Wednesday, 21 May 2014
Drove up on Sat. A few easy sighting laps (in the full light of day, this time) reveal the course to be essentially the same as 2013. What a lovely circuit. Like last year – but even more groomed, and buffed preposterously clean by leaf blower – finally a purpose for such obnoxious contraptions.
Caught up with Varx at Port Mac in the late arvo. Then back to Taree for steak, chips, and a couple of light beers. Only a phone call from The Mudge saves me from a stout chaser. In tent by 9:30. Interweb magic allows an update on how Giles is faring in the NorthFace100. Ahead of schedule is a good sign. Can’t sleep so intermittently follow the Giro on CN.
Best bird came early – Russet-tailed Thrush on call from the sleeping bag. A first.
Super cold in the am (= sleeping bag a bit thin?). Slumber visions of starting in thermals and long fingered gloves prove unfounded. It heats up fast, despite the sun struggling. I start without both, or any gloves for that matter (not the worst thing I could have forgotten).
Usual bottleneck after the opening fire-road gallop. Like cyclocross, in mountainbiking the sprint is at the start. A handicap, but I struggle holding the wheel as it is. I think I’m faster once I get my eye in, but then fatigue blunts that anyway. Luckily I still enjoy my version of flow.
I settle into a rhythm. Someone on my wheel knows my name. We chat. It’s the rapidly improving Cory Dimmer – also in my category. We swapped positions and polite banter a few times last year in the hilly round at Orange where he won the Clydesdale prize (= fastest rider with combined weight (including bike) of 110 kg). Big, strong and with superior skills. This essentially flat course better suits him. I’m holding him up but he explains he’s happy on my wheel, learning to “pace thyself”. The track is a real joy to ride, especially with good company. I put in the odd subtle dig, but am easily matched. Focus on the long game.
Fourth time through transition and the p.a. reports that Cory is running 5th in Masters. I’m 2 meters in front of him, which means I’m running 4th, or thereabouts. Half way through the next lap I continue our conversation only to discover that Cory’s been replaced by someone else. I later found out that Cory had to ease off as his front brake caliper rattled loose on the fork, which he tightened at the next pit.
I ponder whether perceived “squishing-out” on corners is loss of pressure. Was 24 psis in the rear too few? Or was there a more obvious problem. Prior to the start the rear wheel had 41 bleed points (I counted them), including a freshly removed thorn. Should I don fresh rubber before or after I inflict a slash that sealant won’t plug?
Maybe two laps later Master Welch, who this season is running pairs with Mike Israel (thank goodness on both counts!), informs me I’m running third with McAvoy 7 minutes up the track, leaving 3 hours to catch him. I squeeze out two quicker laps. The second will be my quickest for the day. Who in tarnation am I kidding?
Myself, obviously. I’m now having splutterings in the engine and gut departments. Feeling periodically bloated even though I’m drinking less than usual. Must be the wrong combination of potions. I spend the last 2 hours feeling toasted. No hint of cramp, just trashed.
Not my best outing (too much of life on the beer), but an enjoyable days racing none-the-less. McAvoy finished 15 min ahead, and that Central Coast hard man, Adams, almost lapped me to take the category and 4th outright. I’m bumped to third (11th outright) because that ever-young James is now granted his own Supermasters category. He almost lapped me as well! Bridgland, who was running 3rd for a good chunk of the day also had a mechanical after which he struggled to find the speed he’d shown earlier in the piece, finishing 10 min adrift. Dimmer finished only a few mins behind him. So many finishers on 14 laps!
At the pointy end, McDonald and English (16 laps) stormed past me on my 6th outing. At this point it was shadow boxing and occasionally gritted teeth. They next passed me on my 12th, but by this stage English had a few minutes buffer. Smooth as silk, to Ed looking a little ragged. I’m also ragged, but crawling by comparison! Apparently, with three to go it was agreed that the honeymoon was over and it was time for full-blown fisticuffs with a not totally surprising outcome, although one gets the impression that Ed is slowly closing the gap. Hats off to both.
Another fine-vibe edition of Chocy Foot. Looking forward, albeit with trepidation, to doing it all again at what is promised to be a more white knuckle experience at Mogo.
Monday, 12 May 2014
But perhaps not the kind you'd expect.
Whilst trundling to work with Lawrence last week i turned onto the pedestrian overpass at the convergence of Victoria Rd and the ANZAC bridge when something went clunk. Not just the grinding of gears. Both feet found themselves in the down position. Bicycles don't work that way. This was serious. Even though the Wombat has now carried me for 42K kms, never expected I'd be adding cranks to the list of things I’ve replaced on it. Somewhere, hidden between the outboard bottom bracket bearings, the crank axle sheared. Never seen this before. Nor had the bike mechanic who just happened by and asked if he could help. The incident did, however, facilitate a very pleasant stroll over the Darling Harbour walkway, something I've not done in daylight since I don't know when (thanks for the loan of the shoes, Lawrence).
Strangely enough, had I listened to Karma (or believed in such bunkum) I might have expected it. Only the weekend prior I was in the St Albans beer garden imbibing the local drop and swapping Convict stories. Just 30 meters away the post-podium lucky draw prizes were being distributed. Name after name was being drawn, then discarded when the owner didn't pipe up. Suddenly I hear my name called and return to the table with, you guessed it, a brand spankers crank set; FSA K-light hollow carbon cranks, albeit 175 mm (a fraction long) and sporting mtb tooth configuration (40/27). Quite happy with XTR really, and in any case not really designed for the road.
The scary thing is, only days before the fail I'd been doing the 3 valley loop with Chris. We were both on the limit hanging on to a couple of A-graders along the Arcadia road. Had the fail occurred during maximum effort I’m not sure I would have kept things upright. A little disconcerting to say the least and makes me wonder what might be next? Hence, time to accelerate the look for something new.
Friday, 9 May 2014
That sandstone stalwart of the NSW enduro season has played out for another year. The Convict100 is the only 1-day race that makes me nervous, courtesy of numerous solid sections of rugga-bugga (too many to commit to memory) which are sure to stretch ones handling skills as fatigue sets in. Although I can ride nearly all of it (there’s one rock step I can’t clear) riding the stepped downs at speed requires a certain bravado I lack. This year, my 8th participation, I’d be having a crack on the 29er hard-tail, something I would have never contemplated till recently (the hard-tail part, that is). Coupled with having acquired fewer kms in the tank compared to last year, this also provided the excuse to go softly-softly and just nurse myself round the course one rock step at a time. That was the no-pressure plan. Reality; it’s hard not to get carried away when the flag drops and the legs feel super. And that’s exactly what happened.
The alarm chimes at 5:15 and immediately the pitta patta of rain reminds us of the dour forecast. Fortunately, the rain ceases after 20 min. This slight dabble of precipitation substitutes for the choking fog that usually sits in the valley. The temperature is actually mild. Lined up with hundreds of others in the starting chute, and feeling overdressed, Mr Welch kindly holds my bike whist I strip off my base layer and squish it into my pack. Otherwise the backpack contains two liters of potion, with another two bottles on the frame. Phil opts for the alternative strategy of a bottle on the frame (29er dually), one in the back pocket, and a pit stop en route. We were both lucky to make the tail of the first non-elite wave. Soon we are under way, and even on the opening dirt roads the big wheels feel decidedly faster. I work my way through the field and settle in the top quarter as the bunch motors along, 4-5 abreast, at 40 km/hr.
The opening pace doesn’t seem as quick as last year, but this isn't a bad thing. Soon we make the left turn onto the paddock trails. The first major climb of the day looms. Predictably, a few riders choke on the rubble when it steepens, forcing a conga-line of equivalent dismounts. Phil was one of the few to buck the trend, muscling past the first choke-point, only to be uncoupled 5 meters later. I succumb to running the bike, although manage to re-mount, maybe 50 meters on. I sneak past Phil and by keeping the effort controlled am able to ride the rest of the climb.
The top gained, I find a rhythm – firm but not crazy. Pinch-climb followed by speedy run, over and over. Piano over numerous water bars. Soon the 28 km point arrives where the split occurs. Well warmed up now and ready for the gnarl that is coming. I tractor through a corrugated rock garden, then the next, then another, and so it goes for this arduous 10 km stretch, before finally we get a solid run down to the 50 km checkpoint. My clock is at 2:16. Three minutes slower than last year but not too far off the pace. The legs still feel good.
Forced guzzling ensues over the next 5 km of gentle climbing before the next 10 km section of 3D sandstone. Tiny twinges of cramp, but nothing too concerning at this stage. Just measuring the effort to avoid wasting matches unnecessarily. That's the key, for me at least. Finally the first big descent arrives. I motion another rider I've just passed by. Perhaps he'll show me the better line. Soon he is out of sight. Riders flash by on the side of the track dealing with punctures. Well into baby-head-alley now, the tamest I've seen it. Out of the jungle and onto a km of road before the canoe- bridge crossing. This year I really nail it.
Post-crossing I regain the tarmac with the clock at 3:10. Exactly the same as last year! Five km road sector. Group of 3, then two. My passenger gives me one brief pull but the rest is mine. Cramp now a little closer to the surface. Finally I claw onto the switchbacks of the second big climb and feel like easing up a little. Until I spy Phil, just a few ramps below me. Even as I watch he dumps his companions of the road sector and is looking strong. I’m sure he has my jersey on the radar. It will only be a matter of time.
Thirty km from home is too far to simply empty the legs. Kilometers tick by but I dare not look back. I catch a few riders and we share the pace on the flat bits when not engaged in the numerous pinches. The track has been freshly graded. Hence, smoother than usual, but very soft in places. We pass the marshal at the critical RHT signifying the top of the course and the end of the climbing. Amazingly, I don’t think Phil has bridged yet. Maybe he is tanking? I hang on through the off camber-looseness that delivers one to the mega plunge back to the valley road.
Relieved to have the last technicality behind me I drill the road sector with a few hangers-on. We all get bogged in sand before the final crossing of the Macdonald River, which is waded to keep drivetrains dry. Two Ks to go. On the last pinch my passengers get finish-line fever and punch for home. I’m empty and can’t quite bridge, limping home a hundred meters behind to stop the clock at 4:36:06, bettering my time of 2 years ago by 3 minutes (46th outright and 15th in the 40-49 bracket). Phil rolls in just 90 sec back. Apparently he hadn’t caught sight of me after all!
Anita rolls home just a few minutes later, finishing her first attempt at the 50 km course. Unknown at the time she jagged 3rd in category. Super effort! She’s making a habit of picking up podiums at the first attempt.
The outright winner of the hundred was Canadian Cory Wallace, finishing just 7 seconds shy of the course record with a 3:47 and change. Wow! Only 8 riders (of 524) went under 4 hours, the last of which was the winner of my category (mutton dressed as rabbit!), finishing 8th outright with an astonishing 3:59:43. Congrats Mr Barnard! Such is the quality of the field these days I would have needed to dump another 23min just to find the bottom step of the podium! Still, I’m pretty happy with my effort, and seemed to pull up better than ever before. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the back was fine and neither posterior nor even the palms of the hands seemed to have come through with any soreness or semblance of blistering. Love that hard-tail!
Mikey, fresh off walking the Kokoda Track, was the last Soggy home (6:31) proving that hiking fitness doesn’t necessarily translate to an easy Convict experience. Not having touched a bike for 2 months he always knew it was going to be a toughy! Although no helicopters had yet been summoned we were getting a little anxious, and it was nice to see him home, and smiling…just…at least with beer, steak sandwich and chips at the ready.
Word is the organisers are contemplating a course change for next year, however I’m hoping that the Jeckle and Hyde mix of smooth and rough remains as a unique yet standard testing ground for future editions.