The Redback – Stage 5 – 47km XC

I’m going to be sad to head home after this race, because I’m getting in the groove. A few mistakes cost me time on today’s stage, but some smooth, strong riding at times was a real confidence boost.

Today’s stage was a 47km, pretty typical cross country race, with some amazing desert single, interspersed with fast fire trails. Head winds were brutal at times, and the trails were often rocky and technical, but all round there was fun to be had in considerably lower temperatures than the opening stage.

Bash brothers before stage 5
Bash brothers before stage 5

With another mass start by the Todd River, I placed myself in the second row, cold, but ready to fang it off the start line. Riders were perhaps shaken up after the pile-ups on stage one, and again there was no need to fight for position. I settled in somewhere in the top twenty, and allowed the riders in front to set a good tempo, somewhere off the lead bunch. I was glad to see Aidan Geaney and James Downing not far ahead – both good wheels to follow with strengths to complement my own.

Up the first proper climb of the day, a long, twisting slog, I was two riders back from Aidan, and was tempted to go around at least one of them. The pace wasn’t too hot, and I was feeling very good. Down the first descent, I was still in contact, but then a small mishap. Burying my front wheel on an innocuous corner, I came down, hitting my right leg against the bike frame and dislodging a water bottle. Luckily no harm done apart from a bit of frustration.

Remounted and pacing myself back, Aidan and the other two were not far ahead, approaching a long climb on a fire trail I recognised from Easter, and one I knew Aidan hated. Urging myself on, I was very close to catching back on.

Back onto some tricky single track, I could see and hear riders both ahead and behind – it was obviously bunching up again. And then the surprise we were warned about – some “old school” single track thrown into the mix. I actually really like this section of over grown trail, but a lack of trail markings made navigation similar to the Tokyo Subway system – you can get anywhere, but the fastest way is not necessarily your first choice. At least six riders overtook me through here.

With the hope that the fast riders ahead had made the same mistakes, I pushed on to get past most of the riders that took the right lines. Gapping most of them on another climb, I caught sight of Aidan labouring around the other side of the hill. I was sure I could latch back on!

Some tricky descents and washed-out single track left me on my own for some time, and not far before the first drink stop, Matt King was pulled over on the side of the track, dealing with 100s of bindies lodged all over the front of his body from what might otherwise have been an easy fall. Ouch!

Reaching that first drink station, a marshall urged me on with, “the bunch in front have 30 seconds”. Not needing more water, I blasted through to some fast single track, trying to gain some time. But then I almost blew myself up. On a climb I should have hit like a whippet on a sugar high, I lost a lot of confidence seeing several riders biting at my ankles. Fuck.

I threw down whatever power I had left to try and stay out front for as long as possible. With a descent looming, I called to the rider behind that I would let him pass as soon as I could. With a nice pullover between switchbacks, I heard, “thanks Pete, go well”. I didn’t realise until he was already ahead that it was James Downing. Definitely a wheel I wanted to follow on the technical stuff!

Spurred on by following a much more proficient rider, I descended better than I have all race. And I kept him in sight for at least a couple of kilometres. I really felt like I was getting my marathon legs back, and was still confident of gaining some places.

More fire trail of doom had a rider catching me up, but likewise I could again see James ahead having stopped at the 2nd drink break. Close to town, I traded places with the rider behind a couple of times, catching a quick draft up an awful, head-winded section of tarmac. Allowing him to take the lead in the next section of single track, I was unable to maintain his pace, but always had him in my eyesight.

One last ascent of Sunset Hill, and I got a glimpse of Aidan and a trail of riders behind him. I was catching! And the trail was climbing! Stoked as a goat. I hadn’t realised that it was Sunset Hill, approached from a different side, but was hoping the track would keep going up to increase my chances. But before long, the the course sent us downwards, and the descent was immediately familiar.

Knowing the finish line could not be far away, I rode the descent as smoothly as I could, and hammered the bike as best I could through the “whoop-di-doos”, before a u-turn at the golf course sent me into a new section of sand traps. No longer confident of a catch, but thinking about the overall time, I pedalled away hoping no one would catch.

The finale was a long section of bike path with a mother flippin’ tail-wind. Ace! I could see two riders in front, one the rider that had only recently leap-frogged me, and another from New Caledonia that I’d been able to best on the night stage. Getting as aero as I could on a mountain bike, I cranked it well over 40km/h for a sustained effort reminiscent of Bagot Road in Darwin at the end of the Hour of Power bunch ride. Giving it all when you’re already feeling cooked is not easy, but when you have a carrot out front, your mind does take some burden off your legs.

Roaring past him at 45km/h, there was only a few hundred metres to go, and I rounded the last few corners of the car park and over the finish line in 14th place and a time of 2:23:11, not far off two riders in front, but a couple of minutes from making more of a dent. I’ve gotta say, I’m really enjoying this racing caper again – if more of my competitors here realised what I’d done a couple of weeks ago, I’m sure there’d be many, “wtfs” exchanged. 43km remaining.

Stage Five

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