Have I ever mentioned that I love racing at Stromlo? Well, I do….I have been riding there since it was built and there is such an attraction to the trails that are there. For me the Stromlo landscape is like a desert, dry and barren, having been ripped apart by the 2003 bushfires that ravaged Canberra. The trails out here are world class, and hands down it is in my honest opinion the best place in Australia. Of course it has to be said that opinions are like other attributes of the human anatomy that everyone has….yep, everyone’s got one.
So many tent pegs were sacrificed when setting this tent up
Rockytrail Entertainment run this race annually and this was the 3rd time that I have done this race. They run a smooth show and keep a lot of people happy setting up awesome events all over the place. A very chilled atmosphere. I’ll dot point a few thoughts and observations from this event:
- 3 laps
- 1, 2 and 5 laps were other options
- 28km per lap
- 84km total distance
- I would be very surprised if anyone wanted to do another 16km
- 680m of climbing each lap
- 2040m of climbing for the entire race
- My math is pretty good at calculating these totals
- 27% gradient on one of the fireroad climbs
- 95% singletrack
- 30 degrees = 40 Stromlo Degrees ™
- 7 bottles of Sukkie consumed
- 10 Pro4mance gels consumed
- Stromlo has quite a few rocks
- Stromlo was, by Stromlo standards, quite dry and extra drifty
- Fireroad start to spread riders out accordingly
- 1st XCM race in the season
- Definitely in the top 5 of hardest marathons in the country
Don't make it too obvious when looking at an overhead drone - photo: Peta Stewart
Onto the race then….the gun went off and we were hauling it along the fireroad with a mix of 2 and 3 lap riders starting together. Funnelling into the singletrack it was the opportunity to grab a small breather as the concertina effect slowed things down for a few seconds. This also presented a decent opportunity to back it off slightly and not go too deep just before entering the singletrack due to the aforementioned Concertina Effect ™.
After having ridden the course on Thursday evening, I had learnt a few things about the course. There was a steep climb out the back, and it was super dry and sketchier than normal. Due to the fact that I am not as strong as Kim Smith, who opted for the 34 tooth chainring, I opted for the Relative Safety ™ of the 32 tooth chainring to compliment my SRAM XX1 groupset. Mated with the 42 on the rear I knew that I could get up that 27% hill every single time. Riding around on lap 1 Shippard and came across Ed McDonald who had flatted a couple of times whilst doing the 5 lap version and we discussed the chainring option during a run down Pork Barrel. Anyway, this was one option that I felt worked for me. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong answer.
The other thing I did was put some grippier tyres on. One other Stromlo Fact ™ that I use is that grip is always a premium on going fast at Stromlo and new tyres, or tyres with great grip work really well here.
So, Scott Bowden, Andy Blair, Shaun Lewis, Michael Potter, Tristan Ward (are you even a Ward bro, bro?), Shippard and myself were able to get into the singletrack with a small gap over the chasing group which contained the Ward Brothers ™, Troy Herfoss, Marc Williams, Tom Goddard, Tom Patton, Dan Beresford and a few others. Gaps can be largely irrelevant at Stromlo because of the fact that there are about 284 switchbacks each lap, and different people will ride different sections differently depending on their strengths.
On lap one I was following Shippard and Tristan Ward and when we got to the fireroad climb, Ships took off like a scalded cat. I couldn’t hold his pace as he was probably putting out 450 watts at least, so I let the elastic stretch. At this stage, I could tell that Tristan was paying for the XCC, XCO that he had done over the weekend and would not be having a great day. I caught Ships back up later on down the hill and we motored along for the first lap and crossed the line after an hour and 15 minutes ready to head out for lap 2.
At the top of Heart Breaker - Photo: Grantley Butterfield
We both grabbed bottles and gels from Pit Boss ™, Peta Stewart and motored off. Just before the cockatoo switchbacks I spied a wombat scurrying up the hill and pointed him out to Shippard. It, in fact, turned out to be Shaun Lewis and we discussed what to do with him. He also spied us and yelled out some encouragement to us in the form of a good sledge aimed at Shippard! When you make a catch there are a few things that go through your mind….ideally you want to smash straight through them. But, they may have been cruising and could just jump on your wheel. Knowing Shaun’s attributes, we discussed leaving him to hang out a bit longer. We got fairly close to him and on one of the switchbacks we passed each other and I was pretty tempted to wave to him, but instead we exchanged smiles. I now had a feeling that he was probably up for a bit of a race! Ships got some more words of encouragement from Lewis and we chased him down the hill.
Some good looking dudes go to mountain bike races that is for sure - photo: Peta Stewart
After descending Pork Barrel following Shippard in chase of Lewis, I had to pull out a Tupac ™ line on Ships through RedRock. To those not familiar with Stromlo, there are many alternative lines that exist. These are known as ‘A’ lines, or ‘Canberra lines’ and if you use them in a race, as long as you yell out ‘Tupac!’ then you are exempt from any issues that may arise. Hey, this is part of the politics of Canberra, I am just conveying this one! Of all of the ‘A’ lines across Stromlo made popular by solo 24 hour chuggers, the RedRock one is a thing of majestic beauty to behold. Shippard murmured his appreciations and then I was off in hunt of the Wombat.
I got pretty close up the 27% gradient climb. I reckon I was within 5 bike lengths up there but it wasn’t until the base of Heartbreaker that I got on his wheel finally. Even though one might class themselves as a Stromlo Specialist ™ it is not an exclusive listing. Lewis knows how to ride the mountain. Someone who also knows his way around two wheels and is no stranger to Stromlo is Troy Herfoss. I think that I have been racing him here since about 2008. He caught us up close to Slant Six and was on a mission of sorts and got on my wheel just as we were climbing up Blue Tongue. I let him through and he went off in chase of Shaun, and in about 60 seconds I was going through a massive cloud of dust after he overshot a line and had to grab a handful of brake!
I did the same to him after Party Line and he took his spot back behind Shaun with me hot on his wheel. At this stage we were 2nd, 3rd, and 4th out on the course and hauling ass through the badlands of Stromlo. We were wheel to wheel, and hit the berms and the double jumps as a train with Herfoss driving it hard and fast. When we came barrelling in for the start of lap 3, everyone scattered for the bottles in different directions! Peta stocked me up once again and I was off. And so were the other guys. The heat of the day was now beginning to get me and I just looked at limiting my losses on Lewis and Herfoss. Blairy was well up the road somewhere and we were looking at closing out the final lap with no issues.
Happy and dusty - photo: Peta Stewart
At a shade under 4 hours I crossed the line in 4th place, less than a minute off the podium. Oh well….3rd year in a row for 4th place. It is almost like the Convict 100 where I have placed 6th on 4 occasions! What can you do?!?!
All in all, not a bad day out on the bike. It is always hard to know where the form is when you haven’t raced for a while….obviously some good things as well as some things to takeaway and sort before the next few races. As they say in Spain and Italy….the sensations are good, I am Muy Tranquillo ™!
Don't mind if I do
Next up….Husky 100 on the 28th of February , provided that it does not rain!