Friday, May 21, 2010

Red Centre Enduro Wrap-Up

I love doing race wrap-ups, especially for stage races... All the little annoyances of the week seem to vanish in retrospect into what was an amazing experience overall and provides a platform to gauge areas to work on. Nice!!!

So I'm sitting on a plane flying over central Australia. It's pretty barren, with not much to look at, except for Lake Eyre, full of water. This is a once in a lifetime sight, I'm being told by the passenger in the seat next to me, whose son has lived in Alice Springs for 5 years now. He also tells me this is the greenest he has ever seen it. They've had some rain here over the last month, and I'm in for a treat, he promises. The guy sitting next to me probably didn't know much about the mountain biking in Alice Springs, but regardless, I wasn't to be disappointed.

I arrived on the Saturday night before the race to be met by my sister, Emily. We haven't seen each other in 2 years (since she helped support and photograph me at my first 24 hour solo world champs in Canada). She lives in Perth, and by some strange twist of fate, it so happened that she was the official photographer for the Red Centre Enduro... We always have our reunions in the most unlikely of places... I don't remember the last time one of us actually visited the other's home. I was also stoked to have yet another race reunion with my long-time friend and Ayup team mate, Andy Fellows, and also to catch up with 3 time world 24 hour solo champion, Rebecca Rusch, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting at world champs the last two years and who had flown over from the states to participate in the event. The morning after, I headed out on a cruisy ride with Rebecca, Jenny Fay (another competitor) and a couple of the boys from Sydney. When I say cruisy, it was probably cruisier for them than for me. I knew that this race was going to be no walkover. With current world and national champions in different mountain bike disciplines present, the Red Centre Enduro really was a bit of a "who's who" of endurance mountain biking. I felt quite privileged to be amongst such a huge, high caliber field. The race briefing that night warned us (for the 100th time) to ensure we had puncture-proofed our tyres and that because of the rain, we needed to be careful of sandy washouts in low-lying areas... Both of these a theme throughout the week and my choice to run tubeless tires filled with Stan's confirmed as a good one on Sunday's training ride already when I dug two huge thorns out of my tyres that evening.

The Monday morning line-up on the start line was exciting. We were being neutralled out to our start point through the town behind a police car with hundreds of locals and school kids on the pavement cheering us through... What an awesome reception!!! It was so cool to see everyone in the town so supportive of the event. There was some jostling at the front of the pack to get in a good position for the point where the flag went down and then the hammer dropped. We were off in a flurry of dust. Lesson number one... To save your lungs, make sure you are at the front of the pack. Being my first race in just over a month, the initial shock to my legs and lungs was to be expected, but I soon found my rhythm. The first part of the track saw us snaking through low-lying sandy pits, or bush-bashing tracks along the side of the pits to stay on our bikes. On one particular bush-bashing attempt, I was lucky enough to end up with an entire golden orb spider web wrapped around my face and helmet, and whilst these spiders are not poisonous, they are HUGE and their webs are made of this sticky yellow stuff that stayed on my helmet for the rest of the 50km of the course. So, just imagine a small, New Zealand mountain biker (we don't have spiders like that here) attempting to stay on and in control of her bike whilst smacking at her own face and flailing her arms around like Peter Garret from Midnight Oil, and you would have a pretty accurate image of how I looked just after I ran through the web. Lesson two... Stick to the trails. Once we turned off the first fire trail, we descended upon the "hell line" which was apparently meant to be the worst piece of trail we would ride all week. I beg to differ... They should have called it "hell fun", but I suppose it really did depend on where your wheel ended up. Huge rocks were often in disguise as tufts of grass and there were some quite tough little pinchy climbs, which I was stoked to ride up. After hell line, we were sent along our first taste of Alice Spring's single track. To say it was rocky and technical wouldn't quite do it justice, but it was soooo much fun. I must say that this week was shaping up to be a great training week for my technical skills. The stage finished with a lap of the local velodrome and I was slightly disappointed to not have someone to sprint against to the finish line, but what I had originally pegged as a 3 hour ride ended up 3 hours 19 mins. Fun terrain, but man, it was tough. I was about 10mins off Rebecca and the rest of the pointy end, but a pretty reasonable result for the first stage.

The second stage was a short climb up ANZAC hill (the only hill in town), so we lined up for our countdown and then axed ourselves for a full minute. Can't say I was looking forward to it. I'm not a big sprinter by any means, although I've been known to be reasonably qualified to climb a hill or two. To add to the drama and anticipation, we had a dust funnel make it's way through the event centre and uplift an ezy-up. I ripped it up in a minute 13, which got me a respectable placing in the women's. It was Andy Fellows who had our jaws dropping, though, when he ascended the hill in 44secs flat. That's an average of 24km/hr, uphill, on knobbly tires, on a mountain bike... Total kudos dude! (maybe should have used a bigger gear??)

Tuesday morning and the start of stage 3 saw us riding more sweet singletrack. I was getting a bit experimental with tyre pressure today after the sand in stage one and was running my pressure at 17psi... I was half expecting to rip a sidewall out considering how sharp some of these rocks were, but I picked my lines pretty well and was feeling good. The tracks were aptly named... "Kitchen Sink" trail had a lovely old porcelain sink along the side, "Helmet" trail had an old helmet, and "The Shitter" had, you guessed it, a toilet mounted to a tree on the side of the trail. These amusements were a welcome distraction from the constant pedal, pedal, lift, work, turn, jump. Lesson 3... Don't underestimate flat terrain... It's hard work!!! I reeled in some extra time on my competitors, which was excellent. A really good day on the bike. Back to the motel to load the bike on a road train and rest up tonight for the early morning trip out to the start point of our 95km stage.

Wednesday morning stage 4 started at 5.15am with a bus trip to Trephina Gorge for the ride home to Alice Springs. I'd been looking forward to today's stage because I'm generally a little stronger on the long days. When we got off the bus just on sunrise at the gorge, the views were magnificent, but hardly compensation for our freezing extremities. Lesson 4... The desert is very VERY cold at night. Keen to head off, today soon proved itself to be a lot of bushbashing and a lot of on-foot agility (walking, jumping over 6ft deep river beds). The first 30km was good. The ground was pretty firm, although the sense of direction on the trail left a little to be desired. By the 30km stage, though, I was pretty over the constant on the bike, off the bike associated with the trail's sandiness... It seems that all the rain had washed the sand onto the firetrail we were riding. It was tough work, and it wasn't working in my favour. We had a bit of a headwind, so being in a pack of riders was ideal. I managed to get into a pack, but as soon as we hit a sandy patch, I always seemed to be the last one out of the sand and back on my bike and sitting 20m behind the rest of the pack... I'd wind it up and work hard to get back onto the pack, but doing it over and over it soon became unworkable and I was dropped and left on my own. I must admit, it got to me a bit. Every time I hit the sand, it seemed to sap the life out of me. Riding through the sand also meant that I had to stop to eat or drink (both hands on the bars to point and shoot in the sand), and I didn't want to stop because I knew I was getting further and further behind, so it turned into a bit of a viscous circle. The end of Wednesday couldn't come soon enough, and I did finally cross the line, but it had done some damage to my general classification result. I'd dropped about half an hour, and had 2 days to make it up.

Thursday saw us gathering at the golf course in the morning for a 23 km time trial, and would see us gather there again that night to do the same course in the dark with a mass start. After my count down I took off down the first straight until the burning in my legs cause me to back off a little. The funny thing with time trial distance for an endurance athlete is that I think "it's only an hour... I can ride as hard as I bloody well want to", but this never seems to work in theory. It took me a good ten minutes to really find my legs and lungs for the day (up until then, I truly thought I night die), but once I got my rhythm for the day I really enjoyed the time trial course. It was technical and flowy and even had a bad-ass hill smack bang in the middle! I focused on keeping my cadence up and my speed. I was hoping I could peg about 19km/hr, but would be happy if I could get 18km/hr, so when I came through the finish at an average of 18.2km/hr, I was pretty stoked with that. In the evening, we lined up for the same course again and started to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck"... Ok, it was a bit corny, but it was a nice touch... You could see the raceface on nearly every rider turning up into a smile at the corner of their mouths. The start of the race saw some carnage and the exiting of the race by one of the top 5 females after a collision resulted in a broken derallier. I've always been of the mindset that night riding is very much about self-preservation and fun... If you can combine these two things, you're onto a good one. I had a great evening. I rode smoothly, I didn't crash, and my time was only 2 minutes slower than during the day. I made up some time on some of my competitors. I think the night stage had the biggest effect on the overall results of any other stage.

I woke up on the last day feeling pretty tired. I'd had trouble getting to sleep the night before after all the excitement of the night ride and it had upset my eating and recovery patterns a little... having said that, everyone was in the same boat, so I was hoping maybe I could peg back the 7 minutes I needed to get into 5th place. Everyone else had similar ideas, though, so it wasn't going to be easy. The course was, once again, a delightful mixture of single track, with some of the trails from Tuesday being used backwards (so we got to see the sink and toilet again), then some old "4WD" trails used towards the end to link us up to the finish of our week at the scenic Telegraph station. It wasn't a super day on the bike performance-wise, but when I saw that the 2 girls I was chasing were also in the same bunch that I was in, I unfortunately realised my 7 minute dream for the day was over, so I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the ride, coming across the line 7th for the week, which I was pretty stoked with, taking into consideration the size and quality of the field.

That afternoon, before we headed to the presentation dinner, I headed out with Rebecca Rusch and my sister, Emily, to some scenic spots Emily had chosen to do her photo shoot with Rebeacca for Enduro mag. It was a nice way to see some of the countryside close up and not whizzing past on a bike.

All-in-all I had a great week. Some ups and downs, but more experience and a fantastic week of training. It was nice to scrape out an extra week of summer and yesterday, I got myself a new pair of shoes and plan to start doing some cross-training without the wheels over winter, along with some road racing and some shorter MTB races. Looking forward to it!

Thanks to Emily Dimozantos Impressions for taking some amazing photos of the event (including some great "blooper" stacks!!! Check out the website for them!!!)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Red Centre Enduro Day 5 (the last one!!!)

So, I needed 7 minutes on Emma Bradley and Rebecca Ormsley to move back into 5th spot... It was going to be no mean feat and I knew it would depend on how fresh my legs could feel after the night stage the day before. About half way through the stage, I was feeling pretty maxed out and still sitting in the same bunch as the two girls I was trying to get time on. To make it even tougher, they were tussling to get time on each other. Another seven minutes in the bank was looking pretty unlikely, so I decided instead of flogging myself for nothing, I'd sit in a bit and enjoy the stage. Today was the most technical stage we had ridden, and along with a couple of creek crossings and some pretty rough and loose "4WD track" (I really doubt a 4WD would have been able to go along it, but I guess they have to describe it somehow!!!). My legs were so trashed I kept looking down at my wheel to check if it was flat! I think the flat out time trial yesterday had taken it's toll.

So, in the end, a 7th place in general classification. Not a bad result considering the strength of the field. Some good people met and good friends made. Roll on the good times!!!

Red Centre Enduro Day 4

Today's morning stage was a time trial which began at the Alice Springs Golf Club with riders been set off at 30 second intervals. The trail was back to the nice, challenging singletrack of Monday and Tuesday with some very fast dirt road sections in between (including some golf buggy track) and I had quite a bit of time to make up after yesterday. Couple of tough little pinchy climbs in today's course, as well, which was nice because it's so flat around Alice Springs that you end up on the pedals the whole time... It's nice to climb a hill and be able to coast down the other side without having to pedal.

My legs must have still been a little battered from yesterday, because when I took off from the start grid, my MACH1 pace from the start was soon put in check by my burning legs on the first corner, and for the next 20mins as my legs warmed up. The course was 23km long and I completed it in one hour and 15 minutes at an average speed of 18.2km/hr, which I was happy with, but didn't give me a huge jump on the time difference I needed to make up.

The stage later in the day was a night stage, which was held on exactly the same course as the time trial in the morning. There were some pretty sketchy technical sections on the trail, which I remembered from the morning and kept an eye out for as I wove my way around the trails in the dark. My time for the night stage was only 2 and a half minutes slower than my time trial during the day, but I gained an extra couple of minutes to put back into the deficit. Ayup team mates Andy Fellows and Ben Randall came first and second respectively overall, and the women's general classification rankings took a huge shake-up. 4th placed Jenny King had and accident and snapped her derallier in the first 300m of the night stage, leaving her out of the stage and out of the overall results for the week and leader Jodie Willits had 2 punctures which ate 9 minutes out of her 21 minute lead. Rebecca Rusch is sitting in 2nd place with young gun Gracie Elvin sitting on her tail only 1.9seconds behind.

The final stage is going to be an interesting one because it definitely appears the rankings are completely undecided at the moment. I still have 7 minutes to make up
to move from current GC of 7th to 5th or 6th... I'll just have to get out there and see what I can do!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Red Centre Enduro Day 3

It was an early start today... Up at 4am to get on a bus at 5am for the hour long trip out to Trephina Gorge. It was too early to see any scenery, but it was quite pleasant checking out the moon in it's last phases and the stars in the clear desert sky over the silhouette backdrop of the MacDonnell ranges. I think a very common misconception about the desert and Alice Springs is that the weather is always blistering hot... Nothing could be further from the truth, with overnight lows during the week sitting at about 4 degrees, so you can imagine how "fresh" it was jumping off a bus in our riding gear just on sunrise and clambering around finding our bikes which had been transported out to the gorge the evening prior. We couldn't wait to get on our bikes and get the blood pumping and get warm.

We set off at 7.30am and started off up the road, staying in a pretty large pack until we turned off the road, jumped off our bikes to clamber up an embankment, then followed a non-existent trail across the plains through the gorge... This involved jumping across a 6ft deep river cutting and getting mildly lost as we bush-bashed a path through an unmarked course (apparently now, there is a really sweet trail where we went). This first bit was ok, but I unfortunately got stuck behind some slower riders and got left off the back of the main bunch. We then found ourselves on a rough firetrail, which I was pretty stoked about because it meant I could drop the hammer and just peg the 100km back at warp speed. My attempts to do so, however, were thwarted by the abundance of sand pits right across the road every hundred metres or so... Worse still, some of these sand pits were half a kilometre long, and they were soft. So, we had 2 choices... 1) Try to bush bash a line around the outside of the road (sorry national parks!!!), or 2) Run/walk with our bikes through the sand. This was ok the first couple of times, until it became quite evident that the entire 95km ride was going to be like this... On the bike, off the bike, walk through sand, bush bash, on the bike, off the bike. Unsurprisingly, my patience gave way around the 40km mark after spending the last 20km getting on and off my bike and getting stuck in the sand. The unfortunate thing is that with my short legs, I was losing time against my competitors... Big time... So at the finish line, I had come in 9th place and dropped my general classification place to 8th.

I must admit it was a bit of a shame to have such a sandy, unridable trail after experiencing the last two days of bliss on the town's singletrack trails. It was, however, a good lesson on how fluid the results are throughout the week of a stage race... Small things can happen and have a massive impact on the result. Back on the bike tomorrow to try and make up the 20mins!!!

Red Centre Enduro Day 2

Line up for 50km of amazing technical singletrack!!! Whoot! Today was a sweet day to be at the Red Centre Enduro. We started at the old telegraph station and set out around the custom-built trails the locals have carved out so lovingly. Yesterday was just a taste of the trails Alice Springs has to offer... Today was even better. Technical climbs, flowy trail that was loose enough to flick the bike around corners at speed, but not so loose to be a hinderance. It was nice riding.

I had a great day on the bike today. I felt strong in the saddle, I had my bike setup dialled and my eye was in for the technical stuff. Only thing was I probably didn't quite eat or drink enough. Finishing in just over 3 hours, I came in 6th with enough time under my belt to push me up into 6th place in general classification (YES!!!). All in all, a great day out on the bike... 3 days to go and feeling good!

Photo credit: Emily Dimozantos

Red Centre Enduro Day 1

Ok, so I'm writing this a few days later than the actual day one, but in between stages, resting up and bike prep have taken up all my blog time!!!

I flew in on Saturday night and was lucky enough to catch up with my sister (who is the event photographer) and Rebecca Rusch (she's a good chick... Hard to want to beat someone who's so nice!). Sunday we headed out to check out the first 10km or so of our first stage for Monday... The part we checked out was a 4WD track that followed the rail line with some pretty nasty, long sandy patches along the way. In the least, the ride had me pre-warned to run a low tire pressure, but it wasn't looking too inspiring just yet.

Monday morning, stage 1 was a 40km stage which started with a police neutral escort through the town centre of Alice Springs. When the hammer went down at the start of the fire trail, there was just a massive billow of sand and dust that rose from the group. This made it a little difficult to suck the air in at near max heart rate, but once the field spread out a bit, the cloud dispersed. So we rode along the fire trail we had scoped out yesterday, often having to dismount and run our bikes across vast sand pits in the middle of the trail, then turned onto what was named the "hell line"... We had been pre-warned about the hell-line and told it would be the worst piece of trail we would ride all week... To be honest, I had an ace time riding it! It was, at times, a little sketchy with overgrowth covering the trail and surprise rocks, ruts and holes bucking you off in different directions, but it was all good. After the hell-line, we ended up on some sweet technical singletrack... Alice Springs has a lot of rocks, and these trails had cool little rocky obstacles and steep little technical climbs that put a smile on my face. We finished off with a lap of the local velodrome, the stage 10km longer than promised... All can be forgiven with the provision of sweet singletrack!!!

I finished stage one in 9th place for female category, which was a little short of my expectations for the day, but I had a solid ride, and hey, there's still another 6 stages to go!!!

The afternoon saw us lining up for our time trial hill climb up the only hill in town... A short, punchy climb known as ANZAC hill. This was a flat-out, one minute death-by-bike that left us coughing up the morning's dust at the top. I came 7th in the hill climb, an improvement on the morning. AyUp team mate Andy Fellows took out the hill climb stage overall in a blistering 44secs!!!

Photo credit: Emily Dimozantos

Friday, May 7, 2010

Red Centre Enduro starts Monday!!!

It's been a while since I last blogged... It's been a busy month for training, work and all things mountain biking, so the Red Centre Enduro in Alice Springs has come up pretty damn quick.

I have in my possession a new pair of custom fit shoes and a new set of wheels, which I took out for a quick grind tonight and to my delight, both ran superbly. I was a little disappointed when I found out my custom-built race wheels weren't compatible with the UST tyres I wanted to use, and given the prevalence of thorns and sharp rocks around Alice Springs, I wasn't too keen on running the thinner, lighter tyres I generally run in a race, so the only option was to switch to a set of tubeless-specific wheels... Seems to have done the trick, but only next week will tell.

So my usual "travel lightly" packing is just about done... Just need to do the weigh-in and pull my bike apart after some minor adjustments, so all things going well, in bed by 9 for a couple of hours sleep before the notorious 6am flight that I seem to be so good at booking (there's a reason this flight is cheap!!!)

Looking forward in particular to seeing my sister, Emily, who has been commissioned to photograph the race (small world huh???). Emily had her first serious taste of MTB photography when she supported me at my first world champs in 2008, and I must admit, bias aside, that she takes a bloody amazing photo... Check out her work at Emily Dimozantos Impressions.

So the Red Centre Enduro is a 5 day, 7 stage race. Most of the stages are relatively short, except Wednesday's 100km stage. This may or may not be a good thing for me. I have some good speed in my legs, but the longer stuff has always been a better flavour for me. There's going to be some strong riders there, including 3 time 24 hour solo world champ, Rebecca Rusch, so come Monday, it's gonna be on like donkey kong!!!! It's not looking too hot and they've had some rain, so I reckon it's gonna be running sweet. Can't wait!

The Red Centre Enduro website has a live updates link if you want to follow the race. I will try and keep updates running here on my site, but as usual, there's never any guarantee that I'll have internet access.

Wish me luck!!!