The Redback – Stage Three – Individual TT

I feel like I’m starting to pick up my pace now in Alice Springs, and I’m happy with the speed I maintained for this morning’s 22km individual time trial.

Starting at the golf course, riders were again sent off in 30 second intervals in reverse place order. I was determined to ride fast and smooth, and above all else, I didn’t want to be caught by any higher placed riders! A heinous southerly was blowing for what would otherwise be a fast, flat start, but I did all I could to hold my power high and catch the riders in front before the single track really got going. Having previewed most of the course on Tuesday, I was well aware of places I could claw back time, and areas to avoid costly mistakes.

I overtook the first rider in front of me within a kilometre, and could soon see a group of 3 trading places on fire track up the road. I was strong enough to catch two of them before the single track, and was relieved I had Bill Murphy out front to reel back – he rides smoothly, picks good lines and is exceptionally efficient. Putting in a couple of bike lengths on several short pinches, he let me through kindly on an apex, leaving me to ride hard and not let him catch back on.

A large gap between me and the next riders ahead saw me setting my own pace, but with Bill breathing down my neck on a tricky, switched-back descent, I made sure I really opened up the throttle on anything smooth, and gassed it out of the saddle on anything going skywards.

With the Plains of Mordor stretching out over the horizon, I got a glimpse of two riders in the distance. This encouraged me to hunt them down whilst the course was fast, and a handy tail wind had me sailing along at over 35km/h at times. But I knew that wasn’t fast enough, so whenever the track was really free-running, I pushed the bike up to 40km/h.

Those two riders I overtook quickly, and from there it was a matter of staying level, as more and more riders were in my sights, and it was important to overtake carefully and save energy. Mostly I had it pretty good – but a train of riders up a steep set of switch backs slowed me up a little, and I lost a good bit of momentum trying to get past. But I wasn’t too concerned – they were all riding really well, moving aside with ease and staying upright. I love it when mountain bike events are friendly like this, with everyone helping each other out and pushing each other faster.

I did take a big time hit on Sunset Hill, the largest climb of the day, with a rider in front unclipping on a rock step-up at the start of the climb and staying dead-centre of the track. Forced to dismount myself, I sprinted around him and jumped back on the saddle CX style as soon as the track was smooth. I was kinda annoyed, but decided that the same road blocks would be occurring for faster riders behind me.

At the top of that gradual climb, a wicked, loose descent shot me down towards town. I took it pretty carefully – although it wasn’t especially technical, it was full of small, loose rock that would punish a mistake. Back onto fire trail after that brief, fun interlude, and it became a threshold effort for me until the finish line. Rounding the golf course, I kept my head low and forced myself to try and get the bike over 40 again.

Rounding the last few bends put me in sight of the finish line, and I emptied that tank, my legs turning furiously as I went past a few more riders. I knew I’d put in a solid effort as I couldn’t sprint the finish, but just stayed seated and strong.

Bill Murphy and Aidan Geaney after the stage. 19th and 10th places respectively
Bill Murphy and Aidan Geaney after the stage. 19th and 10th places respectively

I finished the TT in 58:16, in 12th place overall! Stoked as a goat! That means I’ve clawed back good time, and have crept up from 22nd overall, to 15th on GC! Massive confidence boost coming into the remaining stages – I think I might be better recovered from the everesting, and feel that I’m starting to hit my stride again.

22km ITT

The Redback – Stage One

I’m feeling neither disappointed nor ecstatic right now. Ambivalent would probably best describe my mood after stage one in Alice Springs today. Here’s a run down of today’s first stage.

37km of almost entirely single track, I was glad to hydrate well before the race start. Opportunities to eat and drink were few and far between, and after stacking on stage one at Easter, I was careful anytime a hand came off the bars. Typical rocky Alice Springs trails would favour those with good mountain biking skills, and I was a little nervous of getting into a good position early.

A neutral roll out from the Chiefly Resort had the entire field all bunched up following a police escort at about 20-25km/h. Nerves in the peloton were obvious and not reassuring. After about 4km, the escort pulled over and the pace went up. But not for long enough – a massive pileup after a number of riders cut a large corner before we went into the single track. I was lucky enough to avoid all the carnage, but later found out that Chris Hanson had been t-boned. Shit as – he’s a contender (but he made positions back to the front-runners).

After that initial sort out, I found myself in a train of slow-moving cyclists and my frustration was even more evident when the trails went up. Overtaking opportunities were few and far between, and for perhaps near on 10km I just sat in, getting pissed-off at myself for not putting in an effort at the start.

Eventually I started yelling at the guys in front to move over, and there were others keen to get passed, but one individual just wouldn’t yield and slowed everyone. I was okay with taking it easy for a little while, but riding at a recovery pace was not cool with me in a race. It was probably another kilometre before I got a chance to blast past the group, and bar the front guy, they were all really encouraging for me to smash on – clearly they were keen to get past the hubbard too!

About half-way in, I got sight of Aidan… And he was climbing. Perfect for me. A couple of descents kept him out front for quiet a while, and I had another rider licking at my heels too. At one point, it felt like being on safari – hunting down Aidan in his near zebra-striped kit. He wasn’t looking good when I did overtake, but his issue was with flat tyres, not fitness.

I still had plenty of water, so went straight through the water point, only to have Aidan to catch me back up. Clearly I wasn’t riding at my best. I stopped to give Aidan a C02 canister, with 3 riders going ahead as I stopped for those 5 seconds. 25km in, and I just felt like I was lacking.

With concentration on the rocky single-track flailing, and no impetus to try and hit some top end power, Aidan and several others overtook me in the last 8km or so. But I was having fun on the trails, stoked that I’d stayed upright, and was fine throwing down a slower pace for the remainder of the race.

Over the line in about 2:10minutes, I’m unsure of my overall position, but expect to be a long way back from the top ten. If I can get my lungs kicking harder in the next couple of days, I’ll hopefully be able to give ‘er more on the remaining stages. This arvo is will be a short hill climb TT stage, up this : Anzac Hill

Redback – Stage One

Blue Cycles Sunday Session

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.

Dodging runners - Le Mans style start
Dodging runners – Le Mans style start

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.

Back into 1st place. Gotta love it when someone gives you this look
Back into 1st place. Gotta love it when someone gives you this look

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.

The A-Line - cutting out all the fun berms, but cutting out time, too
The A-Line – cutting out all the fun berms, but cutting out time, too

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.

The Pain Statistics