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!!!)

1 comment:

  1. Great wrap-up! I was at Alice Springs this year (and last) - towards the back of the field, but there nonetheless! Well done on the placing.

    As they say - keep the rubber side down...

    Take Care