I almost wasn't going to do this race given that I've been feeling generally trashed after a long year of kilometers, but I'm glad I did. Besides, this was the 5th and last installment of the Choccy Foot 7 hr series, in which, hard to believe, I was currently running third on points in the Old Farts Solo division, a few shy of Welch, and a bucket load behind the ever-youthful James. Hence, a step on the overall series podium was a possibility, helped no end by McAvoy again sitting this one out. However, James and that fast-starting whipper-snapper Brodie were present, who would most likely engage in fisticuffs for the top spots, leaving me and Welch to arm wrestle for the more minor placings. I didn't harbour too lofty ambitions tho, given that Phil sensibly sat out the Fling to try and regain some snap after the gruelling Wembo-Croc-Welby trifecta.
Although packing the car in the rain was a biatch, it was a most enjoyable drive west of the Blueies with clear skies and the cricket blaring on the radio, which divulged encouraging signs that perhaps we would get one over Olde Blighty for a change. The constant fidgeting of mandibles that a Mo encourages brought back childhood memories of watching cricket in an age where nearly everyone donned a tash - caught Marsh bowled Lillee, Tangles, the Chappels, AB, Boon, and a more modern favourite in Swerving Mervin. Maybe this is part of what the current crop have been lacking, and is the secret to Mitchell Johnson's recent success. The broadcast was repeatedly interrupted by ever more dire warnings of extreme weather on the way; dangerous winds, large hail, local flooding, and tornadoes, no less (a new one for mine ears), hitting the western slopes and plains before sweeping towards the coast as far south as Sydney. I made the mental note of not pitching my tent under any dodgy looking trees, and hoped that Orange would be just far enough south to miss the fireworks.
There would be fireworks aplenty in the absence of the weather given that my late afternoon reccy of the lumpy Kinross State Forest course revealed a number of A lines that I simply wouldn’t be able to negotiate with confidence (one I couldn't even clear). In any case, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should. Time gains would be mostly marginal at best. I resigned myself to running four B lines on a standard lap - a good decision come race day reflected by numerous slow offs by unwary riders. Just as I returned to the car Phil and Greer appeared and we hooked up for dinner in town, where I did my best to convince Phil that I posed no threat whatsoever, hammered home with a couple of beers. Although he won't believe me, I really thought I'd just be going through the motions.
And so I did in the early laps, struggling to get to grips with an incredibly dusty (the promised rain not quite showing), lumpy, an at times quite challenging track. The talc in the air was so heavy that following wheels on descents I had to back off for fear of missing the line altogether. Like the technical Welby course, it was one that constantly demanded attention to detail, but was more generous in rewarding you with some serious flow. Boy do these country lads know how to tailor a berm. After a poor start it wasn't until about the 2 hour mark, 4 laps in, where I finally got chunks of good open track which coincided with my mojo starting to kick in, aided by a very civilised 20 degree temperature and light breeze. Even though I had no one providing splits I was feeling considerably stronger on the numerous climbing sections where I left the saddle behind and started to mash bigger gears. Now I was racing, splitting bang on 30 min rotations. I caught glimpses of Phil at about the 4 hr mark, but it wasn't until 4 hrs 40 that I finally clawed in front of him and did my best to put the boot in. Problem was that the catch was accompanied by twinges of cramp under the surface. Not good, but having gone past I couldn't betray weakness. I had to bluff carefully.
Over the ensuing laps I banished Phil from sight and concentrated of just keeping my shit together. With the clock at 6:40 I really thought I had it, and ventured out on my last lap. I got chatting with a fellow one of the Salmon’s had shared laps with at Awaba, and he gave me a nice pull into the headwind on the roller coaster fire road out back. We chatted some more on the last section of climbing. With about 3.5 km to go I glanced over my shoulder and got a very rude shock spying Phil only about 20-30 sec behind. Lazarus was back and finishing strongly - my last lap Awaba nightmare was close to happening all over again. I clicked up a few gears and slammed for home. Cramp or no it was time to take it to 11 and ooze the svennesst lines I could squeeze without treeing it. I knew that if I could just make it to the entrance of the last kilometer of sngletrack I'd probably hold him. The last K is an awesome technical twisty bermed and shuddering downhill run through heavy forest which spits you out literally at the finishing line. Little pedalling, just piloting, and hard to make time on unless you have the shredder gene, which neither Phil nor I are particularly blessed with.
I held it. The final gap was about 50 seconds at the conclusion of 7 hrs 10 mins of racing (that’s 430 minutes). Third in Masters and 6th solo outright. I felt bad for Phil, missing the podium by a whisker, but that's the way the Masters series has gone all year, with so many wafer thin triumphs or losses. Had I been forced to spin another lap I'm sure I would have imploded. I didn't know if Phil was on a bad day, or I was on a great day. Actually my consistent splits, once I got going, suggest I was on a cracker. Phil, by his own admission rode a pretty solid well-paced race, just running out of track at the death. After being bettered by him in the last 2 rounds it feels like quite an achievement to wrestle one back. It was fitting that Phil and I shared the minor podium placings behind Mr James for the series.
That's the mtb season done for me. Time to put the feet up and take in some more of the cricket, and enjoy removal of the Mo come the start of December. Best bird (very remiss of me) was a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo who piped up early on the Sunday morning above my tent. Also loads of Bassian Thrush calling in the forest during the race, and I got great views of a low soaring Little Eagle (with its distinct under-wing Mo) on the Saturday approach.