A record field of over 900 riders fronted up for a tour of the collective trails that are Kowens’ Forest and Sparrow Hill, which, for those less familiar with the trails, and even, I suspect, for many of those in the know, resembled a huge bowl of pasta; “Spaghetti ala Strava”. But unlike years past, the thousands of twists and berms disguised some chili-laden mouthfuls, which made even the trails of Stromlo look like a pleasant aperitif.
For the 100 km riders the first 25 km gave everyone a good softening up. Pinch climbs aplenty led to The Escalator, a rubbly switchback climb that I always seem to enjoy, perhaps because it is safely inside my skillset. A bit of rough and tumble later we groveled up the switchbacks of the upper section of Rolling Thunder only to be funneled unceremoniously down the freshly-cut and loose rock gardens of Romper Room, followed by the technical step-laden horror-show of Stairway to Heaven. Both included armor-plated roll-overs whilst the latter was strewn with tall, sharp, step-ups, which were going to hurt bike and body if you screwed them up. Given there were bits I couldn’t clean, my fears turned to Anita, Sara, and the other 50 K-ers, who’d be tackling this right at the very end of their races, with fatigue at the max. The Stairway sector was not over in a flash, BTW. Some people were going to be off the bikes for near 2 km!
I think such sectors are fair game for the 100 K-ers, representing a solid challenge for (mostly) experienced riders who more or less know what they’ve signed up for. Then again, if I’d wanted to race the Convict, I would have raced the Convict. But seriously, I think it was hugely counter productive, not to mention unnecessarily dangerous, to inflict it upon the 50 K-ers. I think that most of the riders who enter the 50 probably fall into two broad camps; they are getting to know the medium and, as such, represent the future and growth of the sport, or, they are simply out there to try and indulge in a kinder helping of torture on what is renowned to be a fun track. It’s not that they are expecting Floriade, but I’m sure they weren’t expecting this.
I felt like I’d been chugging far longer than 25 km as I rolled through transition and headed out to Sparrow Hill for the middle 50. By contrast, the first half of Sparrow was populated by some divine groomed single track, reminding me of why I'd signed up in the first place. There was some chop and rugga-bugga, but mostly in the second half of the loop, making me ponder the obvious merits of a big-wheeled dually. I rode the last 25 of this middle 50 with Mr Stead, whom I know quite well from the Choc Foot series, not to mention Friday morning spins in Centennial.
As we crossed back to the Kowens’ side for the last 25 I finally clawed up to Mr Locke, another adversary from the Choc Foot series. Simon and Clayton glued themselves to my wheel for the last harrah, and with about 10 to go the elastic seemed to finally snap and I limped home alone in 5:17, sore all over, for 7th in a strong Masters field (of 86) and 39th outright (of 237), pretty much same time and place as last year.
Somehow Anita had survived her ordeal and was there, smiling at the finish, which was a huge relief. She came unstuck in a few places, but had sense enough not to try to chew bits she might choke on. Likewise Sara, who commented that the Stairway sector echo’d, not with laughter (as in the song) but with lots of swearing.
Now we were simply waiting for the Salmon collective. I chatted with Cory at the finish who was most impressed with how Mikey was handling the chop on the 26er, but also that he passed him in Sparrow with a wheel issue. Alarm bells rang in my mind. We’d pulled Mikey’s rear wheel apart in the car park of Stromlo the day before to give the bearings a lube, and didn’t include all the bits when we put it back together. What appeared to be a loose-ish dust-cap had been left out of the mix. It’s exclusion had me pondering whether this was a wise move, especially if it turned out to be a requisite spacer. The things that one ponders at 3 am! Exploded views of hubs on the Internet failed to identify the piece in question. Worst case scenario – if bearing cups were allowed more latitude to move than they should, balls might actually escape the race and cause the wheel to seize, or be lost altogether.
Mikey eventually rolled home (with Ben only minutes behind), with a calamitous tale involving 4 punctures, running out sealant, running out of 26er tubes, and running out of canisters. Perhaps a good reason to consign the 26er to the status of spare bike and splash out on a new big wheel dually for his first tilt at 24solo, which is just round the corner!
All considered, probably the toughest manifestation of the Kowalski to date (a real "mountain bikers course", was echo'd repeatedly at the finish), but i'm wondering if events such as this will continue to be so popular in the future if they burn their middle ground (much like in federal politics), which provide the lion's share of enties, and in doing so help bankroll such events for all of us.