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.