Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Dirtworks 09

Dirtworks 07 was my first venture into the world of mtb racing. I was somewhat shellshocked by the brutality of the course, but returned in 08 and didn't find it to be quite as bad as I remembered. I've sort of been ramping up to the 09 edition ever since January - and now suddenly, here it was. I'm a couple of kilos lighter than last year, about 800 km ahead with regards accumulated kms for the calendar year, knew what to expect, and despite a slight cold was expecting to give 5hr 30min a nudge.

Lawrence and I rocked up at St Albans at about 3:30 pm on the Saturday afternoon, put the tents up in a nice spot, and fiddled with the bikes in the afternoon sun, as you do, whilst downing chips and beer. That evening a heavy bank of clouds to the east put on a bit of lightening display, which I think made everyone a little nervous. The course was going to be hard enough without the discomfort of being drenched for 6 hours. BBQ chicken sandwiches and fruit salad for din dins, another light beer chaser, then off to bed at 8 pm! Didn't get a great night sleep but awoke not feeling too congested and was ready to ride. Decided to use the creamed rice in a can breakfast, ala Jonesey, although I suspect he doesn't usually follow it with a big gob of vegemite - but I wanted to take some salt on board. The elite boys were off at 6:30 am sharp, with the sun barely up, the temp a balmy ~10 C, and a heavy fog in the air. Lawrence and I started in the last of the 3 general category groups, at 7 sharp. All in all, about 750 riders were away on the 100 km course.

Spent the first 10 km riding hard to try and get through the traffic inherent in a large mass start event (approx 250 riders per group) - which I managed to do, but found it again when I hit the first of 2 big climbs for the day, and I joined the conga-line of bike pushers up the steep incline. Fortunately managed to mount up again and ride the last 1/3 of the climb, which was less steep. Then it was on to the open trails. The good thing about this event is that if you have an engine, you get lots of opportunity to use it, with many sections making passing relatively trivial. There are still the technicalities of the rock gardens, and stepped descents to negotiate, but by and large the course is kind to an ex-roadie who doesn't corner or handle the technical stuff too well.

I was initially intending to make this a 2-stop race (50 km and 75 km), but my front rotor was frequently whistling Dixie, which I found annoying so stopped at the 25 km feed to take on some fluid and reposition the front wheel. Off again to the rock garden sector (km ~35-45) one of the cruxes of the event, where I had a bit of a frustrating time dealing with traffic (mental note - start in the first group next time). It was at about the 45 km point where I noticed my first twinges of cramp. Not a good sign, so I eased off the pace a little, coming into the 50 km feed at exactly the 2'30'' point - 13 min quicker than last year. About a 5 minute stop here - banana, multiple drinks, oiled the chain, then off again. No sign of cramp, so onwards up and into the next technical rock garden sector. However, at about the 65 km mark I was starting to feel fatigue again, so popped my first Gu (as opposed the sugar bars I had thus far consumed (6 to this point)). Hung on, as you do, down the big descent through the alley of babies heads to sea level. Managed not to go head over heels this time. Popped another Gu. No mucking around trying to ride the bridge this time - it was hard enough just trying to walk it! Next on the menu was approx 5 km of tarmac - lovely, except that a few kms in I started to cramp big time, with still ~30 km to go. Bugger! Somehow I hadn't consumed enough fluid, in spite of drinking at both stations, and starting with 2 liters on my back. Can't really argue with cramp - just have to go slower and ride it off. So, piano was the point of order till the next steep climb (and dirt) returned up to the 75 km feed. Drank as much as I could at this point, another banana, some watermelon slices (soooo nice!) then back on the pedals for the next 5 km of interminable grind - which I survived, only for the cramping to keep returning more frequently.

The last 30 km was really all about cramp management - going hard when I felt I could, and easing off the gas when my legs started to seize. When the cramping started I quickly accepted that there was basically no way I would be going under 5'30'' today, so didn't fret it. Yet all of a sudden I reached a corner I recognized - and had been waiting for, where the attendant marshal let me know "top of the course, 15 to go". On the downhill blasts that followed I managed to do a bit of stretching, pop another Gu (with caffeine this time) drain the last of the water on my back, and realized that going under 5:30 was still a very real possibility. Bombed the last big descent down to sea level without losing it, onto the gravel, across the river (only a foot deep this time), then cramped continuously through the last 2 km to the finish, but managed to sneak home in 5'20'' - approx 29 min faster than last year and 85th in a field of 750.

Lawrence wasn't too far behind me, turning in a fantastic time of 5:37 on a course previously unseen, which included more traffic than I had to deal with, and doing it all with just one stop - on a hardtail, which would explain the difficulty he had sitting down afterwards. By the way, the winner (Jason English, world 24 hr champ) broke the course record with a 3'58''. Incredible stuff! Lawrence and I picked up the winning machine on the previous evening - dual suspension BMC - seriously only about 9 kg. Sobering to hang around the finishing chute and see the stragglers come home - one with no crank arm on the LHS. One cramping so badly it took him a few minutes, to the cheering encouragement of the crowd, to traverse the last 50 meters - it was theatrical in a Hawaii Ironman sort of way, if you know what I mean - only substitute cramping agony for near-death crawl. Although he finished without fanfare, singlespeed Rob Parbs did the whole thing on a fixed gear with zero suspension - that's gotta hurt! Had a BBQ to attend (at my place, in fact), so didn't hang around for the more interesting part of the awards ceremony where some of the other tales of struggle and woe are typically revealed. Overall, very happy with my ride (no crashes, mechanicals), although if I can solve my cramping issues, and start in an earlier group, maybe something close to a 5 hr ride is possible for next year.
we like to play with bikes
evening lights show, which fortunately yielded a cloudless day for the race
what would be the winning machine (in red)
elite boys at the start
somehow i got through this one. Beer and pizza fixed the cramping, but it was still jolly hard to stand up or sit down.
At the finish with Lawrence and Bartman, who was basking in his decision to do the 50 km option this year.
Chaos back at the Langles outpost
Ollie and Zoe
The following day E and I did the Oaks (via the highway this time). I gave the Hampster's Garry Fisher a burl - quite a nice machine Ham, going up the highway was a breeze, although my backside certainly felt all of the singletrack at the bottom!

The elite field starts, and the first of 3 waves of weekend warriors moves to the start gate.


  1. Hi dave, great account of the Dirtworks, Congrats on 5.20, what a super time and under the cramp conditions too, well done.


  2. good to see Gary F getting a spin too. On the flat its a great bike, and on the bumps for a short time before the damage starts on the rear end of the jockey. Keep up the training mate. Hamster

  3. Stuff of legend Dave. almost made me feel guilty laying on the couch under the doona all sunday...I said almost.