Wednesday, March 14, 2012

BikeBuller 2012

It was with a huge sense of anticipation that Nick Gilbert and I packed the car at 5am and headed down the Hume, destination Mt Buller, for the 2012 Rapid Ascent BikeBuller MTB Festival. To call it a race just wouldn't do it justice. This is about riders from all over the country converging on the self-proclaimed (and rightly so!) premier MTB park in Australia for 3 days of riding hard and fellowshipping harder. I call it fellowship, because it wasnt really "partying", it was more about like minded cyclists and those who support and love them coming together to share the good life and all the things we sometimes take for granted.
The drive to Buller was long as you'd expect but we got a first hand view of the flooding around the Riverina and the scenery got more spectacular the closer we got.

We passed through some gorgeous little towns like Holbrook and Mansfield and the further south we went, the brighter the sun shone. I was struck by just how mountainous the Mt Buller region is and swore I'd be back with my roadie to tackle a few choice climbs.

We got to our lodge mid afternoon and were honoured to see we were sharing with the Norm and Jess Douglas. Having really only been Facebook friends before now, it was awesome getting to know these guys over the weekend.

Jess and Norm clearly have a real heart for other people and they are quick to share their knowledge and resources or help out a fellow rider any way they can. I will never forget Jess speeding up behind me on one the big climbs. I'd had a few hubbard moments and had completely lost my flow. Fully expecting Jess to speed past me, I moved over to give her the track, instead she called out, "Nice little flow up ahead, shove it in the dog!" Sure enough the track levelled out, I got back my rhythm and continued up the climb at a more respectable pace. Thanks Jess, that was cool!

Keen for a ride to stretch the legs, we quickly unpacked and rolled out looking for any trail available. We soon located Copperhead, the trail we've all been salivating over watching some Mick Ross carv-ation, and down we headed. What a trail! A steep winding track that ducks and weaves and seduces you to go just that little bit faster on each new corner until you feel your tires starting to lose traction and your heart almost jumps out of your mouth, then who should we bump into but Glen Jacobs and his crew doing a bit of last minute spit and polish on a fresh sweeping banked corner. We soon lost ourselves in the huge network of trails and before we knew it we'd clocked up 25km, hmmm maybe a little too far the night before a big race???

That night the rest of our lodge buddies arrived and it was packed to the rafters as we watched an amazing little cycling movie called LifeCycles. If you haven't seen it, just go see it, you will love it.

The next day was Stage 1. I wont bore you with all the details, it was just amazing, lot's of climbing. I had no idea a 50km bike race would take me 3hours 22minutes, but there were many memorable moments particularly involving riding with other riders and willing your legs to ride faster. It also setup a four way challenge between 4 of us guys in the lodge. Dave MacDonald, Todd Stanton, Nick Gilbert, and myself were neck and neck the whole weekend and we enjoyed great comaraderie comparing Strava times for segments and cheering each other onto the finish. The end of Stg 3 epitomised this as we all finished within 5 minutes of each other. I would also add Ben May in this quartet, though to be honest he was a league above us mere mortals and was only held back by some unlucky mechanicals. I drank every last drop of my 2 ltr Camelbak full of energy, 4 gels and a bar

That night after dinner we headed out of the lodge for a 40minute stroll (err hike really) to the summit of Mt Buller to watch the sunset. This was a highlight for me and emphasized that this event is about more than just cycling, it is about enjoying the journey with new friends and recognised what a blessed life we live in this country. The sun sank quickly and the idea of circular objects spinning round and round led to the conclusion that "God the controller of the universe, had it in the dog" indeed! Stage 2 was the BrakeBurner, but it wasnt all downhill. The 20 min plus lap included a short but steep pinch climb through the village and a series of tight uphill switchbacks to the top of One Tree Hill. The Gangs Gangs descent was also hard work with many obstacles and corners to keep you working hard on a very gradual decline.

The next section was a steady downhill dirtroad section (into a headwind) that demanded full gas and then the lap finished with the bottom half of Copperhead, steep yes but again it took a huge amount of energy to quickly negotiate the course and clock a competitive lap. I had a new found respect for DH riders not only for there skill but their strength and stamina to do what they do. At the bottom you cross the timing mat again to clock your lap time and join the short queue for the chair to the top again.

I really enjoyed this race format and it rewarded riders with both skill and fitness. Once you've had enough of doing laps, you take a diversion after Gang Gangs and take the express elevator to Mirimbah, a smokin' 700m descent over about 7km!!!

Hitting Mirimbah, there was a really cool festival happening with music and great food and just about everyone from the surrounding area seemed to be there. It had a great vibe, but to be honest all I wanted to do was get home and get cleaned up after taking a couple of spills throughout the days action and the bike had never taken so much punishment.

I must say the Ellsworth continues to impress and it's hard to imagine that I could go any faster on another bike, such is the versatility and agility of this rig. My tyres could have been fresher, my front Racing Ralph was on it's last legs after 18 months of racing I'd call that a pretty good run, I let it down to 20psi and squeezed every last ounce of grip from this tyre. On the back my Crossmark was also a little worse for wear and traction in some of the moister sections of track was an issue, but I ran it at 25 psi and it stood up to every rock stick I bounced over.

That night we had no idea what our places were in the GC, so we carbed up and got to bed early knowing we'd need to give it everything the next day. The 25km race for Day 3 was always going to be a smashfest and right from the gun it was on. I got a great start and held onto the lead bunch until Standard Lane climb where I got a little shelled. Into the top of Copperhead and I was 2nd in a train of 12 riders and everyone was just happy to descend at a rapid but controlled pace and wait for the next climb to pass if possible. Overall I was stoked with my ride and completed the course in a good time to secure 3rd place in the GC for Veteran mens by 2 mins. Overall a top 20 finish in a competitive field from all over Australia.

Lot's of thankyous, most of all to my wife and three beautiful kids. It was a big call to agree to see me off on this adventure a few months ago when I first raised it and I really appreciate it my darlings, I love you all very much and hope to take you with me next time. To Nick my new best buddy, it was just great travelling and riding with you mate. We'll miss you when you head back to Mexico, but keep in touch. To Dave, Todd, Ben, Jess, Norm, Rishi and all the crew at the Gliss Ski lodge, it was just awesome getting to know you all and not having to creep around a bunch of highly strung Sydney siders for a change (no offense guys, Melbournians are just so much more chilled!). You guys are a scream! And of course to Mark, Simon, Peter M and now Brad (the frothing cyclist) at Turramurra Cyclery who continue to support me and encourage me to aim high, thanks for all your help.

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