Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Highland Fling 2014

Driving down the Hume Highway at 4 in the morning, tends to brings things to a certain perspective.  Alone with all your thoughts, questions and doubts driving through the fog in the dark, dodging kangaroos with just a mountain bike in the boot.  And then you notice that thin line of sunlight starting to appear on the horizon and all that matters is getting onto that start line and riding your bike with and against your mates.

It had been another busy week, carefully planned to extract value from every minute and meet my current commitments to family and work, not to mention training and recovery and now it was time to see if I had anything to offer for the final round of the Maverick Marathon series.

Rego at 6am was simple and then a quick drive over to the event centre and before long I was kitted up and ready to race.  The temperature was perfect and in just a summer jersey I headed out for a nice easy warm up and back in time to stake an appropriate possie in the self seeded grid.  My preparation had been minimalist all week in all the wrong areas.  Training, sleep and relaxation had eluded me in place of a hectic routine, but the legs had that welcome fresh and hardened feeling.  I had a sneaking suspicion of a great ride.

The start was hassle free and I quickly jumped into a nice fast bunch.  The first false flat tests the field and I was happy to find I was holding my place, whilst a few others fell away.  Into the farmland and we formed a mixed bunch of the quicker vets and masters.  Rob "CD" Weiser and Steve "Bam Bam" Henry joined me, having fought through the traffic from further back on the grid.  Kudos to them!  My heart rate was on 88% and after the first hour reaching Wingello the avg was 86% That's pretty normal for the first stg of the Fling, it is mostly fireroad and this year seemed to contain a little more vertical than usual.  Mike Blewitt sat up for us a few times and also pulled some turns.  We were spoilt to have an Elite rider to keep us all honest; Mike was having an easy day post Croc.

Getting to T1 was a relief in some ways and I quickly refilled my single bottle. The strategy for today was to go light and make the most of the available drink stops, a risky proposal but one I felt could deliver a slight advantage.  I went back for watermelon and lollies twice, emptied the sand out of my shoes from the river crossing and formed up the bunch to hit the Shimano stage.  I gave up a minute here, but figured it was worth it.  Two of my fiercest competitors in Mark "Iceman" Hardy and Gary "the Hammer" Harwood had headed out before me so in my mind I had two rabbits to chase.  Before long we caught their bunch and surprised myself when my legs went into attack mode and sped past them on one of the thousand pinch climbs we would crest throughout the day.  I gave the wall a good crack in the 34 front 36 rear but half way up realised my folly and took to walking.
running a little wide on an off camber corner, hang onto it Isy!

My theory is riding this wall might give you a few seconds at the top but you pay big time later in the race for this super effort.  I took a quick gel at the top and cut back onto the short single track just in front of Lewy and Coops.  "Sorry boys!" I got out of their way as quick as possible and got a 30 second coaching lesson from Coops before they disappeared.  Tupac, Brendan and two young TORQ guys had already sped through and the next to arrive in a screaming, shredding mess was Masters pin up boy James Downing shouting "TRACK PLEEEEEEASE" from 30 metres away, again the shout came so I pulled off and waited for him to pass none too happy to give up precious seconds near the end of the Great Wall of China, but that's racing.  Next time I might not be so accommodating JD :).
It's actually one of the things I like about the Fling even if it is a little weird starting the Elite guys last.  I had a nice little chat with English after his signature "How's YOUR day goin'?" and Glenn Columbine also ambled past a little worse for wear after an OTB earlier on.  I'll never forget the last time I did the Fling a bunch of about 10 Elites came through like a freight train somewhere in Tangles including Craig Gordon, what a thrill to see these guys ride so fast.

By the intermediate drinks stop, it was just Rob and I with a couple of others not far ahead.  At this point I should mention the Single Speed rider just behind, Stephen Tomczyk.  He'd been with us all day pushing a huge gear so the three of us hit Halfway Hill and the Kick and we got through that relatively comfort.  The next section I had a few demons to face, Outer Limits and Wild West are often where the cramps hit, but again the legs behaved and it was a great feeling to hit the fireroad and pick David O'Connell (fellow masters) and Sam Moffit (finished 3rd in the mile!).  Together with Rob the 4 of us pulled unspoken turns all the way back to Wingello, well three of us anyway we gave Sam a free tow #luckyman

This time I hit the lap button and we refuelled and used up 4:30 before heading out into the last stage.  At this point Steve on the SS had rejoined us, so the 4 of us rolled out and again pulled turns all the way to the private property.

At some point Dave got a little gap and thinking he was younger, I let him go (he finished one place ahead of me in Masters).  There still seemed to be no sign of anyone behind us, so I began entertaining ideas of a top 5 finish, and was looking forward to finishing the ride with Rob.  Brokeback mountain came and went with little fuss and by Baker's Delight the three us weaved our way through trees, rocks and obliging half flingers.  Still feeling I had some juice left and keen to preserve my position in the field, I wound up the pace before Your Call, sensing a chasing group.
Thankyou half fingers for giving us the track

As I hit the bitumen, Ben May came by, we checked each others category, him Vets me Masters OK we can work together.  "there's a group of about 4 behind and they are about to jump, let's go!" Ben said who looked pretty fresh so I breathed in deep and gave it one last effort, the two of us swapping turns on the slight downhill.  "If we can get over this last crest alone we should be clear" I said as I noticed my HR was nudging 88% again, hmm not bad, so I still have something left?  Ben hammered the last km to the finish and I was only 50m behind, elated to finish in such good shape whilst at the same time wondering if I could have gone a little harder?  Rob pulled in just a minute later, it's something special to complete such a tough race and to have shared the majority with a good mate.
Is that a smile or a grimace? Come on Rob!

My hopes of a top 5 category finish turned out to be as vague as the clouds of dust we'd endured for the last 5 and a half hours, but I was still stoked with my performance when I looked at the pedigree in front of me added to which were a couple of new names recently turned 40, including Luke Beuchat and Todd Sinclair.  Interestingly, the split on the top 34 riders was 14 Elite, 1 Open, 9 Vets and 9 Masters so age really is no barrier.

And so the MTB family swells again, with new riders, new rivals and most importantly new friends though I really think any top level triathletes crossing over to MTB need a big fluoro "T" painted on their quads or something.  Thanks especially to Rob, Dave, Sam, Steve (SS) and Bam for the company over a great ride.

Keep Riding

4 and a half bidons
9 gels, half a bar
watermelon, banana, lollies, oranges

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