Thursday, April 16, 2009


AT THE OFFICIAL TIMING TENT next to the start & finishing line, the race announcer had just broadcasted that there were less than 8 minutes remaining in 2009 Mont 24 hour MTB event. “It’s all down to Andrew now”, Damien says, forcing a smile. “Now it’s going to be really tight - it would be a shame if Andrew does not make it back in next 5 minutes”. I added. Then almost on queue, over the distant horizon, Andrew Wade muscled his way uphill and scrambled past the finish line to press home with a time of a 57:50 minute lap time in time to sending a sleepy Stephen on his way to complete the final team lap at this year’s Mont 24 hours MTB event.

WHERE IS SPARROW HILL? WHAT IS THE BIRD? was theme repeated in my head as Damien and I headed north towards Canberra. This was our first ever interstate race event, so there was an elevated sense of of unknown and adventure. With the race site Sparrow Hills not marked in the Canberra town maps, and us driving to the beat of the song “Where Are You Going” by David Matthew Band in the car, it was going to be a road trip one way or another.

The first impressions of Sparrow Hills course was....dusty. Really dusty. Within 10 minutes of arriving to the camping ground Damien's car turned from black to brown. Powder fine dust means high speed but also low grip, plus zero visibility at night, which isn't something I look forward to in a 24 hour race event. But the massive thunderstorm night on the night before the race saw to the dust problem and ensured superb riding conditions for the race ahead.

RETURN OF DAMIEN. It has been a good while – almost 6 months – since Damien last competed in a bike race to set about demolishing the myth that you need to be on the bike regularly to be a competitive endurance bike racer. On the strength of his lap times throughout the event, one may as well consider he’s never left the racing scene. One might suppose that Damien had approached this event with breezy equanimity, given that he’s been absent from mountain biking for so long. In fact he had done nothing of the kind, taking the event by scruff of its neck. From volunteering to take part in the Le Mans style running start (where his marathon running strength coming into play), to systematically pacing himself through the entire 24 hours, his event was run with machine-like precision for maximum results. It was by no means plain sailing for Damien though. No 24 hours in the saddle ever are. Although you’d never tell from his demeanor, a laid back approach toward this event that in actuality was tackled with greatest efforts and intensity.

FOR MOST OF THE EVENT I have been one of the more appreciative witness to a superlative performance from both Andrew & Stephen. Their new Giant Anthems were good, there was no question to that, but the speed and efficiency in which both dispatched laps after another was most impressive, given that Andrew had been up all night organizing the campsite, while Stephen suffered from jet lag. No doubt their pre-event training program months prior paid dividends, although I haven’t exactly been idle either, despite somehow suffering a lack of motivation towards mountain biking & training weeks prior. As the sole rider equipped with the lightest bike complete with tubeless setup, my lap times were no match to Andrew Wade’s, especially on a track that was supposed to favor handling skill over raw power, spoke volume of Andrew 's & Stephen's vast improvement since Kona 24 hour event last year.

TO RIDE WITH DEATH GRIP was a skill that I haven’t had much practice of late, for the obvious reason that having your fingers covering the brakes minimizes the chances of running into trees. But with track being so incredibly smooth and most corners being wide open with no sniping apex hiding in the scrubs, using brakes almost felt like cheating. The I-Drive, deliberately set with 50% sag for maximum cornering traction, darted through corners with the precisions of a slot car. It was one of few rare occasions where more travel does not equate to greater performance.

Busily keeping myself preoccupied as I made my way through slower riders, I hadn’t notice that the race leaders were coming up behind, but then the said rider didn’t ask for overtaking room as I was holding a fast line through the pack, and he seemed content to follow. Although whoever behind was a far quicker rider than I am, as he had no trouble sticking to my back tire while I had to muster all I could to hold a fast tight line through turns. A slight mistake from cutting a corner too fine and in a flash, the said rider was through. Sporting the unmistakable RockStar Energy jersey on a Scott, the flying cyclist who just blown by me was none other then the MTB legend Craig Gordon.

Now running behind Craig, I was amazed to see how late he was braking, and how little brake he used when they are needed. Scything past the flotilla of rag tag cyclists log jamming the single tracks, it wasn’t merely that he was a strong rider, but his ability to maintain momentum in unfavorable riding conditions while picking his moment to pass slower riders, just like a sniper picking off his targets, that was the most impressive.

THE FINAL LAPS 22 laps in, at 10:45am Sunday morning, Damien returns from his last lap of this event. “The maths tells you one story, but it’s not quite that simple.” I observed. Although Andrew Wade knew precisely what story the maths told. If our team were to stay in ccontention with others, it was absolutely essential that Stephen heads out and do another lap. Before he set off for his lap, and acutely aware of the difficult task ahead, Andrew said he'll push himself to limit so the team can have a fighting chance to stay in touch with others. Asleep in the caravan and totally unaware of the situation, Stephen was ushered out and very reluctantly waited for Andrew to return from his lap. With less than 10 minutes remaining before the event concludes, doubts were raised that Andrew would make it back in time. In the end, through a superb final lap effort by Andrew Wade, the team managed to fend off 6 other rival teams to retain our position. Through the combined effort of Andrew, Damien, Stephen and myself, and the usual immaculate pre-event preparation by both Andrew and Damien, our endeavours paid off handsomely, in the process rounding off the Monte 24 event as the best 24 hours MTB race meeting that I have ever attended.


Category: Open Class Male x4
Overall Standing: 51th out of 141
Time: 24:55:34

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