The last weekend saw the 5th running of the Capital Punishment mtb race that links up the whole of Canberra by singletrack and fireroad. As a unique twist, there is a 10km untimed section where you traverse the entire 2602 postcode from Mt Majura to Black Mountain. I have been fortunate to have done this race every year, and every time it has thrown up something different.
I would like to set the scene with a few small things that I observed in the lead up to the race. Whilst having no bearing on the race itself, in hindsight, I can see that the knowledge of certain things may have influenced certain outcomes and \ or decisions.
• Jess Cressy posted on Facebook that she had bought a new car
• Jarrod Hughes said at dinner prior to the Bright XCM round that Capital Punishment was the last race before he shut it off for winter.
• Untimed section tactics from 2013 were also discussed at dinner
• Certain other tactics employed by riders were also discussed at dinner
• Dylan Cooper posted on social media that this was his 4th race in 9 days.
• Shaun Lewis had an interesting (for him) day on the bike at the XCO championships.
• There were a lot of #pro roadies that had entered Capital Punishment.
• There was a lot of the best mountain bikers also entered.
• Anthony Shippard was grilling me for the Canberra Mafia untimed section tactics ;)
A lot of people publicly state that people from Canberra are lucky to have the mountain bike trail network that exists. And we are. In return though, we have to hand in our fashion card, race without panache, and endure a winter that scares a lot of people into hibernation. But, we all make our own luck, and what brought me initially to Canberra was in fact, the cycling.
I lived in Brisbane for 18 years and then moved to Canberra to be closer to the racing. When we bought our house in 1999 it was because of racing also. I was off in the centre of Australia doing geophysical surveys and Kylie was racing a Downhill race at Mt Majura in preparation for her World Championships campaign in Spain that same year. On her way home she saw a for sale sign outside a house in the shadows of the mountain. A few phone calls later and it was a done deal.
Where luck comes into play is that AROC decide to put on a race 10 years later between Kowen and Stromlo with an untimed section past my front door!
So on the Saturday morning, my teammate Andrew Hall rocked up, we loaded the bikes up and headed out to a random field in the middle of nowhere. Now, along the way we discussed some tactics, but as it is bike racing, anything can happen, and with so much singletrack there is always the chance that strange things could pan out. And by ‘strange’ I just mean that mountain bike racing is never straight forward.
The start line finally beckoned at 6:50am. The first race was to the edge of the start line. OK, front row secured. Looking across, I saw who I expected to see – then you do the look around and see where everyone else is positioned. Seemed reasonably appropriate.
When the starters horn (no gun this time) went off, it was mental. At this time of the year everyone has the XCO and crit racing legs. This is the ability to ride with high intensity from the get go. It hurt. But I can guarantee you that most people were feeling this way.
We had about 3km or so of fireroad before a small section of singletrack. This then went out onto a ribbon of about 1km of fireroad that required a truckload of power – because, well….it went up hill through the thick dust of the logging trucks and the rally cars from 2 weeks ago. The pro roadies brought the power to the fireroads and to their credit got through the first bit of singletrack, where it was an absolute debacle as to be expected with clowns taking lines through the bushes in the desperate attempt to gain position. But as always, someone dropped the wheel after the first bit of singletrack and the front runners were able to get a decent gap. It is bike racing. It happens. You just deal with it.
Shippard came through along the fireroad and drove it up the climb in chase of Cooper, Lewis, Cressy and Hughes. His was a good wheel to be on up here, and when he flicked the elbow at the top of the rise, I kept driving it as I could see the wheels disappearing into the singletrack. The wheels I could see belonged to Marc Williams, who whilst being a Pro roadie, can actually ride a MTB exceptionally well. He held the wheels and we were dumped onto the bottom semi fireroad section and I went past in search of the 4 in front. When we finally spewed out across the eastern carpark through the blue metal chip the group swelled as the first selection was made.
Looking around I could see Dylan Cooper, Shaun Lewis, Jarrod Hughes, Lewy Cressy, Ben Comfort and I knew that Matt Fleming and Anthony Shippard had followed me through – but I was unaware of who was behind them. It didn’t matter, as 15 seconds later; Jarrod just rode off the front. At this point, I decided to just follow him, and I got the ramp test going for those in our small group and hammered along the fireroad for the next minute or so. Lewis got in front just before we hit the next bit of singletrack and took off after Hughesy. When we were heading under the highway, they both hit the dew covered metal crossover thingy on a leaning angle and fully hit the deck! Cooper came through and I got on his wheel.
Riding through arguably some of the best singetrack in Canberra that is Sparrow Hill, behind a skilled technician such as Cooper is one of the best experiences I can ever suggest you do. All I can say is that it was easy, it flowed, and we motored. The trails in that part of Sparrow were built properly and I personally have been riding them since 2005, but lately they have been in pristine condition. Everyone I talked to raved about this section. A big thanks goes out to Alan Anderson – the mastermind behind these particular set of trails. We exited Sparrow, rode up a hill with about 30 kangaroos looking on slightly bemused, and then we went back into Kowen. Whilst nowhere near as good as Sparrow, the singletrack kept you focussed and good flow was paramount.
If you stopped to think about it, you will recall that the trails through Sparrow actually use the terrain extremely well. They actually follow the contours and you are able to keep your speed extremely well. The trails in the absolute lower section of Kowen seem to fight the terrain and steal all of your flow, soul and at times your capacity to exist. This is just a personal observation mind you.
By this time, Cooper, Hughesy, Lewis, Cressy and I were together. About 20 metres behind were Shippard and Fleming. You might think 20 metres is nothing, but when racing and on the limit, it might as well be 2000 metres. To see what this is about, have a look at Shippard’s write-up from the race http://nobmob.com/node/46324 - he articulates it quite well.
We hit the section affectionately coined by Andrew Hall as the ‘Kowen Wastelands’. The singletrack here is sparse, it is pretty rough and rugged, and is connected by fireroads that were just perfect to set the paceline up on.
I did expect it to sit up a bit here, but true to the whole race, Jarrod had other ideas. The speed was ramped up to that painful level – but it meant that we were heading forward – and swiftly.
We got through here with not too much drama, and headed into Sutton forest. Sutton is a staple on the ACT local mtb race scene. It is also a staple for the local motorbike riders and the trails can be unpredictable. It is also pitch black in here after negotiating 10km of open trail. Shaun Lewis hit the trails absolutely flat out and unfortunately hit the deck in the 2nd corner of singletrack and we all went around him, with Jarrod asking him if he was ok. The positions swapped back and forth a little through here, but it was mainly Jarrod that was driving it. Sutton is old school, and Jarrod was aboard a 26er dually, so was probably having a fair bit of fun through the twisty trails.
I saw this sign and thought it captured exactly what sort of land we were riding through.Leaving Sutton, we ventured into the unknown, overgrown, dangerzone – this is also known as Defence land. No one can ever ride through here because it is technically a rifle range. There are probably heaps of other dodgy things going on in here that you don’t want to know about, but we’ll leave it with the unexploded ordnance thing that they have got going on. So, it was just a matter of keeping it pinned on the fireroad and making the way to Majura Pines. Prior to crossing Majura Parkway, Lewis had some stick trouble and Hughesy and Cooper got a gap about the length of the road verge. We were heading towards the start of the untimed section and no one was backing off. In fact, it pretty much just splintered here. Cooper, then Lewis, then Hughes then myself then Cressy. Part one – complete.
To say I was happy would be an understatement. Everything, and I mean everything had gone to plan. In hindsight, there wouldn’t be too many things I would do differently.
We definitely were here.....but only for a short time - probably 5 minutes all up.
Leaving Mt Majura Reserve, I saw Jess Cressy waiting for Lewy, the other boys went off to their respective food and fluid sources, and I rode down the hill for 30 seconds and into my driveway for my own replenishment of stuff. I grabbed fresh bottles, more gels, fresh gloves, and glasses, cleaned myself up with a damp towel, took a deep breath and moved on. My tactic for the untimed section was to just not piss around. I don’t actually like untimed sections as it totally changes the dynamic of the race. The Highland Fling and this race are unique in this respect. But racing is racing, and everyone has to do it, so you just suck it up!
Riding over to the restart I just spun the pedals over lightly but still kept eating and drinking and moving forward. I saw Jake McGee at the DeBurgh Street crossing and said hi to him. At this stage of the race, you have no idea of time splits, and riders just do their own thing getting from Majura to Blackie.
Over dinner last week in Bright with Cressy, Columbine, Webb, Hughesy, and Hall, we discussed the untimed section and what happened last year. There were so many different ways to have it play out. Maybe because of Capital Punishment, maybe because of just random dumb luck, the route from Black Mountain to Stromlo is pretty much a ‘standard’ for me that I do every Sunday when I’m not racing. So, you could say that I am familiar with the trails. Yeah, I know them reasonably well ;)
As I stopped for a stretch and a nature break at the back of the CSIRO, I noticed a nice new Nissan X-Trail heading back towards Belconnen Way. As you do as a cyclist, I noticed that there was a bike rack on the back. I hadn’t seen who was driving it, but in that weird ‘grab from the back of the mind’ technique, I joined the dots and figured it was Jess Cressy. That had to mean that Lewy was up near the restart!
I got there and quizzed the marshall. I asked her if any riders had been through. She said 3. I then asked what colours they were wearing. She replied’ Blue’….and ‘one other’. A quick tactical decision was made and it was then time to empty the tank for the next 70 minutes or so.
When I got to Stromlo, I saw Kylie and she was yelling like crazy at me to keep on it. That was probably a good decision. I know Stromlo reasonably well and just concentrated like crazy to dump all my energy to perfection to the top of the climb, then recover for 30 seconds and then do a swift descent. Not totally flat out, as I didn’t want to risk anything going wrong, but above average with a few hours in the legs. I pretty much dumped the rest of what was left going around the road crit circuit and crossed the line…..now the waiting game would commence. The untimed section means that full results aren’t really in until up to an hour after you actually finish. You also race the last 30km ‘blind’ having no idea where you actually are.
Fast forward about 2 hours, and I receive a message on my phone. 4th place. Wow, for me that was unreal. That is the best result at Capital Punishment I have had, and also the best result at a stacked field event. Yes, I was absolutely stoked!!
Top 20 - no surprises in this lot
Then the messages started coming in….’why did you go solo across to Stromlo’. ‘If you had gone with the group’ …. Blah, blah, blah. Yes, thank you captain(s) obvious, I get it. I may have been in with a chance of getting a podium being 17 seconds behind Jason English, who did get a tow. I also may have been in with a chance of a mechanical, under-eating, getting spat out the back and maybe getting abducted by aliens through the arboretum!
This is where analysis, experience, and luck played a part. I knew we had dug deep through the first half. In hindsight I found out that we had a 3 minute gap over 6th place leaving Majura. I knew the trails from Blackie to Stromlo reasonably well. I know my abilities, weaknesses and requirements on the bike. I rolled the dice and it worked. I didn’t choose the other option, and I won’t ever know the outcome because it didn’t happen that way.
So, in the do-over parallel universe world, would I have stayed longer in the untimed section? Maybe, maybe not…..Who cares really, because I have another race to prepare for in 3 week’s time!
Kylie and I sat under a tree at Stromlo for a while chilling in the shade and catching up with Dylan Cooper telling stories of the day. Kylie had experienced a flat tyre whilst comfortably riding in the lead group in the 50km race. She, unfortunately had the valve stem snap when getting the tube reinflated – I have had this happen a few times on the road bike. That could have been the end. However, she went down to the crit track, bought a new tube, fitted it, then got back into the race! Of course, the result was not fantastic for her, as she has never finished off the podium at this event, but the mental toughness gained from it will serve her well for the future.
This is where the first sentence of this blog so critically captures the emotions of bike racing. It is probably one of the most exhilarating, yet demoralising sports that you can do depending on what happens….. we’ve all been there.
Next race. XCM Championships in Mt Joyce in a few weeks time followed the weekend after with the Wombat 100km!