Sunday, July 13, 2008

My First Win.

SUNDAY, 13 July 2008, THE STARS must have lined up for me as I have finally won a mountain bike race. Since my very first attempt at a mountain bike race in Chum Creek on board a 21" Shogun Metro hybrid bike (what was I thinking?) back in 1992, I have tried various forms of mountain bike racing from downhill to endurance events. Most of which had netted me mediocre results or a hefty hospital bill. So today's I think I was a bit lucky, as I originally had no intentions other than just get my fat arse out to have a bit of play in the woods, but everything fell to my favour. Winning today (albeit in D Grade) was a nice & a happy surprise - and to think I nearly didn't enter!

IT ALL STARTED on Saturday with an invitational ride with my trusty riding friend Kathryn to check out the Beaconsfield race course before deciding whether she would race next day or not. As usual, James was there as our tour guide. This track. GWS Scout Camp. Heavens. I have been here before, site of my first ever attempt at an enduro race. An ill-fated 6 hours race a few years ago with Damien, where I was decimated by the cold rain, mud, and debilitating cramps. So I knew this track was going to be a tough one, especially in the wet, but I was not going to miss a chance to ride after weeks of inactivity due to poor weather.

With four solid days of rain prior, slippery mud was expected. So my fully rigid GT Bravado was chosen as it does not have any suspension or gadgets whatsoever to wear out in the mud; plus it was already running Highrollers - the best tires for wet and changeable conditions. And because it was such a simple, basic bike, it would be an easier job to clean up afterwards too. Besides, I haven't ridden it for ages, so it makes a good change from the full suspension GT I-Drive I last rode in the Rockhop track at Beaconsfield.

So our ride started with James leading as usual, followed by me and Kat. The track was tight and technical with short but steep climbs, but it was the kind of track I liked. We stopped at a few drop- offs and sections with steep climb to help Kat out. James was doing the usual great job of mentoring her, while I stood back and gave her encouragement. If Kat was a student, she would be a star pupil for sheer determination in overcome difficult terrains. She won't give up until she has had a good crack at it, or until she literally run out of steam. I on the other hand was having a ball aboard my little GT. She was a real bone shaker but it was also quite a laugh riding it, getting back to basics: no suspension, no disc brakes - just charge and hang on real tight!! This little steel of a beast forced you not to get lazy with your line choices, or she'd slam dunk you face first into the bushes. We did two laps of the circuit together, with Kat getting much better on the second lap, nailing a steep drop off which she had trouble with a lap earlier. I liked the track a lot, so James and I went off and did another lap while Kat winded down to conserve energy for racing next day. In my lap with James, I only managed to keep James in sight for few minutes but soon he was gone. My lack of fitness was really telling.

WHEN THE RIDE ENDED, I recall saying something to Kat: "My friends talk the talk but don't walk the walk", a reference that a lot of them complained about not being invited to ride or race, but when the opportunity arise, all sorts of reasons and excuses come out of woodworks to avoid participation. So when Kat asked me if I was going to race on Sunday somehow I did the hypocrit thing and turned it down with some lame excuses. I was such a hypocrite!! As I was driving home, what I'd said was really bugging me. Although I knew my legs were done for, my head was saying "no more excuses - just go out and ride, who cares if it was race or not!" so when the forecast for Sunday was to be fine and sunny, I had to text Kat to let her know that I was going to race tomorrow. As it turned out, it wasn't too bad a decision after all....

SUNDAY, RACE DAY. Because I was too lazy to wash my bike after Saturday, and knowing that today would be wet still due to overnight shower, I took the little GT Bravado out again for today's race. It didn't worry me too much that I was the only guy with a fully rigid bike in the field, as I knew I can handle the track, but then again no body really said anything bad other than happy pleasantries, unlike the usual shit chatting you get at Anaconda series. People in club races were indeed nicer, as Kat correctly pointed out. James was a no show because he didn't agree with cost of the entry fee. I was surprised with that. Met Kat's sponsor Mick and Nick from Croydon Cycleworks, who are also the event sponsor. Top guys and I really liked their genuine enthusiasm. Race started at 10:30 but I deliberately didn't do much warm up before the race, as I was trying to save my already tired legs, but it was something that I would soon regret.

The race was divided into A, B, C & D grade, and knowing how unfit both Kat and I were, we both entered D grade. Didn't bother me since I just wanted to ride for the fun of it and use the race as a training session for Anaconda series at end of this month. Our race started after riders from other grades had departed. I was planning to follow Kat for a bit and see how things would pan out, but Kat had other ideas. Flag dropped and she was off!! She got a hole shot on me to sit second behind Jane Ollerenshaw, an Australian MTB legend and current cycling coach from Fat Tyre Flyers. Hmmmm. I had better get going. The other guys in D grade seem to be content watching the ladies battle it out in front of them. Hmmmmmmmm. Saw a gap and squeezed by Kat on the uphill fire road climb and sat behind Jane up the first big single track climb, exchanged a some pleasantry talking about a squeaky mouse (why? I don't know why!) then she decided to let me by. At that point, I realised that I might just be able to win this, if I stepped up my effort, as the other guys were still behind the female pack at the start of the single track climb. More hmmmmmmmm. Luckily it was all downhill after overtaking Jane, as my legs were finished then from the not being warmed up. Right there and then I felt like puking my breakfast out and had a knot in my stomach - I knew I was going too hard. Anyway, I took a big of risk charging the downhill sections and managed to build up a nice gap from the rest of the chasing group while I tried to catch my breath again. The race was turning out to my favour as long as I can kept this pace up and not blow up or do anything dumb.

The track was a lot greasier than Saturday, making all the off camber & technical section a much more trickier prospect, so extra caution were taken when traversing over logs and rocks, as they would be lethal for I had no luxury of a suspension fork to cushion over them. Nonetheless, the little GT never missed a beat. She was light & fantastic. Danced up the climbs, and bounced (in a jack-hammering kinda way) along nicely down the hills. The short 41" wheel base was neat & tidy for those tight turns and with those super grippy Highrollers tyres below me, I knew unless I got lazy, I'd stay upright no matter how slippery things were. Still, mistakes were made, trees were glanced a few times from to lack of concentration, but nothing major enough to end my race.

At end of lap one, I saw Nick from Croydon Cycleworks who was on side of track, egging me on. It was nice to have someone cheering for you when you are alone all by yourself. Then I caught up with my new friend Alex on the Diamondback Axis - an even older bike than my GT, but tried as I might, I couldn't catch him. I was really redlining my body there and then so I really had to back off a bit, even though I didn't want to. So a small change in strategy. Second lap was to be a steady lap maintaining momentum, rather than hard charging as in lap one. Much to my surprise, the time difference between kamikaze style of lap one vs. using your brain on lap two was only one minute slower. Food for thought. Briefly saw Kat again but I was too knackered to acknowledge her presence. A few drifts here and there was all I could remember for otherwise a steady but uneventful lap. No, hang on. I think I hit a tree somewhere again because I forgot to turn. Ouch. I think Nick saw that one. As I crossed the start / finish line at end of second lap to slowly grind my way uphill for lap three, the race announcer yelled at me to come back - I had completed my race. I wasn't sure if I had won or not as there were already a couple of other riders there waiting in sweat, so maybe I came second or third. Nonetheless, I was glad that I took part on this race event. It was fun and I loved it. I was happier later when Mick from Croydon Cycleworks told me I had won the race. Woah.

Thanks to my friend Kat for inviting me out for the ride, without her, none of this would have happened and I'd just be doing boring laps at Lysterfield. Also to Mick & Nick and Scout camp owner for organising this event. A big hug to my little GT Bravado, I can't believe she'd become the bike to take me to my first ever victory - sans suspension and all! You deserved a full wash down today, well done.

As someone said, once you get a taste of victory, you will want more. Looks like I'll be doing more racing in the future. The little medal makes me happy and the prize of a brand new Maxxis UST tire was a real bonus. A happy day.

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James Mc said...
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