Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wombat 100km - Woodend Victoria

It was wet. Way more wetter than I could ever imagine. The sort of weather that you look at and just think…why bother going outside? I should just curl up under the blankets and listen to the rain on the roof.

I landed in Victoria on Friday the 11th of April and drove off to Woodend stopping at the classy Sunbury shopping centre to pick up some lunch. Living the sheltered life that I do in the enclave that is Canberra, places like these really broaden my horizons. I saw a an old lady driving along with her rear bumper just dragging along the road totally oblivious to it all.

Nice bit of singletrack

This year I had decided to stay on site. This was a sensational decision for quite a few reasons. The main one however, was that it was 50metres from the start line. If you ever want a sensational experience for racing logistics then I can highly recommend that one.

Driving in, it was just pouring down. Fantastic. I had checked with Henry from MaxAdventure on the Thursday prior to flying out to confirm that the race was still on. It was. So, I went. I’m really glad I did.

The first time I ever raced in Victoria, I was a Junior. It was about 1991 and there was a national XCO round at Marysville. True to form, it was raining. Unfortunately over the years I have lost track of some of the 90s, but all I remember was that race being hell. The main recollections I have are not being able to descend the hill because the rear chainstay was clogged with mud and the wheel couldn’t spin. The other thing I remember was throwing the bike in the creek to clean it. Yep…we’ll go with the ‘cleaning’ story there.

I am not a triathlete, so do not know what to do in these situations
Course recce was first thing on my mind after getting the bike built up. It was a little fresh, it was pouring and I wanted to check out how things might be. I had full leg warmers on , and I also wore a thermal jacket that I only wear in Canberra when it is under minus 3 degrees.

The course looked quite good. Bearing in mind that it had rained all week the trails were at least clean. There was a fair bit of standing water. A little understatement, but at the bottom of the puddles, the ground was firm….and that is a pretty big distinction.

2 hours later I was soaked to the bone, hypothermic, and hungry. But I had figured out what I wanted to know, so I considered it a successful mission.

Saturday was just spent sorting the bike. I hate a dirty bike, and despite the irony of the fact that it was going to be a mudbath of sorts and mud spattered after the first 100 metres, I cleaned it so that it looked perfect. OCD much?

First hill straight from the gun

Sunday was an early wake up for a 7am start. The start however floated out an hour after it was discovered that the course markings had been tampered with overnight. Being held through an open forest, there is access by 4WDs and motorbikes. Plus, you never just know what the native wildlife get up to on a Saturday night. Lots of sneaky wombats out there. Just ask Shaun Lewis! He’s the ultimate sneaky wombat from way back!

An hour later, we were underway. As usual, the starts of 100km races are just as brutal as ever. Position fighting is pretty mental. It is like a washing machine. Everyone wants a good wheel, a good position, and when it is muddy, an opportunity to see the track and what it is offering. Descending the initial clay based forest roads there were heaps of soft spots and each one of these could very easily just dump you on your face if you got it wrong.

It feels like about 20 minutes or so….not 100% sure, but the open fireroad went on for what felt like a fairly decent time. A few faux attacks went up the road. Probably French dudes….but there weren’t any cameras out here so and it wasn’t July so, probably no point really.

When the track really opened up, the proper attacks started coming and the pace was escalated. The singletrack pine forest was upon us. That crucial, desparate fight for the sweet spot into the singletrack was on. At this stage, due to the fireroad, the basic first selection had been made. It was pretty massive though. So the next 15 minutes of singletrack would play a bit of a role in thinning the field. In this compartment, I was probably placed about 15th. Not ideal really. It is a bit scary being that far back. If you think of 15 riders strung out wheel to wheel in a straight line, add a few extra metres for gaps… can see how far back you can get.

It still wasn’t bad. I was on Jason English’s wheel and I am pretty sure that Cory Wallace was behind me. We exited the pines and I found myself in the second group on the road. We could see the first group about 30 seconds ahead and no other group at all behind us. Interesting…. Someone had dropped the wheel a little. Not sure who, and it doesn’t matter. That is racing. By this stage we were at the hour mark I think. So we just got the paceline going between about 5 of us and setoff trying to track down the group in front.

We got pretty close, but only English and Wallace were able to ride across to the front group. At this point, I was with Murray Spink, Steven Cusworth and Tobias Lestrell. Around this point we entered the maze. This is a bit of singletrack that seems to go on forever round and round. At times you look over and can see groups either behind or in front of you. You get excited thinking that you are catching, and you get worried that you are being caught. So you keep smashing it out. Murray was showing his years of experience by railing the slick singletrack and keeping our group motoring ahead.

After a while, which seemed like a mini-eternity, we finally exited the maze and rolled through for the 50km feedzone. Fresh bottles and gels were grabbed and we regrouped up the road ready to hit up the back 50. The back 50 for us was also the ‘actual’ 50 for the 50km racers. So we had greasy tracks that had already had over 500 riders through them. This made them a bit of a handful at times!

At around the 65km mark we caught Ben Mather who was originally with the front group. The pace just ramped like crazy! Mather was driving, Cusworth was driving and we were motoring through the rolling fireroad hills and super slick sinuous singletrack.

Lines around here were pretty random. You would eye off a puddle, then pick a line and hope to hell that it was the right one to take. A few times it wasn’t and you just either got bogged, or slid out. Mather hit the deck railing a corner, and after checking if he was ok, we kept motoring. He got back on and it was full steam ahead.

At the 75km mark, I came through for a turn on the front at the top of a rise and was quite surprised when looking under my arm I saw that the wheel behind me had disappeared. How did that happen? I looked around and saw that there was a small gap. Oh well then. What the hell? I decided to just slowly increase the pace and see if it would stick.

This week, like last week's race I was able to get some fantastic advice from someone I greatly respect and their words were put to use in basically nailing myself to the stem and just drilling away. I was not going to stop at all!! This support has definitely made such a positive impact on my racing, and it is a total breath of fresh air that has been greatly needed! So, a huge thankyou once again! You know who you are!

I wasn’t 100% sure what road position we were in, but I was just going to see what I could do. It turns out that I could do about 10km….

Cusworth, Spink and Listrell had worked together to get me back. Due to the mud I had some clogging issues crossing a small gully and lost about 20 seconds or so. Bummer. But, I was able to regroup and get back on Listrell’s wheel. We had 10km to go and it was mostly fireroad so we again just swapped off keeping the pace high.

After cresting the final hill, we had lost Spink, so as I came through after Cusworth had escorted us up the rise, I thanked them both for helping keep the pace high and said ‘whatever happens now….happens’ --- we had about 1km to go. I lead them both through the forest road and we then took a left hand turn onto the final small climb before the run down to the dam and ultimately, the finish. I attacked pretty hard near the top and kept the speed high down the hill, around the dam, and then crossed the line.

Run into the finish...

So I crossed the line in 8th place. There is always potential to do better, but I was pretty happy with that. Last year I had had an absolute shocker at this race, and I was pretty determined to make amends one way or another. I was able to go 30 minutes faster this year just to put the perspective on the level of ‘shocker’ from last year! It was also a very decent field with a lot of strong guys in the race with top level form the weekend after Marathon Champs – that is always the best way to be tested on the bike.

So up next is the Giant Odyssey 100 at Forrest in Victoria followed by the Convict 100 at St Albans in NSW.

Results just in....

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