Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Too much bacon is barely enough – Kow Classic 2013

The metaphor of bacon equating to singletrack was used to promote this years Kowalski Classic.  I initially thought they were taking this too far.  For one, and in words describing the demise of Curly, “He had bacon for every meal…you just can’t do that”.  Secondly, in last years inaugural event I found it hard to really get going.  When that happens, in a forest that largely looks the same, an awful lot of groundhog porcine strips must to be consumed to get to the end. 

But with promise of a new improved course, and good form (despite a pair of hangovers in the lead up) I was looking forward to giving it a go on the hardtail.  Many of the top riders had this idea too, although English and Tupalski, who duked out the finale in an incredible time of 3:53, both commented, and I agree with them to an extent, that it really was a course for the dually.  Oh well, about time I made a possible faux pas in bringing the wrong bike, but what would they know!  Many new sectors had indeed been freshly cut and were yet to bed in properly, making driving at speed near impossible seated.  Hence I ended up riding good chunks standing and pushing a larger gear, but I actually think this suits my capabilities.  I’m sure I went quicker than the complacency-lending dually would have permitted.  Basically, I just love the 29er hardtail platform.

Another reason I was ready for a middle of the pack performance was that apart from the fact that I’ve still a lot to learn about the art of squiggles, the field for the full length course was over 300, at least three times the size of the solo fields I’ve been competing against in the 7 hr races – which I’ve also learnt is a better length for me.  With an expected race time for the 90 km in the order of 5 hrs (5:07 last year), this thing was going to be (perhaps mercifully) too damn short.

I thought the organisers did an excellent job with the pre-seeding, providing more numerous and smaller waves than for other events.  Additionally, the long fire-road climb at the start made for a good thinning out before the single track was engaged.  I was surprised to be able to cruise past Mr Welch on the middle sector of the opening climb and plant myself firmly on Mr McAvoy’s wheel (2nd in Masters and top 10 outright at last years event, and arguably the enduro benchmark for the Masters category).  Funnily enough, despite racing frequently against Jason this was the first time I’ve actually been able to watch his wheel, in this case attached to a top-shelf Cannondale 29er dually.  I was surprised by the ease with which I could sit on up the climb, and by how lean he looked.  He always looks lean when viewed on the podium, but he looked particularly thin.  By the pace I figured he might be treating this as more of a training race for the upcoming 24 than a balls-out affair, simply by virtue of my being able to sit on.

I followed him into the singletrack sectors that followed and had to work to stay in touch.  Not surprisingly he was the better technician.  I wondered how long I’d be able to hang on, and how the gap would blow when I truly conceded.  As the km’s started to accrue I’d lose him in the squiggles, then claw back sightings on the climbs.  Having lost touch for a while the first nasty fire road climb appeared, with JM still on it.  I stayed focused and by half way up the ridge switchbacks of “The Escalator” I was but 20 meters behind, with a couple of riders preventing contact.  We exchanged veiled glances.  I lost him on the freshly cut sectors that followed, but sighted him again at the first feed.  At this point just keeping in touch was a victory in itself.  I finally ground up to his back wheel on another steep fire road at the 40 km mark and thought, what the heck, might as well play to my strengths.  He complemented my as I came past, which was nice.

I tried not to look back but squirmed my best through many technical swooping bits, only really opening the throttle on the intermittent climbing segments.  I knew I had a gap going into the 50 km transition, but how much?  My no-stop strategy simply required me to drain a bottle and swap it on the frame.  Riding without a camelback McAvoy would have to at least find his stash and swap bottles, which would buy me another 10-20 sec. 

By this stage I was mostly riding by myself, pulling in riders slowly but consistently, one by one.  There was no sight of JM as I crossed under the highway to enter the Sparrow Hill sector, but figured he couldn’t be far back and fully expected to be gobbled up at some point.  No point waiting, I kept grinding away, pleased whenever the track pitched upwards or bogged up, knowing that on these sectors I was probably pulling time, or at the very least not bleeding it. 

With 20 to go I caught a rider who turned out to be Mr Moore (another 7 hr combatant), which explains his not inconsiderable surge to try and be rid of me through extended sectors of squiggles.  Once again, the climbs were my collaborators and I managed to regain contact just as the course crossed back under the highway for the last (mostly climbing) 10 km sector.  Eventually the elastic broke and I managed to finish alone in 4:38, 5th in Masters and 33rd outright.  Moore was 30 sec back in 6th, and JM another minute adrift in 8th.  Another 3 minutes quicker would have had me on the Masters podium.  Once again, tight and absorbing racing on what I thought was a terrific course – far more interesting and varied than last year.  Top cuts of bacon indeed.  As well as doing better than anticipated the other positive was that I didn’t finish a broken man (like last year) but could have burnt hard for at least another hour if required.

I suggested to Jason that he must have been finishing off another 1000 km week.  He smiled and divulged that he’d ticked 200 the previous day (to my trundle of 35).  This explains a lot…but I still rate it as one of my most complete performances.  Welch finished 10 minutes adrift, no doubt still fatigued by yet another 750 the week prior at the direction of “Madman Selkrig”.  If these guys keep trying to out-fatigue each other I might yet be a factor at WEMBO in three weeks time.

One rarely comes to these events alone.  The meal the night before was shared with Sara and Giles (who stayed at more salubrious Queanbeyan digs), as well as Andy, Ham, Ben and Anita, whom bunkered down collectively at the establishment known as the Parkway Motel.  I suppose Ben and myself were unperturbed, having stayed there previously (it was a mtb bike race after all), but the others gave the distinct impression something a little fancier might be appreciated next time. 

Anita, Sara and Giles tackled the 50 km course which was quite a bit more challenging than the standard Mont offering, with an assortment of gristle, rind, crackling, chips of bone and charred offerings for the less initiated to choke on.  Thankfully all came through in one piece and in good spirits.  As for the full 90 km Monty, Ham again rolled around on zero training getting full value for money, but at least he didn’t need to complain about squealing brakes this time.  I still can’t believe his front tyre, which started the day with about 30 bleed points, survived the distance.  Please change it for the Scott! 

Andrew probably did the ride of the day with a marathon effort on a track that for him must have been a real eye opener; not just because of the frequent technical rocky features, but because by the time he got to them most of the bogs had deteriorated to their worst – the combination of 75 mm of rain midweek and the churning of 500 sets of wheels.  “Well…I learnt a lot” was his immediate summation.  He did look relieved it was over.

Ben had another bitter-sweet Kowalski.  Last year he ended up doing about 6 km extra due to poor course marking, which sent quite a few riders down garden paths.  This year he ended up 11 km short due to a mess up at the feed servicing both the 63 and 74 km points, where the track looped out before returning to the same point.  We think he inadvertently jumped the wheel of another rider who was effectively 11 km further up the road and in the process of making a correction so as not to mistakenly do this loop again.  A shame as judging by his 50 km split he was riding strongly. Maybe next year the course markings will align!  In any case, looking fwd to riding the Scott with Ben, Ham and Mikey in 2 weeks time.

Monday, 9 September 2013

While you were voting - Rocky Trail Stromlo 7hr

Midweek i made my contribution to Abbott-proofing the senate, so had nothing else to worry about other than keeping the rubber side down on what proved to be a very physical track populated by loads of solo talent.  With Canberrans McAvoy, Bellchambers and Moore present, along with new kid on the 40s block, Morris, and Welch also on the start line, 5th again looked to be a likely outcome if I put together a solid ride.

Fortunately the politics of single track negotiation are far friendlier than the sort that normally plays out in our nation's Capital.

On approaching a slower rider;

“Track, if you get a chance?”
“How about just ahead, on my right?”
“Perfect, thanks for that”
“Have a good ride”
“Thanks, you too!”

That said, once again the start was a bit of a dog's breakfast, which, although frustrating, I actually don't mind as it means I can finally go a bit harder when I'm good and ready, rather than having pain dictated to me from the gun, and I do hate holding better technicians up, particularly on descents.

The course wasn't quite what I was expecting.  Leaving transition Fenceline took us onto the Cockatoo climb, which was abandoned halfway up where we were tipped onto the bottom part of the downhill run. Skiing deep powder led to tabletops aplenty.  Following another trip through transition the gnarly sectors of Blackberry and Slant6 had us engaging in rutted trench warfare up the Bluetongue climb.  I knew half of this from SoloNats, but the top sector had more of the same, including a rock step that I failed to tick cleanly the entire race.  After I handful of passages I resigned myself to doing it the old fashioned way.  Bluetongue topped us out half way down Skyline, followed by Luge Upper and Lower, and the usual shuddering run back home.  On the plus side, lots of climbing.  On the down side, lots of descending, which is really not my forte. 

It was on my fourth time down Luge Lower where I had my first proper off in some time.  Probably timely as i was starting to get bigheaded.  Maybe this simply means i haven't been trying hard enough?  I was cunningly running an edge-of-track line on some freshly tilled earth only to have the front dig in and drift, sand-trap style, and by the time it corrected I was high-siding it over the bars with a tree poised to catch body and machine.  I had enough flight time to realise, Rudd-like, that the end of my season and hardtail were nigh.  Somehow, pseudo-matrix style, I adjusted poise and collected the tree in a manner that bent me round the side of it.  I was certain the bike nailed it cleanly.  By some miracle I got up and discovered that apart from a dinged thigh I was unscathed.  I assured numerous concerned passers-by i was actually OK.  "How on earth did you flip it and end up DOWN the slope?" was demanded of me later by Mr Speering, a much better bike handler who was following and saw bits of it.  Normally over-cooking it here would have one bailing on the uphill side of the track.  I fully expected the top tube of the bike to be snapped in two, but could only find the smallest of chips that I assumed was the impact point.  In short the bike looked perfect.  Most confounding!  I figured if it got me back down the hill I'd keep rolling.  It did.

[post-ride-script; the impact point was actually the AYUP light mount which got shunted along the handlebars by 1 cm, perforated the number plate, and was still carrying bits of bark the next day.  The headset was also a little loose.  My midriff also seemed to have been involved, although this wasn’t even noted till I hit the showers]

With a fresh jolt of adrenalin I got back to the business of putting down some steady 30- 32 min laps.  By about the 4 hr mark I started catching glimpses of Welch up ahead.  Earlier than expected but not surprising, and I think I owe Mr Selkrig a beer.  Let me explain.  The Saturday prior I did a hard 120 km to Mt White return, which gave me a rare 500 km week.  It took me most of a soft pedaling week to recover.  Phil disclosed to me pre-race that on the same day he and Selkrig, at Selkrig's beckoning presumably, combined to knock off 315 km, at a similar average of 29, giving him over 750 for the week.  It would have been remarkable were he not still fatigued.  Hence, for once I didn't expect a Lazarus-with-a-triple-bypass comeback.  With about 2 hours to go, Anita, having undergone an endurance event of her own (voting at Old Parliament House where staff expected 600 but processed 6000), let me know that Moore was but a minute behind.  This put a bit of a rocket up me to keep squeezing out good splits for the remainder.  

Despite surfing the edge of cramp for the last few laps I managed to hold on and actually picked up third in Masters (and 10th outright), 18 minutes behind McAvoy and 23 behind Morris, who were a cut above and must both be considered equal favorites for the 24 in Oct.  I should disclose that the podium was only made possible due to Bellchambers (who finished 17 minutes ahead of me), being corralled into the single-speed category, which he creamed.  Welch was naturally disappointed with 4th but picked up the series Masters win for the 5 rounds of the Rocky Trail 7 hr events as consolation.  In what was a real shock, overall solo favorite McDonald only picked up third behind the well-credentialed Hall, which in itself was not a great surprise, but the outright winner was an unheralded young-un from Goulburn with a mostly superbike background.  Check out www.troyherfoss.com/.  Between racing GPs in Europe he'll nip down to Italy to do the odd Grand Fondo, and podium there too!  Amazing talent and another one for the top guns to watch at Worlds should he decide to enter.  

In my dreams it would be customary to finish such reports with thanks to a long list of sponsors.  Well, lets just say I'll be sticking with my day job, but I should say a big thank you to Craig and Ingrid for putting us up for our late arrival on Friday night, and especially to Eva and Zoe, who donated their bedroom, complete with an assortment of dolls and ponies, for the occasion.  And to Anita who also made the trek this time, handing out bottles and keeping me in the loop re standings.