Tag Archives: era

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.

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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!

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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!

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

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.

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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.

Long Term Test: S-Works Era

What is it?
The Era is the twin sister of the Epic – Specialized’s flagship XC racing bike. Designed for women, the key differences on the Era include lower stand over height, shorter wheelbase, shorter top-tube and a suspension set-up better suited to females (or smaller, lighter people).

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Why do I ride one?
In the time Before Era (BE), I was more than happy riding my “dirty white” Camber Elite around the place. The perfect all-rounder, this bike had me on XC podiums one weekend and nailing challenging rock gardens the next.

After watching Annika Langvad ride an unknown Specialized bike in the world marathon championships however, my eyes started to wander. It’s not that what I had was bad in any way (quite the opposite in actual fact), but a little obsession had started. I was stalking the new bike on Google Images, refreshing bike review websites for any newly released information and possibly most perverse of all, I was thinking about this new bike while riding my Camber.

My first ride on the Era was at a Specialized “Test the Best” event at Wylde Mountain Bike Park in Sydney’s west. I was sweltering in the 40 degree heat and feeling pretty fragile after a hard fought criterium race earlier that morning. At this point my new rig was already on order through Specialized but that didn’t stop me immediately jumping on the phone to the team at Cyclery Northside and demanding they do all in their power to expedite it’s arrival. After all, I had jumped on the demo and just taken every “Queen of the Mountain” on practically every segment out there.

Some people will tell you that you can’t buy speed. Obviously, these people didn’t go out and buy an S-Works Era. If I had to describe it in one word, that word would have to be FAST.

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Specifications
The S-Works version of the Era spares no small detail. The FACT 11m carbon frame (in a really bad-ass matte black colour-way) brings together Roval SL 29 carbon wheels, a SRAM XX1 drive train, the inverted RockShox RS-1 front fork (100mm travel),  a Fox rear shock, carbon bars, cranks and a seat post holding the women’s specific Myth saddle. The little details are there too, with a SWAT chain tool top cap and a multi-tool tucked away in the frame (which to be honest I didn’t discover until well after, but now use all the time).

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Like the Epic, the Era includes the automatically locking Brain suspension technology. The shocks remain locked out until a bump from below, which opens the valves to soak up the impact. Most people are used to having an open and a closed setting on their shock – it’s kind of like that, except the shock opens/closes like magic based on the terrain you are riding.

Climbing
You cannot get any faster up a hill. The Era absolutely flies up anything gentle, steep, rocky or loose thanks to it’s racing geometry, weight (mine is a shade over 11kg), stiffness and suspension set-up (thanks Mr Brain).

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Descending
Coming from a Camber to the more aggressive Era, I did find descending was a little bit more challenging. That said, Specialized have done a wonderful job in mixing a steep head-tube angle with control, as it was a lot less terrifying on rocky downhill sections than I expected.  The stiffness of the frame and wheels means that the Era handles like it’s on rails – it feels right at home on sweeping berms and long switchback descents including Stromlo (ACT) and Blue Derby (TAS). At the end of the day, the Era is still a XC race bike and may not be as forgiving as some other models for less experienced riders.

Upgrades
Out of the box, you hardly have to do anything. Over time I’ve swapped out the S-Works stock seat-post for a mini Command Post (dropper post) that gives me about 2 inches of extra clearance (helpful for unfamiliar descents at high speed). Foam grips have replaced the standard grips for my precious little hands. I am also running the tougher Maxxis Ikon tyres with greater side-wall protection on sharp rocky trails.

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Recently I upgraded to a C-BEAR bottom bracket to really supercharge the drivechain – it’s completely silent, deals incredibly well with poor conditions and feels as smooth as melted butter.

2,500 km’s on the Clock
Like most of Specialized’s bikes – the Era hasn’t really missed a beat. They are well built and will last forever if you keep them well maintained.  Over time I have had the suspension serviced twice (preventative rather than responsive), replaced a few bearings and bushes, put on a new chain or two and swapped the front chain-ring a few times (to better deal with hilly verses flat courses).

The only issue of significance I have seen is with the Magura M8 brakes – which after working perfectly for the first 2000km, suddenly needed all sorts of work and lots of bleeds. While Magura’s warranty and service department have been great, I swapped them out for Shimano XT’s given some of the issues I occurred were right in the middle of a heavy racing period.

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Why Buy One?
The S-Works Era is an absolute monster. I haven’t been able to think of a name for mine so I just refer to it as “the Crotch Rocket”. It is seriously fast – but also seriously expensive – still around $11k AUD RRP. That said, there are also Expert and Comp models in the line-up, which come in a lot cheaper.

This is one to test ride if you want to get into XC racing. It’s probably not your first bike (it also might not be your only bike), but it will make you faster. It’s lightweight, nimble and rides like an absolute dream.

I still have my Camber. It does get a little bit jealous, but it knows it’s still my number one if I am challenging myself on seriously technical terrain.  

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Race Report: 3 Ring Circus

Last weekend in the Southern Highlands it was snowing. That cold, damp, white stuff that as a Sydneysider, I am rather unfamiliar with. Anyone that rides with me knows that I don’t mind the cold (I refuse to wear leg warmers) and am a regular participant on bleak morning rides around Sydney in the middle of winter. That said, it doesn’t snow in Sydney.

As luck would have it, one week changed everything. Sydney had it’s warmest winter weekend in years and the Southern Highlands followed suit, with clear skies and a sunny disposition. There were some relatively strong winds hanging around, but riding in the forest tends to shelter you from such things.

A self seeding start line meant the front line was dominated by the enthusiastic men aiming to complete the 50km race in close to 2 hours. Behind them sat another group of riders who thought they would give it a pretty good crack. I was perched behind these gentlemen, fully intending to use them as a giant wind block for the first 6km of the Blue loop. Just in front of me was Rachel Blakers – one of the big hitters in the women’s field. Also in the vicinity were some of the SXC and Northside riders (who, unbeknownst to them, I would use as yardsticks to test my current form).

The “Circus Ringmaster” set us off. After a slower start, I iteratively moved up the field, latching on to small groups where I could. I remember passing Rachel, but didn’t spend much time checking my shoulder this early into the race. As much as I tried to hang on, I had lost sight of Gary and Dave from SXC early. Jaycon (also sporting the marvellous Cyclery Northside kit) passed me on a downhill and broke away. It’s not uncommon for me to be passed or dropped on descents – but my 56kg frame does make up for it when it’s time to climb.

Flying through the first transition, I hear over the loudspeaker that I am leading the women’s field, although I assume it isn’t by much. I am further distracted by the excited shrieking of Tegan Clayton, as it seems I have also come through before her husband Peter. He might have been on a bike less suited to fast fire-trail sections than I was, but I’ll take that little win any day of the week!

On to the Red Loop and the single-track Wingello State Forest is famous for. I just adore riding the likes of “Where’s Wally”, “Banksia Drive”, “Leech Street”, “Everglades” and the “Princesses Revenge” (which actually has an awesome painting of a princess, that I think looks like me, posted on a tree near the end). I also just LOVE the new section, very adequately named “Love Love Love”. Some great berms and some fast and flowy downhill sections make for a great deal of fun and excited squeals.

Single-track can be dangerous in a race situation – it’s easy to get separated from other riders and therefore can be hard to measure and monitor your pace. I made a conscious effort to try and follow other riders where the opportunity presented itself, which also assists me greatly, giving me a marker to follow through corners. I ended up riding a lot of the red section with one of the Master’s men – I was stronger going uphill, but he set a great pace through the tight sections. Good teamwork really!

At this stage, I had no idea where either Rachel or Liz Smith (another very strong marathon racer) were in relation to me. After getting stuck in a rut and catapulting myself into a tree right before the final Red Loop climb (it’s been a while since I crashed, so I assume I was due), I began to tell myself they must be right behind me. Psyc!

My feeder for the day, Robyn, did a fantastic job of grabbing my attention in the feed zone (there was no way I could miss her), swapping out bottles and making sure I got in a few mouthfuls of Coke as I flew out on to the final Yellow Loop.  She was racing in a team, so I am very appreciative of her taking a bit of time out to help me on the day. You rock Robs!

The Yellow Loop was my loop. Full of steep, lengthy, challenging climbs. Still in the lead, I was quietly confident I could hold on to it for the final 19kms. By this stage the field was pretty scattered and in many cases, tiring fast. When I did encounter other riders, I often made the call to keep pushing forward on my own.

Finally cresting Half Way Hill and out into the relatively open areas of the course, I was suddenly hit by the wind. Looking forward (through the clouds of dust whipped up by the gale) I could see riders strung out along the road. Nobody seemed to be riding together. Looking back, not much help either. I had no choice but to make myself incredibly small, drop down into my smallest gear and pedal for my life. If either Rachel or Liz were in groups, I could get caught out very easily right about now.

To illustrate how strong the wind was – at one stage I was blown from the left hand side of the road over into the gutter on the right. Picked up and dropped like King Kong playing with marbles. You practically had to ride at a 45 degree angle to go straight.

All things considered however, now was a good opportunity to start picking off riders on the run home. I spotted the familiar Cyclery Northside jersey about 100 meters up ahead and went in for the kill. Unluckily for it’s owner Jaycon, I caught up on a gentle climb and was able to keep rolling on. I probably jumped another 3 or 4 places overall over the next 3km as the strong winds took their toll.

The last person I caught was Gary from SXC. Not only did I then proceed to steer him right into an enormous muddy puddle (that’s what you get for following me I guess!), but covered him in mud and dirty water as I completely underestimated how deep it was. Unfortunately this “friendly” gesture inspired him to find another gear and he eventually caught me about 1km out, crossing the line just ahead of me in the end. Next time, Gadget!

I finished 1st in the overall Women’s Field and 34th overall in a time of 2 hours and 35 minutes. My form yardstick seems to think I am going OK.

I’ve heard it’s the last 3 Ring Circus for a while, which is a real shame. Wild Horizons are proven to run a great event and Wingello is just so much fun to race. If this is the case, make sure you get down for the Highland Fling later in the year to experience what Wingello has to offer.

Quick thanks to Cyclery Northside – not only did my bike perform flawlessly, but it attracted more attention than Ryan Gosling with a Labrador puppy. Ladies – if you are single and want to meet a Mountain Biker – get yourself an S-Works Era. Instant conversation starter.

Race Report: Easter in the Alice (Stage Race)

Alice Springs is like Australia’s version of the Wild West, with red sand in every direction you look, winds constantly whipping up clouds of dust and a unique ecosystem of fauna and flora that against all odds continues to outlast the extreme elements. The MacDonnell Ranges erupt out of the flat desert landscape, providing some level of enclosure for a small town, split by a sandy river known as the Todd, which remains dry for most of the calendar year. The town is culturally diverse, full of local Indigenous, settlers and tourists alike.

Alice Springs is one of my favourite destinations in Australia, purely based on the stunning landscape, the unrivalled bright blue skies and the sense of freedom in a wild, untamed and unforgiving part of this great land. I jumped at the opportunity to race my mountain bike up here – four stages across three days – sampling some of the 300km of trails that surround the township. Trails that challenge you technically, made up of tight corners, deep pockets of sand, loose gravel and rock. More rock than you have ever seen. Rock in all shapes and sizes, sprouting from the ground in all directions.

Getting out before the race
Getting out before the race

Stage 1 – 90km Marathon
Without doubt, one of the toughest marathons I have completed to date. Although we started just after sunrise, to the soothing sounds of live firearms, the early frenetic pace combined with the sudden injection of heat made it hard going. The course was predominantly single track, undulating up and down over various hills and ridges, with minimal protection from the baking sun overhead. Staying upright on the loose surface was important, given the sharp rocks and various thorny plants below.

With a small group for the first quarter, two minor unplanned dismounts (one leaving me literally eating sand) had me on my own for quite sometime. While you are never more than 10km from town, this can feel quite isolating, yet it gives you a few moments to really take it all in and reflect on how amazing it is to be out there in the first place. That is before you whack your wheel on a rock and realize you need to pay more attention to the situation at hand.

Just after a feed station, about half way through the course, I was caught by a lovely guy from Darwin. We proceeded to ride the rest of the way together, given we were holding around the same speed and he knew some of the local trails, so it was in my best interests to follow his wheel.

No more incidents, but a fair bit more suffering. I crossed the line after 5hours and 20minutes, having copped a bit of sunburn, becoming a little dehydrated, having seen two wild dingoes and a frilled neck lizard and importantly, with a 4th place behind Jenny Blair, Melissa Anset and Imogen Smith.

Powering down a dirt road in the middle of the desert
Powering down a dirt road in the middle of the desert

Stage 2 – 26km Sprint
Waking up on day two, it was obvious there were already a number of tired and broken bodies around Race HQ (the stitches, bruises and bandages do somewhat give it away). From a personal perspective, getting back on my bike wasn’t so bad, but laying down power was proving to be difficult as I hung on for dear life on the run out. Getting caught behind someone un-clipping up a technical climb further complicated my morning and saw me loose touch with the girls ahead.

My stage didn’t get much better – in pushing hard (probably also chewing my stem) I took a few wrong turns and found myself scrambling through the bush on foot trying to find the trail again. I also missed clipping a kangaroo by a few feet, who decided hopping across my path was a good idea. Eventually on the final descent, I put my head down for the final 2km of flat dirt road to try and minimize time loss. I was lucky to hold on to 4th again, just managing to keep those behind me at bay.

Sharing stories with Imogen Smith after the race
Sharing stories with Imogen Smith after the race

Stage 3 – 10km Night Stage
Never done before by the organizers, the 10km night stage consisted of two 5km laps around the golf buggy tracks at the Alice Springs Golf Course, in the dark. The gravel course presented lots of new challenges, including not being able to see at times through the clouds of dust bouncing around in all directions under the helmet and handlebar lights of riders.

That said, I found this stage carried a level of familiarity, having spent some time on the criterium track up at Beaumont Rd recently. I had no issues with the dark (given I regularly ride local trails in the dark before work), no issues sitting five inches from other riders at 30km/h and successfully made some strategic moves in jumping between small groups. I was certainly in the hurt box, but my sub-20 minute time ensured I would take 2nd Place for Stage 3, with only Jenny Blair in front.

Stage 4 – 60km Half Marathon
The penultimate stage on the penultimate day commenced with a 7km neutral ride out to the Alice Springs Historic Telegraph Station, where the race start (and a wild dingo looking for either scraps or small children) awaited us. Not even 100m into the stage we had to cross the river, which meant pedalling as far as you could in thick sand before dismounting and running for the bank. A loop around the telegraph station and we were presented with this challenge again, but in the opposite direction. I was quite pleased to make it the second time, although couldn’t help but feel this punishment was for the pleasure of spectators alone!

Feeling pretty strong all things considered, I thought I would give this stage a bit of a nudge. That was until after about 5 minutes of hammering it, I suddenly found myself upside down in a thorny bush with blood streaming out my knee. With both my mind and my body groaning as I pulled myself back on to my bike, I decided it might be better to ride conservatively and consistently to avoid loosing my current forth placing and/or injuring myself any further.

The remainder of the stage was punishing, especially the long dirt connecting road with severe headwinds, ass-numbing grading and the scattering of sand bunkers. I don’t think there is any easy riding out here, but it’s certainly enjoyable. I crossed the line a broken human, but a content one.

Easter in the Alice was such an awesome experience – I honestly didn’t want to go home. It is well organised, friendly, challenging and is full of riding you won’t ever get to experience anywhere else. I will absolutely be back next year.

Final Results:
Stage 1 – 90km – 5hr 26min
Stage 2 – 26km – 1hr 23min
Stage 3 – 10km – 18min 49sec
Stage 4 – 60km – 3hr 10min

Thanks to Activ8me for the featured image – the big rock sign that welcomes you to the town.

Race Report: The Willo 75km

The James Williamson Enduro Classic (The Willo) is the opening race for the MTBA XCM series in 2015 – but at the same time, a fitting celebration of the life of Australian and World Champion, James Williamson.

Hailing from the Southern Highlands, James Williamson was a successful and passionate mountain biker, who by 24 years old, had won a 24hr Solo World Championship. Sadly, while competing in the Cape Epic in 2010, James died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart condition just prior to stage three. The Willo is an annual reminder to all riders of the joys of mountain biking and the impact James had on the sport.

Traditionally held in Wingello State Forest, this year’s pinnacle event was three laps of a 25km circuit, which consisted of some gruelling climbs, speedy firetrail and a large collection of fast and twisty single-track. While some of the big hitters in the elite field were still recovering from the Giant Odyssey held in Victoria the day before, the men’s and women’s fields still had a lot of talent and depth.

We started at the base of a rather tough climb into the event centre (I think my heart rate went from about 60 to 180 in roughly four seconds), followed by a few kilometres of fire road, which was sure to sort out the field prior to entering the single-track. Showing no signs of fatigue after racing the day prior, Jenny Fay was off like a bullet out of a gun, with Rachel Blakers not far behind, leaving a clique of about five girls to fight it out between themselves in the cool and misty conditions.

Nearing the end of the first section of single-track, Gemma Ansell clipped a rock and was sent flying into a tree ahead of me. Although straight back up again (completely to her credit – it looked like it would have seriously hurt), the slight delay was enough to loose sight of the boys in front and allow the girls behind to latch on.

While single-track pileups have been known to split fields, nothing works quite as well as a prolonged, steep, agonizing hill climb. Up next was the KOM, which saw Ansell and I over in prime position. Both starting our careers on the road, we put our heads down, looked for any fast wheels we could grab and tried to put a bit of a break on the rest of the women’s field.

The remainder of lap one and lap two saw Ansell and I constantly come together, work as a small team and then drift apart.  At times I thought I might have put on some time between us through the single-track, only to find her right back next to me a few kilometres later.  A strong climber, I suspect the never-ending hill climb roughly in the middle of the course (it makes you think it is over, then it turns a corner and goes up again – a good three or four times) was where she was making up any time I had gained.

Flying through transition for the commencement of the third lap, I was feeling pretty good. I had made a bit of a break after a conceited effort through the back end of the course (particularly through a section aptly called Tangles), and was eating and drinking well. I received word from a kind stranger that Blakers was only about two minutes ahead.

Head down, I worked hard to the first section of single-track. Repeatedly muttering under my breath “smooth is fast” (thanks Ant and Jon), I focused on getting my lines right, leaning the bike and not using my brakes through corners. Hitting the fire roads it was all about making myself small and driving it. Hitting the climbs was about pace and cadence. I was still somewhat concerned Ansell would appear out of nowhere again, but I was also half expecting to see Blakers appear up ahead any time now.

With about ~10km to go, a blue kit on a female body appeared up ahead. On closer inspection, I was able to confirm that this was my target. Hooray! (I almost think catching someone you have been chasing has the same effect on performance as having a caffeinated gel, at least momentarily). In to the single-track we went, where I passed on a wider section not long after.

Blakers however wasn’t going to give up that easily. Every time I attempted to make a subtle move, she was right on my wheel. As much as I tried (while pretending I wasn’t trying), I couldn’t shake her. The closest I got was on the newest bit of twisty single-track down to a creek crossing, possibly the most technical of the course (I felt like I was driving a bus around some of the corners). Having put on a few seconds, I screwed it up by clipping a rock and having to put a foot down before continuing.

I am starting to worry this might come down to a sprint finish. While I knew she was hurting as much as I was, I had been on the front and working hard to get away. I really didn’t have much left either.

Out of the forest and on to a small rise before the finish, the grating of a sub-optimal gear change behind me was music to my ears. Incredibly unluckily for Blakers, she had dropped or caught her chain, which meant I was away. Over the peak and on to the flat finish, I checked behind me before a little celebratory fist pump. I had grabbed second place by 8 seconds.

My Lap Times
1:20:50
1:20:47
1:19:19

Very pleased with the consistency and the sneaky little negative splits.  Fay took the race in a total time of 3:46:00, myself in second with 4:02:47, Blakers 4:02:55, Ansell 4:11:42 and Smith rounding out the top five with 4:12:11.

Fantastic, exciting and competitive racing by all. A great way to remember James Williamson.

1st Fay, 2nd Mattocks, 3rd Blakers
1st Fay, 2nd Mattocks, 3rd Blakers

Thanks as always to Cyclery Northside for the bikes, servicing and support. Was the S-Works Era worth 8 seconds out there? I have no doubt it was.

Race Report: The Mont 24hr

After horrendous weather had postponed to original event (intended to be held in March), the weekend of the Mont 24 had finally come around. With a swag of new Specialized bikes securely attached to the roof of our cars, the Pro Cycling Coach team reported in for duty at the camp grounds of Kowen Forest early on Saturday morning.

Our team captain Vicky (with her infinite supply of fancy pants) had the troops well organised, ensuring the team had everything we needed for the weekend. With some expert assistance from First Lieutenant Tash, every detail was covered, including shade tents, tables, camp chairs, an esky or two, a generator powering the charging station and most importantly, endless supplies of food, cable ties and Qantas Pyjamas.

The Mont 24 is a lap race – teams of up to 6 riders complete a 20km lap and tag the next rider, sending them out on to the course. Teams with the most laps over the 24 hour period (which includes all through the night) win.

Veronica battling it out on her first lap
Veronica battling it out on her first lap

After some debate, it was decided it was to be Veronica (our resolute squad coach and purveyor of pain) who was to ride first, as the rest of the team felt she was the most aggressive rider amongst us and would therefore start the team in a strong position. Her aggressive appeal to the decision only solidified our standing, which left her with no choice but to kit up and get ready.

After slowly baking in the midday sun for 20-odd minutes (I am sure temperatures were pushing high thirties during the day), the motorcycles cleared the way, the cowbells started to chime and the field was off! Veronica sailed past as the third or fourth woman, her face covered in determination (and dirt from the dry and dusty fire-road). Through transition, up the hill and into the single-track. This was the last we would see of her for around an hour.

Mont 24 2014
Briony out on the hunt

The next rider up was Briony (your humble protagonist). After initially placing myself next to the wrong “Gu” sign (lucky I figured that out), I sat next to the right “Gu” sign, expertly balanced on my top tube, with that pre-race nervousness stewing in my belly. Veronica comes flying through the gates, looking as exhausted as a lost hiker having crawled their way across the Simpson desert for six days. She tagged my hand and off I went.

The course starts with a deceptive climb up to the entrance of the single-track, which weaves and entwines its way through fresh scented pine forest, littered with pine cones, pine needles, tree roots and the odd rubber snake. If my heart rate wasn’t red-lining and I wasn’t neck deep in an epic battle for race position, it would have been quite an enjoyable experience (and quite fitting for one of those home fragrance commercials).

Mont 24 2014
Focus on the track, not the scenery

Typical of my standard race plan, I was on the attack on any climb or firetrail section, whipping it through the fast and flowy sections and expending any available oxygen I had in calling “rider back” or “track please, when you can“, passing dozens of riders each time around.   The odd rider would let out a small groan or drop one of a few swear words after being overtaken by a female, but I can assure you, with the calibre of chicks there for the weekend, I wouldn’t be the only one guilty on these charges.

After partially melting in the heat, desperate for oxygen and with lactic acid bubbling away in my quads, I accomplished my goal of catching and passing the two riders on teams ahead of us. I flew into transition 1 minute under the hour and tagged our next rider, Kelly.

Veronica and Kelly
Veronica and Kelly

Kelly (the only vegetarian I know who travels with a meat cleaver) flew out of the blocks on her beautiful black and orange Camber. A great all-round rider, she cruised up the ascents and bombed down the descents, putting in our third hour lap in a row. At this stage, we had a slender lead over the other teams, but it was starting to look like it might be a super competitive weekend, with the Drift Team and the GuGu Girls hot on our heels.

Tegan "Bomber" Clayton
Tegan “Bomber” Clayton

Next we have Tegan (who is either bombing down berms at ridiculous speed or, in complete contrast, knitting) out on track. Sitting under the shade of our campsite, we were sure we could hear the “YEEEEEOOOOWWWWW” noises she was letting out as she flew down some of the longer descents. We don’t know what this girl is on, but she was absolutely on fire over the whole weekend, putting in some fantastic lap times (as well as providing me with the most sensual sunscreen application experience I have ever had).

Tegan comes back covered in sweat and dust (apparently after a handful of small sit-downs) and the clock hits “Tash Time”. Again a picture of contrast – when Tash is not baking the most incredible quiches, cupcakes, peanut brittle, chicken or pasta dishes for the team, she is out absolutely giving it to the course and the other competitors.

Captain Vicky
Captain Vicky

Tash tags Vicky (and proceeds to return to camp and don her favourite sunhat, purchased from a small region of Italy known as Woollahra). The most technically proficient rider amongst us, Vicky carved up  the tight corners, sandy berms and rocky outcrops. The gap between us and the other teams was becoming tighter and tighter as they sent out their big guns in an attempt to peg us back.

By this time, lights were being attached to handlebars and helmets as dusk set in and the temperature started to drop (much to our enjoyment and relief – my lap right on dusk was a nice contrast to those earlier in the day). For most of the team, riding under the shroud of darkness was performed about as regularly as Brisbane gets snow, so we assumed times may be a touch slower. For me though, most mornings I start my mountain bike commute in pitch black, so I was hopeful I could keep to my 60 minute lap times.

Mont 24 2014
Racing through just as the sun had dropped below the trees

At this stage we are sitting in second, which meant it was time for a strategic play. As the witching hour approached, I jumped on my bike for a hot lap at 2am, followed by Kelly at 3am and then myself again at 4am. Pow, pow, pow! Three quick jabs in the middle of the night and we managed to regain a 14 minute lead. Job done, time for the both of us to try and sneak in an hour or two of sleep.

Vicky, Tash and Tegan held the fort admirably, sending Veronica out for her final lap at around 9am. Having stumbled out of her tent a few hours earlier, looking dazed and confused (somewhat like a zombie child lost in the aisles of K-Mart), she smashed out a fast lap, only slowed by having to stop and assist a fellow rider who had come off near the finish. I followed on what would be my final lap, leaving Kelly to jog it in for the win, much to the enjoyment of the adorning crowd.

The Winning Pro Cycling Coach Team (L-R Tash, Veronica, Briony, Kelly, Tegan and Vicky)
The Winning Pro Cycling Coach Team (L-R Tash, Veronica, Briony, Kelly, Tegan and Vicky)

It was a fantastic weekend with not only my fabulous team, but all the other girls and guys we regularly see around the traps. It was a bucket of fun sharing a camp-site with other regular ride buddies like Danni, Linda, Steph and Kel.

The Winning Pro Cycling Coach Team
The Winning Pro Cycling Coach Team

Special mentions go to Erica, Marisa and the GuGu Girls, as well as Laura, Catherine and the rest of Drift Racing for such close competition. Well done to my commuting buddies Clutters, Bam, Rob and Watty who put in some amazing times to finish fourth in the hotly contested Men’s Fours. Finally, congrats also go to Mike, Normy, Trent and Jase for topping the podium for the Master’s Mixed Fours.

Thanks Pedal Mafia for our awesome matching socks!
Thanks Pedal Mafia for our awesome matching socks!

Time to head home and get some much needed sleep. As well as making sure our trophy is placed on the front counter of our ever supportive bike shop (and number one fan), Cyclery Northside. As always, the boys did a fantastic job in making sure our fleet of Camber’s, Era’s and Epic’s were fighting fit and ready to race.