One of my favourite riding events of the year is the Careflight Woodford to Glenbrook Classic. It’s a funny sort of a race – although it’s for mountain bikes, it’s not a mountain biking event in the sense that we usually understand. There may be anything up to 50 metres of dead straight singletrack at the end - connecting the last section of fire road to a big open grass clearing; and there is almost no technical riding of the sort that we pride ourselves on mastering – although I like to think that there is some skill involved in getting through one slightly bumpy section of fire road near the start at over 40 clicks without touching the brakes and maybe some more skill in negotiating Suicide Corner – a steep left hand hairpin followed by a long 120 degree right hander, both of which are heavily corrugated with braking bumps – as fast as possible (and preferably faster than the dude who has been sucking your back wheel for the last 3 k!)
Even if those sections still don’t rate as “real mountain biking”, there is something compelling about a 25 km drag race down hard packed fire roads with the occasional section of pea-gravel and the odd sprinkling of baby-head rocks if you stray off the smooth line where speeds of over 60 kmh are possible in several places. Although overall the race descends a couple of hundred metres, there are 5 or 6 short sharp climbs, of which about half will really separate those who can climb from those who can’t.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"]
A crisp start to the morning[/caption]
As I have demonstrated every single time I’ve done the W to G, you may think you’re a pretty handy descender, but if you can’t hang with the whippets on those climbs, you won’t be collecting the flowers at the end. The other thing I have demonstrated as often as not is that if your chain doesn’t stay on at least one of your chain rings the whole race, you are really not going to have a happy time at all.
The 2014 version of the W to G took place last Sunday, 29 June. For almost of all of eastern NSW, the weather last weekend was fine & clear, but windy & cold. Unsurprisingly, the Blue Mountains did particularly well in the windy & cold department – there was sleet at Blackheath on Saturday afternoon and the car was telling us that the outside temperature in Leura on Sunday morning was 3 degrees. The wait at the startline in Woodford was not a comfy place to be – although we were sitting in full sunshine, most competitors around me, though well rugged up, were shivering continuously and just wanting to get going.
Once the gun went, that was all forgotten – racing is racing after all. In my age group – 50-59 year olds – a bunch of about 8 riders ahead of me jumped away really quickly. After a minute of near panic, I settled down and started chasing and after the first 2 km of fire road, I was in a group of 4 with no chasers in sight. Come the first of the real climbs, 2 of us showed much better climbing legs than the other 2. Sadly, I was one of the other 2.
Although I closed the gap again after the first couple of climbs, the elastic kept stretching with each climb and eventually snapped on the longest of them. By the time I got to the helipad (the bit where you say to yourself “It’s all downhill from here – forget your position and just have fun”), the 2 leaders were well out of sight and I thought I was on my own in 3rd
. However, somewhere on the run to the finish, the other leading non-climber got onto my back wheel and that’s where he stayed for the next 5 km, with no sign of being prepared to take a pull on the front. Eventually I deliberately ran wide on a right hand turn, forcing him through to the front. Although he slowed, I took a breather until the 1 km to go sign which comes right on a 180 degree sweeping left-hander. That corner has caught me out in past races and it almost got my rival – I decided this was the chance to jump him and gave it everything over the next 100 metres.
[caption id="attachment_4723" align="alignnone" width="480"]
Jake Pattison - placed 11th in Elite Men[/caption]
Just before the hard right turn onto the little singletrack straight, there is a sandy right hander at the bottom of a little ramp. Some guy in front of me had a major wash-out through here, forcing me to brake hard. I thought I’d see my chaser flash past here, but I must have done enough to stay clear. From there it was a quick blast across the grass clearing, then into a finishing chute with a hard left hander turning back uphill. Thankfully, the timing mat was immediately after the corner and 50 metres downhill from the finish arch. As I rode into the finish area I saw a familiar Drift kit – Jake Patterson had raced with the elites rather than in his age group and had finished an outstanding 11th
So I ended up 3rd
in my age group and 32nd
overall out of about 500 riders. Pretty happy with that. The winner was exactly 59 seconds quicker. So somewhere over the next 12 months I’ve got to lose a bit more weight and find some actual climbing ability – I won’t obsess about it, but somehow I’d really like to take a win in this strange non-mountain biking mountain bike race before I eventually trade in the dually for a set of golf clubs.
Thanks to the guys at Drift Bikes for keeping the Tallboy running sweet – the chain stayed on the whole time this year!
- Steve Rugendyke