Tag Archives: XCM

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.

20x30-HFLR0379

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

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

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

20x30-HFLA0216

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

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

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

20x30-HFLR1768

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report: Bayview Blast 100km

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

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

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

barkes
A bit of hotel mechanics

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

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

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

12189109_1066793933351058_8694370967814758535_n

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.

12065607_1066793980017720_7984187509348060465_n

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.

12191581_1066769400020178_5889202669795047285_n

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report: Dwellingup100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the Race Report on MarathonMTB

Race Report: Convict 100

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

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

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

Convict 100 2015

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

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

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

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

Convict 100 2015

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

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

Convict 100 2015

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

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

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

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

Convict 100 2015

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

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

Race Report: National Elite XCM Championships

As of last week, Tasmania was the only state in Australia I had not yet visited. Flying in to Launceston on a calm Wednesday afternoon, just as the sun was contemplating setting, meant that shades of yellow and orange were thrown over the numerous mountain ranges and lush forests that reached out right to the edge of the coastline. My first impression of this little state was certainly a good one, even if the temperature on the tarmac was a little brisk.

Derby is a small town about 90 minutes from Launceston. The most direct route is via an incredibly windy mountain pass with sharp blind corners and not much in the way of guard rails, which gets icy and is frequented by the odd logging truck.

While I wasn’t quick enough to get accommodation in Derby itself, I luckily grabbed a bed in the Tin Dragon Trail Cottages in nearby Branxholm, sharing a cabin with the super talented Eliza Kwan. It’s a great place to stay – only 10 minutes drive from the trails at Derby and on a stunning country property nestled in the bends of the Ringarooma River with vast green paddocks, alpacas, chickens, wallabies (small round ones that look like jumping possums) and the odd wild platypus.

waterfall2
A waterfall on the trail. Pretty stunning, even if I did get my feet wet.

The whole area has plenty of tin mining history – I won’t spoil all the discovery for you, but there were some pretty significant events, such as the bursting of a dam, half of Derby being washed away and plenty of confrontations between Chinese and local miners.

A few days of enjoying the local surrounds and riding the track with mates made it feel like the ideal relaxing holiday. That said, it was clear that the nervous tension was building in the elite riders the closer it got to race day – this was not like other races – this was the National Championship race.

After a somewhat troubled night’s sleep, the morning of the race had arrived. Conversations between riders were short and focus on the task at hand was high. After a bit of a ride on the track to get my eye in, I spent the rest of the time setting myself up in the feed zone, spinning the legs out on the road, putting in a few short sprints and generally trying to stay warm.

waterfall
Not much more to say – just stunning.

The Elite women’s race started in the town of Derby, running down the main street, following a windy sealed road up the side of a hill and connecting to steep fire trail. Once the gun went off, the women spent the first few hundred meters sussing each other out, before some started to launch attacks as the gradient increased. The most notable of these was Jenny Blair – who was off like a rocket – with no rider keen or capable of following. She immediately grabbed a significant lead entering the single track.

After starting a bit slowly, I found myself entering the single track with the likes of Jenni King, Mel Ansett and two other girls. Not only was I in the main group, but I was feeling good, even after having to gap half way up. Any concerns about being dropped on the first climb were put aside and although I struggled to keep sight of the other girls on the first big descent, I had my tail in the air and a sense of confidence.

sb_track
Photo by Stormy Boy

The women’s race was 70km – one initial 10km lap followed by two of the larger 30km laps. While I had budgeted in my mind about 30mins for the first 10km (given the extended climb and amount of single track), I was elated when I flew through the feed zone in much less than that. Picking up a hydration pack, the plan was to drink as much as I could on the first 30km lap, meaning I didn’t have to worry too much about drinking on the second lap. With that plan, I could also leverage the few opportunities I would get to consume gels, not fumble with a small drink bottle (the course was 95% twisty single track and only really had one location to feed).

I started the first 30km lap in a group of three with Tassie locals, Edwina Hughes and Jody Bush. We wound our way up the numerous switch back climbs to the fire trail – while the pace was constant, it was hard to get away given the terrain.  Still feeling good, I was comfortable on the back, following the lines of two girls who seemed to have a great knowledge of the course.  Turning on to the fire trail, all three of us reached for gels and started spinning up the steep sections.

Some of the switch-backs.
Some of the switch-backs.

Wanting to test them a little, I accelerated up the hill. Initially creating a gap, Jody Bush did well to catch and stay with me, while Hughes fell off the back. The downhill fire trail was another story however, as my more cautious approach to cornering meant I lost track of Bush. I did get close again on some of the flatter sections, but her single track skills and track knowledge meant I had a hard time staying with her. I would occasionally get close again on climbs, but loose her on the long fast descents.

While trying to catch Bush, I was also aware Hughes was behind me. Although I had the edge climbing, she would later catch me on the long Dambusters descent and after putting in a solid effort, drop me on the twisty run in to the feed zone. Feeling strong, I put in my own big effort up the long fire trail climb on lap two, but was unable to get close enough to hold on.

The rest of lap two was spent trying to hold off anyone else behind me and working hard in the hope someone up ahead was struggling. Even though I was just managing to suck down gels every 45 mins, the course started to take it’s toll midway through my final lap. Sections of mud had become quite cut up by now and my legs were on Struggle Street trying to push through it. It felt like I was riding with my brakes on.

sb_berm
Photo by Stormy Boy

Hitting the descent down from the top of Kruska’s, it was pretty much all downhill from here. Although probably still 10km to the finish line, I had finished the majority of the climbing and had passed the worst of the mud. Ahead of me were twisty, flat and fast sections, as well as a cold creek crossing. It was important to stay upright and not loose focus, regardless of how hungry, tired, thirsty and muddy I was at this point.

Photo by Russ Baker
Photo by Russ Baker

I’m glad to say I crossed the finish line without a crash and in 10th position. Top 10 was a bit of an aspirational goal for me, so to hear I scraped in was pretty unbelievable.  Jenny Blair was the eventual winner on the day, 10 minutes ahead of second place Eliza Kwan (woohoo!) and third place Rebecca Locke. Unfortunately the other favourite, Jenni King, suffered a bad puncture ~15km in which ended her race.

Mud much? This was a jersey race plate.
Mud much? This was a jersey race plate.

The trail at Derby is just awesome – built by the World Trail crew, there is a network of fun across the dense bushy hillside which stretches for close to 50km (with more to come).  It’s damp, soft, loamy and grippy. There are ferns, berms, waterfalls, rivers, bridges, a massive dam, granite boulders and some of the biggest trees I have ever seen. Derby is well on the way to achieving the objective of being a destination for mountain biking. If you like Skyline and Luge at Mt Stromlo, some of the descents at Derby will blow your mind.

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.