In January I planned the whole season out. This one made the list. So even back then, I had booked the flights to get down to Melbourne. Possibly because it was Anzac Day that I was travelling on, I managed to get a late flight out of Canberra. After picking up a classy Kia Carnival Hire Car at Melbourne airport, I left the city in the rear vision mirror and motored through Geelong out to Forrest. I'd pick my dignity up back on Sunday evening after returning the Kia.
Life in a bike bag --- what else would you rather be doing?
First impressions were like this....this place is in the middle of freakin' nowhere! I made it there just on dusk, after the hire car GPS took me down a wrong road....it seems that firmware, software and the actual data are not often updated on these hire car GPS...note to young players and experienced ones alike.
Second impression...I've mentioned before that I am there for the racing, not the salubrious accommodation options. Just as well, because this time I finally lost my good streak and got a cabin the size of my kitchen. And my kitchen is pretty small. Still....it was a roof. The fact that the TV didn't work and the hot water service was about 20 litres in size did not impact this journey. I just had to grab a bunch of rule number 5 and deal with it.
On Saturday I met up with Wayne Dickinson from Sydney for a course recce. We decided to do the middle loop. This was 99% singletrack, and came between 38 and 65 km I think. Minor details if those numbers are off....it was just known as leg 2 in the race program. 2 hours later we returned. It was a pretty good ride, as I was able to see what this part of the course was like, test its limitations, test mine, and get a feel for the trails. I'm going to say it was a cross between Nowra and Bruce Ridge. If you've never been to either of those destinations, then that will probably be a little meaningless, but as I had never done the Odyssey before, the whole course was a bit of a mystery.
Saturday night. Thai in Colac! What else?!?! I met up with my good mate Anthony Shippard, his fiance Bryony, Naomi Hansen, Wayne Dickinson and a whole bunch of crap was spoken whist we waited for dinner. And we waited. And I reminded them about the need for rice with the green chicken curry. I am pretty sure that they were actually having to go out and catch the fish for Bryony, as her meal was noticably later than everyone elses. In fact.... we had all just about finished by the time her meal arrived!
Interesting dinner topics to say the least....Shippard isn't the shy and retiring type and Naomi has had some amazing racing and life experiences ---
- Potential new race formats
- Racing incidents from Cape to Cape --- Wardy you sly dog!
- How long before a vasectomy actually takes effect
- The perils of pairs racing
- The sand on the first hill
- Waxing one's behind (sorry Ships, but your secret is out!)
To say that the race morning was cold would be an understatement. As resident of Canberra I am used to the fine weather of the Capital City. The problem isn't the riding, but the hanging around. You just lose all heat from your body pretty quickly. But as soon as the gun/horn goes off you can heat up pretty quickly. SO, I just stayed layered up until 10 minutes before race start, then decided to start with arm warmers. That was in addition to everything else I had on. Everyone pretty much had the same idea.
We got off at 7:00am on the dot and the pace was mellow. And by mellow I mean that we even had a singlespeed go past us up the first climb. Collectively, as a bunch we rolled him on the next descent, as, you know....silly idea running just one gear unless you are a bmx or track rider. Just saying....personal opinion and all that. Take it up with management.
The bunch was massive as we rolled along the bitumen under the escort of the organiser's vehicle. It was also freezing as the wind chill ripped through the jersey, the fingers and the legs. When we finally hit the dirt, I gt into a decent position up near the front. At the base of the climb proper, the rolling turns started to formulate. This was probably the first indication that things were starting to get real. One good thing about mountain bike races is there is no need to do the elbow flick. It is just assumed that the next in line will come through and do a turn.
When we hit the first riser, the group was just decimated. At 5km in, there is still a long way to go, but Jongewaard and Mather had other ideas. They started attacking. It is at this time you have to decide you want to follow the wheels or go for the ITT style. I decided to follow the wheels. I'm not a pure climber, and the tales that I have been told of the 52 minute hill were in the back of my mind, so I took a leap of faith to say the least when I got on the wheel of Shaun Lewis and Adrian Jackson and we took off. And by 'off' I mean, we literally rode away from the rest of the pack. I didn't look back very often, maybe twice, but I was quite surprised. But, I was hurting, so I had to just show some restraint at excitement.
True to the concept, the 50 odd minute mark came and we crested the hill. Jongewaard and Mather had a minute on me, and Lewis and Jackson had about 20 seconds on me. Or something like that. We were all in sight of each other, but those seconds are pretty hard to get back when you are chewing the stem. Plus I was riding blind....not exactly sure of what was coming up around each corner! The mud on this climb was pretty crazy. There was one section where I just pedalled the cranks around ten times and went about a metre. Wheelspin city.
After that climb, we crossed the KOM timing mat. It beeped as I went across it. After that, it was pretty much a blur until I got to the event HQ for the 2nd loop. Sam Chancellor came through on a climb. I am not sure where exactly it was, but all I remember was the huge ruts, 15% gradient, and him going past me doing the whole climb out of the saddle. I couldn't go with him at that point. But he was in sight all the way until the transtion zone at the Sportsground.
When you have a slick track and inappropriate tyres, sometimes you just have to work the bike harder to get some grip - a slide is just a muddy drift
After grabbing a bottle, I left for leg 2 -- this was the one that I had done the day before. Not a bad idea either. Now at least I knew where i was going and could really get into a flow with these trails. The standout for me in this area was the amount of log crossings....when you are racing there are a lot of things going through your mind....but through here, all I could think of was that "there were a lot of logs in the Forrest" --- yes, terrible I know.... your Dad called, he wants his joke format back - he can have it along with the Kia!
Through this section it was a bit of a maze, and I came across the front runners in the women's race. They had left half an hour earlier than us --- anti-pacing rules and all that. The only issue was that due to the sinuous nature of the trails, all I could hear was bikes....and I wasn't sure if it was the guys behind me or the chicks I had just gone past. Man, the voices in my head were working overtime through here just trying to keep the hammer on. Unfortunately, the trails didn't allow you to hammer. You had to be efficient. They were too tight for top end speed, and you had to finesse a lot of the corners and not use a lot of brake.
Towards the end of this section I caught sight of Ben Mather. Well it was actually his fluoro green socks and fluoro yellow shoes. They shone through the overcast forest and allowed me to perk up a bit prior to hitting the transition. I actually had to stop for 30 seconds here for a nature break. It was cold, i wasn't sweating too much, and you know....full bladders don't let you exert the full amount of intensity. With that business out of the way, I set about getting to transition and getting another bottle (yep...that's the problem) and heading out for the back 35km.
I knew I was in for a pretty long climb, but I started to feel good again being out on the open forest road. At about the 70km mark I saw Mather up ahead. We said a few words --- along the lines of --- the hill being tough....then I set off into the mist. I had my head down hammering along the lines of the witches hats that had been placed to split the road when Jongewaard exited the singletrack. A quick nod to each other and we just passed like ships in the night. Racing is racing. It was far from over. We probably had 20km or so to go. Turning at the top of the climb I then entered the slickest, blackest, sketchiest mud I have seen for quite some time. The 500 or so 50km racers had been through here also and had left their mark. I was just using the force through here to be honest. I was looking for grip on grass, twigs, leaf litter, anything to keep me upright!!!
Going down red carpet, the track seemed to be pretty dry and tacky --- it's a relative term of course. The only exception was the wooden bridge. It was pretty nice of the track crew to place a sign just before the bridge stating that i was about to cross a slippery bridge. It was more of a pity that I didn't really pay enough respect to the sign, and got spat out sideways and was nicely woken up. After shouting at myself for a few seconds, I got back on the bike and climbed up the next hill out of the carpark thankful that i had not done any more damage.....it was mainly the ego....but luckily no one saw it. Hopefully.
The next 17km was just singletrack. It was slick, I was careful, but i kept it pinned....and it just passed...after rounding onto the final fireroad, I just climbed it out of the saddle trying to keep as much speed up as possible. After 4 hours and 39 minutes or so, I crossed the line. 5th place.
My support network definitely makes the hard days racing a lot easier. With the added bonus of live results, knowing that you have someone somewhere looking at a computer screen following results as you cross each successive timing mat also keeps you driving on. You never want to let yourself down, but equally as much, you don't want to let them down. Their investment is equal if not more sometimes to your own. It definitely can make you lift when the lactic acid is making your teeth hurt and the sky is turning black!
Pretty happy with that as a first outing at this event. Some extra course knowledge and grippier tyres would not have gone astray...Probably would not have changed the outcome, however, it would have made it slightly easier...but then again who knows?
With my basic grasp of simple mathematics, that should also place me 2nd overall in the Maverick XCM Series, which is a bit of a bonus. We're halfway through that one now, with the Kowalski Classic and the Highland Fling to come later in the year.
So, what's next? Saturday --- Convict 100 at St Albans \ Wisemans Ferry just outside of Sydney. This one is the last in the Real Insurance XCM Series. This one always has a massive turnout and is a classic on the race calendar!