Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mud bash at Woodend

Despite the much needed rain in the past 2 days, I was a bit peeved because it meant no bike riding unless I was ready to put up with the shit, cold, wet arse and big cleaning up afterwards.

So, when Damien buzzed last night saying it was all go for another ride at Woodend today, I was rather sceptical. Lately, there's been a lot talk about rides but people tend to pike when rain / cold / lack of sunlight / baby / work / shitty girlfriend / etc., gets in the way. Nonetheless, I made sure I was packed and ready to roll tomorrow if the ride eventuates.

Anticipating a mud bash, I had to think about which bike to take and what tires will keep me upright. (Yes I'm blessed with choices). I-Drive would be perfect in Woodend as it's proven at our last epic ride in there, but I was sure the mud, shit and corruption will kill the fun, if not destroying the bike. So, it was my trusty old Zaskar's turn again, booted with HighRollers because they're loved by UK riders riding crappy English mud, so they can't do too badly here in Oz.

Woke up nice and early at 7am to see pouring rain outside window. I was sure the ride was canned. Wrong. A quick SMS to Paul and Damien and both were as keen as mustard to go. Brilliant. Wolfed down my breakfast, loaded the bike up in the rain and shot off to meet up Damien and Paul.

Arriving at Woodend, the rain's eased considerably although the ground was soggy as expected. Interesting tire choices between the three of us. Paul still on his dry racers (CrossMarks), totally confident with his ability to deal with slippery conditions, and Damien, out on full wet spikes (Tioga Black Turtles). My choice of HighRollers would be somewhere in between Paul and Damien. It would be interesting to see who ends up face first in a pile of mud. Paul noticed I was running V-brakes and was sure I was going to kill myself. He's onto something there.

We headed into the Pine Plantation attempting to retrace the BMC 100 course. This time, equipped with maps, we were confident in not getting lost like last time around. It only too us 45 min before we were lost again. No big deal, we were full kitted to deal with the worst and I've brought along plenty of Enduro / water / food after last weekend's stuff up at Chase The Sun Event, so march on we went.

The first casualty of the day was Paul, who, as usual, was inches behind me doing cowbell jeers. Down an embankment awash with mud, I braked, leaned back and held on for dear life and skidded down into a valley. Survived. Next to drop in was Paul, full of usual confident self. However mother nature was out to get him today and his choice of dry racers didn't pay. Out of control and out of shape, tumbled into a log he went. The crash was rather spectacular but Paul and his baby bike came out all OK, other than a slightly dented ego. Damien and I had a good laugh but the funny business soon stopped for Damien as it was his turn next. Well, what can I say about Damien? Super efficient as usual, no mess, no fuss. Cleaned the drop in as if it was dry. Damien & myself 1, Paul 0.

After that rather unexpected incident, we continued our way in search of the single tracks, to no avail, so we stuck with fire roads for most of the way and this is where Paul kicked our butt. He can ride and ride strongly. No hill is too steep for him and the only thing holding him back is the fact he was getting crap flung into his eyes as he forgot to wear eye protection.

Eventually we gave in and retraced our way back to our car. Paul wisely decided to take things a bit easier the second time around the scene of his last crash. Damien went first this time, again nailed it as if it was dry. I was next, sketch as hell, much to the amusement of Paul. Damien had his camera ready to record all the glory of Paul's descending antics. This time, he wisely chose an alternative line with lots of leaf litter, and with better traction than skidded out mud, Paul got down no dramas this time. Good thinking - no point being a sheep and follow blindly.

Our back tracking brought us back to our car, and a much need stop for a food break. We had another hour to burn so the decision was made to tackle the know single tracks. I've done these tracks before and loved them, so I was in my element in there. Love tree dodging and not even mud could hold me back from having a blast. Even managed to drop Paul & Damien through a fast twisty section, although I have to admit, it was because I had the right tires, not so much because I was a better rider. Damien was falling back in an unusual way and it soon became clear that his rear brake faded. Typical Avid Juicys - V-brakes never fail.

Eventually, the mud bath had to come to an end. We were all caked in but happy. Damien's bitten by the Commodore Bug and tried to roll his car doing handbrake turns, while Paul was being the usual funny sarcastic self when we were having Maccas, and his antics while in the car wash was legendary, but politically incorrect . I won't go into details here but Paul's one liners are can make a stone statue laugh.

Lesson for the day:

1. Always ride with better riders, it will teach you more and it will be more fun.
2. Can always count on Paul and Damien for a good ride, rain hail or shine.
3. I have a long way to go fitness and endurance wise to be able to hang out with either.
4. V-brake sucks in the wet, HighRollers are utterly brilliant all rounder tires.
5. Hanging out with Paul is like having fireworks in your hands - good fun but potentially volatile if you let him get carried away. Damien is the safety switch that Paul needs.
6. Damien wants to be a race car driver.
All photos copyright by Damien Waddington. He's too busy taking photos that's why we don't have any shot of him here. Thanks for driving again and nearly rolling your own car with bikes on roof still!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Round 1 - CTS Series 2008


Can't believe it's already been a year since the last Chase The Sun event. As usual, I entered this event at 11th hour with Friday night beers as my pre-event training, so any thoughts of self respectable results are pretty much out of window before the ink had dried on the event entry form.

This year, I couldn't find anyone to join me to enter as a team. My former team mate Wifee have hung up her cycling boots to take up extreme sport of ballroom dancing, and other riding mates all went "nah mate, next year" when I shoved the race entry form down their Camelbak. So after a few heckling emails from Paul and Damien, I was left with no choice but entering solo, as if I didn't enter, I'll never hear the end of it from Paul.

Let's be clear, my past solo attempts left me bruised and crippled for weeks after the event. I blame my genes for not built to last in enduro events, but the sad truth is I that I sit on my arse when it comes to training. So this time around, I've decided to over come my physical deficit with some preparation and technical superiority*.

The weekend before the event, I hooked up with my professional racer / race paparazzi friend Kat, to do a bit of pre-event reconnaissance ride. Now I've ridden around Lysterfield Lakes more time than I've had sex in my whole life, but still it was worthwhile to take this training ride seriously as Kat is a committed racer and I can learn a thing or ten from her. I rocked up a bit late and this did not impress Kat who waiting by her car raging to go. Once we were underway, Kat informed me that I was about to get schooled by her friend James, who's just clinched VSS men's XC championship. Great, more reason to feel bad about my lack of fitness.

Meeting James was exactly what I have pictured, a perfect example of pure lean race machine of a human being, immaculately prepared to tear through the XC pack. After exchanging some pleasantries, we're off to meet up forth rider Sharon, who's on the other side of the park.

Following James through the single track revealed a couple of things. One - he's a freaking powerhouse. That guy can ride. Easily putting 2 meters into me coming out of any corner, as long as there's a piece of straight or up hill section. Two. I can corner pretty quickly, maybe a tad quicker than James, but XC racing isn't like BMX or DH race, going faster around a bend won't give you a massive advantage. Kat on the other hand was being the professional self, sitting back and observing, saving energy and not getting too carried away like I was chasing after James.

Upon hooking up with Sharon, we followed James and his hand drawn map to do a lap of the race course. It dawned on me that the best XC racers have something in common. They all train, and they all know how to ride a bike efficiently, taking lines with minimal risks. Call them conservative if you like, but it's all done for a good reason - to finish first, you gotta finish first. Charging and crashing in a rock garden isn't going to get you to front of pack fast. Eventually, our training ride comes to an end. James and Sharon both have plenty of gas left in them while Kat and I decided to wrap things up before we got rode into the ground by these two athletes.

The Saturday before the race, Sandy decided to take her brand new Giant Anthem for a good flogging. So we did a lap of Lysterfield lakes together. I used this ride to check the course condition and to decide what tires I should bring on Sunday, while Sandy was loving her new hardcore XC race rig while I bounced along on my fully rigid GT Bravado. I love the feel of a good steel frame with sticky tires, but when it came to charging down a fire road, Sandy on her high tech Anthem left me breathless. Ran into Rob who just happened to be an event official so after a bit of chin wag, Sandy got conned into signing up to race solo on Sunday as well.

Now back to technical superiority*. This year, I've got an little ace on my sleeve. My GT Xizang will be used. If you've been mountain biking in the 90's, a GT Xizang won't need any introduction, otherwise, let's just say Xizang is a special bike. Knowing the track was bone dry, I took a bit of gamble by choosing to run Maxxis 310 dry racers - the aim is obviously to overcome my endurance deficit by running as lightweight as possible.

So to Sunday, the race day. Picked up Kat en-route to the starting gate. Kat knew her stuff, packed as lean as possible. Helped Damien and Paul set up the marquee while bumping into a few old friends and did the usual pre-event shit chat. My choice of tires raised a lot of eyebrows, copped plenty of flak from people "who knew better" but I was determined to proof them wrong, and to a degree, convince myself that I was man enough with skills ride on these super sketchy tires. Paul put on his war paint as usual, while Damien went about with his underwhelming but efficient preparation. Sandy sat back reading newspaper and was having a yawn, while Kat said she was nervous but sure as hell wasn't showing it. What was I doing? Queuing for the loo because I was pissing myself with anxiety!

So the race starts, Sandy, Kat and I decided to hang back and start at the back. The usual traffic jam happened at the single track entry so I peeled off from the pack to - guess what - to the loo again for another leak! (Something in my drink is a bit suss). So when I got back I was in dead last position but sure as hell beats carrying a bladder full of Gatorade around.

It didn't take me long to catch the back markers, but then again, so I should, they were on freeride rigs. First lap was encouraging, caught up and passed Kat who was pacing herself, then Sandy who was jammed up behind some fat dude, and generally had no problems other than occasionally scaring myself drifting sideways on loose gravel. Damien and Paul were no where in sight but I knew I had no hope of keeping to their pace so I just went on about my business.

Second lap, which turned out to be my quickest lap of the whole event, was a happy lap. Legs and body was feeling good, and I had a clear lap with no hold ups.

Lap 3 was a mixed bag. The leaders have by then caught up and I was being an unwilling mobile chicane, so I was riding with one eye forward and another back and generally not paying attention to what I was doing. Coming down the fire road gravel section, I pulled off a Sam Hill trick of big 2 wheel drift. Unlike Sam who drifts at will and won't shit his pants doing it, I nearly soiled mine. Let me tell you, despite the other behind me who witness the whole thing, and giving me a big thumbs up on how cool it looked, I would not never ever attempt that again without full face helmet and body armours. Sliding for like a meter sideways doing 40km/h was knife edge, and I was very lucky to have caught the slide and not crashing.

Lap 4, fatigue was starting to show. I knew it and I was starting to suffer. My former 12 hour enduro team mate Peter Kutchera flew by and blew the water bottle off my bike on his way lapping me to eventually finish 4th outright. Great work P.K. Everything was getting hard but there was a nice looking girl who kept riding ahead of me, so she became my rabbit for the race.

Lap 5, it hurt. Cramp were setting in. Must had my Endura mixture wrong because why else was I cramping? Caught up with the hot girl in front but she snubbed me off, wasn't keen to talk. Saw Kat again and we both pulled up for a long break. Kat didn't look happy, complained of tired legs but was determined to do another lap. She's a real racer - I would have packed it in. Paul pulled shortly after, and was bleeding and bruised, after pile-driving himself into ground at Mach 5 over a log jump, when the guy ahead decided to stop half way over the logs. Apparently this happened on lap 2, so for Paul to carry on for another 4 laps before quitting shows his will do well. A hard man Paul you are, hats and band aid off to you mate. I demolished a power bar and stole a magnesium tablet from Damien's ration in a battle to keep cramp in check. Sandy pulled up, topped up with some cordial and toddled away to beat me again at another solo event. Great race debut on her new Anthem.

Lap 6. Cramps were getting bad. Really struggled to go up A-line climb, thought of walking it but didn't want to be snapped by a photographer walking a Xizang uphills. That would be an ultimate photo of shame. Had another big scare sliding on gravel down the Comm's Game track, but was hurting too much to gave a shit. I said to myself this was going to be my last lap.

Lap 7. How on earth I managed to finish this lap is beyond me. At the end of lap 6, I saw no-one inside marquee. I figured that everyone has decided to keep going, so I thought I'd the same as I didn't want to be the first quitter. 2 Big mistakes. 1. I decided to do another lap. 2. Because I knew it was going to be my last, I threw away my pump, spare kits thinking that it'll be all ok. Half way through the lap, I cramped so badly that I had to stop. I couldn't walk, pedal or sit, so I froze. Somehow I got going again albeit very slowly, then I noticed I was sliding around a lot - the back tire was going down - arrghh crap.

So the last 5 km of the race was a battle to control cramp, keeping weight off the back tire and praying that the Stan's would hold. Every rock was deliberately avoided and use of rear brake was forbidden, to make sure the back tire would not be torn off the rim. The last downhill section of the Comm's Game track was....interesting.... to ride on front wheel only with the back doing whatever it wanted to do. But it held up in the end and I eventually crawled my way to 67th place or something to see a beaming Damien, relaxed Sandy, dazed Kat (from dodgy Gel sacks) and Paul doing his usual funny business under the marquee, despite hobbling on one leg and all.

From this event, I have learn the following:

1. Training is essential in surviving & enjoying an enduro event.
2. Good preparation can make or break you.
3. Get Endura mixture right.
4. Maxxis 310 is a scalple of a tire, in the right hands, it's razor sharp, otherwise it's going to kill you.
5. Paul, Damien & Sandy are better rider overall.
6. Kat is a pro in making.
7. Enduro is best tackled as a team, for me at least.
8. Mountain biking is fun, despite the pain.

Roll on round 2.

I can't feel my legs. :(

A special thanks to Stephen Rowe for all the superb photographs and he's the copyright holder of all the above images. I haven't paid for them yet. He was nice enough to let me use them in my blog. Must buy him a beer or lunch at the next race meet.