Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Even more ob-stacles

Ahh, Dirtworks time again – love it! DW was the first MTB enduro i entered back in 07, and it’s still my favourite. The most brutal of the 100s, but also the quickest. I naively imagine it could be compared with Paris-Roubaix – lots of fast bits interspersed with lots of brutality – so many in fact that they all start to blend together. Although I know the course, it’s always a shock to the system.
Preparation was on par with last year – approx 5000 km under the belt, although to be honest the combination of new job stress and persistent wet weather had blunted some of the snap. That said, although i’m not in super shape, my condition wasn’t bad either. Additionally, Kev (Dr LandRover) had plied me with some schmancy elixir to fill the bladder. As per last year, i had a no-stop strategy – 3 L on the back, another 750 mL on the cage, and a handful of chocky cakes and gels.

Despite a week of torrential rain leading in, race day dawned clear, and we were off on what proved to be a very wet track. Lots of sucky clay to dampen speed, but at least the sand traps were more easily negotiated. I was aiming for another sub 5 hr finish, but realistically knew i might have to settle for something inside of 5:15. The first wave of 250 riders split immediately into multiple bunches. Unlike last year where i was at the pointy end early, starting middle pack meant i had to leap-frog from group to group, and probably lost a minute before the first major climb. Rumours of major grading proved unfounded, and i ended up once again pushing the middle sector of the climb, before riding the last 1/3rd. I wasn’t too concerned. Last year i burned too hot at the start and never really recovered. I figured that if I could pass the 50 in approx 2:25 (vs 2:21 last year) i’d be on par to go close to the 5. Once again, a chronically sore back accompanied me through the middle stages and rock gardens. I now believe this is a consequence of pushing the bike for ½ a km up the climb, rather than a positional issue, as the pain gradually disappears over the second half of the race. In any case, an honest pace had me pass the 50 in 2:26 – a fraction slower than i would have liked, but nothing to panic about. No sign of cramp just yet. I passed straight through transition and shoved down a few bars on the next couple of uphill kms.

My most frequent benchmark through the race proved to be Rich Napper – one of the Resmed crew and a quality rider who podium-ed on the single speed back in 07, although this time round he was equipped with gears (30 of them) and monster wheels. Although I snuck ahead at the jump, he came storming past at about the 30 km mark, baggy pants, street shoes and all. I couldn’t hold his speed, but passed him at the 50 feed. He passed me again 5 km later, then it was my turn, as he stopped to root through his pack for food. A few km later i dropped a precious food bar, and whilst picking the sand out of it, was again passed. Our last encounter was half-way down the first major descent where this time he had succumbed to a puncture. I was expecting him to storm past again, but never did, so I expect he might have had another mechanical.

After the mega descent I got spat out onto the road alone and once again had a clear run at the canoe bridge (70 km) with the clock at 3:27. Besting 5hr was going to be tight. On the other side I sat up and waited for a good crew, 6 strong, including the elite women’s leader, and helped work the flat section before it all went to hell again on the second major climb. With no more major technicalities, the last 30 is all about survival and cramp management. Cramp-wise things were more sane this year, and I enjoyed chatting with one or two others who were equally on the edge as we worked the top of the course. Eventually we hit the descent, and our group of 5 suddenly became 4, then 3, then cramp eventually dictated that I ride the last 4 by myself. Even rode the second river crossing this year (chain was well dry anyway), before limping home in 5:04. Although a little disappointed not to better my 4:57 of last year, it was still a pretty good effort given that splits were generally down; winner 3 min slower (still 4:01!), 10th also 3 min, 20th 13min, 30th 11min etc. I finished 55th out of approx 610 riders completing the course (59th last year), and 10th (again) in my second year in the Masters category (200 strong). If i can find 20 min I should be able to shave the Masters podium...maybe next year although it won’t be easy as this thing just hammers me.

Ham and GK also tackled the 100. Ham had a clear run on his new dually, bettering his time of 4 years ago with a 6:38 – a good effort considering his relatively green buildup. Great to see him back to join in the festivities. GK put in a solid ride which was not without incident. Locked cranks at the wrong time, courtesy of chain suck, had him catapulted over the bars before being pole-axed in the back by his machine. If that wasn’t enough, another chain-suck incident resulted in a snapped rear-derailleur hanger. Remarkably he carries a spare, and after performing the repair still finished in 6:10! Mikey, Felix and Jasper all put in good efforts on the 50 km course, keeping the rubber side down and contributing to that special mtb atmosphere. Great to have you there too Ben – hopefully, shoulder permitting, you’ll be spinning wheels at the next one. Chips and beer in the sun...

Most inspirational were the guys camped next to us who were the first in the 7 year history of the race to complete the course on a tandem – custom built with front and rear suspension, 48 spoke wheels and massive downhill rotors and double hydraulic callipers. I still don’t know quite how they managed it, but it involved 3 crashes, 2 broken chains, and two episodes of being airborne – a scary thought. To top it off, the stoker was blind, and the pilot bespectacled. In one of their incidents the pilot temporarily lost his glasses, which made finding the chain 100 m down the track difficult, and would have made repairing it impossible, had he not found them. “Don’t be in our way on the descents”, he assured us with a smile. Both were determined to suffer through it all again in 2012. Hopefully i’ll be there too to see it happen.

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