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Back racing

Wednesday night brought the first sessions of the Newcastle Velodrome Club Championships. I entered, knowing full well that I haven’t done any track racing this season, but then again I guess it’s never too late to start. I was to race two events over a mighty distance of 1.2km total. First up was the flying 200m, then a break while the other events were run, then the 1km time trial.

The flying 200m is pretty straightforward – full gas for 200m. The best in the world do it in less than 10 seconds. The best at our meet are in the 11-second category, which is not bad for a bumpy outdoor track. My time is a bit off that, coming in at a tardy 13.2 seconds, but enough for second place in B grade. In hindsight I came off the banking too early, and wasn’t able to use the full slingshot effect.

My flying 200m effort from the Mini DV on the top tube. I adjusted the angle a bit and the track looks a bit better

This is how it’s done. The A Grade boys giving it full gas. Shot from the infield with my iPhone.

Next week brings the Scratch Race and the Individual Pursuit. I’m not sure how I’ll fare in either of those events but it’ll be good fun to give it a go. I’ve got some nice TT bars on the way from the USA and I’m hoping they get here and I get a chance to try them before I need to use them in anger. Come on USPS Express!

Speaking of trying things in anger, I’ve decided to make the most out of the $300-odd it costs for a licence these days and I’ll race at every opportunity. Today’s racing was out on the Kooragang circuit, with the Hunter Valley Veterans Club holding their monthly invitational event. I stayed up late the night before fiddling around getting the Zipps installed and managed to do so with a minimum of fuss. The downside was the fact I had to drive out as I don’t yet have a reliable spare tubular, nor a can of sealant. Judging by the fact I saw one rider puncture on the way out there, one rider mid-race, and three riders on the way home (one with a double blowout) I think I made the right call. Plus, 50km at redline turned out to be more than enough.

It was a fast paced B grade bunch made up of about 30 riders. There was a moderate southerly which made things interesting, and some intermittent drizzle kept most people on their toes (and brakes). I kept myself at the front, but was poorly positioned coming into the last corner and was 3rd wheel as the sprint wound up. I placed 4th in the sprint but 5th overall. There was some monster off the front who had solo’d away for victory by about 15 seconds who had gotten away with a lap to go and held off a rather disorganised chase. I’ll be keeping an eye out for him next time.

It really all comes down to tactics when you’re reasonably evenly matched physiologically, and I learned a few lessons about not wasting energy doing big turns, closing gaps, and being at the front in a head-wind. At least there’s always next time.

As for the wheels themselves – amazing. Who knows how much is psychological when you put on your race wheels, but these things made me feel like I was flying. Believe the hype people. There was almost no interference in the crosswind, and the acceleration and speed out of corners and out of the saddle is something to behold. I was constantly looking down to see what gear I was in! The tubulars held fast, and the braking with the Zipp Tangente pads was solid and predictable, something I was surprised about after reading negative reviews about cork pads in general. Plus they make the bike look bad ass too, I’m sorry to take them off and replace with the humble Mavics for commuting.

Strava tells me I’m just about to click over 1000km for the year, which is not a bad start. I’ve also shed 6kg of my Tamworth lard and on my way back to a decent racing weight. I’ve also joined a local 24-hour gym to get in a bit of strength training when time allows. Here’s hoping I can maintain this momentum. See you out there.

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HMBA Round 5 XC

To my readers, my apologies for my lack of upkeep of this blog. The inclement weather, work and study commitments and general life stuff have kept me otherwise distracted. However, after a week of nights, a weekend race, and an excellent breakfast at IIIBean, I have some time to update you on the past fortnight.

I have only managed a few sessions outside as the winter weather patterns have started to take effect. After what was the warmest April that I can remember, we are now starting to get our fair share of winter lows and onshore winds. Looks like the rollers will be earning their keep over the coming weeks and months. What rides I have managed have been really good – either quick 40km loops around town, up over a few small hills, or chasing the motorbike on the velodrome. The Friday night motorpacing sessions are excellent – I think I am getting alot of benefit from them, and the training environment is great (plus the BBQ at the end of the night helps). At a risk of divulging one of my few Aces up my sleeve, I would recommend anyone who has considered track cycling to come and give it a go – it costs $5, you don’t need a licence, and there are track bikes for loan (decent ones too – just bring your pedals/shoes).

As well as the milestone of turning 31, I have also just clicked over 3000km for the year. I know that there is so much more to training than simply volume, but I still find myself talking about training ‘miles’. I can at least confidently say that alot of that cycling has been goal-specific (thanks Joe Friel and your Training Bible), and the fact that this year I find myself actually getting results means that it’s all been worthwhile.

On the bike parts front, there’s not much to report. My Ergon grips arrived and passed their first test yesterday. I also have managed to set the disc wheel up on the track bike with a new half-link chain so that it no longer has issues with contacting the frame. I am still yet to ride on the Shamals, although winter track racing is only a few weeks away.

Racing wise, I’m happy to report that I had my first ever win on a MTB yesterday. I owe it to a combination of good form (see above) and good luck (a familiar track, the big climbs and pinches taken out, the absence of more fancied B-graders, and the promotion of the Unknown Single-speeder to A grade). I also owe a debt of gratitude to a certain bearded track marshall, whose shouts of encouragement overcame the lactate accumulation in the legs.

After a week of rain the whole race was threatened to be called off. Instead, I was greeted at the tail-end of my night shift to a glorious sunrise and clear skies. Such is the excellent planning and trail maintenance at Awaba that the bad weather had barely affected the track. The access road is smooth, and the track very well drained. Fortunately for me, the call was made to remove the technical ‘Chute’ and therefore the ‘Murderhorn’.

I arrived just on the close of rego, after inhaling my traditional post-night-shift-pre-race-meal of a Red Bull and a McMuffin. Fortunately, I had an insider who very kindly rego’d me (although he allegedly considered an A-grade berth). I found myself on the start line without warming up, but I was feeling good nonetheless, and for a change I decided to seed myself on the front row. At the drop of the flag I was off spinning like a madman, and was second onto the singletrack. From there, I was able to make a passing move on the fire-road section on the first lap. Over the next two laps I was shadowed by two other riders, but the gap held. I was pushed the entire way but found that I was able to up the pace on the climbs and keep hold of things on the descents. Instead of fading I found I was able to keep my pace and the hr hovered just below redline (average 176bpm). Nice work, a singlespeeder showing the gearies how it’s done.

That’s really it for the moment, there’s not too much major riding on the horizon with my exams looming eight weeks away. I’ll keep at the club rounds and plan a mission or two to Sydney when the winter track racing ramps up.

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A fortnight has gone by, all rather quickly, since the Dirtworks 100km. In the meantime, a fair bit has happened and I’ll summarise things here. Yesterday, the physiological odometer clicked over to 31years, and I celebrated that event with some food, wine, and some suffering in the saddle. But before I get to yesterday’s race, let me fill in the blanks.

The week after the DirtWorks:

As promised to myself somewhere between kilometer 80 and 90 during the race, I indeed rewarded myself with a week off the bike. I used the time to catch up on some sleep, eat, and re-familiarise myself with the books (as I am now merely 10 weeks out from my exams). Any niggling pains went away, and I felt refreshed by the following weekend.

I also used the time to do a bit of research on some mountain bike grips, and I have settled on a pair of Ergon grips. My limited reading suggests that they should help alleviate some of the flexor pain I was getting, and as a bonus they also lock-on meaning that I shouldn’t be faced with the freely-rotating grips as I have recently. They are currently en route form the USA, and I’ll post my impressions once they are installed and baptised at the next HMBA club round.

In my usual trawling of the online bike shops, I also managed to stumble across a set of racing wheels for my track bike. I have been less than impressed with the way the HED disk performs out back, with too much flex and not enough tolerance in the chainstays meaning there is a bit of tyre rub. I have decided that the HED will now only serve duty as a road TT wheel (when the opportunity presents itself), and I am back looking for a replacement disk (one that is track-specific). In the meantime, a lovely set of Campagnolo Shamals were available for sale, and at a very impressive price. Not only were they cheap, but they were barely used, and came with two essentially new Vittoria Pista EVO-CS tyres (which are the business in track tyres). A few emails to and fro with the seller also clarified that they have a distinct pedigree, as the seller was a former National and World Champion. How could I resist? They arrived last week, and I am looking for an excuse to take them down to Sydney to try them out.

Last weekend – Wootton Way and the accidental time-trial

After a week off the bike I was positively itching to get back out, and the guys on the local forum were talking up the Central Division Age Championships. The race was on a Saturday in the town of Wootton, which is up near Buladelah and the road parallels the Pacific Hwy. I’m always a fan of supporting local racing, so I thought I’d go and check it out. I looked at the Google Maps imaging of the area, and sure it looked hilly enough and I was intrigued by the talk of other riders installing lower-range cassettes on their bikes.

I made the hour and a bit drive north, and noticed almost straight away the road was heading toward the hills that were looming on the horizon from Karuah. The road got progressively steeper and windier, and then I seemed to pass the worst of it and arrived in Wootton. There was a good turnout of riders and I proceeded to sign-on. First sign of trouble was that there didn’t seem to be any riders that I recognised from my C-grade efforts at Kooragang – but there were plenty of A-graders. Second sign of trouble was that there was no Masters 1 category, so I was in with the elites. The next omen was that there wasn’t a pre-race briefing, so I was getting information about the course from the other assembled riders – the best of it was that I was to ride back up those hills that I had just driven down. With minutes to spare Robbo, Ryan and Robbo Jr arrived, and in the time that followed I managed to miss the start of the race! This only dawned on me when at the start line there were no other ‘red numbers’ to be seen. Ryan and I took off realising that we had no idea how far up the road they were, nor really where the road led. We took off at a fierce pace, with my hr climbing straight into the 180’s and the speed stayed over 40km/h. Up the road there was no sign of life until about 5 minutes later when the bunch stormed past us in the opposite direction. They were easily putting time into us, but we soldiered on. Ryan was way too strong for me and after about 10 minutes of swapping turns, I was merely a passenger. The rolling hills never flattened out, and indeed became steeper as we rode towards the turn-around point. By this stage I was well off the wheel and was resigned to riding solo with the plan to either catch some stragglers, or be caught by another bunch.

As Murphy’s Law would have it, I managed to keep myself in no-man’s land for the duration of the race, and just rode a 1:40 time trial. I crossed the line, handed in my number and called it a day. Turns out that even that was a failure as I was unaware that the start line was not the finish line, and there was another half-lap to complete. So all that suffering for a DNF. Put it down to experience. At least the bike went well.

Sunday ended up being a lazy recovery ride, and I headed out in perfect weather to enjoy 70km around the beaches and flat roads.

The past week – the art of suffering like a dog, and hanging on for dear life

I passed the final week of my 30th year with two training rides on the track and then a race yesterday at Kooragang. Tuesday’s session was about kilo efforts, and despite my best intentions I was not on-form and the track did not see my best efforts. Friday night was much better with my first motorpacing session. The first two were a great introduction to learn how to ride behind a bike, and how to maneuver around without risking the wheels of the other riders. Once I had that sorted the last session was ‘the last man standing’, where we rode at a steadily increasing pace until there was only one left. Glory and a free sausage sandwich awaited the victor. It was hard going, and I hung on to be the 4th last off the back. Loads of fun, and I could see that this training would definitely pay dividends later in the year.

Saturday was my birthday, no denying that anymore. I went out and celebrated with my girl at the IIIBean for breakfast, and with near-perfect weather I decided to head out to Kooragang for a race. Pete and I met up and discussed our various aches and pains from the motorpace session as we slowly pedalled out to the island. We got there with plenty of time to spare and I signed on. Much to my surprise I had been promoted to B grade, without any real results to speak of. Oh well, I was going to mix it as best as I could, and my goal for the day was to not get dropped. It was a bunch of about 25, which meant that there were going to be some passengers, and that became evident early on in the race. We set off at a pretty quick pace that surged and fell as we rode into and with the wind. I kept myself at the front five or six positions, as I was unsure of who to watch, and whether there was going to be a break. I had my suspicions that a break would not survive, with many guys pretty keen to try their luck in a sprint. A few half-efforts off the front were closed down in the space of a lap or so. I kept a close eye on Ryan, who I figured would be a contender, and we kept to the front of proceedings. With two laps to go I swung off the front into the wind and decided to take a look at who was around. Just as I did so, a few guys crept off the front, and Boostie went to bridge the gap. I managed to get his wheel and was gifted a ride to the front as he powered up to them. The bunch behind were reluctant to chase into the wind, and soon we had a 50m advantage. Everyone was keen to work, and we set about swapping turns. For reasons that are his alone Mr Boostland returned to the bunch and we were maintaining a small gap that wasn’t being shut down. I couldn’t believe my luck!

With a lap to go I was really suffering and was barely able to contribute to the work. Not wanting to be a passenger I resolved to hang on as best I could. My left calf was starting to cramp and sudden surges in pace meant that small gaps were opening. I did my best to contribute and buried myself into the wind on the back straight to make sure the break stayed alive. I was content to hang on and didn’t contest the sprint against much stronger riders. I crossed the line in 4th – a great lesson learned about the luck that is involved in racing, as riders who were clearly much stronger than me somehow missed what turned out to be a crucial break.

42km, 1:02 with an average of 39.6km/h. Average hr 172. Max 187.

I summoned what was left of my energy and Pete and I rode home. A good day’s riding.

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DirtWorks 100km

Saturday morning dawned and the weather was still set in. It was not boding well for a weekend where I expected to spend more than 6 hours in the saddle. On the plus side, all my gear had performed well overnight, with the tyres and the air mattress holding their pressures. A breakfast of bacon and eggs, then a quick trip to the shops to pick up some last-minute supplies before getting the Pi11wizard and heading south.

Pre Race:

It was a straightforward drive down to St Albans with the weather improving the whole way. We arrived in good time and set up camp alongside the banks of the river, on the advice from the DanBot. Here it is in all it’s glory:

The Unknown Rider using the mallet to good effect. The bonnet of the Rex is up as his shoes were drying on the intercooler.

We wandered around the site and met up with a few familiar faces. At the trade display was a sight to behold – Brett Belchambers’ Niner, the one and the same from his walk-on-water experience at the Solo Nationals. I had my brief “we’re not worthy” moment, and then joined the crowds for the first of a few beers. At dark, we rego’d then headed up to the Fickle Wombat for a feed. Chicken schnitzel, a boatload of broccoli (of course!), washed down with a few more beers, some dessert, a glass of whisky, in good company. The fog set in and the temperature plummeted, off to the sanctuary of my down sleeping bag. Bonus marks for me as I packed earplugs and had a pretty good night’s sleep.

The Race:

Up early to the soothing sounds of Paul Craft (RAW Track fame) on the microphone. Joined the lines to get a coffee and use the facilities. Back to the car for a light brekky and get the bikes ready. Both Ross and I were going the no-camelback option, with our hopes set on refuelling at the stations on course. It was overcast and warmer than when we went to bed, so there was no need for any wet or cold weather gear. I was still fiddling around with the bike when the elite riders took off. Ross had gone up to seed himself at the pointy end, but with 10km of sealed road to start with, I knew that it mattered little where I started. So with that in mind I was at the back of the pack with the rest of the Sunday riders. Aim – to finish at about 6:30. I felt good, the bike was good to go, and with that I rolled out over the line and onto the course.

The first 10km until the hill went by quickly. At 31km/h I was spinning along at 130rpm much to the bemusement of the other riders. I was picking my way though groups and my hr was climbing into the high 160s. At this stage I wasn’t fussed, I wanted to push hard and leave nothing in the tank. I hit the hill, out of the saddle and was easily climbing past other riders. I wasn’t even being particular about my line, simply monstering up the slope. This worked well for the first half, until bad line choice saw me wheelspin to a stop. I walked a bit further, then managed to remount near the top. Then it was back on the gas until my planned refuel stop at 25km. I was managing my fluids and food intake well, pulled in and topped up the bidon with 50:50 Coke and water. Back on the bike with the goal of another refuel at 50km. This section was my least favourite, as we turned onto the singletrack and the pummeling began. I was in a group of about 10 riders, and our pace was dictated by the guy at the front. My initial frustration was offset by the fact that I was able to get a bit of a reprieve and the hr was back down to 130. The course was a combination of sandy soil, loose rocks, and the odd slab of sandstone. Hard going, even on the big wheels. The track opened up and I was heading for the 50km mark. I rolled in and looked at my time – wow, I was on track for a 6hr finish at this rate! Topped up the bidon with water, inhaled half a PowerBar, and I was back out there. The smaller climbs presented no trouble whatsoever, but the descending was another story. I had some serious wrist pain, and every small drop-off was jarring me. My foam grips had broken free from the bars, and were freely sliding and rotating. My descending was done at a fairly sedate pace, but this kept the energy levels up and my confidence grew that I wasn’t in danger of a fall or a mechanical.

The technical stuff cleared by the 70km kayak crossing, which was a bit of an anticlimax. I fuelled up, and charged across. The bridge is wide and stable. More of a mental thing than anything else. Then it was onto a sealed section that I again motored along at 30km/h. I even managed to pick up (and drop!) a couple of gearies along the way. Onto the second big climb of the day and again it was do-able until the last few pinches. Just when you thought you were at the top of the ridge, the track would hairpin, and you’d be presented with another 100m of hill. Too much for me, and I was off and walking. Back on at the top and keeping on the happy side of 22km/h. I glanced down and realised that sub-6hours was definitely on the cards at this pace. I was now under the full, sun and was making a big dent in my fluids. I restricted myself to a mouthful every 5km, and hoped that the Garmin distance was accurate.

The last 20km were hard. There was still plenty of power in the legs, but my feet were burning and the wrists were agony. I took it easy on the last big descent over the waterbars, forded the crossing and hit the home stretch. It was again game on as we powered along the gravel road. I had caught up with a rider on a Cannondale Prophet and he was cheering me on as we paced each other in. Across the line in 5:17. That was awesome! A cold beer at the end and a chat with Rossco about his ups and downs. Read his version here.

The Aftermath:

After a cold beer and a hot pizza, we packed up and headed home. The fatigue set in and I made it as far as the shower, but left the unpacking for later. I fuelled up on lasagne and went to bed early. I was extremely satisfied with my time. I felt that I couldn’t have pushed any harder. The limitations on the day were my wrists and my feet. I knew my ride was good, but how good?

5th! Awesome! If I had found another 10 minutes I could have been standing on the podium with the Gods of the sport! In my mind I know that I probably couldn’t have found that amount of time this year. I pushed as hard as I could when I could. My refuel stops were short. Perhaps next time with working wrists and working feet I could find some time on the descents, who knows.

Next year…

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Sydney Sprint Series

Well, it’s 11am on Anzac Day and I’m onto coffee number three for the morning (I love my Espresso machine). I awoke at 6:30am to the soothing sounds of rain against glass, and the splashing of passing cars meant that it had probably been raining for some time. A cursory check of the HMBA forum from my iPhone (I wasn’t getting out of bed) confirmed that the day’s racing was off. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, with my legs needing a genuine reprieve, and a sleep in (until 7:30) and some scrambled eggs was the order of the day.

Why am I tired? It wasn’t a particularly busy week either work-wise or training wise. It did however, all come apart spectacularly following my first foray into CrossFit. In retrospect, any workout endorsed by the US Marines should have raised alarm in my brain. The fact that the gym looks like a cross between a Guantanamo Bay interrogation room and an S&M club should have made me think again. If that wasn’t enough, then surely a two-page waiver with a specific section on rhabdomyolysis should have forewarned me, but no! I tackled the program with gusto, and typically fell apart spectacularly in the days to come.

The workout itself was great – all new exercises, and at an intensity I’m not used to in a gym. Whether it was false bravado, or fear of failure, I used the same weights and did the same reps as the more seasoned CrossFitters, and managed to finish everything. A nice ride home and a protein shake and hot shower and I was sorted. However, over the next two days the damage became apparent. Upon waking it felt as though all muscles in my legs, core, and arms (ok so all of them) had been replaced by wet sandbags. Walking, and in particular ascending and descending stairs became comically slow. I limped around for two days feeling like a complete goose for jumping in the deep end.

I made it to Friday night’s track training (albeit 30 minutes late thanks to a particularly frustrating day at work), and was hoping to at least be able to pedal the bike. Interestingly, cycling was the least painful exercise that I undertook – I guess those muscles were the most conditioned and had recovered the best. It was encouraging then, and meant that I was probably going to make it to Sydney the following morning.

I awoke early and jumped in the car for the two-hour commute to the Dunc Gray Velodrome. Traffic was light, and trip down was made all the better with the company of another rider from Newcastle. We arrived and caught up with the rest of the Newcastle contingent, six of us in total. This was great news, as I was going to be able to learn from some seasoned riders. We set up together and checked and rechecked our bikes. We were then allowed to sign on and warm up on the boards. It was a very intimidating experience at first, having never ridden on wood, and not knowing what (if any grip) was available and how the bike would handle at speed (both fast and slow). After one lap on the bottom, I looked over my shoulder and rode up onto the bank. My first impressions were that it was smooth, very smooth, and fast. The consensus from the Newcastle riders was that you rode one gear taller here than back home. I thought about changing my setup, but remembered the hassle in getting the 49×14 to sit square in the frame, and not rub the stays. So, 48×14 it would be.

I was called onto the track for my flying 200. It’s a longer track (250m) which means that you accelerate later with respect to the banking and the turns, as the 200m timing starts just after turn one (as opposed to the start/stop line at Broadmeadow). So I carefully wound up on my out laps then hit the banking hard on the bell lap. That extra 50m makes a big difference, as I dropped down from the banking too early, and wound up too soon. I was out of gas by the time I hit the straight and recorded a time of 13.37. Considering that you ‘should’ be almost a second faster here that was a poor showing. Still, first time, sore legs, what could I expect? I was then ‘seeded’ in with riders who had done similar times and off we went for our one-on-one races. We were in groups of eight, which meant two races each, then a best of three final with another competitor from that category. Concern about gearing did get the better of me, and after 15 minutes of frigging around, I managed to get the wheel aligned with the 49×14.

My first race, and I was up against a junior girl from the ACT institute of sport. She was smaller, faster, and smarter than me. She lead out and went hard with 200 to go. Side by side on the front straight, but I couldn’t get past her. Convincingly schooled. But what fun I had. I was carrying on like I’d won. The smooth track gives you a real sensation of speed. The great commentary by Paul Craft makes for an exciting atmosphere. The Newcastle cheer squad was awesome.

Next up, I was against another girl. We were both losers from our respective first heats. Trick carbon wheels and a Pinarello carbon frame suggested that she’d done this before. Again, she was leading out and I was following. With two laps to go they inadvertently rang the bell – what the deuce? We looked at each other and I said ‘we might as well go’. So she did, I followed and again couldn’t get around the outside. Done and dusted, another loss. You’d think I’d be disappointed but I was just so stoked to be riding this track.

So, the final. Best of three, against the other person from the group. Another girl – are you kidding? She had also been beaten in her previous two races but didn’t share the same enthusiasm for the day as I did. Her $3000 power crank and crabon wheels suggested that she also meant business. Again, I was to follow her out but buggered if I was going to be lead out again. So with 300m to go I kicked over the top and held my speed to take a win – finally! I’d noticed that I had reasonable endurance, and also I had a much better jump than her. However, the ‘going early’ tactic was out of the bag, so I’d need something else for the next round. For this race it was my turn to lead from the front, which I find is a much more comfortable position to be in at this stage of my racing. I was able to dictate the terms, and left the sprint very late – 170m to go. The initial gap was never shut down and I was two-up. A good way to finish the day.

Overall it was a great day to get some experience on the super-smooth surface, learn some track craft, and also eyeball some serious bling. There were seriously some $20k bikes on show. Home to homemade pizza and a glass of wine, and an excellent day’s racing was over. I’m looking forward to getting back out there again.

Lessons learned

  1. CrossFit is best approached small steps at a time. Not recommended immediately before a race.
  2. I need to sort some spacers for the Felt frame to make changing wheels and gears less of a hassle.
  3. My race wheels performed really well on the smooth surface.
  4. I ate and hydrated well.
  5. The Dunc kicks ass – I imagine it would be akin to driving Nurburgring if you’re a motorsports fan.
  6. I have alot to learn about track racing.

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The weekend.

Not much time for beers and pizza…

Friday night – Track training, Broadmeadow.

Saturday – Sydney Sprint Series, Dunc Gray Velodrome.

Sunday – HMBA Club Round, Awaba.

Monday – Anzac Day Invitational Scratch Race, Kooragang.

Much ado about suffering.

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As the web url of this blog suggests, and as I outlined in my original dissertation earlier this year, one of my goals was to complete a solo 24 hour race. And so, without further delay, I present to my loyal 6 blog readers my summary of the events of the Easter long weekend.

I had spent the week prior taking it easy, with inclement weather and a busy work schedule meaning that I did no riding from the Sunday prior. I spent the mornings before work running checklists and getting the bike bits that I thought I needed together. On the last day before leaving, I went out and purchased what I thought I would be able to stomach over a 24 hour ride. Of course, at the back of my mind were the following facts:

  1. My longest previous ride off road was the Highland Fling
  2. I had never sat on a hardtail or pedalled a single speed for more that 4 hours (and we all know how that went)
  3. I hadn’t ridden off road at night since I was 15

Still, the next thing I knew I was slowly meandering south with the holiday traffic, talking to a psyched-up Unknown Rider, and strapped in to a kangaroo-scarred-land-yacht. Some hours later we were at the Majura site, and after a quick walk of the area and a meet and greet with some of the other riders we set off on a quick recce lap of the circuit.

The Majura Pines circuit was awesome. It suited the ss 29er really well, and rewarded smooth riding. There were a few small climbs and one bigger climb, but nothing that the 32×21 wouldn’t handle. Night time would be a different story no doubt.

We returned to see how best to set up our area, knowing that we would be largely unsupported, with my helper monkey some 1000km and 30000ft to the north on her usual work duites. As is the nature of MTB riding, there was no shortage of offers of support, and soon we found ourselves setting up in an area reserved for the seeded riders – thanks Ebuk and Dreggsy. Alas, our marquee had not made the trip down with us, so we settled for an open-air approach, which would work well unless it rained…

Dinner that night was some carb and beer loading, followed by a rest at The Motor Cortex Sr’s place. We spent the final hours getting numbers onto bikes, and I wrestled with the logistics of getting my Garmin, AY-UP, and Duracell battery extender to all co-exist on the handlebars. Finally a solution was found with the aid of some zip ties and electrical tape.

A fitful night’s sleep was broken by a cool dawn that hinted at what we were to expect over the following night. We fuelled up at a local cafe and headed to the race. There was still time to back out!

The venue was positively humming, and after catching up with B-Rad and his crew, we headed up to find a spot to plant our table and food. As we had no-one to man (or woman) our table, we settled for two strobe lights that turned out to be a brilliant idea. The briefing was done, and we rolled down to the start. We paused to remember the passing of Willo, and then the race was to set off with one honor lap. I was numbered 28 (thanks to my early entry), which put me on the grid right behind the 25 top seeded riders, but with the nervous excitement, I missed my name and ended up seeding myself with the Unknown Rider and B-Rad. We rolled off on our remembrance lap, only to have a few weekend warriors decide that their race was going to be won in the opening minutes, and they tore through the procession. Well done boys.

Pretty soon I settled into my rhythm, keeping the hr at 130, and watching it top out at 170 on the climb. I was descending carefully and conserving energy where I could. I had decided on a two-lap-bottle strategy, and would make sure that on each fire-road section I took a swig of liquid, and ate something. This was working well and I continued on. The first signs of trouble happened about 3 hours into the race, with my feet starting to burn. Clearly something was amiss but there was no obvious remedy on the track. I pitted in, refilled my bottles and swapped to my thickest socks, which bought me several more hours of reasonably comfortable riding. I knew that my next rest break was going to be at 1730 for the mandatory light fitting. That arrived without further incident, and I was off again into the dusk.

As dark descended I fired up the lights and was very happy with how they performed. Of course I had no idea exactly how long they were going to last, but I had staggered their use so that I wouldn’t be caught out on a lap in the dark. I maintained my steady pace and noticed that now my feet were no longer burning, in fact they were comfortably numb. I was about 70km into it, and looking forward to the promise of pizza. As I passed though transition on successive laps, the smell of cooking wafted over me and I went from being mildly interested in food to ravenous. As luck would have it, the Unknown Rider was about to lap me (not for the last time), and informed me that deep-pan salvation was imminent. For the next few laps I arrived in transition to be greeted by a table devoid of the sacred crust. Convincing myself that it was still on its way, I headed out into the night. By 10pm I was informed that, alas, the pizza was not going to materialise, and I cursed the lax work ethic of the delivery driver whilst eating my vegemite sandwich. Just as I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the first few drops of rain fell from the sky. Oh shit – the open-air marquee! We headed to the pit and dragged out kit into Dreggsy’s marquee, and I chose that time to throw on a few extra layers as the temperature fell. Fortunately, the rain did not persist beyond some drizzle, which helped to settle down the track.

The night laps started to blur into each other, with a break into transition every few laps to refill a bottle, or reapply some chamois cream (I had the decency to slink off to the toilet for this, unlike some of my uninhibited bretheren). The crowd had thinned somewhat, leaving me with my thoughts, some kangaroos, and hallucinations as company. By 3am, I was ready to pull the pin. I think I had experienced every gamut of human emotion and my mind was starting to get the better of me. My internal monologue had convinced me that I was indeed doing irreparable damage to my body, and that the only remedy was to stop now. To hell with qualifying, or even finishing for that matter. I rolled into transition to be greeted by a refreshed-looking B-Rad, who had called it quits for the night. He was warm, dry and had showered. He also had a beer in his hand. Right, that was it. I was off to shower, and get my head down for a few hours. I made a beeline for the shower block, rinsed off, and headed for the sanctuary of my sleeping bag.

By 5:30am I was awake and despite the dark, cold and damp I was determined to get back onto the bike. There was no way I was missing the sunrise at my first 24, and the aroma of ground coffee beans called out to me like a siren at sea. I arrived back at the pit to see the Unknown Rider in a daze, sleeping semi-recumbent in his warm gear. He had made it to 5am, before deciding that he was also making some potentially dangerous decisions on the track. I changed into dry knicks, socks and thermals and availed myself of a frothy, sugary, cappuccino from the CORC cafe. Boom! I was back into it, and headed out to watch a glorious sunrise, the memory of which still gives me tingles. The crowds built, and the dawn broke to the sound of cowbells and cheers from the gallery.

By 10am, my goals of finished, cracking 200km and qualifying were looking achievable. I pushed on, and soon I was on my final lap! I crossed the line with a group that had counted down the clock at the final corner, crossing in 24:01 – 25 laps, 210km, and 4500m of vertical ascent (halfway up Mt Everest). Best of all was the fact that yes, I had done enough to qualify, with Mr English completing just under twice my distance – a very humbling statistic. The Unknown Rider had also ridden above and beyond, earning himself an Elite qualification for the Worlds.

So I did it. I felt sore afterwards but not as much as I had expected. Unsurprisingly most of the struggle was mental, and I do indeed feel tougher for doing it. It was a steep learning curve, and I have tried to summarise some key points below:

The Bike:

The singlespeed performed as you’d expect it would. Apart from some slippage issues with the foam grips, the bike barely missed a beat. In the wee hours of the morning some poor lines on a few descents meant that I lost some rear tyre pressure, but I was able to top it up with some CO2. 32×21 meant that my knees were looked after really well.

Equipment:

Shoes seem to be an issue. My feet are still numb over the 4th and 5th metatarsal heads. Newer shoes and better insoles are in order, hopefully before the Dirtworks 100km in May. Knicks, gloves, jerseys, helmet, sunglasses were all perfect. I’ll invest in some better chamois cream rather than vaseline. The Duracell battery kept the Garmin going for well beyond the 24 hours. I hooked it up at 6pm, and it charged through the night. Highly recommended.

Food and fluid:

I kept hydrated by sticking to my plan. I took in less overnight when my stomach wouldn’t tolerate it. Having lots to choose from was great. Energy gels were ok as a ‘get out of jail’ option, but not a staple. Vegemite sandwiches and Nutella sandwiches were great. Coco-pops for breakfast was awesome. A protein shake, consumed slowly, was also fine. Hot food is a must.

Race strategy:

Next time I’ll ride more, and rest with shorter more frequent stops. It will be great to have a pit crew to push me on. I think I can push harder earlier too, with a target hr of about 150. This will come out in training rides over winter.

What next?

Well, I qualified, so I might as well go to the Worlds! My goal will be to crack the 300km mark, which I think is reasonable. Training over winter will focus on quality, with some gym sessions and some fixed gear road rides. Exams are on the horizon, so as the study ramps up time for quality riding will be important. I’ll probably only do one or two weekends away racing until the exams are done. I’d like to get down to the Dunc for the winter track racing, but only fortnightly or thereabouts.

So, stay tuned for more updates as I recover and rebuild for the Worlds. But for now, I’m off for a ride…

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