One of the great joys of cycling is that it can take you to beautiful places you might not ordinarily visit and you meet top quality people you might otherwise never meet. XCO (Olympic distance Cross Country) is something I hadn’t done before and since winning the 24 solo a little over 12 months ago, my racing has been getting shorter and shorter, so it seemed like a logical progression to give XCO a go. I didn’t have high aspirations for this race, the plan was just to turn up and give it a good crack. MTBA are working hard to offer a quality MTB race experience and with more and more choice for races coming onto the calendar, I figured you could do a lot worse than support the peak body.
So it was that Kel, Jesse and I loaded up the trusty Hyundai i-Load and hit the road. We couldn’t have timed it better in terms of weather. Sydney was still a maze of gushing creeks and drainways from the recent spate of storms and as we headed south, the clouds parted and Gundagai greeted us with perfect blue skies and mild warm weather.
We arrived at the track just after lunch Friday and had a leisurely cruise around the course, and what a great course it was. Not unlike Stromlo, the soil is dry, dusty and loose. I’d need every millimeter of the Curve carbon hoops and Rubena tyres and keep the rubber side down. Not only that but the track was littered with a number of rocky obstacles. Mind you, these are not like the random rocky ruts that you find at the dam. These are purpose built obstacles to test your skill, balance and power, and on my first lap I probably had to unclip 4 or 5 times and go back and repeat to search for the ideal line. One of those lines brings you to the top of a huge granite extrusion that seems to descend straight to the centre of the earth, it’s so steep. But similar to the drop off at Ourimbah, if you get the line right and stay off the brakes, it’s a hoot to ride. Satisfied with practice, we retired to the cheap little motel we found in Corio, loaded up on carbs and hit the sack.
|The Elite Women's start and Bec has her race face on from the start|
Race day and again conditions are perfect, but already you can feel the temperature rising. My Garmin peaked at 43 degrees for the day. Poor Jesse went with the U/19 at 12:30pm for a 4 lap stint in the furnace. Huge props to him for his first hit out in the higher age group, finishing strong and clean, well not quite clean, the heat bringing on a bloody nose. The Elites had to do 6 laps and it was great seeing our nations best battle it out. Not so great was the attrition rate, the heat was taking a big toll; Kel and I were in the feedzone and there were dropped bottles a plenty and that would obviously take a toll. The Masters and Opens were delayed till 3pm, which was fine by us, perhaps the heat would drop off slightly.
|The Elite Man's start and DMac paced himself for 5 laps then lifted to another level to pull away in the final lap|
Finally we were on the grid and it was great to chat with a few of the locals. They were all built like bulldogs, compact, strong and punchy they looked, unlike “muggins” Israel all skinny arms and a diesel engine, but who cares! It was just great to be there. The start as expected was furious and I’d had a decent warm up so to be 5th wheel going into the climb I was pretty happy. Confession time, I dropped the wheel, but we’d dropped the main field and there were only 3 riders behind me and they were happy with my steady pace (diesel!). I cleared all the main obstacles, it wasn’t pretty but the last thing I wanted to do was slow down my fellow competitors. Nearing the top, one guy behind was calling to push hard and so I did. By the time we crested I was on 96% heart rate and my throat was almost closed it was so dry. I let the three of them pass and took a moment to get a few drops of liquid down my bile coated throat so I could breath again. I caught one of the guys and he kindly gave me the track on the descent, and what a descent it is. 9 switchbacks, lots of flow and a great opportunity to just stay off the brakes, pick your lines and recover. I got a gap and pressed on hard. I took the B line when it came to the slippery dip, thinking there was no need to take risks just yet.
|Some of the Elite guys rolling into the slippery dip|
We only had 3 laps to complete. 8km times three doesn’t seem like much but I must have been averaging 85% heart rate so heading up the climb the second time knowing I only had to do it once more was a good feeling. The aim now was to keep up my pace and hold position. The cheering crowd was great and I was picking up a few of the slower Masters 1/2 riders. There was still no sign of any chasers, but then again there was no sign of any rabbits to chase either, so I enjoyed the final lap, took the A-line down the slippery dip and came over the line in 6th place. Not too bad, I have to admit I had dreamt of a podium finish but I can take away a lot of positives, knowing I was not far off the pace required, and pushed some pretty accomplished riders.
A great thrill it was to meet Peter Lister, another national level masters rider from Mackay, who had driven down for the Husky and then continued onto the You Yangs when the Husky got cancelled! Now that’s a road trip. Peter is also a keen Christian who wanted to know more about JesusMTB. Head of Missions for Mackay Christian College, he takes groups of students away to PNG and Africa to work on community projects and to give the kids some exposure to places not as well off as Australia.
The other day a mate of mine, quipped that believing in God in this day and age is a little akin to believing in Santa Claus. For me, when I look around at this amazing creation we live in I don’t consider that a random accident. The alternative that there is nothing after death and your life adds up to the sum total of the good things you did and the good times you had rings hollow for me, not to mention my own personal failings. The story of Jesus Christ and who he claimed to be and the redemption he offers is the only thing that seems truly real to me.
I’ve been typing this as we head back north and am looking forward to getting home after a quick reccie of the trails at Bright. That means I have a huge thankyou to Sarah and the kids for doing without me over these few days, I love you guys. Also thanks to Kel and Jesse for the opportunity to travel and ride with you, it’s been just great.
|It was great to see a bit of the downhill|