The leading four Masters Solo competitors were all at Awaba. Five rounds of hard and highly competitive racing had elapsed and the Top three places in the overall series were still undecided. Unfortunately, no one had the luxury of a leisurely cruise around the sweet and slick trails of the Awaba circuit.
This was a shame. It was 6.30am and already quite warm. A hot and, some had forecast, a torrid day beckoned all the riders. The heat would hit with devastating ferocity only a few hours into the race. But for now all was calm. Garry James and Jason McAvoy of the Radical Lights team had set up their impressive red marquee opposite my simple small table. I was next to Wendy Stevenson, the ever present and consistent Solo female Masters rider, who was inundated with a clutch of leeches looking to suck the blood from her before the sticky yellow plasma was left oxygen depleted in a few short hours time. Mike Israel was a few metres down the track. No one could predict what was to play out a few hours later.
But this story started back in April. Round One took place at Kinross Forest, Orange. I had won the overall series the previous year but this was shaping up as a completely different beast. Garry James is a legend in endurance mountain biking and giving away ten years to some of his masters rivals does little to lessen his intimidating and unmistakable presence. Jason McAvoy finished 8th in the World 24 hour Solo in 2011 and Mike Israel had also established himself as one of Australia’s best Masters mountain bikers. To add spice to this race, Capital Punishment’s 100k race had been served up as a tantalising Hors d’œuvre the day before. Only one minute separated the winner Garry from Jason, and Mike and myself finished 3rd and 4th respectively.
Two months later, Jason thrived at Kowen Forest and managed to win by a lap from his teammate Garry. A different podium presented itself at Nowra when I was able to chase down and overtake both Jason and Mike to finish 2nd while Garry took his second win thereby taking a stranglehold on the series. Welby and Rydal followed with the four leading riders swapping places on the top three steps of the dais.
It was race time at Awaba and the mercury had nudged a few degrees higher. Gumby had decided on an interesting hill climb for the start as the riders initiated the first rotations of the cranks for the long day ahead. Garry led early on but Peter Selkrig, Mike and Jason were battling close behind for the first three hours.
Notwithstanding the tremendous toil on the body, the heat has strange effects on the mind. I felt incredibly slow at the start and even thought about an early withdrawal. It was too hot after all. I was sixth and although I don’t start as fast as my rivals my times are consistent and I invariably chase down my opponents. But today felt wrong, the body wearied by the twenty races I had already ridden during the year. It was clearly not going to be my day. Now I was alone on the track which makes it even harder to keep focused. But transition always helps. The words of encouragement from other riders in teams, support crews, the public address system, the computer screen with the ranking. As I went by I was up to 3rd. Incredible! What had happened ahead of me?
I was now drinking water with chocolate optimiser that was more akin to that early morning mocha at work. But the greatest threat to the body in this heat is dehydration and so I vowed to drink a bottle of this vile fluid each lap and, if required, scull more water in transition. Perhaps others would not do the same. The camelbak climb reared up once again but this time I was more positive in my thinking. Ascend this and those behind still have to suffer it at least one more time than I do.
Just before the five hour mark I was second, the heat of the day taking a toil on the others. Only Garry James was ahead so now was the time to settle into a rhythm albeit a slightly raggedly composed one. The next time I stopped to drink and douse myself in water a microphone was thrust at me and in my slightly dazed state I managed too inane responses to the question of what it was like on track. ‘It’s pretty tough out there’ and ‘it’s a bit hot’. As if no one had noticed! I cursed my stupidity as I rode off for another lap.
It was approaching temperatures of 40 degrees on track. Now I was counting down the remaining laps and transition could not come quickly enough. Attempts were made to jump on the wheel of the faster team riders but this was but a temporary distraction before I would be dropped and thrust back into my lonely world of suffering.
The clock had ticked over to 7 hours 55 and with a ten minute buffer over Jason I was free to curtail the pain. Incredibly, the thought of going for another lap seemed like a great idea but this moment was to pass fairly quickly and I was able to inwardly congratulate myself on staying focused throughout an extremely difficult and, at times, brutal race.
Garry deservedly took the series with Jason second and I managed to steal third overhauling Mike by a solitary point. If ever there was a time for an extra podium position it would have been then.
The guys at Chocolate Foot run an incredible series and the racing has been fierce, the tracks superb and the riders and support crews create a truly wonderful event. Next year, I plan to return particularly because the 7-8 hour format will provide great preparation for the WEMBO World Solo 24 hour Mountain Bike Championships. What is undeniable is the racing in next years Singletrack Mind Series is guaranteed to be stinking hot!