Monday, February 22, 2016

Giant Odyssey 2016 - Forrest Victoria

This race is a must do if you are even remotely into the marathon racing scene. Even if you’re not you should get it on your list of events to hit up. To date, I have not ridden an event that offers so much varying terrain in one hit. Bitumen road, forest roads, firetrail, unknown overgrown dangerzone ™ singletrack, groomed singletrack and so much more are what is on offer here. It truly tests all of your abilities in one unique condensed course over 100km.

For this year I decided to fly down to Melbourne and then chug a hire car over to Forrest where the race is held. On the way I dropped in at the Cannondale headquarters in the industrial region of Altona North to catch up with the crew there. The guys and girls there simply love bikes and the whole lifestyle surrounding two wheels. We all lost track of time talking about walls, strava, Instagram, 2016 bikes, everyday wheelsets, thai food and other random stuff that you do when the conversation is just flowing naturally and easily. Good times!

My destination for the evening was the salubrious (shout out to Ed McD) hamlet of Colac. As soon as I arrived I promptly lay down and had a nap. An hour later I woke up in a pile of drool and tried to figure out where I was! That may have been a tiring transit day! I built the bike up and proceeded to go and roll the legs over through the Botanic Gardens chasing some fresh oxygen.

Too Tired - either a big bike or a small bed

Friday came around pretty quickly and I started the day chilling out drinking espresso and eating pancakes in one of the local cafes that I like to go to. My plan then was to go and recce the first sector of the course. This one is a good hike of about 40km and essentially climbs the first hill in the race. By climbing the hill I mean that it goes up in general. There are a few rolling bits but you essentially climb about 600m or so in the first 25km. It was here that I realised that the trails had been recently graded….it was very, very, very soft….and slow….and soul destroying. I invented some new swear word combinations that I have not used before to describe this section! It will be better on race day though I told myself totally believing it as well!

The recce was good to open everything up and spin the legs over as well. I felt pretty good so went back, cleaned the bike, sorted nutrition for the next day and promptly had another nap! After collecting number plates I met up with my teammate Tom Ovens and we hit up the Lemongrass Thai restaurant in Colac for a prerace carb green curry chicken with the delectable coconut rice on offer. Tom told me how he had been experimenting in the kitchen making his own version of coconut rice. I probably didn’t need to learn how easy this was because I’ve got 99 problems and the vast majority of them involve carbs so the last thing I needed to know was how to facilitate my own vices!

Freaking gigantic trees and soft dirt

Race day came around and there was a massive crew of riders in the mix. Along with 1100 keen mountain bikers, 30 top level riders had made the trip to Forrest to make a solid race of it. At this time of year everyone has great form due to the perfect riding weather on offer. The first 8km or so are all on bitumen and is relatively chilled. There are a few discussions going back and forth between riders to calm the nerves, enquire about recent events, and even to offer some constructive sledges. Once it hits the dirt though after Barwon Downs, the pace gets lifted and there is a copious amount of position fighting ©

All of the guys know where the right hander is for the start of the first descent and there was a sprint worthy of a road crit finish to get to the start of this in good position. Being so dry, dust was flying everywhere and if you weren’t in the top positions then you were seeing a cloud of it. Paul Van Der Ploeg hit a corner way too hot and binned it, a small mushroom cloud erupting as he hit the deck. He got the adrenaline kick that you do from these sorts of things and was up in about 2 seconds and heading off like a scalded cat.
I saw neither of these things #rippedoff

On the next climb was where the initial selection is made, and this edition was no exception. There were about 20 riders strung out into the physiological groups that occur. Some riders were smacking it hard, some were pacing, and some were sounding like Darth Vader. I got myself into a good rhythm and got onto the wheel of Shaun Lewis. We picked up another rider and worked together for the entire climb going back and forth but ultimately getting up over the climb together. This was at about the 65 minute mark into the race.

The next descent kicks ass. It is a fireroad bomb through at well over 60km/hr. I was on Shaun’s wheel drifting, tucking and hauling down this section in search of the next bit of singletrack, the infamous moto trail. This trail is the one that looks like it has been hacked back with a matchete. It is narrow, sketchy, sticky, and rutted like no one’s business. It is in a word, nuts. You go on autopilot through here and simply hold on hoping for the best!

Being very careful to keep within the allocated box

Sector 2 came up fairly quickly and it was a chance to grab a bottle and some gels and head out through the Yaugher singletrack for about 20km. This set of trails is super tight. It feels like it was built in the olden days of 26er wheels. There are some corners where you are just muscling the bike around wondering if there is something wrong with you! But it is just tight. At about the 50km mark, my teammate Tom Ovens, effortlessly rode up behind me, demonstrating his brilliant local knowledge and skills as an ex Pro Motocrosser. Sensing a top day out on the bike, I jumped on his wheel and we worked together back through into transition where we had managed to pick up the 2 guys in front of us.

My tip to anyone doing the Odyssey is that you should strongly consider leaving some energy in the tank for the back 40km. This is where you can definitely make up a fair bit of time if you haven’t gone out way too hard. From 60 to 70km is a fairly decent climb…decent in that it doesn’t stop. Indecent in that it is freaking hard. The 4 of us rolled track turns doing about 30-60 seconds on the front at a time. Such a great way to roll up this hill – hashtag thumbs up.  Half way up I started to check out how the other guys were going. I knew Tom was riding strong, but bearing in mind that we had hauled the other 2 riders in prior to the Forrest Football Ground transition I was keen to see if they were running strong or running on fumes. The heavy breathing and the occasional missed turn is always a bit of a giveaway (we have all been there before so it is easy to spot). As I came through for my turn off Tom’s wheel, I ramped it slightly and got a 20 metre gap. I tried to make it look as though I wasn’t hurting, but 3 minutes in I was almost questioning whether I had gone a bit early! I took the opportunity to recover a little bit down the next bit of singletrack and the wide open fireroad descent. It had the desired effect and Tom used his skills down the descent to get back across and I sat up a bit so that he could latch back on the wheel.

Red Carpet descent is a piece of singletrack that is a showcase piece of the region. We gassed it using the loose conditions to two wheel drift around corners, use the side of trees as berms and hit the 180 degree switchbacks foot out getting so loose and just having a blast all the way down. Mountain biking FTW all the way!

You get to the top of the next hill and look at the speedo and it still only says 80km…the simple math states that you’ve still got 50-60 minutes to go…so you keep on going. It was just a case of swapping off emptying the tank. At about the 95km mark we caught a couple of riders one of which was going backwards unfortunately. The other, Harrison Ernst, a relative local from Warnambool saw Tom’s wheel and became sandwiched between us! At the 98km mark, we hit this descent that was like talcum powder. Brown talcum powder – suddenly I could not see a thing. Harrison glued himself to Tom’s wheel. I chose the safe option and used the brakes dropping the wheel and about 50 metres in the process so that I could vaguely see the trail. Unfortunate time as I then had to hustle hard to get back on the wheel, covered in copious amounts of dust and feeling it grind a little between my teeth!

Tom ramped it up the final climb and I could see Harrison dropping off slightly as he let out a desperate scream of frustration. He was cooked, but such a seriously great ride by this young dude – keep an eye out for his name in the future! I rolled om through with Tom for the last kilometre hauling ass down the hill before getting onto the finishing straight and rolling through in about 4 hours  and 40 minutes.

I managed to roll through in 9th place with Tom 3 seconds behind me in 10th. It was a great opportunity to roll a good 50km with my teammate ripping drifts, putting down some power and thoroughly enjoying the day out. Tom told me afterwards that he had laid down an average of 280 watts for the duration of the race with an average heart rate of 169bpm…extrapolate up or down depending on your own circumstances or expectations!

Well and truly done and dusted

Statistics and not so random numbers:

Distance: 100km

Duration 4 hours 40 minutes

Nutrition: 4 litres of Sukkie, 10 Pro4mance gels

Average Heart Rate: 167bpm – cooler weather, so a little lower today

Ascent: 2400m

Maximum speed: 73.1km/hr!

TRIMP Score: 457

TSS: 322


Next up….At this stage there is not a lot on until the Easter in the Alice stage race, in, you guessed it, Alice Springs, at….yes….Easter. But I am sure that something will turn up that requires me to put a number on the bike!







Monday, February 15, 2016

2016 AMB100 – St Valentine's Day Massacre - Mount Stromlo - Canberra

How can you not  like racing at Stromlo?! It has to be one of the most pure mountain bike destinations in Australia requiring a solid mix of both fitness and technical ability. It is one of my favourite locations to ride my mountain bike and I always try and get out there once a week if my program allows it. On St Valentine’s day I lined up for my 4th  AMB100 knowing full well what to expect. The hot tip is that in February it is always going to be hot. Like, when you know it's hot when you go outside and it is hot... That is a given. Seeing as though the 27km lap also takes in no less than 3 ascents of Mount Stromlo from different sides then it is also relatively hilly. And, Stromlo is also hard to ride as it requires all of your concentration for all of the time.

If I allow myself to flashback a couple of weeks I was on the way to Kowen Forest to race the Duo Classic with my mate Anthony Shippard. As I was heading up the hill out of Queanbeyan, Motley Crue’s Kickstart My Heart started up on the stereo. This in turn made my right foot a little heavy and the turbo was roaring through the corners each time it kicked through 3000rpm through each gear. Of course, the blue lights in the rear vision mirror were met with a couple of swear words and that slight increase in adrenalin. Fast forward to lunch time and Shippard and I had grabbed 7th place and I was on my way home slowly obeying most of the posted limits, because after being bitten once, you are twice shy.

After 2 months of ‘chugging around’ I was so eager to race again and whilst Kowen always makes me feel like I am breathing through a straw, Stromlo makes me super excited. I can actually breath there, I love the technical nature of the course and I fully rate the 2 wheel drifts that can be had!

The 14th and 20th of February for me were always going to be the early season objectives. AMB100 and Giant Odyssey on back to back weekends. I tend to get good at racing by doing the racing so the Duo was a nice little opener before the bigger objectives on offer. On Saturday night I treated myself to an awesome meal from Little Thailand in Dickson 2602 – it was, would you believe, a Green Curry Chicken with coconut rice – scientifically proven to be a good way of getting energy in my body for racing. LOL!

I always get nervous and excited about racing. The technical term in the literature is ‘arousal’ but that is a slightly awkward term to correlate bike racing to – especially when everyone is wearing lycra. So I prefer to use my own terms and try my best to keep a lid on things as well as you can stress out too much about stuff that is outside of your control.

On race day, Martin  from Rockytrail was talking about the “Canberra Lines” ™ on offer up on stromlo – everyone was encouraged not to cheat in this manner – rather, consider the old school doping ways as well as the new school internal motor options. Everyone got a good chuckle from this. The simple way to look at it is like this. Just don’t do any of those things – there is no point really.

When the gun went off, Dylan Cooper got the coveted holeshot into the first right hander onto the starting fireroad. Brendan Johnston was on his wheel before Mike Blewitt decided to give everyone a ramp test up the ugly fireroad before the singletrack. This hurt a LOT…damn you Mike! The trickiest thing was keeping an eye on the 66km and 100km riders and also knowing who was who in the zoo. 

There were a few questions asked as groups formed just so you knew if you had to keep an eye on them or not. I was pretty happy with my first climb up the trunk trail. Cooper (66) and Johnston (100) had escaped,  Brad Morton (66) was on the hunt then there was a good group chasing them. I was in here feeling okay. OKAY is a relative term. It definitely hurt, but felt manageable as it was still overcast and relatively cool (for now)

Shippard was not feeling it today and he let me through just before the top of the climb and I led a few others through the descent of Pork Barrel out to Deep Creek. The drift was on point today and I was really having a great time in the dry and dusty conditions.

Andrew Lloyd (100) popped through just before the start of Double Dissolution and was on a mission to chase back the guys in front. After finishing 2nd at the solo 24hr chugger worlds a few years ago, I knew that he can ride stromlo as well as anyone.

Out the back of Stromlo is a nice climb – Casuarina – it maxes at 27% which is pretty mental for dirt and needless to say, you have to chew the stem a fair bit to get up this one. The wind was picking up a fair bit out on Stromlo and after Double Dissolution I got onto Marc Williams’s (66) wheel where he dragged me and another dude along to the base of the climb. Marc’s way of climbing is akin to floating. He looks like he is not working at all, spinning a low gear very efficiently as he floats away up the climb. I chased as well as I could but I don’t float up the climbs!

The best way to race the AMB is to break the lap up into sections. First Climb, Casuarina Climb, Heart Breaker Climb – that is pretty much it for me. They fall into good sections that allow you to focus and tick off a whole lap. It also allows you to compartmentalise the pain into 3 distinct blocks.

The first lap was rattled off in 1 hour 16 minutes for me.  That was okay as ultimately, they are super long laps and this race bites you big time in the latter stages. I picked up a Camelbak and headed out for lap 2. By this stage it was getting warm as I expected and I was hoping that the pack option and an extra bottle would pay off down the track. I also took about 4 gels for each lap. This sort of thing works for me when I am racing as I burn through a truckload of energy when I climb hard. That’s just me and how I ride!

On the box with some top blokes!

Half way through the 2nd lap and the temperature soared up to 31 degrees. When it comes to racing, I really like it when it is 10 degrees. This is probably due to my ranga nature. It could also be other stuff, but I’m blaming the inner ginger for this one. So what do you do when the heat is on? Inside your head on every beat? And the pressure is high just to stay alive? #sorrynotsorry --- you just call up a solid serving of Rule Number 5 © and just simply get on with it. That is the best thing about push bike racing. There are so many elements that you are racing against – time, competitors, trail, weather, demons and voices inside your head! It is endless, but it is the same for everyone.

By this stage the wind had picked up to crazy levels – the north westerly helped in certain locations but made you feel slightly broken in other directions as it felt like you were moving in slow motion, time almost standing still – where you are the one who is time….

Half way through the lap I was looking down noticing the salt forming on my jersey sleeves and front. This is a good sign that you are going to suffer at some time shortly – I replace a lot as I go, but the sweat rates were super high as the temperature was unbearably high and I had to back off a bit in order to get the full distance pacing correct. As it went, by the ¾ way around that 2nd lap, I was out of fluids having smashed them pretty hard. Fortunately, I came in for the start of the 3rd lap and stocked up on more fluids – and lots of them – a Camelbak and 2 full bottles.

 The 3rd lap was like moving in slow motion. Everything in the body was saying no, the jersey was fully unzipped as I tried to cool the chest as much as possible.  Around every corner I was looking ahead as well as behind to see if I could see anyone that I could catch or anyone who might catch me. I started to hear imaginary bikes in corners behind me as well! At the top of the 27% Casuarina Climb for the 3rd lap the bike computer was telling me that it was 38 degrees….FFS….I was just dreaming of my recovery burgers at this stage chilling out in a nice dark airconditioned room. A few deals were also made along the way to keep myself chugging through to the finish.

So after about 4 hours and 14 minutes I crossed the line well and truly spent. Probably up there with one of the hardest races I have ever done. I was covered in sweat, salt, dust and just about everything else. In the end I rolled over in 3rd place. With the different categories rolling around it was pretty tricky to keep track of who was where and how everything was playing out. 1st and 2nd were well in front of me so even that reference was tricky to figure out!

Recovery tools in the pleasure room - that's how I roll ;)

Ultimately, I was in 2 minds about how the race went down. I knew my form was good and I felt pretty good on the first lap, but the heat smashed me to pieces in the latter half and I had to back off a fair bit. So that is the bit that was not great. But all in all, after a few years of getting 4th place it was nice to check out the view from the podium for once, so I will take that any weekend it is on offer!

Some statistics

Time: 4 hours 14 minutes

Maximum temperature: 38 degrees

Laps: 3

Distance: 27km per lap

Fluid: 5 litres of Sukkie

Gels: 10 Pro4mance gels

Average Heart Rate: 169bpm

Maximum Heart Rate: 186bpm

Trimp Score: 486

TSS: 316
Executive Summary: Reasonably difficult

Up next is the trip down to Melbourne on Thursday in readiness for the Giant Odyssey – definitely looking forward to that one! Another freaking hard one on the cards – does anyone know where the easy races are?!?!

Monday coping mechanism








Everyone loves a nice bit of pain pie