Monday, March 17, 2014

2014 Capital Punishment 100km

The late Michael Hutchence wrote in the 1987 song ‘Kick’ --- ‘sometimes you kick….sometimes you get kicked’ – That pretty much sums up bike racing in my opinion. There is always something that tests you.

The last weekend saw the 5th running of the Capital Punishment mtb race that links up the whole of Canberra by singletrack and fireroad. As a unique twist, there is a 10km untimed section where you traverse the entire 2602 postcode from Mt Majura to Black Mountain. I have been fortunate to have done this race every year, and every time it has thrown up something different.

I would like to set the scene with a few small things that I observed in the lead up to the race. Whilst having no bearing on the race itself, in hindsight, I can see that the knowledge of certain things may have influenced certain outcomes and \ or decisions.

• Jess Cressy posted on Facebook that she had bought a new car

• Jarrod Hughes said at dinner prior to the Bright XCM round that Capital Punishment was the last race before he shut it off for winter.

• Untimed section tactics from 2013 were also discussed at dinner

• Certain other tactics employed by riders were also discussed at dinner

• Dylan Cooper posted on social media that this was his 4th race in 9 days.

• Shaun Lewis had an interesting (for him) day on the bike at the XCO championships.

• There were a lot of #pro roadies that had entered Capital Punishment.

• There was a lot of the best mountain bikers also entered.

• Anthony Shippard was grilling me for the Canberra Mafia untimed section tactics ;)

A lot of people publicly state that people from Canberra are lucky to have the mountain bike trail network that exists. And we are. In return though, we have to hand in our fashion card, race without panache, and endure a winter that scares a lot of people into hibernation. But, we all make our own luck, and what brought me initially to Canberra was in fact, the cycling.

I lived in Brisbane for 18 years and then moved to Canberra to be closer to the racing. When we bought our house in 1999 it was because of racing also. I was off in the centre of Australia doing geophysical surveys and Kylie was racing a Downhill race at Mt Majura in preparation for her World Championships campaign in Spain that same year. On her way home she saw a for sale sign outside a house in the shadows of the mountain. A few phone calls later and it was a done deal.

Where luck comes into play is that AROC decide to put on a race 10 years later between Kowen and Stromlo with an untimed section past my front door!

So on the Saturday morning, my teammate Andrew Hall rocked up, we loaded the bikes up and headed out to a random field in the middle of nowhere. Now, along the way we discussed some tactics, but as it is bike racing, anything can happen, and with so much singletrack there is always the chance that strange things could pan out. And by ‘strange’ I just mean that mountain bike racing is never straight forward.

The start line finally beckoned at 6:50am. The first race was to the edge of the start line. OK, front row secured. Looking across, I saw who I expected to see – then you do the look around and see where everyone else is positioned. Seemed reasonably appropriate.

When the starters horn (no gun this time) went off, it was mental. At this time of the year everyone has the XCO and crit racing legs. This is the ability to ride with high intensity from the get go. It hurt. But I can guarantee you that most people were feeling this way.

We had about 3km or so of fireroad before a small section of singletrack. This then went out onto a ribbon of about 1km of fireroad that required a truckload of power – because, well….it went up hill through the thick dust of the logging trucks and the rally cars from 2 weeks ago. The pro roadies brought the power to the fireroads and to their credit got through the first bit of singletrack, where it was an absolute debacle as to be expected with clowns taking lines through the bushes in the desperate attempt to gain position. But as always, someone dropped the wheel after the first bit of singletrack and the front runners were able to get a decent gap. It is bike racing. It happens. You just deal with it.

Shippard came through along the fireroad and drove it up the climb in chase of Cooper, Lewis, Cressy and Hughes. His was a good wheel to be on up here, and when he flicked the elbow at the top of the rise, I kept driving it as I could see the wheels disappearing into the singletrack. The wheels I could see belonged to Marc Williams, who whilst being a Pro roadie, can actually ride a MTB exceptionally well. He held the wheels and we were dumped onto the bottom semi fireroad section and I went past in search of the 4 in front. When we finally spewed out across the eastern carpark through the blue metal chip the group swelled as the first selection was made.

Looking around I could see Dylan Cooper, Shaun Lewis, Jarrod Hughes, Lewy Cressy, Ben Comfort and I knew that Matt Fleming and Anthony Shippard had followed me through – but I was unaware of who was behind them. It didn’t matter, as 15 seconds later; Jarrod just rode off the front. At this point, I decided to just follow him, and I got the ramp test going for those in our small group and hammered along the fireroad for the next minute or so. Lewis got in front just before we hit the next bit of singletrack and took off after Hughesy. When we were heading under the highway, they both hit the dew covered metal crossover thingy on a leaning angle and fully hit the deck! Cooper came through and I got on his wheel.

Riding through arguably some of the best singetrack in Canberra that is Sparrow Hill, behind a skilled technician such as Cooper is one of the best experiences I can ever suggest you do. All I can say is that it was easy, it flowed, and we motored. The trails in that part of Sparrow were built properly and I personally have been riding them since 2005, but lately they have been in pristine condition. Everyone I talked to raved about this section. A big thanks goes out to Alan Anderson – the mastermind behind these particular set of trails. We exited Sparrow, rode up a hill with about 30 kangaroos looking on slightly bemused, and then we went back into Kowen. Whilst nowhere near as good as Sparrow, the singletrack kept you focussed and good flow was paramount.

If you stopped to think about it, you will recall that the trails through Sparrow actually use the terrain extremely well. They actually follow the contours and you are able to keep your speed extremely well. The trails in the absolute lower section of Kowen seem to fight the terrain and steal all of your flow, soul and at times your capacity to exist. This is just a personal observation mind you.

By this time, Cooper, Hughesy, Lewis, Cressy and I were together. About 20 metres behind were Shippard and Fleming. You might think 20 metres is nothing, but when racing and on the limit, it might as well be 2000 metres. To see what this is about, have a look at Shippard’s write-up from the race - he articulates it quite well.

We hit the section affectionately coined by Andrew Hall as the ‘Kowen Wastelands’. The singletrack here is sparse, it is pretty rough and rugged, and is connected by fireroads that were just perfect to set the paceline up on.

I did expect it to sit up a bit here, but true to the whole race, Jarrod had other ideas. The speed was ramped up to that painful level – but it meant that we were heading forward – and swiftly.

We got through here with not too much drama, and headed into Sutton forest. Sutton is a staple on the ACT local mtb race scene. It is also a staple for the local motorbike riders and the trails can be unpredictable. It is also pitch black in here after negotiating 10km of open trail. Shaun Lewis hit the trails absolutely flat out and unfortunately hit the deck in the 2nd corner of singletrack and we all went around him, with Jarrod asking him if he was ok. The positions swapped back and forth a little through here, but it was mainly Jarrod that was driving it. Sutton is old school, and Jarrod was aboard a 26er dually, so was probably having a fair bit of fun through the twisty trails.

I saw this sign and thought it captured exactly what sort of land we were riding through.
Leaving Sutton, we ventured into the unknown, overgrown, dangerzone – this is also known as Defence land. No one can ever ride through here because it is technically a rifle range. There are probably heaps of other dodgy things going on in here that you don’t want to know about, but we’ll leave it with the unexploded ordnance thing that they have got going on. So, it was just a matter of keeping it pinned on the fireroad and making the way to Majura Pines. Prior to crossing Majura Parkway, Lewis had some stick trouble and Hughesy and Cooper got a gap about the length of the road verge. We were heading towards the start of the untimed section and no one was backing off. In fact, it pretty much just splintered here. Cooper, then Lewis, then Hughes then myself then Cressy. Part one – complete.

To say I was happy would be an understatement. Everything, and I mean everything had gone to plan. In hindsight, there wouldn’t be too many things I would do differently.

We definitely were here.....but only for a short time - probably 5 minutes all up.

Leaving Mt Majura Reserve, I saw Jess Cressy waiting for Lewy, the other boys went off to their respective food and fluid sources, and I rode down the hill for 30 seconds and into my driveway for my own replenishment of stuff. I grabbed fresh bottles, more gels, fresh gloves, and glasses, cleaned myself up with a damp towel, took a deep breath and moved on. My tactic for the untimed section was to just not piss around. I don’t actually like untimed sections as it totally changes the dynamic of the race. The Highland Fling and this race are unique in this respect. But racing is racing, and everyone has to do it, so you just suck it up!

Riding over to the restart I just spun the pedals over lightly but still kept eating and drinking and moving forward. I saw Jake McGee at the DeBurgh Street crossing and said hi to him. At this stage of the race, you have no idea of time splits, and riders just do their own thing getting from Majura to Blackie.

Over dinner last week in Bright with Cressy, Columbine, Webb, Hughesy, and Hall, we discussed the untimed section and what happened last year. There were so many different ways to have it play out. Maybe because of Capital Punishment, maybe because of just random dumb luck, the route from Black Mountain to Stromlo is pretty much a ‘standard’ for me that I do every Sunday when I’m not racing. So, you could say that I am familiar with the trails. Yeah, I know them reasonably well ;)

As I stopped for a stretch and a nature break at the back of the CSIRO, I noticed a nice new Nissan X-Trail heading back towards Belconnen Way. As you do as a cyclist, I noticed that there was a bike rack on the back. I hadn’t seen who was driving it, but in that weird ‘grab from the back of the mind’ technique, I joined the dots and figured it was Jess Cressy. That had to mean that Lewy was up near the restart!

I got there and quizzed the marshall. I asked her if any riders had been through. She said 3. I then asked what colours they were wearing. She replied’ Blue’….and ‘one other’. A quick tactical decision was made and it was then time to empty the tank for the next 70 minutes or so.

When I got to Stromlo, I saw Kylie and she was yelling like crazy at me to keep on it. That was probably a good decision. I know Stromlo reasonably well and just concentrated like crazy to dump all my energy to perfection to the top of the climb, then recover for 30 seconds and then do a swift descent. Not totally flat out, as I didn’t want to risk anything going wrong, but above average with a few hours in the legs. I pretty much dumped the rest of what was left going around the road crit circuit and crossed the line… the waiting game would commence. The untimed section means that full results aren’t really in until up to an hour after you actually finish. You also race the last 30km ‘blind’ having no idea where you actually are.

Fast forward about 2 hours, and I receive a message on my phone. 4th place. Wow, for me that was unreal. That is the best result at Capital Punishment I have had, and also the best result at a stacked field event. Yes, I was absolutely stoked!!

Top 20 - no surprises in this lot

Then the messages started coming in….’why did you go solo across to Stromlo’. ‘If you had gone with the group’ …. Blah, blah, blah. Yes, thank you captain(s) obvious, I get it. I may have been in with a chance of getting a podium being 17 seconds behind Jason English, who did get a tow. I also may have been in with a chance of a mechanical, under-eating, getting spat out the back and maybe getting abducted by aliens through the arboretum!

This is where analysis, experience, and luck played a part. I knew we had dug deep through the first half. In hindsight I found out that we had a 3 minute gap over 6th place leaving Majura. I knew the trails from Blackie to Stromlo reasonably well. I know my abilities, weaknesses and requirements on the bike. I rolled the dice and it worked. I didn’t choose the other option, and I won’t ever know the outcome because it didn’t happen that way.

So, in the do-over parallel universe world, would I have stayed longer in the untimed section? Maybe, maybe not…..Who cares really, because I have another race to prepare for in 3 week’s time!

Kylie and I sat under a tree at Stromlo for a while chilling in the shade and catching up with Dylan Cooper telling stories of the day. Kylie had experienced a flat tyre whilst comfortably riding in the lead group in the 50km race. She, unfortunately had the valve stem snap when getting the tube reinflated – I have had this happen a few times on the road bike. That could have been the end. However, she went down to the crit track, bought a new tube, fitted it, then got back into the race! Of course, the result was not fantastic for her, as she has never finished off the podium at this event, but the mental toughness gained from it will serve her well for the future.

This is where the first sentence of this blog so critically captures the emotions of bike racing. It is probably one of the most exhilarating, yet demoralising sports that you can do depending on what happens….. we’ve all been there.

Next race. XCM Championships in Mt Joyce in a few weeks time followed the weekend after with the Wombat 100km!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Real Insurance XCM Round 1 - Bright

I’ve only ever ridden my road bike in Bright. That was years ago on a training camp and it pretty much rained the entire time. With Round 1 of the Real Insurance XCM series held here on Monday the 10th of March, it was a great opportunity to check out the town once again.

Kylie and I took off on Friday and made the hallowed trip down the Hume until Albury then took a left. After about 4 and a half hours we were in Bright and settling into our accommodation. Accommodation is always a lottery and at first it seemed like I had done an ok job of sorting this aspect. But, more on that later!

On Saturday we met up with my team mate Andrew Hall and decided to scope out the trails around Bright and see what was in store for us in the race. We pretty much managed to put together most of the course except for the north section. As the course was only marginally marked out, we used part Jedi force, part intuition based on the provided Bing maps, and a little bit of luck to navigate around.

3 hours later we had covered about 35 km but had thoroughly enjoyed the trails that we had found. The highlight was the trails alongside the river. Such good flow! Feeling pretty happy with the recce, we managed to find a sushi place in town and made the owner extremely happy as we pretty much bought out everything that he had on offer. We then headed down to the river to chill out and eat some food and talk some crap.

That night, Saturday, we found out a negative of the place where we were staying. As is the case, there are bogans everywhere. The bogans here liked music all night long, and thought that it was ok to play it just that little bit too loud. They also thought that talking loudly outside the door at 1:30am was an ok thing to do. Oh well….what can you do? Kylie told them exactly what they could do!

Sunday’s practice session was taken slightly carefully after a night of almost useless sleep. Andrew and I scoped out the first 10km of the course and it was unreal! Some super techy singletrack, with some nice long power fireroad sections to mix it up. We then went back to watch Kylie race the super long winded XCE racing. Kylie had done pretty well qualifying in 4th place. She had really just wanted to check out the discipline to see if it was of any interest to her. The racing was. The disorganisation, changing of the plan, unexpected breaks and a long time in the sun was not!

When we got back to the Motel, the noise level was just unbearable. The bogans were out of control. So, we just sorted it. A couple of calls and we had a new place to sleep for the night that was super quiet. The bogan motel was turned into Service Course. You gotta do what you gotta do! Sleep is a premium, that’s for sure. I have done this twice before. Once in Mt Beauty in 1997 for a Downhill National round and once in Perth for the BMX World Championships. So we do have a precedence to call upon!

That night we caught up with the ONYA crew of Columbine, Hughes and Cressy for a nice bit of Thai at Suganyas in Bright. A few wild stories were told, and a bunch of crap was talked whilst we ate up. 6 people had 6 different meals that night. How often does that happen?

After 9 hours of peaceful sleep I woke up ready to race. On the start line, everything felt right. The gun went off, which if I recall correctly was probably a whistle, and we headed up the fireroad climb. The pace was mellow. This excites a lot of people, but it just is a nice little warm up before the action starts. I was in the top 10 on Ben Mather’s wheel as we funnelled into the first bit of singletrack. This was going exactly to plan. I rounded a corner and pedalled out, and snap, then stop. And suddenly I had to go to Plan B. There is probably no worse feeling than having been in a race for 7 minutes and have a mechanical. So I fixed the issue and got going again. I was now officially in dead last place. This meant a couple of things. I’m ok on a bike, but not ok enough to make up 2 minutes on a pack of superfast dudes on a mission. I also had a truckload of overtaking to do, and there was a fair bit of singletrack to negotiate. This would be a great mental test!

The hardest thing right now was to just get the right pace going. After any type of issue, the inclination is to channel MC Hammer and give it some ‘hammertime’ – this approach will definitely burn a lot of matches. If you go with the mellow approach, then the front runners will just ride off.  So, the next 40 minutes or so was just trying in vain to hunt down the jerseys in front of me. One by one I picked off riders, but it was really hard going. Each rider I saw I was trying to figure out where I was now in the standings. It wasn’t looking great…

 About 45 minutes later when I had reached the river, I rounded a bend and then snap, and stop… again. This time with my spare lives used up, I was wondering what I should do. Fortune came in the form of Mike Blewitt from who helped me out with a spare and with another 2 minutes lost, I was back on the bike. All my flow had been taken, my mental toughness had been given a good thrashing and I still had 2 and a quarter laps to go.

For the river section I was fortunate enough to join up with Glenn Columbine, who is a major driver. I got a nice tow up to the feed zone with Glenn and a few others and grabbed a couple of bottles. So, onto lap two then.

As we climbed out of the start\finish area, Mike asked me how many more lives I had up my sleeve. That was awesome! I said to him, that hopefully there is always next week! Right now, I just had to bury myself once again and get through the 2nd lap. For the start of the 2nd lap, Glenn was keen to go, and we worked together for a while to get back up. As I was entering the ‘Sycamore’ trail section, I saw the group of Andrew Hall, Ed Mc Donald, Lewis Cressy and a couple of others exit the compartment.

So I did what any good cyclist would do…..I did the math. Damn….that section was not really short. Was there a glimmer of hope? Sort of. Was it a realistic chance? I know those guys well, and I knew that I would be travelling in a parallel universe timewise for that lap.

Ah well, I could hear some other people in the compartment, so at the very least I could try and hunt them down.

Coming into the same section as the 2nd mechanical, I felt something go down the front of my jersey. Then I felt an excruciating sting on my stomach as that ‘something’ decided to bite me. Well, that was number 3 in the line of crap things to happen today. All I hoped was that it was not a bee. I don’t do bees well. 10 minutes later  was still able to ride ok, so it was probably not a bee, but all I could think of was that a fair bit of crap would be flowing through the system now. Hopefully, it didn’t affect me too much.

Rounding the bend coming up to the final feed zone, I grabbed 3 bottles and started sucking down a truckload of fluids. The temperature had risen and there was still 26 km to go of super tough trails. These went by over the course of the next hour and a bit in the standard way. That is… just chopping off segments one by one. The glimmer of hope that I would pick up a straggler or two was still there, but it would only be through sheer fortune.

After 3 hours and 48 minutes or so, I crossed the line in 12th place. A little disappointed to say the least due to some misfortune, but on a positive note, I had an absolute blast on the trails that the race organiser had put together. I was really impressed with the sheer riding variety that a single lap of 26km could have on offer. The flow of the trails was also something quite impressive.

As Charlie Sheen says, ‘There’s no do-overs in Vegas’, and it’s not cool to do what-if scenarios based on things that didn’t play out, so my focus now is onto Saturday’s Capital Punishment 100km race here in the nation’s capital. You have got to love a race that traverses some amazing terrain across the ACT and you get an untimed section through 2602! Plus as a bonus, the untimed section goes past my house! How good is that?