Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 Highland Fling

The Highland Fling is pretty big. Once again, keeping true to the theme of the big races, it is in the middle of nowhere in a big paddock. Well, the race HQ and the carpark is anyway. It is big in many gets over 1500 entrants. It is a bit longer at 110km long. It is pretty relentless and suits a rider that can drive and keep on driving as there are lots of fireroads on the course. It has creek crossings. It has a mirror, bagpipes, trees with signs on them and it is simply freaking hard!

This was my 4th Highland Fling and I've got to say that it was probably the hardest. It was hot, dry and dusty and long. The new course that was put in place was way better than the previous 3 editions that I have done. Gone was the endless grassy paddocks that we had to ride along that were very far from smooth. However, the replacement fireroads were pretty hard in their own right. But, I'll get to them a bit later....

The race morning was really warm. 15 degrees at 6:30. It was going to be a warm one, and it was. When the starting horn went off, it was the female racers that took off first! Naturally, being gentlemen, we let them go, as it was easier to just sit in and get a tow. They cottoned on to that within the first 300 metres and allowed a few of us through which was nice. The pace at this stage was really mellow. It belies, however, what is to come. As soon as we hit the farm, the pace was lifted as this is where the trail gets a little narrow and it is pretty much easy to thin the crowd out a bit. And it got thinned indeed!

Glenn Columbine commented on Facebook that he was putting out 400 watts at 68kgs and stated that the "first 30 minutes of 110k was 5w\kg and getting dropped'. For those of you that understand how power works then you can probably figure out what Mark Tupalski was putting out in order to be driving it on the front of the lead bunch. Tupac is probably one of the nicest guys in the entire world, but when he drops the Watt Bombs (TM) shit gets real, and you see the dark side to his mellow character!

Like I said earlier, the grassy paddocks had been removed and replaced with long hauling fireroads. These were super fast and so much smoother that the lumpy, bumpy paddocks that were out there in previous years. After 20 minutes or so I decided that the pace that Tupac was setting was not going to be sustainable for me for 5 hours, so I pulled the rip cord and bid farewell to that front group, and drifted back to a group with Ondrej the giant, Lewy 'Man in blue' Cressy, and Glenn 'driver' Columbine where we rolled turns together. Well, it was together until we saw a sign with the double arrows and the word caution on it. Ondrej hit the right hander really hot and under a fist full of rear brake and I ducked under him railing the corner. Behind me, Glenn and Lewy took a crazier line than Ondrej and hit the sticks and I think Columbine went over the bars. Excellent....nothing better than an angry triathlete!!

I kept motoring and it wasn't until the last kilometre before transition that they finally caught me up again with Columbine putting out his 397 Watts of fury. As he latched on, I ramped it up again for no other reason except that it was probably a good idea to hit transition in front of this 2nd group because that was the start of the 5 minutes of untimed section. I grabbed bottles, gels and some race intel from Peta and headed off to the restart up the road.

As I rounded the corner for the restart I saw Dylan Cooper and Shaun Lewis about to head out. Cooper said, 'we're heading out in 10 seconds. Are you keen?' to which I replied 'You bet!' Nothing beats a train at the start of this section. We rolled out and the pace was kept at 40km/hr leading into Wingello state forest. Martin Wisata, one half of the Rocky Trail Entertainment crew also jumped on and rolled some solid turns for us keeping the forward momentum going....well, you know....forward.

I had done a decent recce through this section on the Saturday and knew what was coming up and that helped in a huge way as I wasn't overly stressed through the pines. Except when I binned it in front of Jason McAvoy on the exit of a super sandy corner. That was a tough 10 seconds to make up in the singletrack on these two! We all worked as equally as we could to keep the pace on. They were about 90 seconds back from the leaders, and I was getting a nice increase on my distance to those in the 2nd group with these two drivers.

Cycle racing is essentially a massive maths equation. Before, during and after your brain is running through scenarios, processing algorithms, doing deals and simply working it all out. Here are some thoughts about this race as well as the Maverick Series that I had during the week leading up and during the race.

  • Maverick Series took 3 out of 4 of the races for the overall
  • Leading into the Fling I was sitting in 2nd in the Fling.
  • Shaun 'Wombat' Lewis had the series sealed up with 3 strong 2nd place finishes prior to the Fling
  • Dylan Cooper and Jason English were the only two who could potentially leap frog me.
  • Cooper has won the Fling before and is a #hitter
  • English is English - he goes alright for someone who does not shave his legs
  • 90 seconds behind a front group - not getting that back
  • Group behind is 2 minutes back - that is risky
  • Figuring out where I am placed in the race
  • Trying to figure out how far left to race
  • How many bottles to take
  • How many gels to eat

I'm not motivated by racing for money, I do it for other intrinsic reasons, but the  Maverick Series had a 2000\1250\750 prize money split --- so when I was with Cooper and Lewis, we were riding with 3 virtual giant novelty cheques in the paceline that we had formed. However, if there is one thing that I know about English, is that he can sniff out a good dollar and he can close out a race like no one else. And true to form at the 50km mark he came past Cameron Ivory and myself, had a quick chat and then was off fresh as a daisy after a nice 2 hour warm up!

There are a few hills out on course in the Fling. There is the 'Wall' which is a brutal 25% loose bastard that tickles a little. I got up this one following Cooper and Lewis - interestingly, I used the SRAM XX1 34 tooth for this one. I had to muscle it a little, but it was adequate. Probably one of the harder climbs is the Half Way Hill....which ironically comes at about the 55km mark - it just seems to go on forever, as does the climb at the 67km mark. Then there is Brokeback Mountain, and to be honest, I don't think that there it too much in the way of flat gradients out there.

David Lyell asked me to do a wheelie up Brokeback Mountain. So I obliged.

When I left the 2nd transition feed zone, I hooked up with Darren Smith and we rolled turns along the fireroad heading out of Wingello. I really appreciated this as I had pretty much ridden solo since the Wall and every little bit of assistance counts. Darren is a true gentleman, and even though he was hurting he pulled through strong turns every time. In the Fling, the last 30 km are by far the hardest. And the longest. I grabbed a truckload of drinks, gels, lubed the chain and essentially set out to empty the tank for an hour and 20 minutes or so. The single track through this sector is really quite taxing as it requires a lot of concentration as well as all of your skill to negotiate it. All this when you are pretty buckled already!

When I crossed the line the tank was well and truly emptied. I crossed the line as the 8th place Elite rider and with that also picked up 4th in the Maverick Series. This by far had to be the hardest Fling that I have ever done. I've only done 4, but this was tough. I sat under a tree for about 20 minutes before I started to feel vaguely human once again. It's all relative....I was smashed, everything hurt, and I was both dehydrated and hungry but not interested in eating or drinking.

The Fling is a unique one....I don't think I would ride these trails ever for enjoyment, but when they are linked up and presented in a race format then the challenge is laid down and must be taken. I would like to applaud Wild Horizons for the best course I have experienced. It was very hard, but I really liked this year's changes. Nice work taking on some of the not so subtle feedback provided by racers in the past and removing a lot of the ugly, bumpy grassy crap!! It was greatly appreciated!

I am impressed with anyone who did the Fling yesterday. It is super tough and left a lot of people pretty buckled, myself included! Hopefully I am up for the Husky 100 in Nowra in mid December!