It’s fair to say I’ve been in a bit of a funk since the WEMBO disaster. Whilst the egg in my thigh gradually deflated, the back pain took quite a bit longer to dissipate. The Welby 7 hr, number 4 in the 5 race series, was originally slated to be run the weekend after WEMBO, but the threat of bushfires put an end to that and it was pushed back another 2 weeks. This was fortunate for me as there was no way I would heal sufficiently for the original date.
Aside; the Chocolate Foot organisers have had an extremely Australian year in the Dorothy McKeller sense, with two events postponed due to “flooding rains”, and one where “droughts” were substituted with bushfires. Yet I’ve found the 7 hr series to be super friendly on interesting courses, so I was still keen to give the re-scheduled Welby race (Mittagong) a crack if I were able. The re-scheduling even allowed for the cracked frame to be repaired. Stan (Bicycle Addiction) did a super job, and I picked it up on the Saturday and threw the thing back together that afternoon for the following day’s race.
Beyond hoping the back would hold up, I wasn’t expecting too much in terms of results, as I’ve basically had 4 weeks with very little riding (including the WEMBO taper) and no serious efforts, not to mention packing on a few kilos whilst drowning sorrows. The competition on the other hand would be flying, many with a post WEMBO boost. Some would still be fatigued. Phil, for instance, looked the fittest and leanest I’ve even seen him, but he must have been tired having completed the 9 day Croc Trophy stage race only the weekend before.
I’d heard the course was on the rocky and technical side. I deliberately started towards the tail of the field, keen to take things easy on the first “sighting” lap. Rocky and technical was right. Lots of loose ground, both powdery and rocky descents, and as many pinch climbs as the previous three races combined. A very technical and difficult 11 km circuit of which only about 3 km were easy and flowing. But I actually quite liked it, with lots of immediate challenges to prevent the course ever getting boring, although after about the 3.5 hr mark it was starting to take its toll. A hot and dry wind was blowing through the forest, which also didn’t help. Nor did being passed by solo race leader Andy Lloyd (2nd at WEMBO) so early in the piece. He was flying!
Half way round my 8th lap I decided that I’d really had enough, a product of the heat, a whiff of cramp, and the pleasing knowledge that the pain I was now feeling was typical of mtb efforts and nothing at all to do with my recent back issues. Late in the lap I caught Wendy Stevenson and informed her of my intention to call it quits. She was having none of it and talked me into rolling another. It was nice to have someone to chat to as the 9th lap progressed. Wendy got a bit delayed with some of the late-lap pinches and I plodded on at my own pace. Garry James, who was leading the Solo Masters division then came past, also a little surprised to have caught me.
I managed to talk myself into a 10th outing (double figures). Shortly after I got caught for the second time by Ed McDonald. “I’m seeing you way too early”, was his take on my situation. On a good day Ed won’t catch me a second time. At the terminal pinch-climb section I finally had to pull over and have a good rest by the side of the track whilst cramp did its thing. I completed the lap with another 20 min up my sleeve if I wanted to start an 11th, but the shaded ground was just too damn comfortable, so there I lay, sucking down a few more drinks and suffering more sporadic cramps as I watched people roll through the pits. I was done.
Garry won Solo Masters with Mr Brodie in second and Phil grabbing third (all with 12 laps to Lloyds astounding 14!). Phil remarked it was one of the toughest days on the bike he could remember. Somehow I hung onto 5th but could have jagged 4th had I ventured out one more time. Funnily enough three of us in the Solo Masters field were stuck on 10 laps with time to roll again but none of us had the will – hardly the nail-biting conclusion to the previous edition. Despite being totally wrecked it was still a very satisfying outing and I’ve no regrets showing up under done. Now for next weekend’s Highland Fling where hopefully some benefit will be gained from this tough re-entry at Welby.