Category Archives: Racing

Race Report: The Willo 2016

The James Williamson Enduro, or “The Willo” is more than just the first race of the 2016 National XCM Series – it’s a celebration of the life of James Williamson, which was so tragically cut short due to an undiagnosed heart condition in 2010 while racing the Cape Epic.

This year the Willo had special meaning for me too – only the day before I lost a good friend in Chris Perry. Affectionately known as B1, Chris was a life member of the Sydney Easy Riders and staple on the daily ride to and from work.

Deep in the damp and misty woods, a sizeable women’s field assembled on the start line. A podium spot was going to be hard to come by with the likes of locals Kwan, Bechtel and Henderson, international sensation Sheppard and interstate travellers Smith, Anset, Bartlett and Hughes all forming a tight little bunch heading into the single-track early.

The men’s race was going to be just as hard to pick, with Johnston, Blair, Cooper, Shippard, Lewis, Odams and Wards Tristan and Kyle all fighting it out amongst the natural eucalyptus and plantation pine.

Dry and dusty the day before, the overnight rain and morning mist had left the Wingello trails in excellent condition. While mud and grit coated both riders and bikes, the air was cool and the corners grippy, leading to some very quick laps of the 25km course (about an hour for the boys and 75-80mins for the ladies). Predominantly single-track with a few connecting fireroads, the laps were both enjoyable and difficult at the same time.

BIKESHIMANO
With my S-Works Era, now fitted with Shimano’s XTR Di2 groupset

The Willo also saw the debut of my new Shimano XTR Di2 groupset – meticulously installed on the S-Works Era frame not even a week before at Cyclery Northside. XTR Di2 brings electronic shifting to the mountain bike arena, after much success on the road. Unlike the road version however, XTR Di2 has been beefed up to perform in the conditions faced by mountain bike riders – the sandy, muddy, wet, rocky, dusty and messy environment we love so much!

Shifting was crisp, fast and accurate from start to finish, even in the dirty, gritty conditions. I’m not always the most conscientious shifter either – changing gears under pressure is something I tend to do on occasion – which didn’t seem to be an issue for the rear derailleur at any stage. I was also a fan of the definite “click” each up or down shift made – which is a bit more overstated compared to my road set-up. All in all, I was really impressed and can’t wait to put some more miles on it!

XTRDER
Covered in mud and grit – the rear mech still worked perfectly

Back to the women’s race – Samara Sheppard backed up a very quick lap one to finish clear ahead of the rest. Continuing her excellent form from the Snowies MTB Festival and Duo Classic, Cristy Henderson finished second with myself not far behind in third (after an extensive back and forth battle with Kelly Bartlett, which saw us trade places a number of times).

The 25km loop we rode three times had an especially unpleasant climb at the end, officially designated as the King of the Mountain (KOM). It was literally the final effort before the finish straight and had photographers at the top (hence the image at the top of the page). I was going so slowly up it the final time, with my head practically between my legs, that I could see the leeches on the ground waving away looking to latch on to anything living! I was completely boxed – everything had been left out there.

Brendan Johnston won the men’s race, with Andy Blair in second and in an awesome result, Jon Odams took third. Great to see him back from injury and riding to his potential!

Overall it was a great way to kick off the National Marathon racing season. It was especially pleasing to see so many women out on the trails – not just in the elite category, but across the age groups and the shorter distances. Special shout out to Charlotte Culver who kept the rubber side down and took the win in the 25km Open category!

champagne

Thanks to Meg Patey and all the volunteers, officials and the community for hosting another well run, successful event. Till next year!

Tour Down Under 2016 – Top 5 Climbs

Adelaide during the Tour Down Under is nothing short of awesome. The city comes to life with a new-found colour and vibrancy as people from all across the country make the journey to South Australia for the cycling, weather, food, wine and general festival atmosphere. Like so many seem to do, I chose to travel south with an assortment of guys and girls from my road riding club (Northern Sydney) – many of which now attend TDU religiously every year.

What's not to love?
What’s not to love?

Heading down with NSCC meant organised rides were coordinated each day, by people who knew where they were going (as opposed to me, who had no idea) and with a wealth of options for extra hills, extra kilometres and extra punishment. When we were not riding our bikes, we were watching the race live, eating, drinking or taking photos of each other in compromising positions (sometimes all four at once).

Nothing quite beats riding with your mates without the need to be anywhere...
Nothing quite beats riding with your mates without the need to be anywhere…

I was also fortunate enough to spend some quality time watching and supporting the women’s tour –  from the side of the road, from the pits on the criterium stage and from the Boss Racing Team car, where I stepped into the role of a guest soigneur. I covered stage two, which was four laps of an undulating 25km course, on a day where temperatures soared to over 40 degrees. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on bottle duty, handing out fluids to any riders who needed them (and generally being thrown around the back seat of the car while trying to do so).  Listening in to race radio, where team directors, support vehicles and tour commissaires all interact with each other was also incredibly insightful.

Verita Stewart and Carley Mckay fighting the tough conditions on Stage 2
Verita Stewart and Carley Mckay fighting the tough conditions on Stage 2

Back to my own riding, where I covered over 750km and 10,000 vertical meters of climbing for the week. For my first serious week back training, this was a more than adequate way to not only get back into the swing of things, but to build up my base fitness (and attempt to shed all the Christmas puddings I had consumed in December).

I also got my #prostalking on a little bit, following Giant-Alpecin riders Simon Geschke and Georg Preidler on their recovery ride
I also got my #prostalking on a little bit, following Giant-Alpecin riders Simon Geschke and Georg Preidler on their recovery ride

Adelaide is famous for it’s hill climbing. We traversed up most of the major climbs in the area, including the very mainstream Norton Summit, Belair, Montacute, Mt Lofty and Greenhill. While I enjoyed every minute of these, the most memorable for me were the hidden gems – the climbs that were both the most challenging and the less frequently visited. The only exception to this is Corkscrew, which given it now lives in the folklore of the Tour, is very popular with the punters.

My top five favourite climbs were as follows:

Torrens Hill Road
1.2km at 9%
Torrens Hill Rd is a climb that starts just as the Gorge Road climb ends (if you are coming up Gorge Rd from Adelaide, it’s off to the left). Nobody else wanted to join me on this one, probably because the commencement of the climb is incredibly steep (close to 20%) and wraps around a corner, leaving you unsure if it actually flattens out. The good news is that it does, but not by much. At least it wasn’t very long!

Coach House Drive
2.7km at 10.7%
Billed as one of the hardest climbs in Adelaide, this one is an alternative to Norton Summit. Coach House climbs the same vertical height but in approximately half the distance, with spikes of 20%+, making it seriously challenging. The final ramp and corner at the end was a heart breaker. Plenty of riders were walking or “posting mail”, zig-zagging across the road.

Little Italy (Burdetts Road)
1.7km at 7.0%
This one really lives up to it’s name, as climbing up this narrow country lane way with horses, orchards and tractors on both sides does make you feel like you could be in Italy. It’s a reasonably tough climb, as the first section is rather flat, meaning the second half is pretty steep. The road surface wasn’t great (which actually adds to the rustic appeal), but absolutely one to add to the list.

Corkscrew 
2.5km at 8.9%
Part of the Tour Down Under route and made famous by some epic attacks (Cadel Evans anyone?). The start is nice and gentle, but then you reach the “corkscrews” – a few sets of nasty switchbacks that really, really hurt.  Leave a bit in the tank, the last 800m is comparatively flat. Standing on the side of the road watching the pros absolutely suffer up Corkscrew was a real highlight of the Tour!

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Michael Woods from Cannondale Pro Team going up Corkscrew. Everybody hurts!

Blockers Road (Unsealed)
4.0km at 5.5%
Only three of us attempted this one, partially due to how challenging it is, but also because it’s dirt! It doesn’t look so bad at only 5.5%, but over the 4km, at least half of it is relatively flat (or even downhill). The final third has some seriously challenging ramps of up to 25%, which are made that little bit harder given the gravel beneath you makes it close to impossible to get out of the saddle without slipping the rear wheel. In the blinding heat of the day, this was probably the hardest climb I did in Adelaide.

The last part of Blockers Rd, where it meets up with Deviation Rd (sealed)
The last part of Blockers Rd, where it meets up with Deviation Rd (sealed)

Regardless of your level of ability or how closely you follow the professional tour, if you are a cyclist, you should make sure you visit the Tour Down Under at least once in your life.  There is something for everyone in terms of riding (i.e. a number of women’s specific rides were organised, on top of the Bupa Ride, the Cure Cancer Tour, various Rapha and shop rides, etc) and watching live cycling was so much better than I ever anticipated. I could have reached out and touched Richie Porte – in fact, I very almost did!

I didn't take the mountain bike down - but that didn't stop me having some fun in the dirt!
I didn’t take the mountain bike down – but that didn’t stop me having some fun in the dirt!

The Hellfire Cup 2015

I have been eagerly waiting all year to pack my bags, jump on a plane and race the Hellfire Cup – a four day stage race based in Kellevie, Tasmania. There have been many stories centred on the awesome trails, the party atmosphere and the variety presented across eight unique stages – but what really drew me to this race was simply the fact that everyone who had previously raced Hellfire absolutely LOVED it.

Eight Sydney-siders, all representing Cyclery Northside and Cuore, flew down the day prior to get acquainted with our beautiful accommodation in the wee town of Dunalley, nestled on the east coast of Tasmania. Tragically, this small fishing village of ~300 people lost over 60 buildings in ravaging bushfire in 2013 – our B&B was one of few buildings that magically survived. Very humbling.  (As a side note, it’s great that the sport can bring tourism money into small regional towns and communities like this one).

I was partnered up in the Elite Mixed Pairs with possibly the fastest chicken in the world – Nathan “Chooko” Russell. Already naturally gifted on the mountain bike, he had been training the house down. Also with us were Peter and a slightly unhinged South African (known as Beau), Vicky and Tegan (another erratic personality) and Linda and Drew (more commonly known as Frickie). Needless to say the house was rarely quiet and the banter flowed more freely than the beer, wine and oysters (quite the feat).

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Nathan throwing his bike around one of the many dusty berms

Day 1, Stage 1 – 25km Cross Country
The opening act for the 2015 Hellfire Cup was a 25km cross country stage with a good mix of everything – from dry and twisty single-track to damp forest, some rocky sections and some fast dirt roads.

As with most short stages, the sprint was on from the moment the race started. Nathan – not having raced for eight years and currently as fit as a Mallee bull – took off like a bullet out of a gun, leaving me fighting for position in the early single-track sections. After working incredibly hard to catch him, realising I had caught Beau instead (he was looking particularly slim that day), blowing up and then crashing (and thus passed by Beau), we didn’t reunite until about the 20km mark. Probably not the best start to a teams event, but there was a great deal of racing still to go. We were just finding our feet.

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A picture of suffering, complete with blood.

Day 1, Stage 2 – 4 x 6.5km Relay
Physically patched up and mentally bolstered, we prepared for the afternoon relay stage. As with most of the elite mixed teams, the male rider went first to battle it out in the heavy traffic, which Nathan did superbly, coming in and tagging me a few minutes behind the leading riders. I would spend the next 20 minutes at threshold, trying to hold off Peter, before doing it all again. The shorter the stage, the more it hurts (my heart rate was so high the vibration scared away the wildlife) – however I did take a moment to admire the rainforest section and the aptly named tunnel of love (followed closely by a tight right to double check you were paying attention)

Linda
Even Linda could only manage a half smile, too busy trying to get air into her lungs

Day 2, Stage 3 – 50km Cross Country
A longer stage with a great deal of elevation was always going to better suit Nathan and I, given my discipline of choice is the 100km marathons and we both weigh about as much as a carton of eggs. After Pete and Beau made a strong start, we caught them on the first long hill and formed a little “banana train” for much of the race.

Unfortunate circumstances (some local decided it would be funny to change bunting and signage) meant that as the banana train was navigating through a particularly tight section of single-track, it was suddenly descended upon by almost the entire elite men’s field. Before we had realised they had neutralised the stage, we did contemplate a few abrupt stops and potentially lying across the track, just to witness the culminating domino effect.

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Day two was especially (uncommonly?) hot and much of the climbing in the back half of the course was done up open and exposed dirt roads, testing your fitness, hydration and ability to put on sunscreen prior to starting. Working together, Nathan and I put in a much improved result, even after stopping to check on the welfare of a rider who had foolishly tried to follow some cowboys down a descent and thrown himself into a tree (he was OK and finished the race). 

Has anyone seen these cowboys? Known to ride recklessly.
Has anyone seen these cowboys? Known to ride recklessly.

Day 3, Stage 4 – 15km Team Time Trial
The team time trail was structured just like it would be on the road, with teams leaving 30 seconds apart and completing a hilly 15km. Having just taken out Stage 2 ahead of Nathan and I, this meant that Beau and Pete were poised to start 30 seconds behind us in the time trial. Having discovered this information artefact over red wine and dinner the night before, confidence and a certain air of presumption set in with the boys, who were most convinced they would catch us.

Determined not to be caught, the team time trial was a phenomenal display of courage and tenacity, as the rabbit and the chicken fought to stay away from the chasing hounds. By this time in the race, our partnership had really started to solidify, with the pace adjusting automatically without a word said either way.

Nathan driving it along a section of road, with me absolutely in the box.
Nathan driving it along a section of road, with me absolutely in the box.

I don’t recall much of it, but the course went past an especially stunning piece of coastline. Coming down the final stretch to the roar of the crowd was a great moment, especially when Tegan, Vicky and Linda had figured out we had managed to stay away.  For the moment, bragging rights were back with us.

Finishing in style, I think.
Finishing in style, I think.

Day 3, Stage 5 – 2x9km Relay
Stage 5 was another relay stage, which although longer (9km) than the first, thankfully had only one leg per rider. By this time of the race (especially considering the events of the morning),  things were really starting to feel tired and sore. Even after a relaxing massage (Beau almost cried), 9km at full gas was going to really, really hurt.

This 9km was a combination of some of the best trails the Hellfire Cup had to offer, including a rather narrow and very long (100m perhaps?) plank bridge. While I had visions of coming down on the adjacent rails holding it up, I was across in one piece. Another close stage, with not much time gained or lost across all teams.   

The African appears to be lost?

Day 3, Stage 6 – 10km Hill Climb Night Stage
I never planned on doing the Hill Climb stage. It was completely optional after all – and I had left my lights back in Sydney. Optional stages didn’t really appeal to me at this stage of my season (i.e. the end, where I am in exhaustion phase), let alone ones up really steep hills, let alone it being the third stage on the third day. About 15 minutes before it was meant to start, this all changed.

My ever supportive team had heard the women’s field for the stage was quite small. Thus the ever supportive team, lead by chief instigator and general nuisance, Tegan, decided I was going to contest the stage. Suddenly I was back in Lycra, there were lights on my helmet and bike (Tegan managed to acquire them from a random rider with promises in kind), I had consumed a can of Coke and I was on the start line next to Peta Mullens. What just happened?!

How did I get here again?
How did I get here again?

After pulling a rather reckless overtaking manoeuvre and probably surprising Peta early in to the stage, I had the lead through much of the early single-track. Knowing I had one of the best riders in the country on my wheel, I did all I could to try and make this 6km hard for her, including breaking hard in corners to kill momentum, whipping up lots of dust to make visibility difficult and generally riding all over the place whenever it opened up.

I had Peta Mullens on the hill climb stage, well, until it got to the hill. We both hit it hard and were neck and neck for the first 20 meters. I looked up to see a big bonfire in the distance (it seemed REALLY distant), just as Peta hit the jets and took off up the steep, endless climb. In the end I was just under a minute behind her, finishing second. I did take the points for the best cheer squad though.  

Day 4, Stage 7 – 3km Hill Climb
We woke up on Day 4 to another hill climb. This hill was just as steep as the one I did last night, but starts about 10 meters into the stage (and everyone has to do it, not just me). Once you crest the monster, which few will do without getting off at some point, you fly back down again, navigate through a bumpy rock garden and cross the finish line.

Better hope you did a warm up, the hill starts almost instantly
Better hope you did a good warm up, the climb starts almost instantly

The rock garden was the most technical feature of the stage. While the line through it was simply straight, it had an awkward lead in and had you bucking like a bronco on the exit. While there was a B-line, which was utilised by some, most of the team rode it well, with the exception of one rider, who did his best impression of a giraffe practising ballet.

I'm just going to leave this here.
I’m just going to leave this here.

Day 4, Stage 8 – Dirt Crit
To finish Hellfire for 2015, the field was split in two and a fast and furious crit circuit was constructed which included part of a motocross track. Pete and Beau actually lead the whole field off the start, proceeded to spectacularly blow up and finished with their trademark reckless abandonment.

Nathan and I crossed the line together signalling the end of our Hellfire experience.  We didn’t have the best start, but we corrected that quickly and finished on a high. I’m pretty proud to be part of the reason he pinned on a race plate again. I couldn’t have asked for a better race and training partner!

Dirt crits are AWESOME
Dirt crits are AWESOME

Overall, a fantastic event and one you need to add to your bucket list if you ride mountain bikes. Duncan, Sarah and the entire Hellfire Team put in so much effort and under very challenging circumstances (with Sarah involved in a serious accident a few months prior) and delivered a really enjoyable 4 days. Every participant you spoke to, from elite riders to punters, had an unbelievably good time. We have already booked accommodation for the next Hellfire Cup, scheduled to run in 2017!

Race Report: Highland Fling 2015

Being relatively new to Mountain Bike racing means that the Highland Fling was one of the few races I have had the opportunity to do twice. Still racing in the age-group categories, my 2014 Fling didn’t exactly embody the best memories – I crashed twice, “bonked” badly, vomited under a tree at the top of Brokeback Mountain and limped across the line 6 hours and 20 minutes after I had started.

Coming in to 2015, the score was definitely Highland Fling 1, Briony 0. Even with my recent good form and some big names pulling out in the weeks leading up to the race, my only objective for this year was to make amends for my past attempt and to simply finish this tough, gruelling and demanding race in one piece – ideally in considerably less time.

The elites lined up on the start line and were let go, like a pack of hungry hounds, 15 minutes after the rest of the 100km and 100mile fields. The chase was on! I was expecting a fast start and while it wasn’t on from the whistle (or in this case, the bagpipes), there were certainly some surges early from the likes of Andy Blair, Kyle Ward and Anthony Shippard (or at least I think they were the culprits – I was busy chewing stem trying to hang on). Myself, Eliza Kwan and Lucy Bechtel remained with the elite men into the first lot of paddocks, but found ourselves on our own after the first major hill attack.

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Regardless of the fact we were now separated from the men, there was no easing up on the pace as we hammered through the first of three sections (a nice way of getting to know each other).

I did express a little bit of concern when Eliza queried whether the first river crossing was “rideable” – thankfully she dismounted and waded through the waist deep water, bike above head, before that story ended like the Titanic did. The three of us also earned a fair few cheers from other riders as we slipped and skidded through the first long muddy section (many had given up and were walking through the ankle deep slush). I think this was also the point Lucy officially gave up on trying to keep her new bike clean.

Disaster was on the cards for me from the first transition stage where I simply couldn’t find my second bottle. I spent all my time looking for it and upon noticing Eliza and Lucy leave, hit the road again without even filling my half empty first bottle. The resulting time trial down the road into Wingello to catch them wasn’t ideal either, even if I did get to witness a good friend of mine fall off right in front of me (he was OK, so it was OK to laugh!) Commentators didn’t have to wait long until the next fail, where I missed a turn into single-track, regardless of the fact Lucy yelled “Right” about 17 times. Once again, cue a 3-4 minute time trial to get back to the girls.

20x30-HFLA0216

Eliza’s strength riding single-track was immediately evident as she gracefully slipped through the trees, like Michelle Kwan on a frozen lake. Given they have the same last name, I was immediately amused with my comparison and promptly hit a root the wrong way. Pay attention Briony! Come the first real climb (the King of the Mountain section from 3 Ring Circus), it also became quickly apparent that we had a climber with us, as Lucy shot up it, leaving Eliza and myself clinging to her wheel in utter desperation. Over the top the three of us went.

The group of three girls was eventually broken as we hit the notorious “Wall” – a relatively short but steep and loose climb with a good scattering of riders pushing their bikes up. To her credit, Eliza cleared it, leaving Lucy and I chasing after coming unstuck in the traffic. We pressed on through a stack of twisty trails to the awesome new(ish) section “Love Love Love”, where I was promptly dropped on the resulting climb (after deciding trying to hold Lucy’s wheel was probably going to end badly for me later on in the race).

Halfway Hill was no different to how I remember it (hell). Just when you think that’s done, you run in to more and more climbing out the back of Wingello (just for something different). While I was worried about the potential time I was losing (I felt like I was going backwards at some points), I banded together with a familiar face from Sydney and started picking off riders.  Thankfully it was an overcast and cool day, which meant that although I was aching for a drink, I didn’t feel too dehydrated after doing 3 hours on one bottle. With my bus driver hat on, we towed a group into the transition to commence stage 3.

20x30-HFLR1768

I think I probably consumed over 2 litres of fluid at the second transition and felt better almost immediately. As most of the 100km riders would probably acknowledge, once you have completed the Wingello stage, it feels like the Fling is almost over. It is easy to forget how tough the final ~30km is (I certainly made that mistake last year).  As deceptively hard as it is, it is also quite enjoyable, as you cross a Golf Course, Winery, some amazing private land and through some great single-track.

On my own for much of the final section, I focused on catching riders ahead of me to try and make up some time. In the end it wasn’t quite enough, as I came in roughly 3 minutes behind Eliza in second, who was around 4 minutes behind the rightful winner on the day, Lucy Bechtel. Big congratulations to both those girls!

The Highland Fling is such a great race to be a part of – it has a bit of everything in terms of terrain, is extremely well organised and is heavily supported by the local communities of Bundanoon, Wingello and Penrose (to name a few).  It’s quite humbling that local property owners are willing to have hundreds of mountain bikers fly across their land each year and even more fantastic that most of them come out and support you as you ride past. As for the single-track at Wingello State Forest – it’s always a pleasure.

Make sure you get to “The Fling” next year!

Women’s Podium
1 – Lucy Bechtel (5:31:54)
2 – Eliza Kwan (5:35:43)
3 – Briony Mattocks (5:38:35)

P.S – The score is now Highland Fling 1 – Briony 1. This year I managed to knock over 40 minutes off my time and erase some very dark memories. Until next year at least!

Race Report: Bayview Blast 100km

The final act of the MTBA National Series took riders north to Brisbane for the Bayview Blast. Hosted by South Brisbane MTB Club and in only its second year, I must admit that I didn’t know much about the types of trails I would encounter when I finalised my entry.

Flying up to Brisbane a few days early gave me some time to familiarise myself with the race course, which was 4 laps of a 25km single-track loop (with about 3km of fire road). My plan was also to try and acclimatise, but my first few days in Brisbane were overcast and fairly mild – well and truly putting a spanner in that plan.

Being up in Brisbane early also gave me a bit of time to play hotel mechanic (after customs and baggage handlers seemingly went to town on my bike bag) and be a tourist, visiting the amazing North Stradbroke Island, the Brisbane CBD and a few lovely spots around the river, including Kangaroo Point.

barkes
A bit of hotel mechanics

Going into the Bayview Blast, I was sitting in a position whereby a win on the day would see me take the overall MTBA National Series. Regardless of having far exceeded my own lofty expectations in my first season of elite racing, the excitement (and nerves!) of everything being on the line were well and truly in play as I devoured my pasta dinner on Saturday night.

Fast forward and I’m relatively relaxed on the start line. Poking fun at Jason English’s helmet camera (tree hook) with some of the elite men meant the hooter went off in no time and we were set off down 1km of bitumen at a very moderate pace. A small climb worked to filter the field into single file and we were off into the single-track.

Imogen Smith made a bit of a move on the first climb, one which I was hesitant to follow so early into the race. With 95km to go, I thought better of it and was comfortable to sit a minute or so behind and do the first lap swapping wheels with local gun, Anna Beck. It was beautiful to watch her gracefully glide over logs, flick her back wheel and generally navigate the loose, tight and twisty course like an absolute pro. Unlike me, who at one stage “swapped off” by completely missing a turn and ending up careering into dense foliage instead.

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Anna and I came into transition together, but I think a misunderstanding with her crew meant that I had a small gap upon exiting the pits and by the top of the first switchback climb, had opened it up a bit more.  I figured she was probably smooth enough to catch me through the tighter single-track sections, so continued on my own. That was the last I saw of her.

Lap two is where I started to catch some of the teams, which made it a bit awkward at times, since passing on some of the sections was near impossible without one rider pulling over. To their credit though (and thanks to the organisers being very clear with race instructions), most people got out of your way relatively quickly.

It’s probably no later than 9:30 in the morning, but a major issue had started to creep in to my race in the heat, humidity and my lack of bottles. I can only carry one and had planned for 700ml every lap, which was nowhere near enough on a day where my Garmin was reporting 31 degrees. After 10km of lap two I was running empty and thirsty. It would be another hour or so before I get another 700ml, which although I rationed, meant that I was pretty dehydrated for 75% of the race.

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I did actually contemplate drinking from a muddy puddle (or licking the mud off my arm as it splashed up). I think this just goes to show:

a) You think about some very strange things racing
b) I was really, really thirsty
c) Dehydration really impacts your ability to think laterally

It was a fatal flaw not to throw in a Camelbak for one of the laps – those riders who did said it made a world of difference. For me, it meant I really struggled and it probably cost me a shot at the win.

I had a few little clashes with trees – the nature of the course meant that one small moment of distraction (at race speed) usually meant you were going to hit something. I have bark etchings on the front of both my shoulders from hitting trees in a really tight, tricky, woody section leading in to Shark Fin.

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Trees were the least of my worries though, when on lap three (after having a gel and a small swig of my rationed water) a snake reared up right underneath me as I was flying down a fire-trail descent. Catching me completely off guard (seriously dude, there is a race on), I instinctively swerved, lost my front wheel in the gravel and shot myself out of the saddle and down the hill, sans bike, which had somehow ended up in the other direction.

Broken, dehydrated and bleeding, I wasn’t going to give in. It was only really on the last descent where I didn’t see Imogen that I knew she had secured the win and I had to settle with second in this race and therefore second in the National Series (5 points behind Jenny Blair).

Photo by Russ Baker
Broken and disappointed. Photo by Russ Baker

Seriously well done to Imogen, who dealt with the conditions well and after a few big races recently, turned up with her A-Game to win her local Queensland event.  A big thanks also to the South Queensland MTB Club and other event organisers, volunteers and sponsors.

Bayview is a wicked trail – it is so varied in terrain, with switch-back climbs, twisty grassland trails (coined “Grugland” by Imogen), challenging wooded areas, the amazing “corridor” lined with dense scrub, rocky sections, open sections and saving the best till last, the final 2km descent consisting of berm after berm, doubles, kickers and high adrenaline fun! It’s not even that far from Brisbane – make sure you poke your head in if you are up that way.

Race Report: Dwellingup100

I touched down in Perth a few days before the race, deliberately giving myself some time to adjust to the conditions and generally chill out, relax and spend some quality time with my bike. Perth holds the illustrious tag of being the most isolated capital city in the world – so I couldn’t think of a better place to be after a rather frenetic few weeks at work.

Weather wise, Perth was not too dissimilar to Sydney (both a modest ~20 degrees at this time of year), yet trail wise there were some key differences.  While I felt right at home navigating all the rocks and tree roots, I would have looked like Bambi on Ice trying to adjust to the light layer of “pea gravel” covering the ground beneath my tyres.

berm
Berm Baby Berm! No worries with pea gravel on these corners.

After a scattering of close calls early on, I had come to realise that hitting the brakes during a corner was only going to end one way (hint: badly), so I learnt very quickly to time my run in, keep a smooth line and to adjust my body position appropriately.  Pushing my bike through the corner, I was soon channelling my inner Odams, Shippard and Kwan (Smooth is Fast).

If you ever find yourself in Perth with a bike, make sure you head up into the Perth Hills and to Kalamunda – a series of trails that start at a Camel Farm (seriously, you had me at Camel Farm). Kalamunda is nothing short of fantastic – well marked, simple to navigate, highly varied and AMAZING fun.  You couldn’t wipe the grin off my face as I was flying down “Scorpion”, “Three Bears” or “Feral Groove” – featuring wooden berms, table tops and rollers for days. The local Kalamunda Mountain Bike Collective have done an incredible job.

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Kalamunda – “A dream is an answer to a question we haven’t yet learned how to ask” – Fox Mulder

Residing at Mandurah, I was only a 40 minute drive from the trails at Dwellingup (about 90 minutes south-east of Perth). As the weekend approached, I joined another Sydney boy (and super strong masters rider), Ian Bridgland for two days of light riding and race track reconnaissance with some of the locals. We were fortunate enough to run into Tony and his crew marking the track – which meant we could play cat and mouse with the moto’s for a while. This not only saved us from ending up hopelessly lost, but it meant we could grab some tips on the best way down the infamous “Hells Gate” descent.

WWII POW Camp? Here? Now that's the definition of lost.
WWII POW Camp? Here? Now that’s the definition of lost.

Fast forward and I’m cowering on the start line, in the misting rain, trying hopelessly to settle my nerves (which I get before every race – and used to get before kick-off of every soccer game).  With Jenny Blair, Peta Mullens and Karen Hill also in the chute, there was going to be some stiff competition for a podium spot today. The men’s race looked equally competitive – Mark Tupalski, Andy Blair, Michael England and Craig Cooke were all out and looking for a result.

We set off through the middle of the township of Dwellingup and out on to the highway via a rather pleasant motorbike escort. The first few kilometres of tarmac were delightful – I was perched a few wheels back from the front and smack bang in the middle of the peleton, literally being pulled along with minimal effort, playing “Spot the Roadie” (to the guy with the tall white socks, Tinkoff-Saxo knicks and Baked Beans jersey > I am on to you).  As soon as we hit the dirt it was another story – at the first sight of a climb the elite boys hit the gas and the field started to disperse. I was sitting in fifth.

By the time we reached the Singletrack at Turner’s Hill, I had moved into forth. A few strong efforts up some of the longer climbs meant I could work with other riders across the flat road sections.  That said, I probably had started slower than I would have liked – although I do like “the chase”. A brief but heavy shower at Turner’s Hill meant all riders looked liked drowned rats and my new Shimano XT brakes started to sound like a cat was being strangled under my wheel every time I dared touch them

Entering the Singletrack at Marrinyup, mud in mouth, eyes, ears, you name it. Photo by Russ Baker
Entering the Singletrack at Marrinyup, mud in mouth, eyes, ears, you name it. Photo by Russ Baker

Tactically speaking, the course was close to 50% single-track and 50% fire road, so it made sense in my mind to try and stay with other riders and work together to combat the wind on the open sections. Maybe it was all my cornering practice, but I seemed to get faster in the single-track and found myself using it to move up the overall ranks.

I thought all my Christmases had come at once when I spotted the familiar kit of Peta Mullens in the Marrinup forest, probably at about the 50km mark. I increased my speed and passed, grabbing the opportunity with both hands. Still coming to terms with suddenly being in third place, I then passed Jenny Blair, not 2km later, attending to a flat tyre.  Convinced they were both right behind me, I hit the gas for the next 5km and sped into the transition area in second place.

Completely unaware at the time, I was 4 mins or so behind the current leader, Karen Hill, with 40km to go. In my mind though, the most pressing concern was Jenny and Peta behind me. If there was a time to hurt (suffer, grovel) now was it. They are both strong climbers, so I raced up the Powerline Climb and the aptly named Lieutenant Dan climb (you have no legs Lieutenant Dan!), overtaking numerous male competitors as I went about my little mission.

Approaching Marrinup Single-Track for the second time, it occurred to me that I couldn’t possibly be far off Karen. Should I go up another gear and challenge for first, at risk of blowing up and ruining everything? Or do I play the safety card and ride home in second? I had an air of confidence as I hit the accelerator…

Just as I was launching into a section of track, I spotted Karen coming out the other end with another young rider. With my tail in the air, I worked hard for the next 10 mins and eventually latched on to the back of his wheel for a bit of recovery. I probably got away with sitting there unnoticed for about 500m before Karen turned around. It suddenly became somewhat awkward.

We slowed down, sped up a bit and generally went back and forth like slot cars, trying to feel each other out. I had the momentum of making the catch, but we both had 95km in our legs. I’m hurting, but I know in my mind Karen is hurting just as badly. What to do?

Another male rider caught us and was obviously a little perplexed as to why we were going the pace we were. He shot off and I followed, hitting the pedals hard for 20 seconds or so. Turning, I saw Karen right on my wheel. Dammit.

After a couple more minutes, I gave it another shot. I went hard about 1km from the finish. I took a slight break from chewing my stem to turn my head – I was filled with a mix of adrenaline, elation and sheer relief as I realised the attack had worked and I had dropped her. Out of the saddle I set about emptying the tank completely as I crossed the finish line with about 30 seconds to spare for my first National Series win and the Series Leader’s Jersey.

Elite Women's Podium - Dwellingup 100
Elite Women’s Podium – Dwellingup 100

Special thanks to the race director Tony and the organizers TriEvents for putting on a great race and for using it as a way to raise funds and awareness for Muscular Dystrophy WA.  Having lost my little brother to cancer not too long ago, the story of the recent passing of Kyle and Conor deeply resonated with me. It’s wonderful to honour their memory with such an awesome event.

Series Leader - for now.
Series Leader – for now.

Also a big high-five to my support crew at Cyclery Northside – the best bike shop in Sydney. Shout out also to Cuore Australia, who make the super comfortable and amazingly good looking kit I wear and to my new go-to recovery protein from Pure Edge, a little Aussie company from Avalon doing great things.

Read the Race Report on MarathonMTB

Race Report: Convict 100

After a modest break over winter, round four of the MTBA National XCM series had finally dropped anchor (after a postponement brought on by weather), with hundreds flocking to the small and historic town of St Albans, located somewhere north of Sydney and west of the Central Coast.

Flanked by the Macdonald River, you need to cross the mighty Hawkesbury River by car ferry to get yourself to Race HQ. Timing it perfectly, I drove on to the deck just before the boom gate was lowered – and with a number of other cars transporting mountain bikes, descended into the thick fog encasing the river.

The fog had barely lifted by the time the elite call-up had begun. A small group of about 20 elite riders sat shivering on the start line, waiting until the last possible moment to shed various warmers. Even then, Andy Blair looked like he was being electrocuted the way he was shaking next to me. After a count down, we were set off – the pace a little less than I was expecting – which meant I found myself on the front for the first ~2km (not my race plan).  Warming up the legs again (and wondering if my actual warm-up was even worth it given I had fully cooled down on the start line) there were a few little surges in pace from the likes of Blair, England and Downing before an attack for position prior to the river crossing.

Convict 100 2015

A number of guys opted to preserve their drive chain efficiency and ran through the shin-deep water with bikes in the air. I chose to preserve feeling in my feet and rode through instead, coming a bit unstuck in the soft sand on the other side – but at least I was dry. By this stage the front of the bunch was off down the road and I was left with the tail end for the Jack’s Track climb.

The steepest climb of the day, Jack’s Track has a number of pinches between 20-30% on a climb of about 300 vertical meters. Loosing rear wheel traction on one of the steeper sections, I had to dismount and run, before jumping back on and riding up the rest. Unfortunately I had gone a little too deep on the climb and suffered for the next 20km, failing to latch on to the small bunches that came roaring through the endlessly undulating fire road section.

Luckily for me, just as I had started to recover, I did manage to adhere to a small group for the road section leading in to the first feed zone. With my mate Gareth doing the lion’s share of the work, we were at the Canoe Bridge (widened this year to be more of a canoe super highway) in no time. Somewhere between here and the Shepherds Gully climb I noticed an issue with my rear brake (my attempts to feather it were not really working), but with the second climb of the day just ahead and a few riders to pursue, I set that issue aside.

The “Convict Stairway”, which links Shepherds Gully to 10 Mile Hollow, is a technical rocky section which can be a lot of fun – especially if you have ridden it before. I passed a few riders who were obviously less familiar with it than I was – taking misguided lines and ending up clambering up the sandstone rocks, bike on shoulder. Even with some of the “asteroid belt” sections being worse than I remember, only two “dab”moments for me along the ~8km section is a personal record.

Convict 100 2015

By now the issue of not having any rear brake is starting to be of more concern, as I passed the second feed zone and flew down towards Clare’s Bridge. Jumping off in attempt to remedy the situation, I stood confused as the two pistons from the hydraulic unit stared blankly back at me. The pin that holds the brake pads was gone. As was the brake pads themselves. I don’t think I can fix this.

Attention quickly turned from my brakes to dodging the low hanging branches, spiky bushes, fallen trees and sizeable mud puddles – all of which lined the next ~10km section. I came out of it with scratches on my arms, hands and face and after a few poor choices, a fair bit of mud and water over my feet and legs. That said, strength wise, I am feeling good.

Convict 100 2015

It was slightly frustrating being able to stick with riders (even make ground on some of the climbs) only to be dropped on the more gnarly descents, which I now had to take rather cautiously. After the final “sawtooth” section across the ridge-line (endless up’s and down’s), came the worst descent to not have rear braking power – Wright’s Creek.

Wright’s Creek averages -11% for 1.3km, with some steep sections and dangerous water bars, which could make for some nasty crashes. Trying unsuccessfully to ease my way down on my front brake only (even with my butt close to touching my rear tyre), I found myself picking up way too much speed. I made the call to ride off the side into the bushes, in preference to what could have ended up being a free helicopter ride.  Dusting myself off, I hopped down the remaining steep sections and hit the road for the final 10km.

Tucked up into a little aerodynamic ball, I passed a whole lot of 44km and 68km riders, a few of which tried unsuccessfully to jump on to my wheel. With about 3km remaining (at which time I was really starting to flag), I found myself consumed by a group of four other 100km riders. With everyone doing a small turn on the front, we all finished together in 4 hours and 50 minutes.

I was the 2nd woman across the line, with Sarah Riley (just back from the World XCM Championships) about 7 minutes ahead of me. Andy Blair and Shaun Lewis rode to the top of the podium in the men’s elite category, followed by Craig Cooke in 3rd and James Downing in 4th (as opposed to his usual 6th in this event). 

Convict 100 2015

Max Adventure do a great job of hosting this iconic race, with the whole town brought alive on race day. Although this was my first outing, I really enjoyed the “reverse” course. It’s unique in it’s own way (with no single-track) but the un-groomed and un-kept nature of the trails, which are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, make it challenging, entertaining and enjoyable. If you have time to admire the view, that’s pretty unbelievable too.

Next on the cards – a trip to the bike shop for some new brake pads!