Tag Archives: wingello

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!

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.

Race Report: Highland Fling 112km

I have never raced the Highland Fling, but have heard so many good things about it from so many people. A key fixture on most of the calendars of elite racers and punters alike, it’s known to be a tough race, but a highly enjoyable one. Along with most of the mountain bikers I know, I headed down to the Southern Highlands pumped for a great weekend of racing.

Perched on my Camber in the starting chute, listening to the pre-race briefing, I was already starting to feel the day heating up. Almost in a bit of a daze, I was quickly brought back to the task at hand by the sound of the local Counsellor counting down to the start. We were off!

Just as quickly as we started, I was stopped suddenly as two riders in front of me collected each other just past the timing mat (about 5 meters into a 112km race). One managed to get himself out the way quite quickly – the other stood there like a deer in the headlights looking back at the hundred-odd riders bearing down on him (I can’t help but think this could so easily have been me, so I made sure to give him a empathetic smile as I passed).

Once on the road, I put my head down, dropped some gears and jumped in to Time Trial mode to try and catch the front runners (who had been oblivious to the start-line crash).  Grabbing a wheel for 20 seconds every few hundred meters provided enough recovery to burst out again. Feeling like a good start was important, it didn’t occur to me that I was perhaps I might have been going a bit too hard.

Into the paddocks, into the first creek and up some of the first climbs we went. After about 10km, I spotted some of my direct competition spinning up a hill just ahead of me.  Thankfully my TT efforts my had meant I was able to get myself back into the fold relatively quickly. Relaxing a bit (in knowing my strength was climbing, and that there was plenty more to come), I settled more into a rhythm. Come at me hills!

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Feeling strong, the first section through to the Transition at Bundanoon saw me pass a few other female competitors and get myself into a small group or two with some of the quicker lads (which was very handy across the scattering of road and flat firetrail sections).

One of the awesome features of the Highland Fling is that the Elite field starts behind you – which makes for some excitement when they fly past you. I didn’t quite make it to the first transition before the boys passed (like a little swarm of bees, heads down and firmly attached to each other’s wheels), but I did make it before the Elite Women, which I was quite content with.

Section 2 of the Highland Fling is nestled in the beautiful Wingello State Forest. Featuring some fast fire road and awesome flowy single-track, it also was home to some of the toughest climbs the 112km riders would encounter (including the adequately named “Wall” and Halfway Hill, which just seems to go on forever). Unfortunately Wingello was also home to a few crashes for me on the day.

The first wasn’t too bad. I attempted to go around a very sandy corner at way too much speed (like a few other riders, according to the post-race ride reports) and lost control. Snapping my Garmin mount was preferable to snapping myself – although I was left with sand in my mouth, nose, ears and somehow my knicks. Overall, the soft landing of the sand was much appreciated.

I had made a good recovery after the first incident however, using the numerous hills to my advantage to catch the guys I was chasing. I think I ride a lot better (and probably a lot faster) through single-track when I have a line to follow and a wheel to keep pace with. Having made a break up Halfway Hill, I crossed the summit on my own, quickly necked a gel and commenced the next descent.

At close to 30km/h around a corner, I awkwardly hit a rut caused by the wheels of a logging truck, which sent me flying in one direction and my bike in the other. As I sat up, pain was shooting through my left shoulder (which was subject to a reconstruction in February), blood oozing out of my elbows and knees and again, my face full of sand. After a few moments assessing my shoulder (it felt like everything was roughly in place), I grabbed an Allan key from my bag, turned my seat back around so it was facing forward and straightened my handlebars, which had also been repositioned.

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Back and pedalling, a group of two guys turned up just in time for the flat road section leading into transition. We formed a little train and taking turns on the front, we picked up two or three more as we sailed into the Wingello Transition. Stupidly I probably did a bit too much work here, I was in a fair bit of discomfort from the second crash and my first 30km’s was starting to catch up with me. The final section from Wingello back to the finish was going to be hard work.

Hard work was a bit of an understatement – I was sore, I felt sick, my legs were screaming, it was hot and after not having my Garmin in front of me, my nutrition schedule was all mucked up. Dragging myself up Brokeback Mountain in direct sunlight, I was convinced (probably purely out of hope and desperation) there was only about 3km’s to go. Seeing a sign with “10km’s to go” was like a poke in the eye with a blunt stick.

Alas the sign was also the wakeup call I needed to stop for a moment in the shade, shove a energy bar down my throat (in the heat it had melted, so I felt like a dog trying to lick peanut butter off the roof of its mouth) and try to compose myself ahead of the final section of technical single-track. Normally an extremely fun section, this was going to be seriously tough in my state.

Section by section (and hilarious bread pun by bread pun in “Baker’s Delight”) I kept the legs turning. The end was near, I just had to hold on a bit longer. I was reflecting on how I seem to always find myself limping to the line in the last ~10km of marathon races. Note to self, perhaps address this issue sooner rather than later!

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Crossing the line, I see the familiar faces of the magnificent MC Chops, old team mates Linda and Steph (who both smashed the 50km), Tegan and Pete (Cyclery Northside) and commuting mate Gareth, who hands me a cold can of Coke. Covered in dirt, sand, blood and sweat, there is no arguing the fact that I left everything I had out there.

I was stoked to have held on and finished 1st in the Open Women’s category, around 8 minutes ahead of another old team mate and awesome endurance rider, Mel Nuttall. With the 1st placing in the Kowalski, this also handed me my first Maverick Marathon series win.

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Assuming I can keep building on my form and technique (which might also lead to less crashing), it looks like I might be promoted to the “Elite Women’s” category next year. Very exciting, if not incredibly scary at the same time.

Big thanks to the organisers of the Highland Fling, Wild Horizons, for putting on such a great event. Incredibly well organised, it brings the whole community together, not just for the race but the entire weekend. Also, as always, thanks to the wonderful team at Cyclery Northside who not only keep my bike and equipment in top working order, but have been one of my biggest supporters across the year.