Moving a little further afield than in previous years, Chocolate Foot held their first round for 2014 in Taree last Sunday. Having heard how sweet these trails were from last year, I made sure this one was firmly locked in the calendar well in advance. Marking the first round of the premier endurance MTB series known as the Finish Line Single Track Mind Series, riders converged from up and down the eastern seaboard for what boils down to the most fun you can have in the dirt on two wheels.
Saturday night turned into something of a cross between a treasure hunt and the great race, in an attempt to find pre-race nutrition. On the plus side we got to see the sights of Taree at night, and there were plenty of laughs and raised eyebrows amongst our steely MTB foursome of Chops, Phil, Tim and I. As in all good boys nights out, we ended up playing pool and proving we should stick to cycling, when Tim pulled out the most amazing "single track" trick shot, rolling the cue ball the full length on top of the cushion that would have challenged the great Eddie Charlton.
Located just outside the sleepy country town of Taree, the park presents as a gorgeous leafy green pocket of eucalypt forest and the local club (Manning Great Lakes Tip Riders) take great pride in their trail network. Ripping around for my first lap, I was struck at how smooth the trails were and also how perfectly radiused the many windy corners were. This was indeed a track built with Flow and Fun in mind that would reward those who ride smooth and subscribe to the theory, slow is fast. It even had white markings for obstacles, something that reminded me of early Saturday morning soccer matches eons ago.
Brad Tillack has been gradually building capacity and experience in this series over the last couple of years and has now been rewarded with his very own category, "Super Masters" where he can draw his sword against the many other 50+ warriors. I’m a confirmed addict to this style of racing (first entering in 2007) and ended up causing extra froth in the coffee cup when the news got around; I'd not be riding solo, yes I finally found a friend (long time rival and good mate Phil Welch) prepared to team up with me and Masters (40-50yo) pairs would be my battleground.
The start was pretty civilised, these races tend to start with a long stretch of slightly uphill fireroad to sort the wheat from the chaff, and while there is many a boyracer who like to throw derision in the direction of those who potentially self-seed a row or two higher than their legs can deliver, it all get's sorted out in the mad rush for single track.
I had the first lap and enjoyed the feeling of fresh legs knowing I had 30 minutes recovery time at the end of the lap, so I let the horses gallop, there would be no room for pacing today, with atleast two other pairs fancying themselves in the stakes for a podium finish.
By the middle of the day, the temperature was starting to climb and Brad was having to contend with a couple of issues, like some strange noises from the bike (or was it just his knees?) and a crash just adding to the drama of the race. As solo riders come in each lap, the dust, drink, gu's, mud (and other unmentionable substances) tend to build up to the point where the rider resembles some creature from the murky depths. Thanks to the crash, Brad also earned extra style points for the sizeable graze down his elbow and not a little claret flowing. I was found reclining between laps enjoying some chit chat and a cool drink when Brad came in on red alert. "Alright buddy you are OK?" I soothed, Brad got centred again, with a drink, some lube for the chain (and knees), and we sent him on his way in 2nd position. "What's the gap to 3rd?" Brad asked. "You've got heaps of time Brad forget about 3rd, just keep circulating and you've got 2nd in the bag" I replied. The addition of the SuperMasters category belies the swelling ranks of long time riders who are now still competing beyond the 50 year birthday. Brad completed the same number of laps (14) as the 2nd place getter in the Masters category showing age is no barrier to performance.
For Phil and I, it was a solid hit out with some intensity and some sharpening up of the skills. Unfortunately the top step wasnt to be, as Trek Racing finished 20 minutes ahead after 15 laps in 7 hours, but there is no shame in coming 2nd to Rich and Darren who have always been extremely talented riders. Ben and Mark kept the pressure on all day and finished just 10 mins behind Mike and Phil to round out the podium.
Russell Napier also made a cameo appearance in the shorter 4 hour format and finished tired and happy just the way MTB is meant to end. Thanks to the crew from Chocolate Foot who put on a flawless event and to the sponsors whose generous support make these events just that little more enjoyable, as almost everyone get’s to go home with a little bit of bling for the bike shed.
|Giant Anthem, what a great bike for a great track, Rubena on the front and Bontrager on the back is my current setup|
|Masters Pairs podium complete with Arsenal mascot following their dramatic win of the FA Cup final|
Thanks to all the crew at TMC for your support, and hopefully we'll see a few more riders at the next round in Mogo. Why not make a long weekend of it and join us on the beautiful Eurobodalla coast, you can even bring your roadie if MTB is just too much to ask, but I know TBG has a shiny Trek demo MTB bike just waiting for you to try.