Monday, October 29, 2018

2018 Wembo - Scotland

It's really hard to know where to start with this race report. Do I start with thanking my sponsors that jumped on board to help me get to Scotland? Do I start with the decision making around the timing of my surgery to fix my endofibrosis? Or do I just get straight into the logistics involved with simply getting to the start line?!
Scotland was seriously only on the cards through my very generous sponsors and I am very grateful for each of them. In past years when I have won the World Championships, the prize included an airfare to the next event. In 2017 I missed this prize so have relied on my major financial sponsors: Rohr’s Home Hardware and Blacktown Family Dental. Also Total Tender Services, Your Massage Therapist and Helen Jackson have come to the party to generously cover most of the expenses associated with the trip. I should also thank both my parents and Jen's parents for looking after our kids so Jen could come with me.

It’s hard to be competitive with one leg, so surgery was an important part of the big plan. Unfortunately, I had to serve a waiting period with my health insurance, so July was the earliest I could go under the knife and provided the longest rehab time possible...3 months before Worlds. I used the Australian National Championships as a final tester of fitness and entered the 24 Hour Solo World Championships in Scotland soon after.

Getting to Fort William
There were plenty of options for getting to the race but, we ended up opting for a motorhome. I have seen lots of people use motor homes and I thought it would provide my support with easy access to power, water and most importantly, heating. Heating both for foods, fluids and crew. The drive from Manchester took around 8 hours each way. This meant rushing past some amazing things to do and see. I wish we could have spent an additional day or two making the most of our time overseas!

The track
This was similar to the 2014 event that I did. I just can’t remember so much climbing. If the trails weren’t heading down a rocky downhill, the track was heading up. Some of the climbs were nice and gentle, it was the loose and slippery steep sections that caused the most issues.
The track was quite interesting however with so much variety. From slippery rooty sections to bridges, from smooth flowy single track to technical bermed corners that took careful planning to ride well.

Final prep
I had tried to get hold of a 30T chain ring to match my 11-40T rear cassette but unfortunately it didn’t arrive before I had to fly out. The best I could find in town was a 32T but that still required working far too hard up the steeper pinches.
Rain was the other concern I had. I was waiting on a Sealskins order but ended up making a purchase locally. It seems Sealskins are the only way to go over there!
I have never used a mud guard before. I was trying to source a decent one in Australia however the shipment didn’t quite arrive in time but luckily Matt Page (who drove up from Wales to help me) managed to grab a set of really good guards from Rapid Racer Products.
I managed to borrow some lights Saturday morning from the event sponsor Exposure Lights as JetBlack Products announced last week they aren’t doing Niterider lights any more. Matt Page has had years of experience using them so it was great to use something he was familiar with.

The race
On the start line I was freezing. I had almost every Santini product I own on... Behot leg warmers, undershirt, Behot arm warmers, Sleek Kit, Guard Jacket, booties, Lazer helmet with rain cover, a beanie and a hot water bottle tucked down my front.
I ditched the hot water bottle before the start and should have also left the rain jacket. I warmed up very quickly! I had stuffed my jacket in my rear pocket by mid lap and was quite warm. If only this feeling lasted longer….
The pace from the start was fast as per usual and I had to settle for around 20th heading into the first single track. Unfortunately, there were quite a few riders that couldn’t ride the single track as well as the fire road. After a couple of laps I dropped my seat a little to try and manage muscular pain on my weak leg. Apart from the first 3-4 hours, I didn’t really notice muscular leg pain.
I was getting race splits from early on which was helpful, I was initially losing around 1-1.5 mins per lap. Once I caught up to Taylor Lideen who rides for Pivot I stayed with him until lap 15/16 where he caught up to the race leaders and I decided I should take the race a little easier. I just didn’t feel strong from the start and knew I was pushing it a little too hard given my lack of training. Normally leading up to a serious 24hr I would look at linking together several big weeks but unfortunately, with work commitments and recovering from surgery, I wasn’t in the form to be super competitive. 
For the rest of the night I took a conservative approach with my main aim to stay upright and just hold on to the 3rd position I was sitting in. 
During the night I got to try out the Exposure Lights systems. Matt had them setup so I needed to swap out the helmet light every 2 laps and the bar light much less often. The bar lights were quite clever, they would save power on the climbs by dimming and turn up the brightness on the fast decents. I normally run my lights on low beam permanently, so this was something great.
At around 6am when the rain really started belting down, I was pushing it a little too hard around one of the fireroad corners and had a good slide out. It took me ages to get back on the bike, it really hurt. The next 4 hours were quite tough, the pain in my knee became a constant ache, my forks were too stiff at 35psi and were only getting around 20mm of travel, I was freezing cold again and I was scared off falling off again and hurting my knee.
After 10am I checked the laps times with my support crew and we worked out I could stop, have a shower and warm up and get my knee stitched up, ready to go back out for a final lap if necessary. We reassessed the positions at 11.30am and I was safe to stay warm and dry.
The bikes I used for the race were great, the Mach 429SL was a good choice. The Elite Female winner and runner up Elite Male were on the same bike. My bike has Shimano DI2 XTR, Stans Podium Wheels, Wtb Ranger Tyes and Saddles, Mt Zoom bars and Stages Power Meters.
Getting home, was another story…

Pics: Russ Baker

Saturday, October 13, 2018

2018 Hero MTB Himalaya

There is really too much to talk about for each stage, so I just picked the thing that really stood out to me from each stage.
Prologue stage – The first day was really the rego day, where there was a prayer ceremony and 1km loop through a closed off section of Shimla is a pedestrian heavy area.The loop was more of a showy lap around and a chance to recognise the contribution India Tourism and other supporters have made to make this event possible.
Stage 1
The crazy ride to the start is a good introduction to riding around India. Eventually the crazy traffic, both pedestrian, vehicular and animal became normal. Within 5km of the race component, I lost balance and fell off a cliff. I was balancing as I looked for the line through a landslide, but there was no line. I think my pedals were gunked up with mud from an earlier section so instead of unclipping off I went. I was lucky to come away with just scratches, my bike got a broken helmet and I didn’t realise that my gopro fell off. I couldn’t get my bike up the cliff by myself and had to rely on a couple of riders to climb down a tree to reach me and my bike. Peter Rorh then stopped to assist as I slid my handlebars across to give something to grab onto, I strapped on my brake leaver and could fit the shifter only on the end of the bar. Finishing this first day with only a back brake was a little crazy at times.
Stage 2 began with a gradual climb, all on good gravel road. My partner Akshit had no idea how to ride in a group and so I had to really encourage him to get right on a wheel. He also lacked the strength to muscle up any undulations in the road and required a helping hand to get him back to a wheel. We carefully stayed with the team in 3rd place and I spend around 3 hours with my hand on Akshit’s back!
Stage 3
This was the longest day for me, with lots of walking. When I finished at 4pm I had rice to eat which was cooked at 6am that day. It was the last time I ate anything without checking the heat of the serving tray. If it was not hot, I assumed it was cooked at breakfast and was sitting out all day. I did spend a significant part of the evening revisiting the rice I had consumed earlier.
Rest day – started with the riders heading into a local school for a show and dace. After was a chance to do some shopping for clothes, fireworks, chia and a haircut. I was really bummed about losing my sweet casual Adidas glasses this day.
Stage 4- I thought this stage had a neutral stage for the first few kms so I just cruised out of town. It ended up being a race from the start and Akshit and I got left behind by the team still sitting in 3rd ahead of us. We eventually worked our way through the field and moved into the 3rd team overall.
Stage 5 - The highlight of this stage was the 1000vm decent, riding down crazy stairs past private residence, then finishing the ride with a cold coffee ice-cream and hot showers as we camped at college.
Stage 6 -
I did the first climb out of the college with the top few riders before soft pedaling waiting for Akshit, we then rode together following an impressive ridge-line. My highlight was seeing Akshit push himself to hold my wheel when I was pushing 220-230 watts for the last 10km on the flat.
Stage 7 - This stage was really looking unlikely to go ahead with the number of landslides in the area. The course setters were able to come up with an option luckily. The amount of hiker bike sections was crazy. It just felt like it was easier to just walk the whole course rather than getting on and off the bike. If there wasn’t such a nice downhill I wouldn’t have really enjoyed this stage, although, this day did have the most impressive views.
Stage 8 -
the final stage was decided to be a race where the first person across the line wold be a local Indian rider. It was amazing how hard this guy was pushing to prove he deserved the stage win. He was super emotional coming over the line to know he had the respect of many top riders. I finished this stage ahead with the leaders then looped back to find Akshit who was not the far behind and demonstrated massive improvement over the 8 days racing. With a little training before the event and with learning how to bunny hop correctly, he will be one of the top Indian riders.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

2018 XCM Marathon National Champs AKA - Where is my bike?

pic: Marcus Monteith
I was planning to write a short and simple report on my visit to Townsville for the 2018 Marathon Champs however, it wasn't a simple weekend.

My trip started by racing a missed train from Wollongong to Helensburgh where I finished the train trip to the Sydney domestic terminal. I was there an hour before the flight so I was a little surprised, upon arriving in Townsville, to have Virgin inform me that my bike had missed the flight. With no bike I missed out on a lap around the course Friday evening and instead opted for last minute school work. At midnight my bike got it's own maxi taxi to the campsite where I was staying.
With race practice open from 1pm on Saturday, Peter Lister and I planned for a mid-afternoon ride. We ducked into the shops around 2pm with our bikes locked on the roof of the car. The bikes were locked with expensive bike racks, which I have had 100% confidence in. After a 15 minute shop we returned to the car to find security having a discussion and a lack of bikes on the roof. I would have thought a bike should have be safe locked on a car at 2pm, high up on a big 4wd in the middle of a busy shopping center car park just outside McDonalds. I was wrong. With lots of kids roaming around, there would have been some witnesses to the theft. In borrowed thongs I took off in pursuit of a rider who appeared to be riding what could have been one of our duallies. A few kilometers later I was so blistered up I called for a pickup and Pete, who had been circling, picked me up so we could have a chat to the police.
With around 300 Facebook shares we got a message that our bikes had been spotted while we were getting the car finger printed. It was interesting to hear the police radio as crew were directed to the sighting. Unfortunately the bikes went out of sight of our spotter and Pete and I were left lapping around the area asking anyone and everyone if they had seen our bikes. After a couple of hours Pete found a family with kids who had seen the bikes and knew who had them. The uncle took us around to the house however the kids who had taken the bikes apparently weren't there. We left our phone number and the offer of a cash reward and headed off to continue searching. Within half an hour we had a call to come back to the same house to pick up our bikes. After we un-reported our bikes stolen, we head back to camp to assess the damage.
I had all my Di2 cables pulled, a speed sensor taken, co2 and tubes played with and power meter battery removed. Pete wasn't so lucky. With the rack Pete was using, it required damaging the frame to remove the bike. It also looked like it had been impacted in a few places. I was lucky to borrow cables from a junior, Owen Elvy, who spent a few hours stripping his bike. At 1am we had managed to route the wires and it was time for a few hours sleep.

My first ride on my bike in FNQ was on the first lap of the xcm race course. I was feeling pretty good but the bike still needed a few adjustments to make it right. I had no real race plan at Townsville rather than trying to maintain a solid pace and try and stay in the top 10. Initially I felt good for it. Heading into the single track I was just inside 10th however, dropping a chain, getting lost starting the second lap and generally struggling to corner with too much air in my front fork I lost a few more places. By the 3rd out of 5 laps I started to get the hang of the track and started to increase my pace. As I started to pick up a couple of positions I managed to cut a side wall. I didn't think it was so bad so gave it some co2. Five minutes later I put in a tube that had been clearly damaged during the theft. I managed to grab a spare tube but spending over 15 minutes trackside is not a good way to place well. I was mindful of running tubeless tyres and rode far more conservatively. I thought I should still try and have a race and so picked up a few positions in the remaining 1.5 laps. I found it entertaining to catch a busted Michael Harris about to head down the second last descent. I managed to get a gap on him along the last flat tar section and my lead felt very safe up to the final climb where he smashed past. I held his wheel expecting a sprint for the line before Michael had a lay down and let me roll past.

I love mountain biking. Here is summary of the standout moments of my trip:
* being lent a tube during a race
* being lent Di2 cables for a race (costing the donor hours of his time)
* having so many people in the local and mtb community sharing around the pictures of our lost bikes
* having people join in the search for the bikes