After sleeping in two mornings in a row, I was keen to get back on the bike. A dose of antihistamines last night almost thwarted attempts of getting out of bed again though, and for 3/4 of the ride I felt like I was drifting off to sleep. It was akin to a 24 hour ride – fighting off fatigue and waiting for the sun to boost serotonin levels. Do i avoid the phenergan tonight for an easier wake up? Or risk a night of broken sleep of scratching? Beaten by Hanson and the midges.
Yesterday was somehow the first actual XCO race I’ve ever competed in. Crits, enduros, marathons and stage races have come and gone, but I’ve never raced the traditional cross country format. Weird when I think about it, but not surprising when the level I’ve ridden at has always tended towards different events (more mass participation events).
Anyway, on Sunday afternoon, the Darwin Offroad Cycling club (DORC), ran an XCO at Charles Darwin National Park. Supported by Blue Cycles, it involved 4 laps of a rather demanding, 8km course (4 for elite, 3 for sport). With recent bush fires clearing much of the dense vegetation and scorching the earth to dust, it would be fairly easy to keep sight on anyone in a close position.
The race started Le Mans style. With a Go Pro mounted on my handlebar, you can see me picking up my bike first, and get an early lead into the single track. Not knowing the course and terrain all that well, I opted to let someone pass after about 1km or so. This gave me a wheel to follow and hopefully learn the trail.
I found the pace not quite where I wanted it on one of the long, flat, open straights, so I decided to up the tempo and gas it back into first place. A good move really – I was able to hold the lead for a while longer with a bit of climbing coming up and more long drags to push power levels. But just before the track turned to more single track, Chris Hanson romped on past me. He wasn’t going all that much quicker at this point, but with my heart rate up high, and legs feeling a bit leaden, I could see the calibre of rider that Chris is. And this was the wheel to follow.
For maybe a couple of kilometres of single track, I stuck pretty well to his wheel. He was clearly more powerful on the more open single track, pulling away slightly, but with ease, and was exceptionally better on the more technical sections and the downs. However, I’m confident I had him well and truly covered anytime the track pinched upwards, and I’d gain back time. This pattern wasn’t to last too long, however, and he eventually pulled away out of sight after a longer section of down.
This left me all alone for basically the remainder of the race. 3rd place was not to be seen with a look back, and I was assuming Chris was now putting minutes into me. But the track was so much fun, I didn’t mind too much. I don’t spend enough time on the mountain bike, and found the race a great skills tester. Rather than kill myself trying to get back onto Chris’ wheel, I opted to do my best to ride smoothly and efficiently, and focused on keeping a constant effort (yup, this shit again… but it works!).
Heading into lap 2, I still had no sign of anyone. But I was still up for riding quickly and I’d settled into a rhythm. A thought struck me – I could easily become complacent now. I could back off the pace and probably still hold 2nd. If anything, I’d be well rested to fight for it if necessary. Perhaps Chris is thinking the same? Maybe he’s sitting up right now and cruising around the course? So i started riding faster, and put in my quickest lap time. Still focused on riding smoothly, but hammering the downs, putting more power out on the less technical single track, leaning around the uphill switch backs to keep the momentum up, and above all else, climbing flat stick.
It worked! I’d taken the nifty, but slightly sketchy A-line towards the end of the Wirraway trail, making up some more time, and was confident of going fast for the entire race. Really smacking the pedals about on the straights on lap 3, I could see Chris up ahead. And the best part was that he couldn’t see me! Over about 3 minutes of racing, I’d gone from about 100m behind him on first sight, to within striking distance after putting in a near max effort on the longest climb of the course. Another long straight after that climb, and he was only 20m or so ahead. But then I witnessed the quality of rider that I was chasing. After that straight, there was a technical 150 degree turn. It wasn’t actually all that technical, but it was very awkward and you had to slow right down for it. Just when I thought I was being all ninja like (not really, I’m sure me heart beat was audible), Chris shot me what I felt was a devastating look-back, and took the fuck off outta there, leaving me to negotiate that corner whilst he was accelerating. All-over red-rover.
By the time I made it around the corner and onto another short straight, there was no sign of Chris bar a plume of dust – a sure sign that he was proceeding rapidly. The next bit of single track gave him a sure lead, and I was no longer able to see him. If he was being complacent on lap 2 and the start of lap 3, it didn’t matter. He still had the energy to kick my arse all over Sunday afternoon. No matter, I’ll have to work out another way to beat him (if that is at all possible).
The remainder of the race was an exercise in the same. Put in some energy on the climbs. Take the quicker A-lines when I was comfortable. Gas the straights and turn bike on the corners. And at race pace, riding at Charles Darwin is so much fun. I held onto 2nd place, with Chris having put in 3:35s by race end. Kevin Wells placed 3rd, 2:20s behind me. Thank you to DORC and Blue Cycles for putting on a brilliant club event.
A nice morning out spinning the legs with Sam and Tom today, covering the route I’ve been riding on a Friday. The temperature was either a little warmer than it has been, or I’m getting used to the cold. I’m finding it hard to believe how much I’ve acclimatised, because 17 degrees on Melbourne winter morning would be unreal, and would definitely not feel as chilly as it does in Darwin right now! It makes me want to right something about comparative temperatures at some point, and riding in different climates – I still remember how much the Darwin riders struggled with the dry heat of Alice Springs over Easter having come from a very humid top end.
I thought I should make the most of a day off and amazing weather by heading out for a mountain bike ride at Charles Darwin. This would be a good chance to get a good few hours in training for Alice Springs, and give me a bit of a course preview for a race there on Sunday.
I was already a bit on the tired side though, having ridden HoP in the morning (with a hang over), so spent just a little over 2 hours out. Still happy with that – good to work the legs over when they are already sore! I’m starting to get the feel of the trails there more now, and recent bush fires have opened up the visibility significantly. Not only that, the earth has been scorched, and the tracks are now very dry and dusty… just what I like. Should be a great race there on Sunday, but I’ll have to up the pace big time to keep up with the front runners.
I got home after this morning’s ride and was kinda itching to go out and do some more. The weather was amazing, the south easterly was still strong and my legs needed some more. So I geared back up, and rolled pretty gently out to Lee Point Rd.
Lee Point Rd runs pretty well north/south, so I was hoping to take advantage of the prevailing winds and knock over a segment held by Aidan. A trial run made me realise it wasn’t going to be that easy. At times the wind was assisting, but the more open areas of the 2.3km segment were getting buffed by crosswinds.
I wound it up anyway, relying on a fast start to make the most of a tail wind, and hoping I’d have enough legs for the uphill finish where I’d be most likely to make up time on Aidan. Looking down at the Edge 520, I’d made good progress coming into the open crosswinds, but dropped back by the end of it. A 7 second advantage dropped to about 3 at the start of the climb, and I was feeling pretty average.
I managed to hold on, seemingly getting nothing out of the wind up the hill, but feeling a slight push once it was crested, covering the last couple of hundred metres rapidly. KOM flashed up on the screen, with a 6 second lead over Aidan’s best, but that dropped to 3 seconds when I uploaded later (something to be aware of if you are chasing times!).
An extra 30km for the day, and more time in amazing weather was well worth getting back out for. Hopefully I’ll get back out for some Lee Point mountain bike action this arvo… plenty of segments to chase on the dirt there too.
Sending Aidan some mail
With many Darwin cyclists in Tenant Creek for the race, there was only a small turn out for the Green Ant bunch ride. Very relaxed pace and shortened route wasn’t disappointing as I’m still recovering from last weekend, but I’m getting keener to really test the legs again. It was feeling like we’d have a decent tailwind up Berrimah hill, so I figured I should have a decent crack.
It was more of a south easterly than the southerly I would have liked, and had to start from standing at the lights (I really wanted to storm in at speed!), but I still gave it a good go. A truck overtook me halfway up the hill, so I jumped in its draft for the last part of the hill, but couldn’t quite latch on. Luckily, the wind felt more at my back once the hill topped out, and I was able to hold a high speed for the remainder of the segment, which is about 900m of flat. The segment is loaded onto my garmin, but I couldn’t remember the top times, so I just went as hard as I could and watched the distance to go drop until the end. Felt happy enough with the effort (albeit wind assisted), and was stoked to see I’d taken the KOM when I uploaded the ride. I’d best get out on the bike some more today – beautiful weather and need to make the most of it.
Berrimah Hill to College Rd KOM
6am Nightcliff ride this morning. A reduced bunch with many away at Tenant Creek for the Barkley Challenge – good luck to the Darwin Cycling Club. I had to pull off early to get to work, but put in a decent solo effort on Vanderlin Drive coming back. Feels like I haven’t managed to make it on this ride in ages, and when I do, I can’t even finish it!