The OO has become an important race on my calender. It is the only marathon race in Australia that pays out the top 5 riders across the line and attracts the highest level of competition.
With the race on a Saturday I had to take Friday off work and fly down Thursday night to get sorted. I was really fishing for favours to make this race a possibility and I was fortunate enough to get help from Aaron from the Rotorburn forums to transport me from Melbourne airport to Forrest where race rego was being run.
We arrived in Forrest around lunch time. There was a bit of moisture in the air and the radar map looked hopeless. I still managed to sneak in an easy 2-3hr pedal to check out some of the awesome trails in the area before rego. At rego I hung out with Darryl and Steph at the Shotz tent and helped them sell and give out product to riders as they cashed in their free gel voucher. There were so many riders who were planning on heading out on course knowing nothing about nutrition!
My next favour came from Norm and Jess who, being locals to Forrest, managed to find some space for me in their house and gave me a lift down to the race start. Jess had to start 45mins in front of the men so she had us all up at 4am on race day. After an ordinary sleep due to the constant battering of rain and wind I was pretty tired come race start.
The first 11km of the race is tar which finishes with a timed hill climb and cash for the fastest up the hill. Last year I was 28th and my only goal was to be top 20 here. I managed to stay with the top group and 3 of the boys rode away just near the top. I wasn't too concerned as I assumed they would just sit up and wait for the group at the top. As it turned out they got to the top and then put the power down.
The group I was in just sat up and left it up to Matt Flemming to do the pace setting. There was an amazing head wind and no one was keen to help him out. At about the 20km mark Lauchie Norris who was up the road broke his chain. He managed to fix it and get back onto the group I was in. Another 10km later the Drapac team got fed on the side of the track and Andy Fellows put a massive attack on. I had to do my best just to hang on here.
Most of the group stayed together until we hit the first of the real off road 4WD tracks. I found it quite entertaining as I sat back in around 8th place to watch all the lines everyone else was taking to try and avoid getting rag dolled which was happening quite a lot. There were several times where we waited to ensure the latest crash victim was ok to continue.
Coming across one of the major creek crossings we hit the first part of graded fire road. It was hopeless, the gradient wasn't that steep but it was almost impossible to get traction due to the clay that had been exposed. I made an effort to try and maintain momentum which kept my heart rate close to 180bpm but it was at this time I managed to put a small gap into the group I was sitting with.
I kept the pace on from here and was amazed at some of the crazy trails we were getting sent down. There was one section where I had considered getting off and walking but I couldn't afford the time so just held on knowing that I couldn't stop once I had committed.
When I got to the Red Carpet which is the timed decent for another $250 I was more concerned about riding efficiently and not crashing rather than taking risks for a chance to beat Jongewaard at something! I didn't crash down Red Carpet but waited until a 15m tar section to slide out. I got up expecting my handle bars and seat to be twisted but luckily escaped with a grazed knee and bruised wrist.
Heading across the dam I looked behind and could see a few riders so I was torn between taking it easier and waiting for them so we could work together on the fire roads or to keep the pace on. I backed it off a little and had heaps of fun through trails 4, 5 and 6.
As I headed down towards the Forrest oval I couldn't see anyone so I tried to maintain the gap I had leading into the Shotz 20km Superloop. About 5km in and I could see a few riders behind me as the track looped around. It was hard to gauge who was in what position. I had considered slowing down a little if it was AJ behind to give him a tow out to the last section but I wasn't sure if he was just behind me or a long way behind.
This section of single track is heaps of fun but nothing is marked as dangerous. After one corner I ended up on a log ride which felt like it was 2m off the ground. Combined with muddy tyres and a wet surface my skills were pushed to the limit! With 13km to go I headed back out past the feed zone and threw down a Shotz caffeine gel for an extra kick to keep me ahead of the other guys. I had been given a split of around 9 minutes to the leaders so it was all about staying ahead of the next riders. There was a fairly nasty climb in this section which seemed to go on for ages. With 30 minutes to go it was time for another caffeine gel and I started to feel like I was ready to race.
Coming across the line I was thankful that the race was over due to the cold, wet and dangerous conditions but I still felt like I had heaps left. Maybe I should stick to only one caffeine gel at a time! I was stoked to get across the line in 3rd place. Out the top 5 riders on the podium, 3 were Merida riders and 4 were Shotz. Surely the sponsors will be happy with that!
Getting back home was the next challenge. Norm had organised a screening of the film made up from the 2010 24hr solo world champs and luckily Lance was willing to drop me at the airport on his way home. I am sorry I wasn't much company on the way home Lance! Once the caffeine gels wore off I was gone!
A big thanks goes out to Hamish for being my support at Forrest, Norm and Jess for organising my way back with Lance, food accommodation etc and Aaron for getting me down to Forrest to start with. I couldn't have done it without you guys.