Monday, May 6, 2013

Convict 100km - 2013

I’ve raced the Convict 100km event twice and this year would be my 3rd year at this iconic event on the XCM classics calendar. As it races the exact same course year in, year out, it is definitely one in which you can gain experience the more you race it. It also allows itself to the inevitable comparisons that can be made based upon the time, but as is often the case, this is not always black and white.

Kylie and I loaded up the Ford Territory hire car on Friday morning in readiness for the drive up to and through Sydney. In what was probably the easiest run ever, we made Sydney in record time and amazingly, made Windsor via the M7 motorway without any hassles at all. Windsor always allows a brief stop for lunch before the last stage of the trip down the winding road to Wisemans Ferry and finally to St Albans.

Obligatory ferry crossing photo - enroute to St Albans

First off, though was to check into Del Rio Resort. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Del Rio is a total spin out. Nestled on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, it is like the proverbial duck out of water, and stereotypical of your 1980s style of resorts. Kylie had managed to get us the last of the budget cabins which was excellent. We at least had a roof over the head and a place to shower. 20 minutes after we had arrived, so too had Andrew Hall. We met up and discussed the plan for the afternoon. Andrew was going to scout out some of the starting hill, whilst we would check out the back section of the course prior to registering at the Settlers Arms at St Albans.

King of Del Rio - check out the 80s wood panneling
Eerily enough, we both ended our respective recces at the same time and decided to go and scout out Webb’s Creek Road climb down the road. It was too early for registration to open and this climb is always a good one to know as it comes into play at about the 70km mark, always a crucial time in a 100km race.

Discussion after scoping out the course

In my Tathra 100km post I must have struck a nerve with Andrew about his driving techniques. (Ie, he drives slowly) Heading back towards Webbs Creek Road, we showed the hire car no mercy and loosely obeyed the 80km/hr speed limit. As this road is super twisty and windy, and the Ford Territory is probably the most awful handling SUV on the planet, this was a true handful. Andrew stuck to my back bumper in his Mazda CX7 and we rallied up the fireroad climb of Webbs Creek Road.

With that initial excitement out of the way, we headed back to St Albans, got our registration sorted, dropped off bottles and were soon on our way back to Del Rio. Again, we gave the roads a solid workout, this time in the dark. Kylie was on the lookout for roos, whilst I was trying to avoid oncoming cars, and keep it between the ditches. Andrew invited us over to his mini-mcmansion at Del Rio Heights and we cooked up some pasta and Thai and talked smack about the usual bunch of nothing. This is probably what people did before the internet came along. Actually, we had really limited internet at Del Rio, so we talked instead. Novel.

Excited by what was included in the registration show bag

Kylie loves to tease Andrew about anything, and mentioned that his driving seemed to have gotten better since last weekend. After a little pout he mentioned something about having raced on a proper track in a proper fast car, there is no point in going fast anywhere else. Kylie sledged him back hard, and got a ‘Whatever’ from Andrew for her troubles. On a roll, Kylie came back with a resledge that rhymes with ‘ditch’ and we all cracked up laughing. Perfect start to a race weekend.

Second start occurred at 5:00am on Saturday morning. Everyone who was staying at Del Rio also had their alarms set for that time and pretty much everyone loaded up the car and departed en masse to St Albans 20 minutes or so up the road. Rugged up just a little, we made St Albans and had about 75 minutes before the start, so toilets were visited, casual warm ups were done, and last minute food was consumed.

Fresh start to the morning

As anyone who has ever done a 100km event knows, these races can be quite tactical. There are many ways to race them as an individual, and there are many ways to race them within the dynamics of the bunch. Another interesting thing is that some particular courses suit certain rider’s characteristics more than others. Andrew and I had discussed this one late last year, in that this particular course would probably suit his characteristics of being a driver and being able to put out a strong steady effort. Within a race, there are the obvious team dynamics and also other dynamics that occur based on what is happening in the world at that moment in time. 20 minutes before the start, we had a chat with Andy Blair from the Specialized Swell team about a certain tactic that the 2602 coalition would try to employ early on to shake things up.

Start line - note that Mike Blewitt's socks are slightly too tall in relation to his calf muscle #details

At 7:00am, the gun went off and we were off also. Straight away Shaun Lewis (Specialized Swell) tried to smack it down the road. This was brought back by someone reasonably early on. A few kilometres later, Brendan Johnston (Target Trek) attempted to break away, Shaun also went with him, as did Andrew and Mike Blewitt (Marathon MTB). In my mind, I am thinking, perfect.... a good combo of strong riders. At this stage, Andy Blair went to the front of the main group and sat on a false tempo. I was on his wheel, and took over for a few km. Looking down at the HRM, I was quite comfortable with the heart rate at 150bpm doing 30km/hr. I knew the 4 guys in the EB should be able to peg this section at 40km/hr with no problem. Having a team mate up the road who was strong enough to drill the entire race was a good feeling, even this early in the race.

I was pretty blown away that the rest of the bunch was letting Blair and I control the pace at such a mellow tempo whilst the 4 went away totally out of sight. When we hit the cattle grid however, the pace was back on, and the group was starting to get strung out in the lead up to the first hill. The hill takes about 8 minutes and has a bunch of steep stuff which includes switchbacks. You basically chew the stem for a while and then you come out on the top of the ridge line. After having a few random dudes pop off up the climb, I sort of took my time, not going too deep up here. I kept Anthony Shippard (Cannondale\CBD), Jason English (Merida\OnTheGo) and Sebastian Jayne in sight in getting to the top. After cresting, it took a couple of minutes to reattach myself to this group. I was under no obligation to do any work, as I had a teammate up the road, so Jason sat on the front the whole way, with Sebastian assisting with the work when he could. Shippard had an alliance with Andrew and myself, so was also not really obligated to do any work.

Soon enough we caught sight of the small group in front of us. This now contained, Blair, Lewis, Blewitt, Kyle Ward (Rockstar) and Michael Crosbie. English asked me if Hall was off the front, to which I replied in the affirmative. You could see his mind start ticking away. So now we had a massive group of 10 riders sort of chasing down 2. In hindsight, I now know that Andrew was stuggling with some crap that had gotten into his rear derailleur and was limited in his gear choices. This race traverses through some major virgin bushland areas and there is the huge potential of catching a stick in the wheel or derailleur (lie Michael Crosbie did) or even just some random stuff to ruin your ride.

At the first feed zone, I grabbed a bottle after rounding the corner and readied myself for the start of the rocky trails. I got around Sebastian Jayne and stuck like glue to Shippard’s wheel, as I know that he had scouted this area quite a bit being a local, and knew all the good lines. After this first sector, we had dropped Jayne and had also unhitched Blewitt. However, we had also been unhitched from the rest who had gone off the front to hunt down Johnston and Hall.

Through this next section I was feeling pretty good, so went around Shippard and just kept driving it. Pretty soon enough I came up to the 50km feed zone. It felt like the race was going really quickly, and it probably was. The conditions were pretty close to perfect for fast racing – nice and cool and the ground was pretty grippy. This next section had a good long uphill drag at about 2 – 4% (maybe). I looked back and could see Shippard and Blewitt still back there. Probably 30 – 60 seconds or so. At this stage, i decided to keep pressing on. The next sector contains a lot of rocks again, and requires a fair bit of concentration to ride. Through here I came across Andy Blair who had suffered a rear flat. I know how strong he is, and definitely would not be counting him out of contention just yet.

Just prior to the descent down to the famous canoe bridge, I looked around and caught a glimpse of Shippard, probably at about 15-20 seconds back. I quickly made the assessment that it would be good to have someone to work with along the bitumen section after the bridge, and through the back 30 along the ridgeline. I had something to eat and sat up a bit. After the descent, we worked together along the road down to the bridge and the next feed zone. Down the ramp and across the bridge. Easy Easy. Sort of. The bridge is made with scaffolding lashed to canoes that float on the water. It is probably 40cm wide, which easily accommodates a 5.5cm wide mountain bike tyre. This year there were two bridges, one for riding and one for walking. I got across the bridge, through the sand and was heading up through the paddock towards the bitumen when I looked back to see Shippard doing the #euro tripod manoeuvre made popular last year by Mike Blewitt.

After he got back on, we made haste getting along the bitumen, and up Webbs Creek Road to the ridgeline. We discussed the possibility of beating the 4 hour mark, but it was going to be tight. For the next 10km we worked together, each taking the lead where we could best eek out power based on our individual strengths. We came across Kyle Ward who had internally exploded after contesting the high pace at the front of the race. With about 80km to go, I was feeling good and felt Shippard falling back on one of the climbs. I quickly made the decision to press on as anything can happen in a mountain bike race, and sometimes you need a buffer. Pretty soon I was descending the escarpment over the steep waterbars which would lead me out onto the farm roads and closer to the finish.

Every now and then I would look around to see if anyone would magically pop out of nowhere and be hunting me down. At last I saw the turn which meant it was time to cross the creek. This pretty much signified the 4km to go mark. The next 8 minutes or so was just a continuation of an individual time trial against the clock to the finish line. The road was clear of riders this year, as the organisers had started the 50km racers half an hour later to allow for the 100km racers to race to the finish unimpeded if need be. As I counted down the landmarks, I finally rounded the corner and crossed the line. My mental assessment of 6th place was confirmed by Andrew Hall at the end, with gear troubles putting him in 5th behind Crosbie, Johnston, English and Lewis, who ultimately took the sprint finish in the end.

Crossing the finish line

With 3 starts in the convict 100, and now 3 6th place finishes, I was mildly amused, but ultimately pretty happy. I had managed to knock 4 minutes off my time from last year, which was not too bad. To my satisfaction, we had also managed to get Cannondale riders across 5th, 6th and 7th place in a strong presence in such a hotly contested event.

Results -- good day out for cannondale riders, taking 5th, 6th and 7th

Half an hour later, Kylie came hauling into the finish to take out the female 50km event, and managed to outsprint one of the blokes in the same event.

After the race, we all swapped race stories and recounted small details in the way that the race panned out for each of us. It is always fascinating seeing how things go for everyone at different places along the way. No race is the same, and I think that is what makes racing bike so interesting and stimulating. You just never know what is going to happen.

Andrew and I with Rachel Sampol, Cannondale Australia's marketing guru.

After hugs and kisses all round, we got the hell out of dodge and made it back to 2602 in a record 4 hours flat still buzzing from a great showing by the Cannondale Factory Racing Team and Kylie for smashing the 50km event. Coming back to reality is always hard though....

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