Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kowalski Classic

It's becoming a bit of a habit, starting our week long retreat in Myola, Jervis Bay with a 100km race in Canberra and this being my 3rd race in 4 weeks I was keen to see where the form laid.  The Kowalski Classic is right up there in terms of enjoyment as you get to sample pretty much every metre of hand built single track on offer in Kowen Forrest and Sparrow Hill, so at 5am I jumped in the Santa Fe and headed west.  The drive through Nerriga is pretty and fast, it is beautiful country and I was happy to arrive for rego in plenty of time to get ready.  The only downer was the shortage of portaloos, that ended up cutting my warm up a little shorter than planned.

Last year was a fast course with minimal climbing but this year would be different, with the profile showing atleast 3 pretty gnarly climbs. There were two big decisions to make pre-race, Duallie or Hard Tail and Bottles or CamelBak.  The Ellsworth Enlightenment (Carbon hardtail 29er) has been the go to bike for me recently so I figured I'd stick with what was working.  The 1 (34t) x 10 (11-36t) setup could leave me short of gears but I hoped the lightness and the agility of this bike in the handling department would win out in the end.  On the hydration front, it's always tempting go with a small hydration pack, but again a bottle in the cage and one in my jersey pocket has been working for me, so I stuck with it, knowing I could swap two bottles at the half way point. Plus I find I can drink more quickly from a bottle and you always know exactly what you have or havent drunk.

I've always found the 100km format some of the toughest racing on the calendar and with the formation of the Marathon Maverick series, this always guarantees a super strong field and today was no exception.  More than ever, the competition in the 40+ cat was insane, and there was certainly a feeling of a passing of the guard.  The Masters field was full of quality athletes having recently turned 40 so it was a wave 2 start for me which suited me just fine.  There were still plenty of fast guys here to follow and many of my usual competitors were present on the start line.  It would be a race within a race and just maybe a top 10 was possible.

The start was pretty hectic and there was a big group still together going into the single track, I certainly wasnt smashing it up the hill but still found myself in a reasonable position, I squeezed in between Alex and Trent.  At the next fireroad I had some watts in reserve and made a move to the head of our line before the next single track and then concentrated on making the most of the clear track.  Happily I could see some gaps forming behind me with only a few riders still in tow, so I took that to mean my pace was good and got settled in for a big day.  The next big obstacle was the rocky steep pinch, I dont know what it's called but when I arrived there were bikes and riders all over the place.  I just kept calling track as many pulled off after coming to a halt, and I was thrilled to ride through it and pass many riders.  The day was panning out nicely, but I could still see Trent and Alex not far behind.
Thanks to Aurora Images for providing great race photos.

As we got near the 50km mark it was great to see Beer Garden back in play with a fun little bridge and I pulled over for a refuel in transition as well as removing the thermal under jersey I had on.  It was getting pretty warm out there.  No one passed me, but it was here that Trent got closest, so again I had to push hard to preserve my narrow lead in the race within a race.  I rode the second 50km pretty much on my own, I passed a few riders who were clearly running on fumes and I wasnt far off that myself.  I couldnt believe the distance every time I checked the Garmin I thought it had to be wrong, but no, it was just wishful thinking. At the 75k feed I stopped for a little bit of food, but on the return loop realised the fuel gauge was on reserve and I needed something fast.  I'd already polished off my 4 bottles, 8 gels and 2 bars and I had still 15km to go.  Thankfully on the return side at 85km, the vollies were awesome, filling my bottle, adding a tab, and handing me two Hammer gels.  I sucked them down ravenously hoping this would be enough to see me keep the fire burning to the end.
One of the many groomed berms that produce smiles on faces - Aurora Images

The bike again performed almost flawlessly, I did drop the chain once but it only cost me a few seconds.  The rubena/curve combination continuing to serve me well, whilst there were many a rider pulled over with a flat, I never felt at risk of flatting all day, so precise and grippy is this setup.  I also ran my tyre pressures a few pounds lower at 20psi on the front and 23 at the back and the bike felt truly dialled.

It was a battle all day with Mark, Trent, Alex and Dave.  Mark H has been in terrific form for the last few months and we rode the last 10kms in sight of each other.  At the last I was spent and he pulled away from me in the last 500 m not to mention taking out 2nd in SuperMasters.  For Trent M, Alex K and Dave L, the four of us all finished within 4 minutes of each other so it doesnt get much closer than that, thanks for a great race guys.  I think Trent might have even started a new traditional, with Cath producing a wonderful spicy pizza, that Trent was happy to share around, thanks mate, nothing quite as good as pizza at the end of a big race.  That reminds me I must mention 2 BEFORE 10 coffee were there too and I enjoyed a great coffee pre race, it all added to a very enjoyable day.
Aurora Images - lovin' it!

In the end I finished a credible 8th in Masters and 35th overall, 25 minutes behind the winner which actually is pretty good for me.  The gap to the winner in Capital Punishment was a little more so that says I'm close to my pre-accident form.  You might think that sounds a little like clutching at straws, and yes, I race to win, but I can honestly say it's exciting to see these younger riders coming in and lifting the bar again.  It's great for Cycling and it's great for Australia seeing our sport grow and improve, and ultimately this will lead to more Aussie riders making an impact on the international circuit.  Why is that good?  Well the more successful we are as a cycling nation, the more people will take up the sport and live healthier lives.  And that in the end is why we ride and why I race.  To be as healthy and fit and happy as I can be, it works!  I was talking to young Sarah Mills at the finish, a (very) young and up and coming rider, she's new to riding and loving it and what's more she's fast.  Watch out for her in the Olympics if a few years I was told. How exciting!

I even managed to draw a little blood today, hardly worth a mention but I felt in good company with ER buddy Magoo who loves nothing more than a bloody knee.  It was great seeing all my ER buddies come in and each share their tales from the day's adventure.

The ER crew - Watty, Bam Bam, Jason, Mike, Rob, Clutters and Magoo, what a team!

Keep Riding

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