Monday, May 18, 2015

2015 Australian XCM Championships

It has been a while since my last post. In that time I have actually done a fair bit of racing, but have been quite busy and if you read into that, what I really mean is that I have been a bit slack in updating my blog!

So where and what have I raced?
  • Alice Springs - Lasseter's Easter in the Alice - 4th on GC
  • Woodend - Wombat 100 - 13th - stupid flat tyre!
  • Albury - Annual Nail Can Hill MTB Race - 1st place
  • Albury - Dirt Berg Handicap road race - 2nd overall and fastest time
I would have also raced the Convict 100, but unfortunately that one got cancelled due to an enormous amount of rain up in #bosstown (Sydney). That race has been postponed until August so it is still on the radar.

Throughout the year there was a lot of hype coming out on all channels about the trails at Derby, just outside of Launceston in Tasmania. The trails were put together by World Trail, the same crew that put together the Stromlo singletrack and the photos and videos that were out on social media showcased only a small amount of what was out there. But what it did showcase was that these trails were beautiful. That is a word not really used to describe something that you ride on, but the landscaped surrounds of the singletrack made you think that it was in a back yard of someone's mansion. They were absolutely sublime looking!

That awesome feeling when you get to the other end and your bike made it!

The National Championships have been held up in Mt Joyce, Stromlo and Atherton in recent times and have all been held on brutally tough courses that reward the best rider. And to put it bluntly, that is how it should be. To that end, the training leading up to the race was about maximising both intensity and endurance and also trying to optimise climbing you can well imagine that this championship event would indeed have a lot of vertical gain.

The best bet is to always get the smallest hire car possible

My expectations for this event are pretty simple. I am not going to win it, pure and simple. At 41 years old, I am not going to call on the age card for excuses, but I am a realist, I just can't go as fast as the younger guys with bigger engines. However, I know what my engine can do and after looking at the start list, which was pure class, I wanted to get a top 10. But even that would be a hard ask due to the depth of the field.

I'll also state that this race was not an 'A' race for me. More of a 'B to B+'....what does that actually mean I hear your mind tick over? It is important but having weighed up the pros and cons of where I thought I might finish, I decided to not get too worked up about this race. I was therefore reasonably tranquillo in the few days leading up to it and enjoyed a nice roll with the fellas on the Friday morning Hour of Terra in Canberra before flying out to Launceston that afternoon.

Rolling around Launceston was absolutely sensational....and a little fresh!

I've raced overseas at Tasmania before hitting up the trails at Glenorchy in Hobart, but I have to say that Launceston trumps Hobart in a big way. It is quite unique in that it too is what I would class as beautiful. On the Saturday morning I went exploring around Launceston and found an awesome little skatepark to get my pump on at and went exploring aimlessly and ended up in Cataract Gorge, which was simply amazing as it is right in town. The roads around here are either up or down so I utilised a fair bit of the 34x42 getting around! That is one of the great things about racing in a different location. You can use the bike to get around and see things really easily and you can also see things that you might not necessarily see if you were driving.

Nothing like exploring the sights of a new city - this one was found near a skatepark in town.

I also caught up with the 4Shaw chicks, Bec and Naomi, for an espresso at Sweetbrew on Saturday and we discussed all sorts of things Launceston. Naomi is from Launnie (as the locals call it) and she explained all of the riding on offer down there. Hills and wind were the common theme, I found out as we cruised up one of the 10% gradients around the centre of town!

Saturday night dinner was an amazing Thai Green Curry chicken from York Square. This place is in the middle of town, but is actually on the inside of a whole bunch of buildings like a small village. Absolutely incredible and you wouldn't even know it was there if you walked past it!

The Sunday morning was pretty early and driving to Blue Derby was a good chance to wake up....without having a morning coffee. In other words, the struggle was quite real as I do like my coffee a fair bit!

I got a superb carpark and Eliza Kwan and Briony Mattocks pulled up beside us and we chatted whilst trying to stay warm before a parking marshall came over and started talking about hunting ducks. "You know when you are going duck shooting and..." he started....umm...we all work in offices and ride bicycles, so probably not. I am pretty sure that only Tristan Ward (not an actual Ward Bro) would know where he was going with this. Apparently I had become the 'wood duck' - which is the duck that other ducks are drawn parking where I had, I was drawing in other people wishing to park beside me. . And I had parked NOT according to the process in place therefore disrupting the system. So, we were asked to move to the 'official' carpark.

Russ Baker grabbed this shot somewhere out there

Fast forward an hour or so and everyone is on the startline channelling their inner Captain Serious. No sledging, no joking, no nothing except focus and the smell of eucalyptus on limbs. The gun went off and the pace was on. My plan was simple. Start really conservatively, then come home as well as I could. I had gauged from the age group categories from the Saturday that the lap times would be long and the race in the realm of 4:45 to 5 hours. Heading up the start climb fireroad the pace was reasonably high, which was to be expected and the pack strung out forming small physiological and tactical groups.

Heading up the climb the other thing that happened was that the glasses came off. It was incredibly dark in the forest and even with clear lenses it was just easier to ride without eyewear. There was also the occasional mud patch that threw up some crap so it was easier to pop my SwissEye glasses on the back of my head and go au natural with regard to my eyes.

Starting conservatively at a race like this won't win me it that is for sure. But I stuck to my plan and came around in 15th place after the first lap.  Heading out on the 2nd lap and it was quite apparent that the 80mm of rain that was had the weekend before was mixing with the numerous tyres riding over the already moist singletrack and the going was what you could term as 'grippy'. Actually it was almost beyond grippy and required a huge amount of constant power output. The muddy stuff however, was surprisingly grippy due to the quartz, feldspar and basalt in the soil mix from the surrounding granite. Having worked as a Geologist back in the day I knew the qualities of these fine minerals and they are quite abrasive, which means that they would offer incredible grip over the off camber rocky surfaces. You just had to trust it!

There were at least 347 switchbacks out there. At. Least. SO you were decelerating and accelerating a fair bit and riding efficiently was the name of the game for so many different reasons. There were also some incredibly amazing berms out there that seemed to slingshot you to the next berm, and then to yet another berm. It was absolutely superb!

After completing the 2nd lap, I was feeling a bit lighter after a short nature break out on course and came through in 11th place. After grabbing the token bottles and gels I turned it up to Hammertime (TM) which is a relative term at the 3 hour 15 minute mark. The conditions being incredibly grippy made it feel like it was a slow motion race, so ramping it up is a very loose term in use here and mainly used for effect to make it sound like I was hauling ass. I wasn't really, but in your mind you are consciously trying to empty the tank incrementally over the course of 30km so you are drawing on a lot of mental strength to output everything that you have got.

The 3rd lap was pretty similar to the 2nd and even the times were quite similar. I also managed to move up to 8th place by the time the finish line came around. I was pretty happy with that and it ended being a fair bit better than what I was expecting to be honest. Could I have done better? Yeah, maybe, but then who knows, and who cares?! It didn't pan out that way and that is the thing about bike racing. It never fails to amaze in how results come about and you don't live in a parallel universe!

Brendan Johnston took out a very, very popular win ahead of Mark Tupalski. It has been pretty awesome to see both of these guys come from the Junior ranks back in the day to now dominating the Australian mountain bike scene. Both of them are also top blokes as well and have never changed over the course of time.

Looking way too happy about the prospect of starting the 3rd and final lap. Photo - Russ Baker

The best thing about this race was the trails without question. I will be back next year for sure as Derby has the 2016 Marathon Championships as well. I will also go out on a limb here and say that I would definitely recommend this place as a riding destination. If you get the chance, get down there and check out the trails on offer. Each lap we rode was about 30km long, of which about 29 of that was some of the most incredible singletrack you could ever imagine.

Blue Derby - get it on your bucket list!

Up next....Tathra 100 in a couple of week's time!

Monday recovery day at Cataract Gorge - so much serenity