Since first riding the track at Awaba a few months back I had this course in mind as one which might suit my capabilities – lots and lots of climbing with few mega technicalities, although it did occur to me that compared to Taree or Nowra it was on the rough side and was certain to dish out a hammering on the hard tail.
I travelled to the event in the early morning with the Salmon collective – Ben would also be running solo and Mikey would be teaming up with a work mate in the pairs category. Although Ben and Mike are both pretty competent bike handlers I filled them in on what I knew of the course, including the insanely steep descent to the bowels of a gully known as “the chute”.
The form. The Masters field was, again, going to be a hard one to crack. Mr Adams (round 1 winner) was signed up, along with Messer’s McAvoy (who I pipped for the first time last week at the Kowalski – although he was treating it as a leisurely training ride), Welch (10 min behind me last week and in a bit of a fatigue slump), Israel (3 min ahead of me last week) and James (6 min ahead of me last week). Fortunately for all of us Adams was a DNS.
My self-seeding nightmare continued although I managed to slot into the first single track sector with a lungful of dust maybe 20 spots behind Welch, but by the half way point of what is a longish 12 km loop he was well out of sight. I ended up riding the first few laps with Mr Clutterham, who used to live in the same townhouse complex I call home. Matt was riding well after having a bit of a horror show at the Dargle12hr solo a month back. We swapped lead a few times and chatted intermittently when suddenly Welch appeared on the horizon at about the 2 hour mark. Slowly but surely we gained contact then sat in a conga line for some time, with Phil at the head of affairs.
Eventually I decided it was time to pass but made a hash of it, almost knocking both myself and Phil off our bikes. I apologized profusely then got back to the business of holding a rhythm. Soon after Mr Israel was also gobbled up. On the main climb of the course a gap seemed to open and on the next lap I got a bit of a shock, sighting glimpses of Mr James up ahead, betrayed by his canary yellow shoes and socks. Soon enough I was cruising past as he conceding that a lack of taper had left him cooked and it would not be his day. The only man up the road at this point would have been McAvoy himself.
I eased off a little bit as the pace had been pretty intense and it was reasonably warm with little breeze getting through the trees. I had abandoned my sweat-flecked glasses after the first lap – a sign I should have taken more notice of. Now my vision was at times blurry as I struggled to get the contacts pointing in the right direction, perhaps courtesy of the combination of dust and encroaching dehydration. Feeding was quite tricky, with most of the liquid having to be downed in large gulps on only a few short sections of fire-road connecting the large sectors of singletrack. But I was enjoying being on my lonesome and swooping through the half-pipes of eucalypt and rainforest sectors.
Adrenaline moment of the day was rounding a corner and startling a huge goanna (as long as I am tall) that had lumbered onto the track. Fortunately for both of us it bolted as soon as it saw me, but along the very same single track. Although these things can move I was bearing down on it – a slapstick Jurassic Park moment albeit in a parallel universe with man chasing lizard. It had sense to finally punch off the track 10 meters later just as the front wheel was close to clipping its thrashing tail.
I couldn’t afford to ease off for long, as occasional glimpses of Phil behind reminded me. At best I really only had a few minutes up my sleeve. Occasionally Ben or Mike would make my pits more efficient by passing a bottle and giving a time check. The most encouraging one I got all race was “3 minutes behind and 3 minutes ahead”. Welcome news although I think the 3 behind (McAvoy) was a little flattering and the 3 ahead was tempered by knowledge it was a lap old.
In any case I was chuffed to be running so close to McAvoy, and felt confident that I had 2nd in the bag. I shouldn’t have. With 5 hours down and 2 hours (or 3 laps) remaining the first very unwelcome twinges of cramp made themselves known. It’s funny how quickly dynamics can change. Only the lap prior I felt strong and in control. Now just cleaning the steeper pinches without inducing lock-up became a battle. So I nursed myself, guzzling liquid when I could, but caught sight of Welch once again with about a lap and a quarter to go. Come my last transition and the start of my 11th and final lap I only had 30 seconds, and with about 10 km to go I eased aside to let Phil blast through. I thought this was a bit of overkill as it should have been obvious my engine was roasted. I suppose he was just making sure, as I have done to him on previous occasions, but I discovered only minutes later that perhaps fear of a resurgent Israel might have also been motivation.
I congratulated Mike as he too surged past and let him know that Phil was only a minute up the track if he wanted him. At least I didn’t have to worry about the podium now. Turns out Mike did want him, catching Phil at the death and putting a mere 10 sec into him come the line. What a ding-dong battle! McAvoy finished on top, 10 minutes clear of the minor placing’s fisticuffs. I eventually got myself to the end, but not before “Clutters” (5th in open category) also blasted by in the last km to also do me by about 30 seconds. Well-done Matt! Despite having a shocker, Mr James was only 5 minutes further adrift in 5th, also on 11 laps. Only the outright solo winner (Mr Lloyd) managed 12 laps for the day.
Well, that was an education and a timely reminder that when it’s warm I’ve got to manage my fluid intake and intensity a little better. Hats of to Jason for being a cut above, and to Mike and Phil (and Matt) for pacing themselves so sensibly and saving enough to run hot at the end when it mattered. I think all would agree it turned out to be a terrific race. And to Phil, especially, for breaking the drought that had been messing with his mind.
Ben and Mikey also seemed to have had a grand day out, with a few minor offs, but nothing involving broken bikes, bodies or bark off. Thanks guys for the joys of the car trip and for pit-side bottles and beta. Next week Stromlo should be fun in a less serious and more relaxed kind of way.