Monday, 5 May 2008

Dirtworks 08

Dirtworks 2008, Sunday May 4th

Last year I fronted up with pretty good fitness but with no clue what to expect and was subsequently horrified by the brutality of the course. This year I was not quite as fit, but knew what was on the menu and even had a plan. The lead up to this year’s race had been far from ideal, to say the least, with Sydney copping almost 3 weeks of constant rain which only relented a week before the event. However, the mtb gods smiled on us presenting an absolutely stunning day with the temp probably just hitting 20 as most riders were hitting the line in the early-mid afternoon.

I arrived at St Albans in a bit of a panic with a rear brake issue. That morning I finally worked out how to remove the brake pads (brute force and pliers), only to discover that whilst the front pads were fine, the rears were worn through to the metal on one side (something the shop was meant to address recently – not mentioning any names Burwood Cycles). Purchased a set of new ones en route and tried to fit them whilst in the queue at Wiseman’s Ferry, only to discover that there was no way I was going to get the new ones in. Fortunately, the guys at the service tent (City Bike Depot, Kent St) were familiar with the problem and promptly lubed the piston housings (one of which was sticking), and bled some fluid from the piston chamber (requiring more tools I am yet to acquire), allowing the new pads to be inserted. There is a lot about this mtb caper I am yet to learn. Relieved, and with my tent erect, I found “Single-Speed” Rob in the pub and had a beer before heading off for dinner, which this time I brought with me rather than suffer the inefficiency of the pub – which proved to be a good move.

Slept reasonably and at about 5:30 am joined in the hubbub of 1000 campers tinkering with pots, pans and portaloos, making last minute adjustments, and readying for the start – 6:30 am for the elite field. I started in the last wave of people doing the 100 km event, and was underway at 7 am. My cunning plan was to pace myself a bit better, be less aggressive but more consistent on the hills, and make better use of the feeds, which happened at 25, 50 and 75 km. It opted for a 3-stop strategy this time (only 2 previously). Pacing yourself on the climbs and embracing – indeed loving – the granny gear will get you a long way, and keep the legs supple, as opposed to the road rider’s strategy of simply muscling through every pinch. Last year I hardly used the granny, this year I probably spent ¼ of the distance and ½ the time in it. I started very cold – fingers numb before the first climb, but soon warmed up and lost the gillet and cap at the first feed. The technical crux’s for me once again were the rock-garden sections km 35-45 and km 55-65. With these out of the way I carefully negotiated the first big descent and soon arrived at the next obstacle – the pontoon bridge. Re-caught Rob at this point (he blitzed me on the descent), and decided to follow his lead and have a crack at riding the bridge (~50 m long consisting of a platform 18 inches wide lashed periodically to canoes). Only got 1/3 of the way across before the wobbles got to me and I knew I was off. Somehow managed to disengage and have my left foot land in the seat of a canoe, preventing the inevitable! Apparently about 5 others were less fortunate and ended up in the drink. I’ll be walking it next year. Arrived at the top of the second climb (and last feed) in good shape. Even the last 25 seemed easy this year. I turned on the gas, expecting to cream my time of last year given how strong I was feeling, but only managed to beat it by 10 min with a time of 5:49:16.

Suffered no crashes, no mechanicals, not even any cramping, and finished unshattered. Perhaps hadn’t gone as hard as I could have, but was overall very happy with my ride. Thought the track was a little easier this year, with many of the sand traps carrying more moisture and being more easily negotiated, although the frequent mud puddles slowed one up elsewhere. The winning time, BTW, was an incredible 4:09, a minute quicker than last year! There was the usual assortment of tales and horror stories at the end. Saw one guy roll in minus a saddle – but still had the front 1/2 of the saddle rails! Another without saddle or seatpost. Another minus one crank arm. Numerous with stories of exploding derailleurs, busted chains, grueling walks and mechanical jiggery-pokery. Sobering to be later informed that two people were evacuated by helicopter, and another 4 evacuated by ambulance – the worst accident list thus far for the event. Glad to get through with zero crashes this year. Overall, another fantastic day, which has primed my appetite for the 24 hr and the Highland Fling later in the year. Any takers?