As I sat on the plane flying out of Sydney Airport, I could scarcely believe my luck. I was heading to Pemberton WA to race rounds 2 and 3 of the MTBA National XCO series. I had a full carbon racing steed packed in a rather fetching red bike bag, I felt I was in my best form for a long time and I had the blessing of my wonderful family. It seemed that Cycling had pre-prepared an adventure made just for me and I was excited.
THE PIZZAAs planned, I rendezvoused with Peter Lister at a rather budget hotel near Perth Airport sometime around Thursday midnight and in the morning we picked up the hire car and took a leisurely 4 hour drive south through the gorgeous south west of WA. Bridgetown, Donnybrook and Manjimup are just a few of the pretty towns we drove through on our way to the Karri capital, Pemberton. Practice was perfect, and we fine-tuned our skills sessions some of the trickier sections including those huge wooden berms.
For dinner we hit the Pemberton pub and in hindsight my eyes were bigger than my stomach. The pizza was delicious and I ate the whole thing bar one piece, that I donated to Pete who was ready to eat the leg of a chair waiting for his spaghetti.
It was here that we met our amazing support crew Geoff Rowe and Kim Ranson and young gun Zac with Grandad Merv. We absolutely loved these guys, but more on that later.
The night was spent in fitful sleep as my stomach attempted to digest the world’s largest pizza and needless to say I wasn’t feeling top of my game in the morning.
The race took off at a solid pace and Peter Lister jumped on the front to take us into the single track. On return to timing, I jumped past to take a turn and lead a train of five riders through traffic to “That Hill”, a 1km steady fireroad climb.
|Photo credit; Mark of Pemberton MTB Park|
At this point I was starting to get that feeling that it wouldn’t be my day. The legs weren’t feeling good, and over the course of the next 4 laps I was relegated to 5th place. That being said, I stayed with Peter for a lot longer than in Round 1 and finished just 90 seconds behind the winner, Nick Algie. Not too bad for a 1 hour 20 minute race, I took the positive view and focused on the race the next day. Briony won the prize for the most inspirational Facebook comment “I'm envisioning great success in the next one”
In the afternoon, we were enjoyed watching the Elite men’s race and it was an enthralling to witness the many twists and turns in the race. My recovery consisted of hopping around the mountain taking photos and watching their skill, style and power.
|Luke Brame styling it up on on of the many double jumps|
Saturday night dinner was a who’s who affair in Mountain Biking and Pete and I sat starry eyed as we listened to luminaires like Paul Van Der Ploeg and Sarah Riley talk cycling. Seeing Paul pleading with the waitress for some real ice cream with his apple crumble was surreal. Dinner was great and having learnt my lesson from last night, I took it easy on the buffet. Finally sleep came and I got a solid 8 hours to awake feeling refreshed and quietly confident that today would be a better day. I followed the same morning prep with remarkably less visits to the toilet, and was back on the start line ready to give it another thrash.
The start was different today, having seen each other race, and now knowing each other a little better, the first fireroad sprint was a series of jockeying moves for position and swapping turns. Strategy it seemed had kicked in well and truly. As we raced back through timing, yesterday’s winner Nick Algie sprinted away, with Pete Lister 2nd and giving chase. Pete put the hammer down to hunt down Nick, whilst a race for 3rd developed between Dave, Damon and I. At the fireroad climb I passed Dave and had a good gap at the start of the descent. OK, this is good, I was feeling much more comfortable than yesterday and thought 3rd was definitely within my reach.
Having set about making sure that 3rd place was safe, on the 3rd lap, I saw Nick up ahead walking his bike with a deformed drivetrain. “Back luck Nick” was all I could say, as I saw the heartbreak written on his face. His race was over.
In the final two laps my legs were strong and I was really enjoying the trail. The climb suited me perfectly, but even more exciting were the descents, I almost felt like a BMX racer as my confidence grew and I started to hit the berms and jumps just that little bit faster. One of the ladies staying with us commented that I looked too clean as I fought for control through one of the most challenging tracks I have ever ridden, called “Bloody Mary”. Sure enough I binned it in the dust just 5 seconds later, surely a Freudian slip to prove I was serious, but no harm done as I quickly remounted and half rolled, half slid the remainder of the segment.
Crossing the line in 2nd was one of the best results ever, after all the hard work to achieve this goal was incredibly satisfying. It's funny how a little piece of shiny metal in the form of a medallion can mean so much, but this form of racing is so raw and intense, I may just never do 24 solo again! It takes every bit as much focus and energy and crams it into 90 minutes.
|Sunday's podium with Pete 1st, Mike 2nd and Dave 3rd|
THE THREE LEGGED DOG
One the main reasons for entering this series was to meet new people and to ride new tracks and that mission was well and truly accomplished. Added to that I have gotten to rub shoulders with some truly legendary riders and learn from them. I have found it enlightening to hear them speak of racing and the lifestyle such talent and hard work affords. Two of our favourite new friends this weekend were Geoff and Kim. These two knock about sandgropers had us in stitches all weekend; and Geoff owned one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever seen, with three legs. These guys, stayed the whole weekend mainly to support young gun Zac Larrson from Pete’s hometown, but they gladly handed us bottles too and we couldn’t have achieved our great results without them. Thanks so much guys for all your good humour and expert support, you made the weekend ever more memorable. Incidentally, Zac came away with two silver medals in the U/15’s so there is another up and coming talent. He also learnt an important lesson regarding chamois hygiene #chaffedbutchuffed
I have used the royal “we” in this post as Pete and I travelled together and shared accommodation. Not only that, we were in direct competition as the only two east coast masters to make the trip west. Pete is a step above me and had a stellar weekend of results, taking 3rd and 1st in the two races and cementing the series leader’s jersey. We had a terrific weekend together spurring and encouraging each other on despite our competitive relationship. Not only do we share a love of cycling but a common view on the claims Jesus Christ makes in the Bible so to share the podium with him on Sunday was one of the proudest moments in my cycling journey.
There were so many characters we met over the weekend. The Tucknotts, the pregnant lady at the top Marshall Point, Mark and Paul (head of Pemberton MTB Park and Trail builder extraordinaire respectively), not to mention the many elite riders who cheerfully gave up some of their precious time for a natter. There are so many stories of others who give their lives to this sport, like the commissaires and volunteers who give up a whole weekend to run the event. Darryl from CORC is just one who comes to mind. Peta Mullens was another inspiration on Sunday, beating the seemingly unbreakable Bec Henderson and adding MTB XCO series leader to her recent National Road champion title. What a talent!
|Peta Mullens taking the win on Sunday in the Elite Women on Sunday|
Finally thankyou to my friends at Cyclery Northside for your support, and most important to Sarah and kids, thankyou for giving me the time and resources to pursue this passion and to see just how good I can get at this crazy sport. It keeps me sane, just! It’s now 3:27am and I’m on the red eye, looking forward to reuniting with my family for Australia Day
|Pemberton MTB Park|
|Bicentennial Tree Pemberton - Pete and I climbed it before heading back to Perth for our flights home|