Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Flight Centre Epic - 2015

I think that I have written this before, but it is a pretty big call for me to claim anything as ‘Epic’. Most riding that I do is quite controlled, almost boring if you will and usually follows a set playlist so that things don’t get out of hand, escalate or end in drama. Yep, that’s how I roll – it is exciting on the inside obviously!

Having done the Flight centre Epic three times now, I can guarantee you 100% that your day out will be epic in some way. The first year that I did it there was a heat wave going on and it was 37 degrees on the day of the race. I drank a lot of tepid electrolyte drink that year and rolled over the line for 6th place. Last year, there was a freak thunderstorm the morning of the race. At the first hill everyone was off and walking with the bike clogged up with sticky clay. It was almost like riding and racing in slow motion for the first 2 and a half hours until we hit the firmer trails in the second section. Pulling off a monumental ‘Bradbury’ I crossed the line with the fastest average speed and nabbed a freaking massive win. #goodtimes

Race day photo before I got all sweaty and dusty
This year I rocked up having had a bit of time off the bike after the Redback Stage Race in Alice Springs. I hadn’t exactly planned it that way as I managed to pick up a nasty viral infection that allowed me to not ride the bike for 2 weeks. Because it was from my chest to my ears there was no point trying to even push it. The only thing I could do was rest and do nothing. Yep, cyclists that train lots definitely like not riding that is for sure! I ventured out for a handful of rides in the week leading up to the Epic. Endurance was still good, but the top end was a little shaky…roll the dice time!
Upon landing in Queensland you are hit with humidity. It is not as strong as when you land in say, somewhere like Bangkok, but it’s all relative. Canberra is a very dry place….take that to mean what you will. The Brisbane road network absolutely rocks and in 45 minutes I was checked into the best Western in Ipswich enjoying the sound of 351s and rotary engines being tested at the lights outside the motel room. Such a bogan paradise. My mum was born there and I spent a fair bit of time visiting my grandma there back in the day so my assessment is well founded.

I took a quick drive out to the track and rode the 20km course with Peta Stewart. Now, I had some course knowledge from years gone past and it was no accident that I let her go in front at certain points so that I didn’t get swooped by the psychotic magpies that live up there! Those magpies would be in for a very long weekend that is for sure!

I'm a plover, not a fighter - Angry birds everywhere in Queensland

The course was dry, dusty and rolling fast. Absolutely perfect! I mucked around dialling in my tyre pressure and also trying to get my body to loosen up after transit day. You always feel very ordinary after travelling to a race. There is nothing you can do except just get on the bike and then stretch lots. I went with 27.5 by the way. There were a few rocks out there…

Taking the F-Si out for a spin on Friday 

Saturday night I had dinner with Anthony Shippard, Guy Frail, Peta and Guy’s old man. We went to an Italian place called Tomato Brothers, which to Guy’s keen eye looked a lot like a Mexican establishment. After visiting #bosstown and going to dinner with Ships at a real life authentic Mexican restaurant Guy had become an expert on these things! We didn’t have a booking, but because Shippard had made a joke with the waitress the night before, he just gave her the wink and she sorted us a table. Remember people. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That we happened to be seated in the hottest part of the restaurant was not lost on any of us. It was like a sauna. I did not consume any Thai green curry chicken at this establishment. It was after all, Italo\Mexican….so I had risotto. Rice, rice baby FTW!

The drive home was spent testing the limits of the grip that the back tyres of Shippard’s hire car could sustain when taking off at the lights. When in Ipswich….

Race day – once race day comes you are just on autopilot. There is a routine, it is just executed and you head to the start line and hang out. Today I did something that I don’t normally do. I raced with my heart rate monitor strap. It wasn’t to ride by HR, because like power meters, unless you are following the wheel in front or taking control and riding on the front the number is going to be largely irrelevant with the excitement and arousal experienced on race day. That is my opinion for racing XCM anyway – no right or wrong way, just how I view it. No, it was mainly so that I could see later on how ‘underdone’ I was with regard to top end.

Getting random stuff sorted on the morning of the race #foreverbuttphotos

Some races start fast, some start mellow. This one is on the mellow side of things. It is not quite chugging but it is all on undulating fireroads and it is quite civilised. I had a quick look down at my computer – heart rate is already in the 160s! Damn, it should be in the 140s for this sort of pace! Ok, I am just buzzing like I have had 3 double espressos in quick succession. Luckily though, I am not under any more undue pressure than I normally am for this sort of mellowness.  It is just a ‘high HR’ sort of day – so I let it go and don’t let it concern me for the rest of the race.

When you see a camera, the trick is to make it look like you are riding effortlessly
Luckily the magpie didn’t attack the group as we started the base of the climb. At this stage it was Andy Blair, Mark Tupalski, Shaun Lewis, Ethan Kelly, myself, Shippard, Guy Frail, Chris Firman, and  maybe a few others together. By the time we spilled out onto the first bit of bitumen after the first long descent the group was fragmented than two. By the time we hit the long bit of bitumen it was into 3. Up front were Blair, Tupac and Lewis. 2nd on the road were Frail, and Firman. Next up Shippard, myself, Kelly and another local dude were swapping off at 40km/hr with group 2 in sight.

Sedgman - Remember that surname - these kids are absolute pinners!

As we turned right onto the dirt we were at the base of the climb. This is such a selector climb. Ethan was having trouble with a leaking rear tyre and had to stop and gas it twice before having to ultimately pop a tube in it. I just tapped up this one. And by tapped, I mean grovelled whilst chewing the stem admiring the 25% gradients on offer.  At the top of the hill the quick headcount showed that I was in 8th place. But you can’t see anyone because of all of the foliage around. They may only be 30seconds up the road but they were out of sight.

The ridgeline trails are quite energy sapping and require a lot of power to keep things going. Pretty much the only traffic they get year round is by cows and four wheel drives. I was looking forward to hitting the singletrack at the 40km mark. When I did, it was a relief as this stuff is quite awesome. It is dry, dusty and encourages a little bit of drift and precise use of the brakes.  I caught up to Shippard at one point and we rode together until the grassy paddock. I sat on his wheel until we hit the flat section then I went to the front….before realising what he had just done….whack! The psycho magpie had dive bombed me and smacked my helmet super hard. “Look out he’s coming for another run!” Shippard yelled, not trying all that hard to stifle a laugh. I refused to take my hands off the bars and wave the magpie off (just in case there was an ESI photographer in the bushes somewhere) and just sucked it up for 30 seconds.

In a shade over 2 hours 15 minutes I rolled through the 1st lap timing mat and was now in 6th place. After grabbing some fresh cold drinks and pouring icy cold water over my head I took off for the 37km back loop. This bit of the course is absolutely brilliant. Just about all singletrack and definitely rewards someone who can ride singletrack efficiently.  About 5 minutes into the singletrack I encountered Guy Frail. I said “What’s up dawg?” as I went past him. He replied “I’m baked”  - or words to that effect. That is a hard 32km to do when you are stuffed. Virtual 5th place on the trail then.  After about 20 minutes I saw some flashes of colour in the distance. Interesting….it was Chris Firman. It took ages to get close to him. He was obviously still riding quite strongly, but when I saw him sneak into grab some water from a feedzone prior to the waterbar descent I figured that he might be running dry. A couple of minutes later I went past him, got swooped by another crazy-ass magpie, gave him an update on the status of the others behind me and then took off once again. 4th place on the trails. Getting there.
This next bit of singletrack is some of my favourite in the whole place. Really quite technical, rocky, switchbacks galore and some awesome riding without a doubt.  Going through the final checkpoint I picked up some lukewarm Sukkie electrolyte drink and took off on the singletrack already encountered. I was railing it quite aggressively still. At least I would like to think so. When you have been out for 4 hours your perception on how awesome you are going gets cloudy at best. I was getting through it counting down the segments. As I went across the grass I did not get swooped by the magpie. After about 1000 riders he may have just given up and crawled back into the nest!

Crossing the line was sweet relief. Another epic, Flight Centre Epic done and dusted. 4th place across the line behind Blair, Tupalski and Lewis. And…..enough to keep me in the lead of the Maverick XCM Series and in the hunt for the overall with only the Highland Fling to go. Yieeew!

The reality of how it feels after an XCM race of this magnitude sets in shortly after crossing the line

I cannot recommend the Flight Centre Epic enough. There is racing for everyone, from a 4.2km race right up to the 87km race, and there are also 2 running races on offer as well. The thing I like the most is that the 20km race had over 300 entrants including 75 females – that is off the hook! In addition to the racing there are jumping castles, rockwalls, swimming pools, helicopter rides and a million other things to do out there. It totally rocks.

Pop the front wheel in the air like you just don't care

Stat time ----;

Distance: 87km

Vertical Metres: 2023m

Humidity: 125%

Temperature: 25 degrees

Average HR: 169

Max HR: 189 – buzzing

Calories: 4135

Bottles of Sukkie consumed: 7

Pro4mance gels consumed: 10

Magpie swoops: 12

Post ride hamburgers consumed: 3

Next up: Kowalski Classic all over the glorious trail network of Sparrow Hill and Kowen this coming weekend!