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Tuesday 18th November, 2008

Victorian Enduro Series #8 - Officer

Probably the first time I really wasn't keen on racing came this weekend just gone - the Officer 6 hour was scheduled for the end of the year, last round of the season, and presented an opportunity to improve on points (being a best 6 of 8 system). But without any real enthusiasm leading up to the race, having gone on a club ride the night before (and ridden home), and having felt extremely tired all week with no power at crits, it didn't take long to realize there was no way I was going to ride it out. While I could have done an XCO race (and still smashed myself), there was no way I felt like I'd be able to do 6 hours and recover any time soon.

Heading up the first climb I started in the top 10, but pacing myself slowly up the hill everyone else passed from all sides. By the top of the hill I was mid way down the field - not a problem since I was mindful of the 6 hours to come, but at that point I had no idea this would be the toughest enduro course on the calendar.

By about 10 minutes in though, on what was last year known as "bitch climb no more", I found myself unable to get traction with the new geometry and tyre setup I'd chosen - ~13 laps (the target) of that was unappealing. It only took for me to get to the base of the hill to decide I'd had enough - I wasn't out of breath, my legs weren't hurting, I just felt like I wasn't producing any significant amount of power. So from there I decided that was it, and cruised back for the rest of the lap, saving energy.

So I spent some time out on the course with the camera, which was significantly boring given the low track density, and then the rest of it was either chatting to random people or sitting around helping feed Simon or Carson, who was using the event to train for a 24 hour solo in two weeks time. There was some temptation to head out with Carson and do a slow lap, as his lap times had dropped from 24s at the start to 35s by the 5 hour mark, but the enthusiasm stopped by the time I undid my shoelaces and got half-way through swapping shoes.

For this year that's all for the Enduro series - I have to decide whether to go up to Bendigo this weekend. I had originally planned to catch a train up there on Saturday, but it now turns out Connex have other ideas. And then there's that little issue of me being too tired to race - no decision has been made yet. Either way, the only riding before the weekend will be the crits this week - last week in B grade. Would have been nice to finish up with a win, but that won't happen in my current state.

We'll see.

Sunday 2nd November, 2008

MTBA Nationals Round 1 - Sunday - The best race ever.

The early morning start gave us something to really be dejected about: Hard rain as we waited for our incredibly helpful volunteer lift. The trip out there was dark and gloomy, and given that the shorttrack race was to be held all on clay, we were worried what this would mean if it kept drizzling. Choma I think was more worried for his own safety if he had to pack a dirty bike into Snozza's borrowed bike bag :)

Choma and I were in the same race for this one - XCC Open Men - but Choma was refusing to do any sighting laps. He eventually gave in and did one or two, but I'd been doing the odd lap here or there all morning. One thing was obvious every time I hit the short climb - my legs were empty. Absolutely dead. I had nothing left after 3 days of riding and a full-on solo effort at Anglesea the previous weekend. I considered not racing, but told myself it was only 15 minutes (and I'd probably get pulled quite early) and that then I'd do no riding until this Thursdays crits. Snozza had said something a few weeks back when I told him I was doing Nationals for XCC that I'd turned into a challenge: "I'll be surprised if they don't pull you by the 6th lap" - so that became the goal. Last 7 laps :)

This time around I was on the third row for the start, in a field of 20 riders, which wasn't very helpful. My start was better than in the XCO race, but it still meant I only got to the first corner sitting around 12th. The track, despite supposed to be an XCC track still didn't have that much room for passing save for a few spots including the final straight, so when the riders in front of me split from the lead riders and I had passed those riders, there was a pretty significant gap.

Photo by Russ Baker

Throughout the race I could hear the commentary - Choma lead for a few laps, from laps 2 to 4 I believe, but after that fell backwards. Of course with the Under 19s in the event being pretty quick, the pace on the front was pretty fast. As the race went on the climb became tougher and tougher, and by about the fourth lap I was back in the middle ring, though still pulling 2:00 flat lap times. All things considered I was pretty happy when I passed the 15 minute mark and got the 3 laps to go, though was pulled with two laps remaining. Unfortunate that lap actually happened to be my quickest lap - I'd somehow found some new energy and picked up the pace, and didn't think the leaders were that close behind, but unfortunately that's the way crits work.

In the end I think I finished around 10th - definitely not the result in the XCC I was expecting. However, I honestly believe that on a good day, if I hadn't gone and driven myself into the ground in the days before, I could actually put in a decent result.

We'll see. I've decided on Illinbah rather than Kona for a variety of reasons, and I'm told that both the Illinbah XCO and XCC courses should suit me really well.

But wait, it gets better.

Following the race we still had a problem. We had to get home. Yeah, we hadn't thought too far ahead. Choma was in a pretty bad mood from a combination of being really tired and two fourth place finishes, so over the next few hours we tried to see if we could wing a lift back to the airport from virtually every rider we knew :P

In the end we had to grab a taxi - this meant getting our ultra-heavy bike boxes in the shuttle bus to the top, and hoping the taxi would turn up - fortunately it did. That part was all smooth - somehow (and seriously, I've got NFI how because I swear I had the same stuff in my bag as when I got TO Tullamarine airport) my bags came underweight - and myteriously (no, really, I didn't do it) Choma's was heavier. So with all that stuff through baggage check-in and us safely through airport security was absolutely no problems this time, we had a good two hours to burn in the airport terminal.

There was no shortage of riders also bored out of their brains waiting for flights - Steele and another rider had been sitting around for 4 hours when we rocked up and came to say hello. We also ran into and stopped for a while to chat with Neil and Tory, all who seemed to have completely different flights all over the place.

Eventually we'd be on our way back to Melbourne - which was reasonably uneventful - as was baggage claim. But then, looking back on it, it became incredibly amusing. Of course, neither of us were amused at the time - you see, on the bus back to long term parking both of us realised something very important - that neither of us had a clue where the car was parked. I was pretty sure it was 'somewhere in section D', but that's about as accurate as we could figure - and Choma disagreed.

So with me worried and Choma tired, cranky, and furious as a result of this, he ran all the way around the car park to find his new car which he didn't know the number plate of, and could identify with the remote because it was flat. Took about 20 minutes but he eventually found it ;)

The moral of this very long story: If you decide to go on a trip like this, don't do what we did and attempt to wing it :D

MTBA Nationals Round 1 - Day 2 - Saturday (part 1)

We'd decided that after wearing ourselves down substantially, we'd sort out a taxi early. Choma didn't want to be out at the track too early even though I was keen to watch the Vets/U19/Masters, so compromised and organised the taxi for 9:30. Of course everyone knows how reliable Taxis are, so after 25 minutes of waiting I went hunting for one off the street. The trip there was much more straightforward than the day before, but when we got there we were greeted by the mother of an under 19 DH competitor, who, admiring our dedication in getting there, offered to help us get home at the end of the day.

With my race not until 3:30pm, I decided to take as many photos as I could of the other races throughout the day. Dumb idea number one was for me to spend the whole day out on the track taking photos, getting dehydrated and being on my feet walking around steep terrain all day. Admitedly part of the reason I was out there was to scout the track for any technical obstacles, but after walking the first 3km and deciding it was about as difficult as the Westgate track so far (save for the lack of climbing at Westgate) I decided to head back via as much track as posible.

While out on the track, in the expert race Grover was absolutely smashing the field off the front. Sean and then Choma weren't far back, with a decent gap to the next three riders which included Duncan, with then another big gap and the remaining three riders. Unfortunately for Grover it would only be two laps before his freehub would decide it had had enough, leaving him to have a slow lap before an eventual retirement. After that, for the most part the Elite/Expert race was hard to follow - I really lost track of who was leading, and to be honest from a spectator point of view didn't actually find it that great to follow. The main thing I did catch was that Choma started fading towards the end - Sean and Choma both being overtaken by the eventual winner, and Choma losing 3rd place on the last lap to Duncan.

MTBA Nationals Round 1 - The XCO Sport race (or

While they were finishing up I started getting ready for my race, and it was quickly apparent while spinning up that my legs were empty. Off the start I was off the front row, but this time around it didn't help me. My starts of late have been 50-50 - when I get it right they're pretty decent, but half of the time I've been missing my pedals pretty badly, and taking four or five attempts at that point to get clipped in. As you can guess, this is exactly what happened here, and it resulted in me dropping almost to the back of the field before making up 5 places before the first corner.

That meant my race strength was already completely blown - I was forced to painfully (and much slower than I'd like) head up the first 120m climb, with no room to pass while sitting in 4th - which frankly sucked. The rider in front of me attempted a seriously bone-headed passing move on the rider in front and caused both of them to come together, so at that point I passed the passing rider and was then sitting third - but almost as soon as we got out of the singletrack, that rider got ahead of the lead rider who was holding the pace up bigtime, and with the rest of us unable to pass the new leader just casually rode away.

Not long after the same rider who had already had one accident tried to pass me on a B-line where the track split in two and almost came together with me when rejoining, but then just a few hundred meters up I'd be victim to what I'd call the most unsportmanlike racing I've encountered in my 2 years racing: Heading up a small pinch, the 2nd place rider didn't make the climb and put a foot down, stopping altogether. I'd given him a few bike lengths in case of exactly this kind of thing, but when trying to take an alternate safe line around he cut (walked) straight across the path of the track, blocking it altogether, making me stop.

It got worse though - the rider who was now behind (who had passed our friend who clearly liked to pass regardless of the track conditions) then blocked me from the right in as I tried to back up to get out from the rider in front, and with me completely pinned in by two riders, our famous friend dismounted, pushed off both of us, and went off ahead. In true karma though he did something and either dropped his chain or something similar, as he had to stop at the next switchback where I passed him.

So yeah, by this point I wasn't impressed at all.

The remainder of the first lap was similar - at the base of a descent with about a dozen berms a rider trying to cut down the inside of me almost taking both of us off the track where there was no room to pass, instead taking himself off the track and me having to recover, and then again cutting a corner to attempt to pass (and by this I mean turning in about 5 meters before a downhill switchback where there was actually no singletrack), where he'd again be unsuccessfull unless it was his goal to clip my rear wheel quite hard. No idea how he kept that upright.

Of course while I'd got away from an accident, it seems I hadn't got away from mechanical damage from that contact. From then on my freehub was making horrible noises when engaging and on descents - it wouldn't engage quickly as was expected. Examination after the race showed that the top half of my cassette now had about 3mm of rotational play in it, and with no chain whip I couldn't do much to fix it.

The rest of the race was rather uneventful. By the end of the first lap I was sitting in fifth, and though I'd pull back most of any gap that was there on the second lap, I was just happy to conserve as much energy as necessary to stay ahead, as these guys were just dropping me on the descents something stupid, so any gaps I'd open up on the climbs were just negated. Each lap it was the same through each section - I'd have quite a gap coming in to certain sections and I could see the riders behind coming the other way, but by other sections they'd end up right on my tail. It was fortunate the lap ended with a small climb, on which I could easily make up 8-10 seconds without expending much energy at all - and that's what I'd counted on for the final lap, to just conserve the 5th place I'd been sitting in the whole time.

The trip home

Choma was ready to go as soon as I pulled off the track, so without even really having a chance to get myself together I had to pack up and get moving. You see, the parents who had greeted us in the morning had offered us a lift all the way back to the city, where we were staying - in fact not only did they offer a lift back, but they also offered to pick us up in the morning! We couldn't believe it either - these complete strangers with nothing to gain but maybe a warm fuzzy feeling offering to go well out of their way to help out two out of town strangers, and with no real way to repay the favour or say thanks - and belive me we really appreciated the generous gesture.

Back at the hotel we then had a tough choice ahead of us: What to do for food. We were both pretty exhausted from a few big days, and both sunburnt (ie, tired), so any decision making was actually well beyond us. We decided just to head down to Rundall mall, however discovered there was basically nothing open on a Saturday night - so much for that plan. Oh well. An early night to go with the planned early start - rinse, repeat, and do it all over again starting at 7:30am on the Sunday.

Friday 31st October, 2008

MTBA Nationals Round 1 - Day 1 - Friday

What a disaster day. I still had a few things remaining to pack in the morning, but we managed to get going only a few minutes after our intended 6am departure. Choma had put my bike box in the car though so I had no idea how much it weighed. Turns out that small amount of stuff I had weighed a ton - I struggled to get it over to the shuttle bus, and when we got through check-in found it was overweight - a 35kg bag. WTF was in this thing!?
So to get the weight down I took my tools out - the ones I'd need to disassemble and reassemble my bike. That got it down by something stupid like 8kg, but then I hit another hitch going through airport security - included in the tools I'd put into my carry-on luggage were a spanner, side cutters, and allen keys, which they wouldn't let me take through (fair enough). Arrrrgh. So a quick trip to a post office to send myself some mail, then off to Adelaide. So far it had been a pretty shit morning.

Got to Adelaide and had to decide what to do about going to the hotel. We weren't supposed to be able to check in until early afternoon, so hung around chatting to Neil van der Ploeg for an hour or two, while he waited for Tory and Garron. Eventually stuff was sorted and we got to the hotel, though not before we had to play tetris with getting two bike bags into a wagon taxi. Getting stuff to the room was certainly made easier by the porters though - who also had that same "wtf is in this!?" reaction.

Went for lunch, bought a map so we could try to get to the track without getting lost, came back, kitted up, and headed out to Eagle after checking directions at about 2:15m thinking we were up for a 40 minute/12km trip. We had this long discussion about the map we'd bought - I'd written down directions, we were going to take the map with us, got to the elevator and Choma goes "you got the map?". We figured we'd be fine without it - big mistake. First 15 minutes of the ride went out, and then the street names stopped matching what was written down. 35 minutes in we stopped at a servo to ask for help. We were on the completely opposite side of town. So we head back, eventually come to places we recognised, then got lost again. Stopped at another servo, "Oh, it's just down the road". By this point we'd done over an hour at about 65% MHR, taking turns to minimize effort.

My ass it was just down the road. 45 minutes from there, most of which was spent climb Mt Barker, a 600 meter climb. Choma cranked it up the top where I decided "I'm keeping it below 80%" - and with much displine did so. The signage up to Eagle on the Hill was great - it's just that once you actually get to Eagle it's confusing as hell. "Eagle on the Hill, 200 meters next Right". And there's no right turn! Turns out it's a U-Turn into a hidden little entrance with no signs. Sigh.

So we got there at 4:15, thinking we'd missed registration and now certainly with no time or chance to pre-ride the track - fortunately they were receptive and let us pick up our stuff. We didn't feel like riding back though, so Rob Eva was nice enough to give us a lift back to where they were staying - so we all huddled into the SRAM van with Trent, Sam Hill, and a few other of the SRAM guys I hadn't met before.

Back 'home' to clean up, then we headed off for dinner where on the way Choma tried to drag me into every adult store, bar and night club we passed, had the most awful steak for dinner, and headed back.

Plates for both races

Ready to race

Day 2 had better be an improvement.

MTBA Nationals Round 1 - Day 0 - Thursday

The trip began by Choma ringing me after work to collect my gear. Realising however that it would be inevitable he'd start hitting on our receptionist if left alone, I made a quick move for reception with my gear and we got going, with a surprised expression as to how little I was taking with me. From there it was straight to the store to pick up a shiny new bike box, and then off to Westgate, where Michael would just walk away off the front and Tomma would happily sit on my wheel for the next three laps after I blew myself up on the first.

After a long chat hanging around after the crit we went for a feed of junk, then back home to pack, ready for a 6am trip in the morning.

Monday 27th October, 2008

Southern Exposure SurfCoast 6 Hour

The Southern Exposure SurfCoast 6 Hour was held on Saturday - an event which for me had a huge lead-up, and all training was geared towards. It ran for the first time last year on the same weekend, which happened to be not only my first solo 6 hour event but was in my first year of racing. That time out it was tackled on a hardtail, and gave a result of 13th out of around 30 competitors. The goal this time out was a top 10 - realistically I was thinking I'd be towards the tail end of that that, maybe 7th if I was really lucky.

Off the start I was lined up with what I could already see were some really big names - the front row alone seeing me alongside 18-24 24 hour national champion Scott Chancellor, Andrew Choma and Alex Randall, with last years winner and 35-39 24 hour world champion Troy Bailey arriving late and slotting into the second row. Jess Douglas was also just behind me, so it was immediately a fast bunch to be in with.

Yet when the gun went off, something happened. Or rather, something didn't happen. Choma and Scott shot off the front with another unidentified rider and just grew the gap to myself, yet the remainder of the field started... losing ground (wtf)! As it turned out, there was a reason for Choma’s early pace: He had no intention of completing the race. In fact, he was going out there with the sole intention of smashing out the fastest solo male lap - which fortunately he got.

I had no intention of chasing the nutbags up front who were clearly out to smash each other early on, so started with a fast but not destructive pace, before a marshal standing on the track, obscuring bunting I didn't see watched as I went straight on, letting about four riders go past - including Alex Randall, Sean Hurley, Tom MacMunn and Troy Bailey.

From there I settled into a pace I was comfortable with - riders were passing me with relative consistency, but my goal was (as always) to just set constant laps right the way through - my first four came out at 31:30, give or take a few.

Really the race only started at the 4 hour mark - the point at which lights had to go on. I had made the decision at the start of the race to not start with lights attached, and would have to stop mid-race to sort them out. Looking back I think next time I'll start with lights attached to reduce the time wasted stuffing around, as the time lost was somewhere around 4 minutes. That same lap involved getting held up quite a bit by riders still struggling to adapt to the lack of light, so ended up being a long 39 minute lap.

At the completion of that lap coming up the hill into transition I caught the person who would become my main challenger for a race position - Tom MacMunn. Though I passed him up the hill, I stopped for food and water, and he kept going - but this was the first time I had seen him since the first lap where he had gone through in that group of four riders.

Towards the end of the lap a familiar voice came up behind me and started chatting to me - and informed me that I'd been sitting in forth position. I didn't believe it, but when it sunk in it certainly gave me a reason to get a move on. Half way through the next lap I could see Tom up ahead, clearly getting caught on the climbs, and on the last rutted climb I made my way past and then pegged it across the flat, straight firetrail at the top of the course.

The remainder of that lap, the second last, and then the final lap was done with a single goal: Stay ahead. The effort paid off and I came through just over a minute ahead of Tom, giving me a 4th place finish - though we were both pretty worn down by the end of it. 6 hours on a very bumpy track, and a huge improvement over last year.

I guess this means that next year only a podium will be an improvement - which could be a tough call just a few weeks afte rthe Scott 24 hour :)

Last thing that needs to be said about the event - a big thanks which needs to go out. Choma, Ben, Rich, Sean and Stephen all lent a hand, but the biggest thanks go to Grover who amde sure bottles were topped up, gels and bars were at ready, and lept from his seat every time I was seen coming up the hill. Without his help any added stuffing around would have been enough to drop me further down the order, so he deserves some serious credit. Thanks Grover!

Thursday 16th October, 2008

SPEX

As some know I've been working on getting the new OzRiders.com.au website updated for the new products, including SPEX, though it's taking longer than anyone would like.

However Ash and James have in the meantime got together to attempt to destroy some tyres, with very promising results:



Shame I don't use UST tyres... yet.
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