The course was an “hourglass” configuration, with two roughly equivalent circuits (red and blue), that had to be ridden alternately. The red circuit consisted of a ~ 6 km climb up to the summit of Mt Stromlo, then a 6 km descent, whilst the blue circuit consisted of a relatively flat 13 km loop. We were drafted into riding the red course first, and I volunteered to take the first leg. As I was nervous about holding up faster and more skilled riders, particularly on the descents, I decided to start from the back and work my way through the field, rather than gunning it from the off.
The start was predictably chaotic, and for much of the climb I was following wheels on the single-track, waiting for an opportunity to pass, whilst above and ahead I could see the elastic ever stretching. Didn’t have to burn too much on the climb, then steeled myself for the descent. Fortunately it wasn’t too technical. The highlight for me was a fantastic downhill traverse across the face of Stomlo, with quite a steep inclined drop-off ready to claim you if you screwed up. Exhilarating stuff. This was followed by the main steep section, full of cambered corners (berms), humps, jumps and the occasional technical drop. The steepest one of these I had to dismount for when I found myself squeezed onto a less than ideal line. Overall, really enjoyed the red lap (52:44). The second lap, although flatter I found to be more technical, as the hundreds of sharp snaking turns were generally negotiated at higher speed. With the field considerably thinned out at this stage, I managed to put in a reasonable time on this circuit (46:46). Returning to the transition Dave P was next to roll out for another red/blue combination. Whilst each member on our team generally did one red and one blue lap in succession (1 hr 40 to 2 hrs for the pair), the strategy for other teams (particularly the 6 man ones) was for each rider to do one lap at a time (red or blue), generally resulting in faster lap times (mental note for next year). Once Dave P returned, Bartman did his turn, and finally Ham, who would finish his blue lap just after the sun had gone down. With the strategy we adopted, all of us (bar Ham towards the end of his ride) had now ridden the entire course during the light.
Ham rolled into the transition area, having just posted what would be the hottest red lap for our team ( red = 45:33, blue = 53:48 – NB: the fastest red lap in the race was 31:38!). I was ready but dressed far differently than before, as the temperature was dropping fast. Thermal top, long fluffy jersey, and knee warmers. Lights ablaze – the AYUP lights are pretty awesome! I was feeling good and had decided I would do two sets of loops in a row – I figured that once I was running at race temperature I might as well be out there a bit longer. Those 4 loops were seriously the most fun I think I’ve ever had on two wheels, particularly the two red laps, with the gentle twisting climb and scything descent. Being on the mountain at night was bizarre – a cross between mountaineering before sun-up, and riding on the moon (or what I imagine it to be like). The intensity of the lights tended to flatten out the ghostly track, and somehow made the descending less daunting. And all around were the flicker of moving lights: the other competitors – some pulling away, some closing; the relative metropolis of the tent city and transition area below; the lights of Canberra in the background, and the stars above. Just magic! Half way through my last blue lap I was starting to flag and popped a GU full of caffeine, which got me to the end posting a reasonable time, but kept me awake all night! I was happy with my splits. (46:31, 51:57, 47:42, 52:45).
Dave P was next, however came to grief on the main descent of the red lap, getting a little too much air over a roller and misplanting the front wheel which twisted such that the bars collected him in the ribs. He got back on, finished the red lap, then amazingly did the blue lap, before limping back to camp – then heading to Canberra hospital for X-rays. Fortunately nothing broken. Meanwhile Bartman was on track in the wee hours, handing over to the Ham at about 2 am. This is where the race starts to get really hard – both physically and mentally. In some respects I think the mental side of the race is a tougher obstacle to master. Once you get over the barrier of being out there in the cold, you’ve still got to maintain the concentration of negotiating literally 100’s of corners on each lap. Ham handed over to me at about 4:30 am with a busted arse (another one!), the temperature officially at 1 C and some light just starting to tickle the horizon. After about ½ of the first lap, I turned my lights off as the glare was playing with my reading of the track in the morning glow. I was shocked to see how beaten up the track had become – and amazed at how dodgy some of the terrain was I’d been flying over with abandon only hours earlier. Near the end of the blue lap I too lost it on a corner, but fortunately escaped with nought but a few bruises (you can’t do that frequently with a road bike!). Battling fatigue and cold I returned with splits of 50:47 and 52:02. With Dave P in the hospital (who would have been the next rider to go) and everyone else fairly trashed (myself included) we decided to can the relay at this point. I lapped up the early morning sun whilst downing a couple of egg and bacon rolls, washed down with a few beers. We lounged about camp watching in amazement at how many people were still flying around the course. Bartman volunteered to do the requisite circuit during the last hour in order for the team to finish – which we did, with 22 laps under our belts. Not a bad effort considering, although it pales when compared to the winner of the solo catagory who posted an amazing 29 laps! Having watched the finish we leisurely packed up camp, and returned to Sydney via Goulburn – and another meal at the Paragon.
I’m hooked. Can’t wait for next year.
Ham above the transition area
Mayhem at the transition area before the start
The Resmed gun, Richard, before the start and before food poisoning put an end to his campaign.
I am ready
sharing the beta at the changover
Ham and Rowan signal John who has just come in...
Bartman catching his breath
Ham at the start of his first blue lap. The sun has just gone down.
Still smiling - for now
Trashed. Note the riders on the course in the background
Finishers are grinners