Wednesday, 31 March 2010


The much anticipated 2010 Mont24 has come and gone. We went down as 2 teams - one full of 24hr veterans ("Sushi Salmon…" (the Salmon brothers) "…and the Wasabi Nostrils" (that would be Lawrence and I), and the other comprised of 24hr virgins ("Green Eggs and Spam"; Jimmy, Sean, Gerard and John). A food theme again seemed appropriate given that much of the downtime at such events consists of eating, slurping, munching and thinking about eating, slurping and munching.

On friday arvo we arrived and erected the tents and tarp (aka The Taj), which was not only to be the focal point for downtime, but would help us should the weather turn nasty. Conditions; mild, although some rain was forecast on the Sat eve. Lawrence, Sean and Jimmy arrived late. Using techniques which must contravene the laws of physics, somehow they had managed to fit three bodies, bikes and sets of gear into the Lee Subaru. We were all mightily impressed.

Saturday arrived, and we assembled machines ready for the start, which this year was delayed for an hour in order to honor the late James Williamson by a lap of a shortened circuit, which most people rode. Ben and I were sporting new machines, Jimmy and John were on borrowed bikes, which took a bit of setting up (thanks Ham for use of the Fish), and GK was having issues with his Fly - we were all quite busy.

As 1 pm approached Jimmy and I positioned ourselves at the back of the field in order to savor the full effect of the traffic, and the equally impressive amount of fine dust kicked up by the start of 545 machines [stats: 545 teams and ~2600 riders]. Suddenly we were underway, and I was relieved to be mostly following wheels towards the less pointy end of the field as I was still getting used to the new bike (having ridden it first only the previous weekend), and am always a bit rusty technique-wise at the start of these things. But come the second lap I felt I was already well slipped into the groove! The track was largely the same as the year before - only a handful of mildly technical bits, although perhaps it was a few minutes longer - as reflected in the lap splits. The rider order for the "Nostrils" was 1-2-3-4 during the light and dusk (ie repeated twice), then 1-2-1-2 -3-4-3-4 during the eve, getting us through the night, before reverting back to the 1-2-3-4 the next morning. This is exactly the way it turned out! Personally this was the most satisfying team event I have participated in. Michael and Ben had improved considerably since last year, Lawrence "off the couch" was still a formidable force, and we all clocked splits not too far off the hour. No one slept in, no one pole-axed themselves, no punctures, and very little dead-time at transition. It was a well lubricated machine that in the end clocked over 400 km and 21 laps of the course in 23 hrs. A very satisfying result, positioning the nostrils in 136th place.

The Spammers were only 4 laps behind - pretty respectable given their collective inexperience and general quality of their machines. I think they all enjoyed the experience and might harbor thoughts - even desires (GK?!) to have another crack in years to come.

As far as my own riding was concerned I felt that I improved on every lap. Muscle got me through the early laps whilst improving technique got me through the latter ones. For the first time I noticed I wasn't being passed by many riders - not something I've encountered before. In fact, on my second (and fastest) lap I was wasn't passed by anyone, and for my remaining 4 laps I was only passed by two or three other riders at most - so hopefully that means i'm improving - more the hunter than the hunted! Part of this must be due to the Anthem (now dialed!) being ~2 kg lighter than the Stump. I'm running lighter wheels and a top-notch groupset. Hopefully the rest is better technique and fitness. In particular I enjoyed the surreal pleasure of the night laps - winding in blinking targets through enchanted forests, then after the pleasantries of the encounter escaping their clutches whilst surfing the twists on a never-ending moon-serpent-path. Ah the romance of the night lap! I can't believe we only get to race this thing once a year. Only thinking about it 10 times a day. Perhaps penning this will help me move on. Anyway, next on the agenda for me, in a little over a month is the Dirtworks 100, where I hope to go under 5 hours for the first time.

Ho hum…back to work.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

24 hours of dust

Snaps from the 2010 Mont24

James and I after an amazingly dusty opening lap
Kaos at the taj
"Green Eggs and Spam"

"Sushi Salmon and the Wasabi Nostrils"

The Anthem will never look the same again. The event finished 4 showers ago and i'm still exuding brown stuff from my scalp and ears!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Riders on the storm

Sit yourself down somewhere comfy, press play, close your eyes and listen to the soothing yet persistent raindrops and background thunder which accompany the intro and outro of "riders on the storm" by the Doors. That will give you a flavour of what the "3Peaks Challenge" around the Victorian ski region was like on the weekend. Now do the same whilst taking a cold shower…..for 10 hours….. to get a more realistic perspective.

The event organizers could not have possibly imagined that one of the wettest weekends in Victoria's history would coincide with the first attempt at this alpine cyclosportif covering 230 km, with >4000m of climbing. The same weather system which smashed Melbourne (~200 km south-west) with grapefruit-sized hail and torrential flooding, and which resulted in the cancellation of all racing at the Bendigo Madison (~200 km west), also gave the Victorian alpine region a hammering, although fortunately this was unaccompanied by hail.

On the Saturday morning Anita and I left Sydney early and made the ~9 hr drive down to Falls Creek village (at ~1600 m) - the start and end point of the ~230 km loop, now possible with the newly "sealed" ~30 km section of road. Having dispensed with the formalities of registration we headed further up the village to find the hotel, and the other guys who had already checked in. BT and Greg had done part of the driving the day before, whilst GK had come from Narooma, having just completed an epic week-long mtb stage race. The forecast wasn't super, so all of us nervously fiddled with bikes that evening trying best to rationalize what to take and where to stow it all. Having gotten to bed reasonably early, some of us were awoken at 11:30 by a phenomenal storm which made the apartment shudder. Back to nervous sleep.

Morning arrived, along with a brief heavy shower which miraculously eased just in time for the first of ~2000 riders to depart the village at 6:45am. The mens field kicked off at 7, and at 7:10 I was on my way. The road was slick but at least it was no longer raining. I was pretty impressed with the restraint everyone showed on what is a long and twisting opening 30 km of descent, from 1600m to 400m altitude - slick from top to bottom. I witnessed no accidents - in fact didn't see a single crash all day. I bet that on a dry track there will be a fair share of carnage in the opening salvo. At Mt Beauty (30 km) the Towonga gap climb starts immediately (6 km at 6.5%). This felt pretty cruisy, tapping out a rhythm of ~15-16 km/hr for most of the climb. On the near-identical descent I got into a small group of ~8 riders, and once at the bottom (Germantown) we turned left and worked a good paceline aiming to reel in a much bigger bunch just visible ahead on the 20 km flat run up the valley to Harrietville (km 74), the base of the Hotham climb. We picked this bunch up a few km before the town, giving me a chance to rest up before the start of the Mt Hotham climb. What had started as a drizzle on this run up the valley was now fairly constant rain. On paper Hotham doesn't look too intimidating (30 km, from ~450 m to ~1800m), but as with most things the devil is in the detail. The first ~10 km are at approx 6-6.5 %. It eases off for the middle 10, even losing you altitude in places, before it kicks up again with the last 10 km having many short sharp pitches near 10 % interspersed with more annoying sharp losses of altitude.

2'27'' in I was on the climb. I felt comfortable during the first steep 10 km, but as the middle sector progressed, so too did the intensity of the rain, which was starting to chill me down and screwed with my ability to spin. It really was game on now. Putting the gillet back on wasn't of much assistance as I was already soaked to the skin, but I suppose it did keep some of the wind at bay, which was getting more blustery with every km. Once the climb started to pitch nastily again my legs were really staring to seize, and on went the full length rain cape. It is hard to explain just how bleak and uncomfortable the summit sectors were. Even steering a straight line was an effort - trying to see through heavy fog and horizontal rain which stung bare legs, finger tips, face and eyes as it whipped over the saddles and across the ridgeline. Somehow Mt Hotham village was gained and I set course for the 1/2 way stop at the appropriately named Dinner Plain (a collection of Chalets) 10 km down the other side, which I rolled into at 11:52 am. Hence, ride time of 4:42 for the first 115 km.

With food bag in hand I shuffled into the hotel and tried to get close to one of two fires already obscured by cyclists, some in fits of shivering, stripping off wet layers and trying to regain some warmth. I pretty much decided immediately that it was foolhardy to continue, and that the smartest option would be to bail at this point and get a bus back to the village. As I consumed the cold lunch provided the sight of people eating hot chips and sipping hot coffee was comforting until I realized that the one thing I'd forgotten to bring was money [stupid I know, but with the food I was carrying and with the feed provided It just never occurred to me I'd be buying anything]. Several other factors eventually persuaded me that I might as well just continue. First, catching the bus would mean waiting around for hours in a room which was rapidly filling up with more and more shivering people. Second, I had a change of clothes deposited with the valet service, into which I could change and continue. So change I did, and after ~70 minutes of procrastination I was off again in what one would ordinarily class as just rain. The change hardly seemed worth it as only an hour later that I was just as soaked and cold as before, but it did get me out the door. Miraculously, on the long undulating descent down to Omeo the rain even stopped, but only for about 30min before it returned to situation normal. The section after Omeo was even flat for a while, a section I really enjoyed, and where I got some heat back into my legs, as the road intricately wound its way around some amazingly rugged ridges and valleys whilst holding an unbelievably flat contour. A great 20 km sector. I stopped at the feed zone at Anglers Rest, my only pit outside of the lunch stop, crossed the pick-a-plank bridge and 10 km later found myself on the last major climb of the day, which starts at 40 km to go.

With 190 km already in the legs this next 10 km at nearly 8% was brutal. Almost had to get off a few times (39*25), but was very happy to clean it, knowing that I had only ~30 km of mostly downhill to go, and would be hitting the showers in just over an hour. However, with the climb dispatched I now found myself on the new crushed granite surface, and in no time I had my first puncture. This is where the wheels fell off for me. The valuable heat I generated on the last effort quickly evaporated, and my dripping fingers fumbled with and got repeatedly frozen to the CO2 cartridge during the change - something I'm not very experienced with yet (my frame pump had to go to make way for two bottle cages). My fingers were so cold and numb that they were nearly useless in getting the old tube out and the new one in. I found rock shards in two places in the tire, which I had to remove with my teeth, as the pincer power normally present between thumbs and fingers was lacking. Imagine lots of swearing during this period. Probably 15 min later I was rolling again, but creeping. Of course the rain didn't let up, being harder again at altitude (~1500 m), and visibility again shrinking to 50-100m. The chill had really set in. I wasn't alone, however. Every 500 m or so I'd discover another poor bastard by the roadside going through the same scenario. As well as getting poor value for any down hill sections that followed (the story of the day), I resorted to slowing to a pace where I could track the car wheel ruts, hoping not to puncture again. Finally the lake which sits above the village was in sight, and I rejoiced at every beautiful km that ticked by; 5, 4, 3, 2, puncture - front wheel again with about 1.5 km to go having just crossed the dam weir. I pulled up next to a guy who punctured just a minute earlier - and we were joined by another one a minute later. Fortunately a van then magically pulled up. Out jumped a mechanic (just like in the races! - this fellow used to work in a bike shop), who systematically changed the inner tubes on our three wheels (all without levers) and was off again. Who was this guy? - who in the pouring rain was cruising up and down that last 30 km, giving out tubes and helping people finish. Without his assistance I honestly think I would have had to walk it in. I had inexplicably lost my other gass cylinder so borrowed a minipump to give me just enough air to roll home - which I duly did.

At about 6:55 pm, almost 12 hrs after departing, and just before dark, I was the ~320th person to cross the line, finishing one of the hardest days I've ever had on the bike. That second 115 km took me 5:53 to complete. I was a shattered man and couldn't muster the smile requested by the photographer - I was saving that for later, and in any case still had to ride up the hill to reach the hotel. The shower that followed was magic. Anita (who had a great ride herself on the first half of the course) and I shuffled off to the pub where news of streams of people still coming across the line was filtering through - well after dark. GK, the other member of our party who chose the full loop arrived at the Hotel at 9:15 pm - in remarkably good spirits and condition (far better than me) and just in time to have an order placed at the pub by phone before the kitchen closed.

What a day. It was a good mood at the table and at the pub in general. Swapping stories of the ride, and collectively not quite believing what we'd just put ourselves through. One bloke reckoned it was the coldest he'd ever been - including the 6 Sydney-Hobart Yacht races he'd competed in. According to GK there were still heaps of people he passed on the run in. I hope everyone got home safe. Although one can only describe the weather as atrocious, had it been even 5 C colder (max temp at Falls was 11 C for the day) it could have been a whole lot worse, so I suppose in some respects we were lucky to get away with it. It continued raining through the night, to the extent that by morning the entire village had lost water pressure (the irony). Collectively I don't think any of us will forget this one in a hurry!

1250 elected to do the long course, of which 718 finished, the first coming in at 4 pm (elapsed time of 8:45) and last coming in at 10 pm (15 hours in the saddle!). All accounted for, and no serious injuries!

The morning after - view from the apartment of the start/finish area

...and looking back up the valley from whence we came.
Tarcutta creek in flood - not a common sight
The evening of the ride the water was over the bridge!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Checking out of Hotel California

Last weekend we headed off to the mountains with great hopes of ticking another of the Pierces Pass mega-routes, Hotel California (22, 370m). The first and hardest pitch is apparently a sandbag, and most people you talk to who've done it simply pull on the draws to get through the crux so as to not be too burned for the 9 pitches of exposure that follow. I felt that my form was good so was even willing to sacrifice my Saturday (! usually my day of rest) in order to make it happen, as the days are rapidly getting shorter now. Anita and I were on our way just after 6 am, and left the car park all kitted up at 8. The rack consisted of 2 ropes, 18 draws, about 18 bolts plates, a handful of emergency cams, and a laden camelback each. We slipped down the mirrorball abseils and were eventually trudging along the bottom of the cliff looking for the start. Two other parties were already well on their way on the other mega-classic of the area, Bunny Bucket Buttress (18). You gotta get up super early to be first on BBB now days.

Even though HC is only another ~400m along the base of the cliff, the approach is not obvious, nor particularly well described, and before long we found ourselves shooting too low round the base of the Amoeba buttress before bashing up a steep and horrendously vegetated and unpleasant slope to gain the start block. This really took it out of both of us. Didn't really get onto the rock proper till ~10:30 - the possibility of this being too late played on my mind. We had head torches, but i didn't really fancy having to use them. Anyway, upward! The crux through the first roof of the first pitch came all too soon. I think I could probably get it if I spent the time to figure it out, and wasn't weighed down by a 1.5 kg camel pack and another 1/2 kilo of cams. After playing for a minute or two I just did as everyone else does and pulled on the draw. A handful of meters later I ran into another problem - a blank sector I just couldn't work out. Yet again I pulled on the draw. This was met by another move a few meters higher which turned out to be absolutely desperate at full stretch to an awkward sustained stance a few meters higher. I was not having a good day - having trouble just reading the line, in spite of the zig-zag of dodgy carrots showing the way. This was far more sustained than I was expecting, and I still had another 20 m to go including another small roof and mantle to claim the first pitch. Mentally defeated I decided that it wasn't going to happen today, and much to Anita's delight (she wasn't nearly as keen as I on the whole thing), I rigged a sacrificial biner at 25 m and rapped back down on one rope, cleaning the route whilst still on belay with the other rope.

Hence began a reverse trudge, but on a different line through the middle of the scrubby Amoeba buttress - a much better option this time - to get to the base of BBB. With the other parties now out of sight, this seemed like the best option for getting out of there. We had last done this route almost exactly 2 years ago. Since then it has had a make over in the form of shiny ring bolts from bottom to top - all 10 pitches (heroic effort from Mr Law). What an awesome route! We had both forgotten what a great climb this is. Not just that it is more moderately graded (3 pitches at 18, and 3 at 17), but the route is in most parts obvious, the climbing varied, the rock clean, and the finale is this incredible 70m vertical jug-laden headwall, which must be some of the best climbing at the grade in the universe. We started at 12 noon, topped out at ~4:20, and were back at the car at ~5. Anita in particularly climbed well, stringing the last two consecutive grade 17 pitches together (double rope drag and all) to punch through the last 45 m of the aforementioned headwall. So, despite the disappointing start to proceedings, a great day was had after all.

View down to the second pitch belay before the third pitch straightens.

Topping out on the 6th pitch (above). Exposure kicking in.

...and racing up the jugtatsic final headwall

Penultimate belay at the top of the headwall.

And my feet in South Sydney support mode, courtesy of the running stain from my shoes.

Great views on the walk out.

And unrelated, Mel, Suze and Anita clocking up some miles before the three peaks challenge which awaits next weekend.