It's Good to be Back
One of the best aspects of racing a series such as Rocky Trail's 7 hour is the fact that you feel part of one big mountain bike family, regularly travelling to a variety of stunning destinations across New South Wales and the ACT. On Friday, this involved driving to the idyllic James Estate Winery, which is located in the Upper Hunter Valley. I was immediately greeted by members of my Jetblack Team and several other regulars of the race circuit. After an unfortunate mishap, involving my carefully prepared pasta main course and the wine-growing dirt that makes this region so special, I was gracefully saved from undergoing a pasta rescue mission and served a deliciously, spicy Spaghetti Bolognaise by Graham 'Guru' Sonter. While I enjoyed my charitable donation I watched a couple of Huntsmen spiders scuttle around the marquee seeking their own tasty morsels.
My race would be dominated by my personal battle with Alex Kooijman of the Quantum Racing Team. Whenever we square off, we are invariably separated by a handful of seconds and this day proved no exception. I mustered a decent start and finished the first lap with my rival a mere second behind. Alex overtook me on the fireroad climb to the first section of singletrack and managed to pull away with the benefit of another rider's tow. I settled into a pace that was comfortable for me and let him go, knowing that 7 hours is a long time and energy needs to be kept in reserve.
The first four and a half hours are quite comfortable with correct pacing and I was really enjoying the track, with its short pinches, tight corners and fast berms. Before the climbs could bite, I was turning into a corner and starting yet another leg-saving descent. Alex had opened up a 2.44 minute lead at the end of lap four but by lap eight, I had reduced this to thirty seconds. As I entered the first section of singletrack, a number of faster team riders came past, and I was swept along behind them, simultaneously passing Alex in the process. He didn't respond. At the end of lap nine I had opened up a thirty-three second lead on him. But I was sitting second, as I heard Mike Tomalaris, the voice of SBS cycling, announce as I came through transition. Whoever was in front, was flying and all I could do was hold my own speed.
Like the previous week, I needed to take care during the more technical sections to avoid the risk of falling on my weak right wrist. As I was about to exit the newly cut singletrack, with knee deep sand either side of the race line I called track on a much slower girl who suddenly stopped at the top of a large berm or, more specifically, the only safe line. I ducked down the berm, straight into the deep sand, catapulting me over the bars. My right arm extended in front of me and, almost in slow motion, I knew I would land on it. Fortunately, the sand took the impact out of the fall and I was able to continue relatively unscathed.
The last two hours of a seven hour solo hurt! Andrew Finlayson came past me at the five hour mark and told me his plans to attack Andrew Lloyd, who was currently leading the elite division, were merely a pipe-dream. It was all he could do to hold his current pace. As it happened, this proved enough as he caught Lloydy in transition, and then had enough strength to take the overall win on the last lap. Meanwhile, I continued to slowly open up a slightly bigger lead on the chasing Alex. I started my last lap, with five minutes left of the seven hours. I had drunk 14 bottles of fluid in the hot temperatures and now I had sore, swollen feet. I crossed the line, relieved but happy with second. I had beaten Alex by four minutes but it had not been easy. Troy Thomas took the win in the Masters category and will be one to watch in future races. Most importantly, I had survived a rough seven hours and my rehabilitation continues on track.