourite place in Canberra to ride a mountain bike?

I enjoy going to the spots I have never been before! Canberra has tons of dirt trails in and around the suburbs with lots of random hills. Mt Rogers is somewhere I have used as a training ground. It is near home and has some nice long gradual climbs with a super steep finale.

The North side centenary trail is a lot of fun. It's almost at my back door too.

Are you comfortable with a 2 wheel drift at Stromlo?

Yeah no doubt. But I don't have as many photos as you do to prove it.

I find that hard to believe! How much do you enjoy the local Canberra racing scene?

I love club races! I have said before, you can turn up to a clubby and race the best guys in Australia. The road scene is just as good.

Yeah, it is pretty brilliant like that. Canberra has an amazing cycling scene. What are the standouts that you have in your standard weekly rides?

There is a secret road bunch on a Tuesday morning that I love. It is super smooth and it is HARD! Half the NRS peloton turn up to it most weeks. Riders are also banned from talking about it on social media. You got in trouble for that once didn't you? The Saturday ONYA ride is always good, 7am back of Belconnen store you should come one time. We'll let you do the first turn so you don’t have Bakery Bunch withdrawals.

Ahh yes….the bunch ride that has the same rule as fight club. Unfortunately, I did not get that memo… ah well, you live and learn. Those dudes who had the issues are wheelsuckers anyway*. If you had to pick the perfect day on the bike, what would it consist of?

It would be sunny, I would have no time limit and some good mates and we would go for a very long MTB linking up all of Canberra's locations. Centenary trail, Ainslie, Majura, Bruce, Stromlo and of course coffee and cake!!! Another ride that I really miss is a ride with Jess, we used to get out quite a bit together, mostly coffee rides or lakeys. Since Ellie came along those opportunities don’t come around very often.

Top step of the Scott 24hr in the prestigious overall 'real man' team category in 2013

Where do you feel your strengths lie on the bike? Any particular place for improvement?

I can accelerate pretty well, the change of pace is probably my strength. I am working to improve my ability to maintain pace for longer periods - it’s called Threshold isn’t it?

I have no idea. I just try to average 30km/hr everywhere when I ride. Onto a different topic, apart from myself of course, are there any other riders that you respect, admire or rate highly for any particular reason?

JD for his social media presence. I am not even joking, you use it well. Plus you have about a Million Twitter followers... I respect anyone who comes in to finish a race or a ride looking buckled - I love a rider who digs deep! I rate Morto for his will to win, he is a straight up racer and knows how to play his cards. If you don't drop the guy he is gonna roll you in a sprint! I also have spent a fair bit of time riding with Dylan Cooper over the last couple of years; he has done it all and has always been willing to share his experiences and knowledge when asked.

Thanks mate, that is way too kind! So, do you have a race nemesis?

Hmmm... On the MTB I was always just stoked to be in the top ten of the Elite Field. Although we did ALWAYS want to beat Blairy and Lewy for the overall at either the MONT or the SCOTT. On the roadie I have had some mad duals with John (Pothole) Forrest at Thursday crits. He is like Morto and knows where to sit and knows how to sprint! I never really knew him but towards the end of last year we started to talk and he is not a bad bloke! We had some great head to head sprints.

You can definitely learn a lot from watching the guys that always do well week in week out. It is probably not a fluke hey?

Yeah, exactly!

What is your favourite song on Appetite for Destruction?

Mate, I would have to check the Google... I loved the Gunners when I was younger. Sorry JD I didn't have that Album. BUT, November Rain is my all time favourite song. Two of my first cassette tapes were Use Your Illusion 1 and 2.

Nice one. 8 minutes and 57 seconds of awesomeness! Another burning question….Have you ever been on one of Andrew Hall’s Epic ™ MTB training rides? Were you half wheeled?

Yes… he took us up the Brindabella Mountains once, but we had to cut it short cause Snadzy and I ran out of time. Pretty sure he only took us on his regular warm-up route though. If Hally calls something Epic, for me that would be catastrophic! I have been half wheeled by Hally SOOOO many times.

He just gets excited, that it is all!

Alright then, let’s wrap it up with a bit of word association – try and respond with one word (or a sentence if required) to the following…

Bakery Bunch: I have never done first turn

Sock height: Long and black

Internet Forums: No

Social Media: useful

Espresso or latte: Espresso

Road Criterium racing: Can't wait

Cross Country (XCO) MTB racing: Fast

100km (XCM) racing: Brutal

Favourite MTB tyre: Crossmark or Ardent race

Hardtail or Dually: Hardtail

650B\29\26: 650B

Dylan Cooper: The benchmark

Andrew Hall: Half wheeler

Brad Morton: Team Captain

Shaun Lewis: A good guy with a great surname!

Thanks Lewy, any final words?

Thanks for the chance JD. Maybe we can ask you some questions next?

No worries mate! You said you guys have a web presence now? Let’s do it!

* - wheelsuckers, calm down, I am just kidding ;)

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 Kowalksi Classic

Kowalksi Classic Elite Men start line...Hally asks if Ships borrowed Blairy's aero helmet for the day. Photo courtesy of Peta Stewart, media ninja for

This was my 3rd race weekend in a row. So I was pretty much running on the fumes of form. The sensations were still good after the Flight Centre Epic so I really wanted to roll the dice one last time before the rebuild needed to commence. The only issue I had was trying to keep a slight infection at bay. A lot of travel, a bit of cycling stress on the body, some heavy duty Spring pollen and a few sick people around were all trying to conspire against me in the last week of this race block. But….I got to race day ready, able and willing to race!

The Kowalski Classic is unique in that it features a huge amount of singletrack. Some of it is simply amazing, and some of it is utterly soul destroying. But, it is the same for everyone, and like every race that I do, there are bits that I like as well as bits that I do not like. Ultimately, they do not make much of a difference in the outcome.

The Kowalski was round 3 of the Maverick Series and attracted just under 1000 entrants for its 3rd year. I was pretty fortunate to have laid down some ok results at Capital Punishment and the Giant Odyssey earlier in the year and was sitting 2nd in the series. The organisers had recognised this and put together ranked number plates for the top 20 in the series. I’ll be totally honest here. This is so freaking awesome. It is a nice validation for the hard work done throughout the year to be able to ride around with a single digit number on the bike. The ego appreciates it.

Eye of the Tiger has nothing on this...

I’m going to do this race write up in a dot pointed format. See what you think….
• Listening to a lot of Steel Panther in the lead up to the race. My teammate Andrew Hall put me on to this band.

• 8 am start time – quite civilised

• Black cockatoos flying overhead in the morning

• Blairy, Wombat, Cooper, Trekkie, Hally, English, Ships, Lestrell, Blewitt, Orr all in attendance – everyone wants points for the series.

• Gun goes off. Fresh from the disappointments of early mechanicals at the Flight Centre Epic, Trekkie is driving the pace quite strongly

• 50km and 100km riders start together

• Mad sprint by everyone for the 1st bit of singletrack. Not overly surprised at this

• Pollen dust everywhere. Like a blanket in places. Breathing feels tight. Absolute crapola for me – stupid allergies

• Shippard cops a flat tyre in the first 5km. Is mildly upset to say the least. He knows that he has lost the #SeptemberSideBet and must ride the prestigious Canberra Bakery Bunch.

• Ride with Lachlan Paton around Sparrow. He is racing the 50km and knows how to rail singeltrack like a boss.

• Jason English dialling up some heavy breathing action behind us. He always sounds like Darth Vader in the first half hour of racing.

• Sparrow Hill has one amazingly long downhill section where the brakes do not get used and the speeds are insane. This feels absolutely amazing.

• My legs feel stiff, the breathing feels a little laboured. Pollen is not pleasing. I just suck it up and keep on rocking

• Trails going backwards as we head back into Kowen do not have great flow. The braking bumps in play whilst climbing are quite challenging

• My bladder gets shaken and stirred by the lumpy trails. Nature break required

• Come through and grab an extra bottle and head back out for the back 50km.

• Mental note of the time split over the first 50km indicates that the race will be a ‘long’ one.

• Mental note made to ensure that I smash a lot of gels – even in the singletrack. It always requires more energy to ride this sort of singetrack.

• At the 70km mark there is a climb that includes a 25% gradient. Fortunately, I am a natural climber. That is reasonably steep. Chew the stem a little to get up this sucker. Feels like it takes 5 minutes to get up it.

• Ride a lot of grassed sections in the back 50km

• Wonder if my eyes have been rattled, as I find a heap of miniature witches hats in the forest denoting where the trail goes.

• A lot of freshly cut trail being used for this race

• Another nature break required

• Cross the line in 6th place

1st and 2nd place on Dual Suspension, 3rd place on hardtail – Whilst the engine is what makes the bike go, this course may have favoured the dual suspension approach.

This event has probably one of the best event headquarters going. Kick-ass bean bags, super tent, product display, food and beverages, good vibes all round.

Riders from just about every state travelled to this event. That is what a series will do.

The trails through Sparrow were pretty damn awesome. They always are. These followed a similar route to the Capital Punishment held earlier in the year.

In addition to a flat, Shippard also breaks finger, cuts wrist and does some crazy stuff to his elbow, whilst protecting his face whilst crashing. He was protecting his face because he is getting married in the next couple of weeks. Bucks night sounds pretty awesome and may or may not have its own #hashtag.

It was interesting telling Shippard’s parents about our #SeptemberSideBet. His mum instantly realised that the Canberra bunch rides were superior to the Sydney ones once I told her which riders turned up. She knew the score.

Garry Millburn smashed the 50km event beating Tristan Ward in a tight race. It was great to hear him talk about his Cyclocross racing experience in Las Vegas and how much he had to, and was wanting to improve, to take it to the next level. He is off to Europe pretty soon to get all Euro in the CX scene.

So, what is next? Probably a bit of a recovery week as I have a bit of a chest infection to get over after filtering about a kilogram of pollen. The colour of the phlegm is pretty much the same colour as the pollen.

Ultimately, like most, the Highland Fling is on my calendar and always requires the body to be in the best shape as it is one of the hardest races on the circuit.
My selfie game is suboptimal, so I appreciated Mike Blewitt taking this portratiture of me post race

Monday, September 15, 2014

Flight Centre Epic 2014

I did this race for the first time last year after hearing great things about it. As soon as I crossed the line in 40 degree heat, I knew I had to return. The course is brutally tough. The elements are off the charts, whether it be the heat, the magpies, the camels, the rocks, the humidity, the dust or in the case of this year, the mud….ah yes, the mud…..but we’ll get to that a little later.

Breakfast. I didn't have the sugar with the espresso though

Light reading material

After landing in Brisbane, I grabbed the bags and rocked the i30 over to Ipswich. I stopped by the palatial office of First Endurance in Sumner Park to catch up with the team there and shoot the breeze and check out some of their fine products, one of my favourite ones being their namesake, First Endurance.

First Endurance HQ at Sumner Park

I am a creature of habit as I like things to be consistent, familiar and therefore allow me to be in a good comfort zone when it comes to racing. So, I stayed in a motel in Ipswich that I have used numerous times. It is super spacious, comfortable, and there is a pool. As a major bonus, it is super quiet. It is also well located in order to get around to various places. An hour after arriving, I had the bike built and went out to Spicer’s Retreat outside of Grandchester to check the course out.

This doesn't even make sense....the Euros love it though

It was rough. A lot rougher than I remember. Not that it was smooth last year, but it seemed like there had been a bit of water through some of the singletrack and it seemed rockier. It could well be that the 40 degree heat from last year baked my brain and I don’t rememberhow rough it was. Or I was still snoozing after my transit.

A little bit more friendly than the psychotic magpies

That night I met up with Anthony Shippard and Wayne Dickinson for some Thai delicacies. After the Sydney boys hooked into the chardonnays there were some pretty tall stories told that night. Now some of these, I have on tape for later blackmail opportunities, and some I probably wish I never heard to begin with. Of great interest and vigorous discussion was the September Side Bet ™ (aka #septembersidebet in social media circles)

Bike against a stick

The background to this phenomenon was a discussion that Shippard and I had back in July. The premise was 3 races during September. A combined total time, or an algorithm of placing and time was to be used to determine the ‘winner’. The ‘loser’ then had to visit the winner’s Saturday road bunch, and maybe wear an outfit that was selected by the winner. And probably do the hardest turn. I was keen to have Shippard do Canberra’s Bakery Bunch, as it is pretty solid. It has recently been awarded 1.1 status by the UCI. Coluzzi just has fashion, coffee and panache at its core.

When the staff started packing up we took that as our cue to pay up and head back to the motel.

The next morning we cruised down to the Cactus Espresso bar in downtown Ipswich. It took us an eternity to find a café that was open at 7am. I thought 7am would have been a fairly decent time for cafes to be operating, but I obviously was completely off the mark with this thought. We parked up for 2 hours over numerous brews and talked more crap about crap. Race day seemed an eternity away...

The rest of the day went like this…..

• Sort bike

• Clean bike

• Spin around town

• Nap

• Crank up some GnR

• Sort bottles

• Sort nutrition

• Sort stuff

• Dinner time

• Sleep

It is hugely glamorous waiting for a bike race. But, as I love racing my bike, it is part and parcel of the big picture. 5am….alarm goes off. The food goes down, then the car gets fired up and I take off west on sunrise in search of another random paddock where there are 2000 people keen to take on a super tough bike race.

One thing I had noticed when I went to dinner the night before was the massive dark clouds brewing out west right over where we were racing. I was curious to see what effect that would have on the racing. It turned out to be quite significant….

I found out first hand what lay in store when I went for my warm up. Having done enough geological work in the past I know what happens to a thin to thick bedded, coarse to medium grained, feldspathic to lithic feldspathic sandstone with clay matrix will do when it gets wet… gets a little sticky…..and my tyres were coated in the most phenomenal clay mud and the race hadn’t even started. This made me change a few things prior to the start. I also had to spend quite a while getting this crap off of my tyres before I headed to the start line.

On the start line we had a few Mexicans who made the trip up from down south: Shaun “Wombat” Lewis, Brendan “Trekky” Johnston, Jason English, Anthony “Ships” Shippard, to take on the resident QLDers in Jeff Rubach, Travis Frisby and a few others. The gun went off and we bolted off and were soon riding along quite leisurely. Like last year, this race starts really slow. It is a sign of things to come. As soon as the first descent loomed, the pace was ramped and I sprinted the wombat to the top of the rise before the sketchy waterbar descent.

There was quite a bit of water here, and when we hammered along the valley flat track, we were fishtailing all over the place. The first climb was where things got interesting. Trekky, Wombat and Shippard were met with an unridable first steep climb and English, Rubach and myself were also off the bike walking in slow motion. Grip was unattainable, chainstays were starting to get clogged and it became quite apparent that no one would be posting any fast times today.

By the top of the climb we had lost Ships. He had chosen to run 2.3 tyres on his Epic and the rear wheel was not moving. Trekkie had the same issue with his Superfly. No clearance at all. The rear wheel was not moving for him.

English, Rubach, Wombat and myself bombed the crazy double track descent down to the road before forming a single file paceline. I have to give credit to Wombat for calling this. With 4 people, a single line paceline is way more efficient and allows everyone longer rests with just one person doing the work at any one time. This is why he is the team captain.

Back onto the dirt and the going was once again glacial. That is another geological reference…..and it means slow. There was a lot of walking in this section. Here are some of the quotes from the front bunch:

• “This is just ridiculous”

• “This soil is so fertile, I should take some of this home for my garden”

• “You probably will”

• “F#ck this”

We were pushing up one hill in unison and we heard this super loud scream piercing the Eucalypt forest from someone who was trying to bridge up to the front group. It was not a ‘pain’ type of scream. Rather it was a ‘oh bugger, my bike is not working appropriately’ sort of scream. It was not complimentary at all. We didn’t see them again.

At the top of the climb I looked for the highly appealing dry grass to ride on. It doesn’t allow the mud to get on the tyres and can also help get rid of it. Soon, I looked behind and no one was following me. That seemed pretty weird. But then I hit the descent which took all of my concentration. The rain had done wonders to the randomness of the trail and you just had to be ready for anything. The soil was not always what it seemed!

I knew what was coming up. A nice long flattish road section. I looked around and saw English coming across, so I sat up for a short moment and waited for him. We then proceed to hall ass north keeping the speed at about 35km/hr. It was awesome! No doubt we probably had a tail wind. We had managed to get a huge gap on the others by the time we rolled through the first feed station, with Lewis having copped a flat tyre. By the time we hit the super steep climb, Rubach had hitched back on, which was a sensational effort as he was at least a minute down and demonstrated how strong he is.

A few more comments….

• “You will go faster than me up this climb”

• “The day is going to be random. Let’s press on”

• “Lewy had a flatty”

• “This is a steep f#cker”

• “I rode my Cyclocross bike up this climb”

• “We should have googled how to set the bikes up as singlespeeds”

I don’t class myself as a climber by any stretch of the imagination. I can get up the hill, but it is not pretty. So, I was pretty satisfied with my efforts when I crested the top of the 20% gradient in first place. I was the only one to keep the bike upright though through the technical ascent. It was slick, unpredictable and sketchy. Perfect conditions!

English and Rubach soon caught me and we sort of swapped positions unintentionally due to the randomness of the terrain and the soil. Finally, English broke free just before the 37km feed station. I went past Rubach who had some mud clogging issues and set off in chase of English. This time round through this initial singletrack section was like being on a slot car track. It was so tacky and you could lean it hard almost like a superbike. There was no way that it was going to let go! Of course it was only shortlived before the brain had to be re-engaged and concentration levels back on full force.

By the 50km mark he had a decent 3 minute gap. I grabbed my bottles for the back 37km and Ships let me know that his bike had packed up with mud and that he was out for the day. He also said that English’s bike sounded like a “bag of spanners” – which was slightly amusing, because my drivetrain sounded like it was a strangled hyena!

I was having a bit of a blast out on these trails. They have pretty damn good flow and I may have got the wheels off of the ground a few times when the terrain dictated it. And also when it didn’t!

What was amazing was how bone dry some of the tracks in this bit were. It was like they just didn’t get any rain. And they probably didn’t. They were definitely super rough and some of the rocks I saw were like axe heads. Sooooo sharp. These one were tiptoed around. I was keen to look after my position and that involved respecting my equipment. To my utter surpise, I stumbled across English around the 60km mark. He was at the side of the trail after a really rocky creek crossing. As soon as I saw him, I jumped off the bike and pushed through this section as a precaution. Damn. He had a busted chain. That is a 3 minute or so fix on a good day. The maths were done. I had to bust a move. I know how strong English is and what sort of things he has recovered from in the past and what sort of times he is able to pull back.

So I busted a move. I was on a mission and I was wishing that someone could cure my lonely condition. That is so bad. Apologies to Young MC! But now that I was the lead rider I did have the two dudes on the motos to hang out with. The Cape Epic in South Africa has the helicopters. The Flight Centre Epic had two motocross bikes. The feeling of being at the head of the race with what is essentially an escort through the trails is pretty freaking awesome.

I was counting down the segments I had to get through. These were my own segments that I made up to allow me to tick off particular check boxes that got me closer to the finish. When I reached the final grassy drag across the base of the final climb I got swooped by the magpie about 6 times. I also saw 3 camels. I knew it was getting hotter out there, but I was hoping that these were not part of a mirage. It didn’t matter. I had looked around and could not see anyone chasing. I could walk up the climb and still hold this lead if worse came to worse. It didn’t and I was able to thread my way up the climb, pull a sneaky wheelie for a cameraman and really enjoy the last 100 metres across the crazy off camber grass through the finish line.

Damn….this was huge. I mean, it is a big deal to win the Saturday morning training bunch sprint, but this was on a very different level. This is definitely the biggest win in my cycling career and I can still remember my first ever race win, which was my second ever bike race back in 1989. It too, was in QLD, up the back of Toowong in some undeveloped bushland. To be able to win such a huge race 25 years later in the same state where it all started is a pretty surreal feeling.

Way back then I was addicted to the thrill, passion, frustration, elation, satisfaction, devastation and so many more emotions that bike racing gives you. That addiction has not disappeared over time, and probably never will. I simply love racing my bike.

This race boiled down to a lot of luck. I was hugely fortunate to have the least amount of bad luck. That is racing, and sometimes it all goes your way. Sometimes it definitely doesn’t, but like Jodie Willet says “you make your own luck”. That much is definitely true.

Next up…..the Kowalski Classic in Canberra this weekend. Round 2 of the Maverick Series. What a great month for bike racing!

That is a summary of the trail conditions
Finish line celebrations

Crazy mud

Popped into the bank on Monday and cashed this one

This trail was riddled with booby traps

Selfie game was above average in the i30 #caroftheyear

Loving this course!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Back Yamma Bigfoot - #Driftfest 2014

I’ve been here before. How many times? Every edition in fact.

2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and now 2014!

This race sticks in my head for some reason. There are a few reasons why. When I worked in Parkes for a year doing Geophysics for North Exploration, I remember that I was listening to Green Day, Offspring and Oasis. I watched Seinfeld all of the time. I was still buying bike magazines on a monthly basis, and I remember hauling ass between Parkes and Orange following the Japanese Mitsubishi Rally team’s Factory Pajero. Likewise, each one of these races over the course of the last 5 years I can also remember with wicked clarity what happened.

Brilliant course markings

I’ll recap:
2010 – first event. I rode my Cannondale Flash 26er. It was 50/50 fireroad to singletrack. I remember Ryan Quade driving the pace calling out wheelsuckers. There were a hell of a lot of trees over the entire course that we had to hop over all of the time. I remember Trevor Rix driving it along the fireroads well over 35km/hr and I remember getting a small gap on a sketchy descent at the 75km mark and riding away to take the win.

2011 – a lot more people found out about this one and quite a few of the #canberracrew made the trip up. Andrew Hall had a front shifter break, Bellchambers had a flat tyre. I remember going through the feedzone looking around and no one was there. I took off and did 50km solo to take the win that day. I was aboard the Cannondale 26er once again despite everyone saying that it was a ‘29er course’.

2012 – BYBF becomes slated as the official 2602 World Championships. Merida fly in Jason English to thwart our attempts to take the coveted trophy back to Paradise City. I remember him riding off at the 55km mark after a few mishaps in the gullies by someone. I also remember sensing the wind direction along a fireroad and putting it in the gutter at the 67km mark when we rounded the 90 degree fireroad into a fierce crosswind. Only Andrew Hall and Jeremy Ross came with me that day. Unfortunately Andrew washed out on one of the corners in the last few km and Rossy and I battled it out for 2nd that day, with English having done a runner early on. 2nd for me that year. Rossy was in the chop. 29er for the first time – Cannondale F29er.

2013 – Ed McDonald, Mark Tupalski, Andrew Hall and I were all sick! I was recovering from bronchitis which is so awful as a cyclist. We were all at about 90%. Andrew rode 95km on the front at an insane tempo that thwarted all attempts at attacks, riding off the front and other moves. He delivered me to a pre-determined spot and I attacked hard and took the win in a sprint finish. I attacked so hard that I am positive that my legs were about 6 inches shorter the next day. The Cannondale F29er was used to good measure negotiating the tracks. Hally was in the chop. #legend

That takes us up to 2014. I raced on up the day before in about 2 and a half hours from Canberra (I know a shortcut) and did a sneaky recce of the lap. Nice and dry, which means nice high speeds. The course had even less fireroad this year. I would say that it was about only 10% fireroad. That is quite the evolution over time. That night I met up with Glenn Columbine and Trent Smyth and we hit up the ‘Rice’ Thai restaurant in Parkes for some pre race cuisine and discussions - I had the spring rolls, green curry chicken and steamed rice. It was delicious. I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

Also at the restaurant were some organic singlespeeders. There were some good sledges thrown back and forth between the tables. The discussions at these dinners are always the best. Here is the executive summary. Note, some of the names and situations may have been changed to protect the innocent:

  • Wheelsuckers in training bunches
  • B grade NRS teams - only $2500 to get an NRS license
  • Dudes on said B grade NRS teams getting popped in training bunches
  • Overtaking requests and resultant conversations at the Albury 3 hour
  • Backpack training techniques – watermelons, bricks and other power increasing contraband
  • Cycling team recruiting techniques for certain riders
  • Very questionable tactics by a showpony NRS racer at this year's Capital Punishment - didn't really help
  • Certain team members only being allowed to travel in packs
  • Triathlon race entry costs - $900 for a Kona entry
  • Googling the term ‘Dutch Rudder’ at work and the subsequent calls from HR on Monday morning…. #nsfw
  • the concept that being #singlespeeded was worse than being #chicked

Heading out to race HQ Sunday morning

As always, reaching the field where race HQ is in the early morning is met with huge anticipation. It is also best dealt with by wearing a lot of clothes as it is always relatively freezing after having ridden the day before in 20 degree luxury. The standard spin around to wake everything up was done by all before the civilised start time of 7:45 am rolled around.

As per normal, the gun went off and due to the nature of the course, the speed was quickly up to 40km/hr on the downhill run to the singletrack. Glenn Columbine and Simon Ross (who is definitely not as angry as his brother Jeremy) were keen to set the pace and I was fortunate to be able to sit in behind Columbine as we entered the first bit of singletrack. I was impressed that Simon Ross offered up a resledge to me from when I called track on him at the Albury 3 hour about 2 months ago – Touche.

In the past, Hally and I had offered Columbine some good advice with regard to tyre pressure. Coming from a Triathlon background, Glenn probably has a fairly decent run leg, but like most triathletes, is not overly comfortable with the two wheel drift. This was probably down to the fact that he used to run 50psi in his tyres on the mountain bike. Luckily he rectified after the Convict 100 and ran low 20s for this race.

The most awesome ribbon of singeltrack ever

In the first hour or so of a flat race course like this the pack is always a little larger. We had probably about 8 riders at the 15km mark. With a little bit more tight singletrack, it keeps the speeds slower and the group much closer. Heading up the fenceline climb, I was leading and managed to cop a stick in my rear derailleur. So random. I just grabbed a handful of rear brake immediately and stopped before it ripped everything to pieces! Glenn and Brad snuck through, and I sorted things then slotted back in line. Brett offered some constructive feedback to my climbing abilities which I thanked him for.

When we popped out onto the long flat fireroad everyone sat up and had a drink and a gel. Glenn rode on and gave Brad the elbow flick. Brad came through, did a turn, then offered a wave through, which was rather polite. So, I applied the patented Andrew Hall Ramp Test ™ to the group. Andrew uses this technique often on cyclepaths, out of the Cotter, anywhere really to see what level of pain threshold that people have. It has the desired effect of ramping the pace up. Bellchambers came hauling past in his 36:13 gear and wanted to drag race me to the start of the singletrack climb. He was hauling ass big time in this gear. I let him go into the singletrack first and when we crested the top of the hill, I snuck through and let the brakes off down the hill. This descent is full of moto berms, is loose, dusty and probably goes for a few kilometres. In short, it is awesome.

After a couple of kilometres I looked around and had opened up a small gap. A few thoughts went through my mind. I was 25km into the race. One hour in, 3 ish to go. Sure, why not… was breakaway time. Statistically, a breakaway this early never usually succeeds. I watch the Tour every year. I know how it goes. You don't want to be known as one of those French TV-time dudes. But we had no camera crews out here, only crazy, I tried to focus on going fairly deep for about half an hour. I wanted to get out of sight of the chasing bunch.

Easier. Said. Than. Done.

This year the prevailing wind was in my face and also a slightly annoying crosswind for what felt like 90% of the course. Just under two hours into the race I rolled around transition and grabbed a fresh bottle and took off once again. At dinner last night, Glenn had asked me what my tactics were for the race in a roundabout sort of way – “so you are going to sit in the bunch for 50km and then attack?” – I replied “yeah, pretty much” --- I had options, but until racing starts, you just do not know which cards to play at times.

The card I was playing now was the 75km Individual Time Trial. That is a pretty long card. But, I chose it, so it was what then played out. It was warming up so I knew that I had better get the fluids down. I had a fair bit of fluid and had to actually have a nature break each lap – coincidentally, it was on the same bit of trail. It was super rough, so it may well have been because my bladder was getting shaken around like crazy. When you gotta go, you gotta go!!

I kept driving hard trying to ensure that I put in a good back 50km and look after my advantage. At times this meant looking after tyres and equipment and riding slightly slower, but I tried to capitalise on bits where I could. I remember getting smacked in the head by a low hanging stick that ALWAYS gets me every year. It left a masive dent in my helmet! It just comes out of nowhere through some uphill tight singletrack and does wonders for waking you up!

Hitting the creek-line singletrack for the 2nd time, I was really enjoying the downhill run and the swooping lines through the corners. It was easy to imagine being on a motocross bike through here, grabbing a handful of throttle accelerating out of corners. A shade under 4 hours after starting, I crossed the line in 1st place having thoroughly enjoyed the course put on by the crew and the nature of the trails.

Results just in

I have said it before and I will say it again. This is a great mountain bike course for anyone who is looking at doing their first 50 or 100km race. Or even if you want to just post a super fast time in a race of this nature the course does not fail to disappoint. The trails are superb. The event vibe is just amazing, and I always enjoy every aspect of the entire journey for this weekend!!

I stopped by a fantastic cafe in Canowindra with Glenn Columbine for a mid afternoon snack for the drive home!

Have I mentioned how much I really enjoy the dry and dusty nature of this course and the two wheel drifts that can sometimes last for minutes?!!?!? Hell yeah. They are awesome!
I am probably the least hairy dude on the podium!

Sushi entree the night after the race!

Hanging out with my niece and nephew who had come down to visit

Monday, July 28, 2014

What's happened in the last month?

A short summary of the last month or so....

When winter comes it can be pretty hard to get out on the bike. I love the bike and will always be addicted to the feeling that you get once you are out on the road or the trail and can think of nothing better to do. I also love racing my bike and obviously in order to make racing as easy as possible, it does pay to get out on the bike as much as you can and do what is needed.

BUT…..and there is always a but! When it is colder than normal, then it is hard mentally to get out the door. I do not do the windtrainer, so I have to always head outside. It’s not a problem as I am choosing to do that. But what can make it slightly easier is racing in order to get your ass on a bike!

In the last month this is what I have been up to...

Melbourne Cyclocross National Round 1 and 2: CX is booming in Australia and Melbourne hosted the first 2 rounds of the CX series. So, as I had a Cannondale SuperX at my disposal, I rolled on down to Melbourne and did something totally different. A one hour race requires a few things. A decent spot on the start grid never goes astray. I managed to get 45th spot on the start line. There were about 25 behind me.

Mucking around at Luna Park at St Kilda

It was a pretty decent field to be quite frank. 70 riders going mental into the first corner is a pretty cool thing to be a part of. An hour later and full of lactic acid, I had managed to move up to 17th place. That was as good as it was going to get with that volume of riders on the course! I was pretty happy with that in hindsight. I had never raced a CX race before, and only really ridden the bike about 3 times.

Thank god there wasn't a swim component

The next day at round 2 was a wicked little course that I really enjoyed. But, I had tyres that sucked big time in the greasy corners. Water and off camber grass are a handful at times that’s for sure! Anyway, I got through that one and finished around the same position once again. So, that was my introduction to the whole CX experience. The great thing was enjoying the cycling culture that Melbourne has to offer. It is totally different to anything that I have ever experienced, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Beach Road does actually lead to the beach!

Next up was the Albury 3 hour MTB race. Back on a familiar bike in my trusty Cannondale F29er, I ventured south-west to take on Nail Can Hill in a muddy 3 hour event. This course is pretty wicked and the singletrack in the wet was an absolute delight. For the most part there was superb grip in the wet as most of it is on a granitic base. There were also bits that were an absolute handful and the two wheel drift was employed at times to negotiate certain sections. Other sections I just employed the ‘force’ and closed my eyes and accelerated through bits as that is quite simply the best way to ride muddy sections!

Loved the trails at Albury!

3 hours on this course was thoroughly enjoyable and I had an absolute blast. The trails here played a big part of my enjoyment during this race. The choice of some tyres with some above average grip may have also played a small part! I managed to ride reasonably consistent and came away with the win which was quite pleasing.

The trails were wet but you could lean them pretty hard!

The next trip away was off to Wagga Wagga for their 3 hour race at Pomi Park. The last time I raced here was in 2008. And it was also a 3 hour race. I think that this course was about 98% singletrack. And it was seriously awesome singletrack. Like Albury, it was in a natural forest environment and these sort of trails absolutely rock! Way better than a sterile damp Pine Forest!

The start line for the Wagga 3 hour. Braving the cold with my best smile!

After a great battle early on with Daniel Beresford, I was able to keep my pace up and hit up 9 laps of this superb course. I took the win in the bike race and ultimately the win in the enjoyment race also here. Seriously awesome stuff!

This course at Wagga could be raced full gas everywhere!

Yesterday I raced the 3 Ring Circus at Wingello. All indications were good but, 10 to 15 minutes into the race I had an asthma attack. That put a halt on things pretty quickly. After being in the group quite comfortably I had to suck it up and just back off to granny gear for an hour and a half to calm everything down. Once the air got a little warmer and more humid I was able to ramp it up a little bit, but the day was over from early on. 12th place for me here, but health had to come first – plus it’s not like I could have pushed any harder for those 90 minutes – it was like breathing through a straw!!

So that is the executive summary of the last month or so. I’ve just used the racing to sort my intensity training during the week and really enjoyed every minute of it. Sometimes that is how it works out the best.

A wheelie after finishing the Albury 3 hour race sums things up!

Check out that beautiful ribbon of singletrack. Wheelies during the race indicate how much fun is being had!

Next up….well, the entire month of September is booked up with racing – Back yamma Bigfoot, Flight Centre Epic, Kowalski Classic, Scott 24 hour…..but there is the Mogo Resurrection 100km race that is on the radar in 2 week’s time. I’ll see how I’m feeling for that one!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tathra Enduro 100km - 8th June 2014

WARNING: There may or may not be sarcasm, subtext and innuendo in this post, however the stories in this tale are all true and reflect exactly what occurred on the day according to my recollections... ;)

There’s a few thing in life that I like. Driving fast and riding good trails are up there with the best of them. During the week I received a speeding fine from my Victorian trip to the Giant Odyssey back in April. The fact that I was driving a Kia Carnival hire car at the time sans dignity did nothing to curb my enthusiasm for the accelerator and getting to places quickly. Apparently in Victoria 3km/hr over the speed limit is not acceptable. Lesson learnt.

The trip down to the coast for my second Tathra Enduro 100km race was done in a little over 2 hours as I was keen to check out the trails to see what sort of condition they were in as well as spin my legs out from the short road trip. I was not disappointed! I have mentioned before that these trails are some of my favourite in Australia, and suffice to say, that assessment has not changed. They are definitely in my top 5. Others in the top 5 are Alice Springs, Stromlo and Mount Joyce – just for reference!

Nice view of the beach in the background

The unique thing about the Tathra trails is the relatively small area that they are built on. Now, this is purely just a guess, but I would dare to say that you are probably never more than 10km from the event centre. The other thing about the trails here is the prolific use of switchbacks. A couple of times during my Saturday afternoon recce I stopped to admire the serenity and in looking around you can just see layers of trails everywhere! It would be absolutely fascinating to see a GPS trace of this area!

Race accommodation is always a lottery. But, this time, I stayed in the most amazing place in Bega. The Princes Motel is a kick-ass little art-deco number that is compact, quiet and only 20 minutes from Tathra. Perfect!

Race day came and it was a very, very cruisy 8:30am start time. That just means sleep in! Until 5:30 at least! A quick scan of the carpark and you could easily see who decided to turn up to this race. My teammate Andrew Hall, Target Trek’s Ed McDonald, Specialized’s Andy Blair, OnTheGo’s Callum Ferguson, Jim’s Mowing’s Jason Chalker, Magellan honch Paris Basson and a few other hitters. Does anyone know where the easy races are being held?!?!

The start was neutral for about 250 metres and as soon as the neutral vehicle peeled off, Andrew Hall attacked hard off the start with Ed MCDonald hot on his heels. No surprises there! This was exactly what was discussed before the race even started. As Hannibal Smith says….I love it when a plan comes together. I just sat up and soft pedalled and breathed in the fresh salty sea breeze. This lasted for about 5 seconds before those behind me figured out what I was doing, and it was Andy Blair who decided to bridge across. I took this as my cue to stop breathing through my ears and got straight onto his rear wheel, which ultimately took the rest of the pack across to Hall and McDonald.

The first bit of the trail went along the esplanade before hooking up with a nice bit of coastal trail that was designed to split the group up a little bit. It sort of actually did this and the initial selection was made. Andrew Hall, Ed McDonald, Andy Blair, Callum Ferguson, Paris Basson, Jason Chalker and a few others were still on after Hally gave everyone an early race ramp test up the fireroad.

I came through on the road descent and did a pretty good turn on the front. Granted I was just coasting in a tuck position, but it is always good to be seen doing work on the front. It's all about perception.

Back down on the esplanade, as premeditated, Hally put it in the gutter and gave no one much of an advantage into the slight crosswind that had been there since early in the morning when we first arrived. We saw Shaun Lewis riding on the bike path to the start of the 50km race. Apparently the team captain for the Special-Swells was on holidays and just racing the 50km event today. Everyone shouted words of encouragement to him which he greatly appreciated. MTB racing is good like that.

We funnelled back through the event centre and headed out onto the beautiful singletrack that was on offer. Hally was in front, I was in 2nd wheel, with Ed and Blairy following closely behind. Callum tried to attack off the front early on during a small piece of fireroad but was shut down by Hally who wanted to be able to fully dictate the pace for the day. Just prior to the singletrack starting up again, I snuck in front of Callum and onto Hally’s wheel. Shortly after the tropical rainforest singletrack, Blairy offered up some interesting rider\team observations. I think that he hadn’t meant to actually say it so loud for certain people to hear, but they actually did, which caused a few chuckles within the pack. Good one Blairy, you muppet!

The trails then proceeded to go up and actually felt like we were riding a downhill section in reverse – they just seemed a little bit steeper than the rest of them. This was only short lived though and we then hit the plateau before the start of the descent. This was where it got interesting…

We came to this point where the trail offered two options….but it was not marked. Hally thought we should go straight. Meanwhile, Ed, Blairy, and Basson took off right. The safety in numbers option appealed to me, so I followed suit thinking that if we got lost, then we could neutralise the race together, and if we ended up back on the course, then at least I was in good position. Good call. Fortunately, going right was the correct direction and we ended back on the course a short while later, and Basson offered up 3rd wheel for me behind Blairy and McDonald on a short section of fireroad.

Hally, Chalker and Ferguson were actually a little further back at this stage due to their indecision at the earlier intersection, and were scrambling to get back on. The second part of the ‘interesting’ was when Blairy attacked around McDonald in the singletrack through the edge of the scrub and put the ramp test on for 5 minutes. To be honest, this was a really good strategy, as it was designed to put everyone under pressure and string out the pack after 30 minutes of racing. The timing of it after some had taken a wrong turn underpinned how effective it was at getting a good gap. Coming out onto the fireroad climb, McDonald took the lead and kept the pace super high eager to put some time into the others.

Unfortunately, McDonald hit a soft bit of sand entering the singletrack and decked it in an innocuous (Ed would love this use of the word, because technically for him personally it was….what do you reckon Ed?) manner which caused his exit from the race due to a nasty mechanical. Blairy and I looked back about a minute later and noticed that he hadn’t got back on. So, we did what you do when that happens and decided to keep motoring forward. We were in a good flow and the first lap ticked over after about 2 hours and 20 odd minutes. Every lip, rot, berm, gap and twig was aired, railed or used to gain some mad flow through the trails out here, which were totally sublime and an absolute joy to negotiate.

#Pro Tip: Always trust the berm, and weight the outside foot
With a course comprising of at least 95km of singletrack, this race required you to get extremely good flow in order to negotiate the skinny twisting trails. You also had to love the switchback, understand intimately how wide your handlebars were and also know whether or not you had man-shoulders™ or not as some of the trees were a little close together.

We stopped and got fresh bottles and proceed to head out on to the 2nd lap. Blairy was super kind to allow me to take the lead on the climb. So kind, that you just know that the a certain rider with the nickname that rhymes with the word ‘combat’ would be super proud of this tactic. I know that I personally have used it many times before. Whilst it may lack the devastating panache of the Sydney Colluzzi Bunch ride, it is definitely a good Canberra Bakery Bunch tactic and one that is pretty useful for actually winning races.

So much stuff to play around on at the Tathra 100!

When you get dealt this card, the best thing to do is actually realise it, and then adjust your breathing accordingly, which I did early on in the piece. Steve Hanley was hanging out in a gully on the flipside of the main road, and offered his insights into our breathing techniques! As a runner he definitely would be able to see how we were both doing the ‘nose-breathing’ technique, and he commented accordingly. Nice one Steve! At this location when we were railing through 10 foot deep gullies getting sledged by Steve and his crew I pulled this mad cross-up out of one of them to keep them all amused.

It was seriously awesome.

True story.

Hopefully there was a photographer there.

Pretty much this far into the race I know that both Blairy and I were thinking where we were both going to lay the smackdown ™ on each other. The singletrack could only be ridden at a certain pace due to the tightness of it. Any more power outlay just resulted in excessive use of brakes, and brakes make you slower. The firetrail sections were quite short in length and relatively flat – meaning that they too equalised things a little. It is a pretty simple science.

After the race, we both discussed it, and came to the same conclusion that it was going to be at the same point – the 3-4% fireroad gradient that followed the ordinary rake job singletrack at the bottom of the hill. That would play out in a couple of different ways. It would be a drag race to see who could last the longest under full gas. If we both lasted then I knew of 3 places where I could spring a surprise attack, because, let’s be honest, whilst he may not be a total cycling fashionista, Blairy is reasonably good on a bike and is actually ranked number 1 in the 2602, and it would totally have to be somewhere where he wasn’t expecting it, and I had the perfect location… would have been legen…..wait for it….dary, that’s right, legendary!

At the 80km mark though, it became a moot point, as I copped a rear puncture, which sucked big time. What sucked even more was that the valve on my tube snapped after I had inflated it. I was super fortunate thanks to the kind generosity of 2 of the 50km racers who lent me a tube and a CO2 to get going again (if this is you or you know of them, please let me know – I would like to repay the generosity).

It was pretty futile as I was not going to catch Blairy, but I did not know who was behind me, or how far behind they were, but I kept the hammer down after fixing what was essentially two flats and wasting a massive amount of time. Ironically, the first tube was the same brand as the tyre. Probably a conspiracy theory in there somewhere.

So, to cut a 20km story short, I railed it home, and crossed the line in 2nd place for the 2nd year in a row. Blairy got the win and my teammate Hally rolled in for 3rd place. The trophy I received was a very nice bottle of Red Wine, a huge slab of Bega cheese, some crackers and some olives. That is extremely unique and the Red will go with the White that I received last year. I’ll break it out with some antipasto at a dinner party sometime soon!

3 out of 3 podium place getters at the Tathra 100 do the Canberra Saturday morning Bakery Bunch. 2 out of 3 prefer shorts, and all live in the 2602. Read into it what you will ;)

Nice haul and a pretty cool trophy!

To top off the day, I was extremely fortunate to be able to drive the entire climb of Brown Mountain with no one in front of me! Sports mode engaged, fully wide open, with the turbo engine howling deep through the switchbacks! What an awesome day!