I’m spent! 3 days of hard racing in the MTBA National Series XC at Mt Stromlo, Canberra, is something I’m not used to. Actually, the format and 2 of the event types were something I’ve never done.
We arrived in the Capital around midnight on Thursday and with the heavy rain that was happening along with the forecast of much the same for the whole weekend, we went to bed with the expectation of a mudfest.
Photo: Russ Baker
Surprisingly, Friday was hot and sunny, so off we headed to check out the XC track for Saturday’s race before doing our compulsory “Super D” practice run. Super D is basically a timed downhill event without the extremes that would make an XC bike collapse underneath you.
After being carted up in a bus to the top of the Mountain, we headed down the 4-5km course on our practice run. It’s easy to forget how much fun and how much flow the Stromlo trails have, and you can’t help but smile as you descend them. The feeling you get on board a Specialized Epic 29er certainly left Nicola and I confident of posting a good time for the race to come. Things didn’t quite go to plan for either of us though. Right before Nic’s run, a really heavy storm of rain & hail just peppered the Mountain for about 20 mins. Her seeding meant she got the worst of it. She was 10th
fastest and less than 2 minutes behind the leader in Elite Women - great result considering. The fast drying trails meant my run was going to be a bit less tentative but as I was passing another rider half way down in the berms, I got caught in some big ruts and crashed pretty hard. After getting going again, I realised I had a flat rear tyre that required a hit of CO2 to get me to the finish. In the end, I was only 20 seconds down on 1st
place in Expert Men and with plenty more racing to come on Saturday & Sunday, felt pleased with the result.
Saturday morning saw an early start as Nicola would be racing the traditional XCO format for 6 laps at 9am. The rain had held off so I set up our spares and drinks in the feed zone, then watched as the Elite Women took off from the gun around the back of the four cross track on the long fire road start. There were large splits in the group early and not having raced XC for 3 months, I could see Nic had decided to settle into her own race without trying to stay with the leaders and blowing up. In the end, Nic finished 10th
and was actually getting faster as the race went on. My race would not be until 3pm so we stayed at the track and watched the other races, whilst socializing with the other Hunter riders and their families.
When my race did start, I found myself sitting 3rd
wheel on the fire road. I could see how hard the leader was working and was amazed at how easy the S-Works Epic 29er kept pace. Because of this, I decided to ignore my race plan (and my strained hamstring) and pinned it towards the entry of singletrack. I could see the horrified look on Nic’s face as I blew past with a big gap and I could hear Rod Day telling me not to blow myself up early. There were 5 laps to go. I don’t think I was pushing any harder than the others, I just had a bike underneath me that gave me more speed for the same effort. It wasn’t long before I caught riders from other grades so the 1st
lap was a balancing act between maintaining the advantage and passing slower riders at the same time. Toward the end of the 1st
lap, I punctured the rear and delighted the crowd in the feed zone as I came in sidewards trying to hang onto the bike. I was looking for technical support (Nicola) and expected her to be right there with spare wheel in hand, ready for a quick swap and to be off racing again. To my surprise, I was left standing there like that for a good 30+ seconds before one of the Elite riders (Anthony Shippard) saw what was going on, came over to find my spare wheels and give me a hand. By this stage, another rider had passed and I was in a bit of a panic trying to get the punctured wheel out. Anthony quickly told me to relax, grab a drink and he calmly and quickly made the change for me. I got going again in 2nd
place and set out with the intention of catching 1st
, then having a rest on his wheel when I got there. Having to pass so many riders and being held up in sections really made the job difficult but by the 3rd
lap, I had gotten on to the leaders wheel and took a bit of a breather. On the 4th
lap I was putting a lot of pressure on him during the very fast downhill and he proceeded to have a spectacular wipeout, as I narrowly avoided him. I stopped quickly to double check that he was ok and decided to cruise from there to the finish. I finished the day with about a 2 minute advantage leading into Sunday’s final event, the Point to Point. I found out afterward that Nic was in the toilet when I punctured. Unbelievable!
It was so hard getting out of bed on Sunday morning but we managed, packed up everything and headed to Mt Stromlo for the final 20km point to point race. It consisted of 1 big loop around the mountain and many of the trails I would not have known existed. My goal was to sit 2nd
wheel in my category and keep as much in reserve as possible just in case my overall lead was threatened. Things were going well until a rider infront of me took a wrong turn and I followed. It happened at the top of a very long downhill and unfortunately, a few slower riders had gotten themselves between me and a competitor. I lost contact quickly and had to put in a lot of effort when the track started to ascend again to try and catch back up. By the time I had got to the next downhill, I could just see 1st
place about 40metres ahead. I had worked pretty hard and my glasses were completely covered in sweat. I couldn’t really see much but I didn’t want to stop and lose more positions. Unfortunately, this downhill was the longest, trickiest decent of the weekend. Not fun with blurred vision. By the time I got to the bottom, I had lost more time so I pulled over to put my glasses away and lost another position. I rode through the halfway feed zone, grabbed a bottle of water and hit a long fireroad which allowed me to see the competition up ahead in the distance. I had done some very hard interval training in recent weeks and it was time to simulate that effort. I put everything I had into a few kms of fire roads which allowed me to catch and pass the other riders in my category. I continued in the hurt box for another 2-3kms, and then relaxed for the final few kms downhill to the finish for the win. I had caught and passed Nicola toward the end of my race so I knew she had experienced a problem. She said she was feeling pretty good early and was sitting in around 6th
place until one of the sketchy, rocky descents had her clipping a tree and resulting in a scary crash. She had some big, nasty bruises and lost a few positions so she backed it off for the rest of the race finishing 10th
All up it was a great weekend of racing and we’re looking forward to the final round at Awaba in a few weeks.
- Michael Hogan