Tag Archives: Southern Highlands

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.

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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.

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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: 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: 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.