Tuesday, April 8, 2014

2014 XCM Championships - Mt Joyce Queensland

I love racing in Queensland. I mean, I was born in Brisbane and lived there for the first 18 years exactly before heading down to Canberra the day after my 18th birthday where I have been ever since, but there is something about being back there that excites me.

A bit of a common theme for the month of April

My best memories of growing up in QLD are of racing my bike. Back then the scene was super young and raw. We didn’t even have suspension forks or clipless pedals. Well, that was for my first couple of years of racing….then the 90s kicked in and we got suspension in the form of elastomers and we rocked the fluoro colours before it became fashion once again. Like they say…..what goes around comes around. You know that purple anodising is not too far away from a comeback! I was really lucky to also get the first pair of SPD shoes and pedals that came out. Remember the grey shoes? That totally revolutionised racing. I can recall a race where it allowed me to get back on the bike faster after a short hike a bike section in a race, than a dude with toe clips and straps and got the win. It's amazing what technology can do for you!

I think they say, the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plane....but this was Canberra.....thank god we were heading to QLD (and yes, I do know that it is 'plain')

Every weekend was about racing. Between the clubs of Brisbane, Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast there were some amazing opportunities to race the bike. The best times were just being able to ride off from home and rock up to places like Mt Cootha, Chandler, Mt Gravatt, Seven Hills and race the bike, then ride home. It doesn’t get much better than that! Of course, the trips to the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast needed to be done by car, but that probably instilled the excitement of the road trip that still exists to this day.
Now, I didn't do these burnouts. They were already there. I promise. We climbed that sucker 6 times over 3 laps. Then took a dip in the dam. There was a no swimming policy in place, but I am not a triathlete. So I was technically just 'standing' in the water.

So as a sixteen year old, this was amazing. I was also doing my first year of university at QLD Uni. (I started primary school when I was 4 due to some QLD loophole that allowed it - hence being 16 in first year --- toga parties are ordinary when you are sober). I clearly remember my daily commute\training was riding from my home in Seven Hills the super long way out to St Lucia - it was probably a 2 hour hammer fest. And then doing it all again in the afternoon after the daily lectures. The other option, especially during semester beak was hitting up the standard 'Number 9' loop off the backside of Mt Cootha in the morning, followed by more singletrack action in the afternoon.

My first race was just behind Toowong, and I remember being so pumped to race. Back then there was 2 classes. Expert and Sport. I entered the Sport class, got 2nd that day, then was hooked. Next weekend, I raced Sport again and won. Such an amazing feeling. Then the next weekend I just moved up to Expert to race against the guys who did it properly. This to me was the big time. I had Pete Smith (Oz DH Champion), Ben Monroe (DH Junior World Champion), Scott Finlay (seasoned US campaigner), Laurie Cranley (owner of Edward Street Bicycle Centre and now Bikestyle Tours) and heaps of others to feed off. It was a seriously superb environment to learn how to race.

With these guy we embarked on a major road trip and I also ended up doing my first Australian titles at Peirces Creek outside of Canberra in 1989. I signed up and did the uphill, the downhill, and the cross country all on the same weekend on the same bike. As a rite of passage, we also stayed at the caravan park in Dryandra Street near Bruce Ridge!! We also visited Fyshwick, but I'll leave that one for another time.
After the race it absolutely pissed down. I haven't seen anything like it. 

So, the racing mentality was pretty much built in QLD. That’s probably why I like going back.

I flew up on the Friday leaving Canberra in the mix of thunderstorms. No great loss there. In Brisbane it was 30 degrees and sunny. Hell yeah! Having raced at Mt Joyce in 2011 I knew what the course had in store, but more importantly, I had already sussed out the accommodation. That is always some of the hardest stuff to get right. I also sussed out a massage therapist and was on the table at 4:15pm. I am a bit of a fan of the masseuse to say the least. Their work is nothing short of superb!

Course recce on Saturday showed that the course was as tough as what I had remembered 2011’s race to be. This is a good thing. It is XCM champs. So you want the course to favour the people with the greatest abilities on the bike. There is no hiding out there.

I saw this brilliant QLDer on the way to the race. I love how they built a walkway to the clothesline!

I was impressed with the new trails that had been cut in since 2011 though. Whoever built these deserves to be given a sixpack of their favourite beer! And I would personally like to shake their hand! These were mainly in the first climb up to the first feedzone – and then the sweet flowing descent that followed. I could ride that trail all day long!

I was having a chat to one of the race commissaries up here about the course and lo and behold my teammate Andrew Hall just appeared up out of the singletrack. He was giving it some too as he was covered in sweat from the 25 minute climb from the carpark! We then proceeded to hit up the next bit of the course, which in my opinion had amazing flow.

I was a little hesitant in doing too much on this course, as I respect it greatly, so after another compartment check I then went off to find the car and get the hell out of dodge. I was mainly just keen to get out of the sun. It was hot. It was humid. I was thirsty. I’m a ranga. It is pretty self-explanatory really.

Just running though the stats of the course……

• 3 laps

• 24km per lap

• 72km

• 900 vertical metres per lap

• 2700 vertical metres in total

• Equatorial heat of QLD

• Above average humidity

Now….. as a climber, I can tell you straight up, that I am not too shabby on the flat lands. So that requires a fair bit of mental toughness in order to get through that sort of day out on the bike. I actually joked to Hally that 2700vm is more than I actually do in a week. The scary thing is….I think it actually might be pretty spot on.I’m not sure that I am a *mountain* bike rider per se…..maybe a dirt bike riding aficionado!! However, having said that, I might not be the fastest up the mountain, but I can still get up the bugger!

Race morning…..it is freakin’ warm already. I’m just sweating standing in the carpark. Muscles are therefore pretty warm. No need for much of a warm up to be honest. All I can remember is just peeing a lot!

At 8:15 we were called up to the starting grid. Usually I can remember, but this time I don’t know whether a gun a whistle, or a yell was made to get us off the mark. Doesn’t matter. My main aim was being in good position for this awful bit of grassy track that we had to ride down after about 500metres of dead flat bitumen.

We hit the grass section at about 40km/hr. It then funnelled us out onto the mainroad again which was heading skyward. It soon turned to loose gravel and I would go so far as to say that selection 1 was made. The good guys were all in place. We were barely 3 minutes into the race. Then the attacks came. Cory Wallace (Canadian National Champion) decides to ride off. Homeboy was using a 36 t chainring with his XX1. After the race ,Andrew Hall complimented him on it, with some colourful Australian adjectives thrown in for good measure. I was running 32t and at times I wished I had the non-manly 30t version. Then Blairy chased him down, and that started to thin the pack out just a little.

From then it was just singletrack for the next 10km….. and it strung out with the physiological limiters providing the mechanism for deciding the gaps between riders. What was once a ‘fun’ track to ride when relatively fresh, was now a brutal test of concentration. The climb was done at ‘crazy-eye’ pace. This is probably a little just over Threshold…..when you go down hill it takes a fair while before you get back into the groove. Hitting the good lines is pretty tricky as your arms are baked and oxygen is at a premium!

This was taken about 5 corners from the top of the first climb. Not on race day! I wouldn't have been able to hold the camera!

After the descent we hit up this fireroad. It was long, and it felt like it went on forever. The best bit was how steep it was. I didn’t have my clinometer with me, but the feelometer put it at about 20%. In other words…..it is just really hard to ride, let alone go fast. That is stem chewing territory. After the major climb, there was a slight respite which then sucked you in badly because you then went through this singletrack that sucked the life out of you. It was just hard to go forward on this. However, the resultant descent was top notch. Think of the most technically demanding trail you have ever ridden. Then make it about 5 kilometres long. It was brilliant.

The rest of the course then meandered around Wyaralong Dam before taking you back to the start finish area. So after the first lap, which felt like a mixture of flat out, slow out and trying to establish some sort of rhythm, I was joined by 3 others. This made it pretty cool. I grabbed some drinks and headed out for lap 2. Two of the 3 decided to take off. So I tried to keep them in check and in vision and tap out another lap.

I was really fortunate to be able to tap into the mindset of an extremely amazing person that I admire greatly over the course of the previous day and the actual race day. Because this was a super tough day on the bike, it was not just the physical demand, but even more importantly, it was the mental side of things that were going to take a fair bit of a slam. Their words were hugely appreciated, and there were numerous times each lap that I drew on the passionate words of wisdom that were provided to me and this kept me pushing on throughout the course of the race. Some races feel ‘easy’ (it’s a relative term), some races feel like a deathmarch. You have be able to dig deep some days and draw on the different inner strength models you have got going. Some times the positive thinking is what gets you over the mountain. Now, that is a serious metaphor right there!!

Lap two was like lap 1 and 3 but it was just pretty blah to be honest. I was going forward, but the heat was making me stay quite honest, and it was really brutally hard.

So finally I got to the last lap and I just decided to empty the tank. There’s no science to it. You have the lap figured out so you try to just empty it all and just manage to finish the race without breaking too much. Breaking usually comes in the form of cramps, crashing, or just running out of energy. It’s not nice and it’s always a fine line trying to take it to the limit. I decided to just unzip the jersey and try and get some cooling air over my torso. I apologise in advance for any photos you see of this on the internet!!

Anyway, after 4 hours and 20 minutes I was able to finally cross the line in 12th place. Then I just went and jumped in the dam to cool off. I couldn’t be bothered taking anything off. I had been eyeing the cool water of the dam since the start of lap two and it did not disappoint.

Results....just fast dudes racing around the mountain. I just wish I was 10kgs lighter sometimes!

So, on reflection the thoughts are pretty simple. I wanted to get a top 10 on a course that hilly and demanding. I didn't quite get it so that is a bit of a kick in the pants. I just didn't have it on the day, and that is how it goes sometimes. There were 11 guys who were faster. That's all it boils down to.

The next thing is just getting prepared for this weekend's race. It is the Wombat 100 in the peaceful town of Woodend. I did this one last year and am really looking forward to doing it again this year with the health a little better than it was last time. The MaxAdventure guys who run this one always put on a fantastic event and it will be unreal to catch up with them!

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