Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Scott 24hr

The Scott 24 hour is one of those races that I’d had my eye on for some time. Ham and his Resmed colleagues had done it before, and asked me to join one of three 4-man Resmed teams as a ring-in. Ham and I arrived in Canberra on the friday eve before the event and hooked up with some of the other Resmedians who had sensibly arrived before dark, scouted a suitable campsite, and erected tents and a communal tarpaulin. And yes, Ham, we would never have found them without your mobile phone! I knew Canberra would be cold, and it certainly delivered in the form of: a vicious little rain-storm that blew through at about 10 pm; an icy wind that sent us to bed relatively early; and frozen puddles on the tarp the next morning. Fortunately, the next morning was still and clear. We arose early (as you do camping) checked out the transition area (about 10 min stroll away), sipped coffee, got the bikes ready, talked strategy, sorted out rider order and got ready for the mass start which commenced at high noon.

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.
tent city
Resmed basecamp
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

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Destination France

Tues 14th Aug
On paper, today looked pretty cruisy - slide down the valley towards Montreux, take a left over a benign pass, and cruise around to Morzine. Not so easy though. The Col du Morgin turned out to be a brute in the heat, gaining ~900 m of elevation at a steady rate of 8-9%. Thank the Lord it stopped at 1300 m! Along with the Croix de Fry, this rated as the toughest climb of the trip for me. So roasted were we that instead of nipping over the Col du Corbier or Forclaz (yet another Forclaz) as planned, we stuck to the valley roads and did a bit of a loop into Morzine. Greggy was starting to come good and won the stage, although there was no urgency as it took a considerable time to actually gain the keys to our Hotel rooms for the night - trashed and grumpy little soldiers. Nothing a few beers (or strong Ananas) couldn't temper though.
The stats: 98 km and 1400 m gained for the day.

Wed 15th Aug.
Today's route would take us back down to Lac Leman, which we would then follow back to Geneva. En route I had eyes on doing the local Forclaz (thus far I have climbed 2.5 of the 4 Forclaz' that I know of), and meeting the guys a little lower down at the junction of the two converging valleys. However, I succumbed to another navigational error, and ended up on a climb that went no where. The map seemed to indicate that the road I was on would join the Forclaz proper up high - but never did. After some very steep grades I ended up on a gravel road for a km or so until I bumped into a walker, who informed me that the roads didn't in fact join, and that it was a common mistake. So that was the end of that. We cruised down to the lake on a perfect summers day, set up shop by a kiosk on the waters edge, had a bit of dip (well, I did) and consumed cool drinks and lunch. Then it was back on the velocipedes for the drag back to Geneva and Hotel 33.
The stats: 90 km and for me, probably ~500 m gained for the day.

That was it for the riding (sniff). The following day was spent sight-seeing, and the day after that Kev bailed in the am, and I bailed in the pm, and the Ham and Greg departed a day or two later (Ham with a nasty cold). Alas, that was it for the Alpes 2007 - a little more drama-packed than we were expecting, but a good one none-the-less. Where and when will the next velocipede adventure be, I wonder...
Planning the following days route - what could possibly go wrong?
The "Transalpin", with one pf several Col do Forclaz' in the background
Ham threatening to end it all with a plummet into the swollen river
Greggles on the Morgin
Hotel Alpen Roc in Morzine - the mtb center of the universe on the day we arrived.
Not the Col du Forclaz mark IV
Greggles models one of those new fangles Swiss hearing-aid thingies
A bientot Geneve

Monday, 8 October 2007

Destination Switzerland

One Bernard down, one Bernard to go. The day started with what turned out to be a somewhat speedy descent to the hustle and bustle of Aosta. I narrowly missed squashing a wayward cat on the run in - with the others all lined up on my wheel. Incentive for not dicking around too much was provided by the sight of "hogs-back" cloud formations forming down the valley. Potentially this could have been less than ideal for going over the col. After the late-morning constitutional - which for the cyclist consists of yet another visit to a local cafe/patisserie, we turned onto the lower slopes of what was to be another 30+ km climb. Steep at the start, flatter in the middle, and then steep again at the top. Ham and I have been over the Grand St Bernard before but from the other side. It sticks in the mind not only because of its size, but because of the lovely little lake and stunning vistas that greet you at the top. The last hour of the battle was made worse by the slow onset of drizzle, which apart from making a sweat-drenched body colder, was potentially going to play havoc with the descent. Fortunately, the rain never really set in. This climb is a toughy. We all battled one thing or another. Ham in particular was having trouble with his lower back, but we all got there in the end. We had fun trudging about in the snow, purchased an assortment of St Bernards - the stuffed variety (1000's to chose from), donned capes and started the descent. The top sector proved to be quite wet and slippy. The middle sector was both dry and unbelievably fast. The technical upper road gains an avalanche tunnel which is several (??) km long. This sector is joined where the motorway through the mountain emerges, and you find yourself rolling onto an awesome piece of super-smooth gently curving downhill. Without even attempting to pedal we soon found ourselves siting on ~70 km/hr (I could only freewheel), slotted between exceptionally sensible motorists. This went for about 5-10 minutes. Incredible to be carving the gentle corners at such a speed. The mountain roads in Switzerland really are a cut above what you'll find elsewhere in europe. I think we were all pretty blown away by that descent! Once again, we lucked in by climbing the easier side of the col. Lunch for me consisted of Racklette (yum yum yum). Partially re-fuelled, we then made the final plummet down into Martigny, and checked into the appropriately named "Transalpin" hotel. More beer!
The day: ~108 km, and ~1850 m gained, with the col at 2475m.

potentially ominous clouds

cruising down to Aosta

on the GstB

the upper slopes beckon
Ham puts on a brave face

Kev on the final grind

Greggy almost there

last corner


all dogged-up and ready to roll

on the super fast run into Martigny

Greggles is cooked - and assumes the position