I almost didn't do this race. My last race was 4 weeks ago at the Kowalski. Since then I’ve had a terrific bike-free 3 weeks off, climbing and bashing about out west. It was such a break that riding to work on the Thursday prior left me with a bruised posterior – damn uncomfortable road bikes! But I really like the Choc Foot vibe. Joe and Fi run the whole thing on passion and a shoe-string budget, so I was keen to get out and support the event. Additionally, the Orange track is one of my favourites. A finish anywhere in the top 10 would net me sufficient points to be on the Masters podium for the series. So, at the very least, I’d bump round for as long as I could stand before pulling up stumps, and putting a beer in hand to watch the front runners squeeze out the last lap or two. Little did I know at the time, I’d be one of them.
Anita and I spun a few laps on the Sat, before dinner at a nice pub and retiring to swanky digs. Our mood was severely tempered, however, by news that the rider killed by a motorist in Neutral Bay earlier in the week was none other than the the lovely and inspiring Benj, whom we knew mostly from the climbing scene. Benj was a top-notch Masters racer on the road (with a collection of nationals titles), and had also dabbled in the mtb scene in recent years. So sad. His friendly face and good humour will be missed by many.
The next morning Anita kindly dropped me off at the event center early before returning to the Motel to catch a few more hours Zs. Meanwhile, I pinned on the number plate and caught up with the usual assortment of friendly mtb faces. It turned out that “the Mac” (who has great form at the moment) had not made the trip up from Canberra, and that Ian Bridgland (the other raging favourite) had experienced a very uncomfortable night having gone over the bars during practice the day before. After getting the all clear from Orange Hospital he stoically showed with a bandaged leg and some facial bruising.
Early in the first lap Ian was not too far up the track – his usual fast start tempered somewhat. It wasn’t long before I was on his back wheel. Usually it’s me making silly errors earlier in the piece, but this time it was Ian’s turn, and I popped by when he was forced to disengage pedals due to some pilot error. Later in the lap I realized that a gap seemed to be there, so I pressed on. I was really enjoying the cool air and the generally bermed lines. Even the shuddering downhills didn’t seem too bad. That was, until about 2 hours (or 4 laps) in, when fatigue started to bite. I guessed that the gap must have been about 2 minutes, but with legs starting to feel heavy I wasn’t sure I could maintain it. I was starting to run sloppier lines. I whacked my tendonitis-ridden left elbow on a dead trunk, 3 consecutive laps in a row.
At the 3 hour mark I was astounded to be passed by Ed Mcdonald, who was either on a flyer, or I wasn’t travelling as well as I imagined. At this stage I was still splitting just on the 29-30 min mark (incidentally, similar to last year on the same course), so I assumed that Ed must have entered the 4 hr event. This was disproved when he lapped me for the second time at the 6 hr mark to eventually record an incredible 17 laps.
The last three hours were a real struggle. I was cramping in the toes, but more crucially in the hands, and on the (now) intensely painful downhills, where I needed functional arms, hands and index fingers for braking purposes. Both arms were taking a beating but my left side was a real mess. Tendonitis on the outside of the elbow, as well as some sort of acute pain progressively getting worse on the inside. I started to think of reasons to step off and call it a day, but in the end couldn’t come up with any I’d forgive myself for. In hindsight I’m glad I pushed on. This last part of the race was made easier by now having Anita in the pits to give me splits. Even though I was getting slower, Ian was too.
I finished my 14th lap for a most unexpected Masters win (5th solo outright). As a few pointed out at the start, “well, you’ll be fresh”. Makes me wonder about the value of huge miles, although I suppose they do provide the base for being able to pull one out of the bag after such a break. Huge respect for Ian, keeping me honest even though obviously compromised. Racing injured sucks. I hope he recovers fully for his tilt at 24solo Nats in 6 weeks time. By finishing second he deservedly picked up overall series honours. Thus ends another great Choc Foot Single Track Mind series. Looking forward to the announcement of courses and venues for next year.