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…..it 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!

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