Since my sick addiction took hold, I've always been happy to do it solo. I frequently find myself alone and master of my own destiny. It's dirty, sweaty and hard but the intense and concentrated effort is frequently rewarded with a satisfactory ending making the physical flogging all feel worthwhile. But I'm also open to experimentation and when the Jetblack Team put out an invitation to join a threesome, I felt obliged to accept.
I'm not totally innocent, as I have dabbled in the 'menage a trois' before but only in the dark hours between dawn and dusk when others would be none the wiser. This time I would be seen, and many onlookers were to express their utter shock and disbelief during the course of the day.
Historically, I was in good company. Admiral Lord Nelson had indulged in a threesome, as had writer, Aldous Huxley. Even Queen Elizabeth was rumoured to have spent time together with Catherine Parr, widow of Henry VIII, and her fourth husband Thomas Seymour. Armed with the knowledge that even the rich, the famous and the powerful were partial to such shenanigans, I set off to the appropriately named 'Wylde' to explore new boundaries.
Not quite knowing what they might ask me to do, I greeted Michael Brown and Dave Pickles under their shady marquee. Neither seemed too keen to go first. Browny was complaining of a cold and Pickles was feeling somewhat tentative. I needed to disappear into the trees to see if I was truly up to the task of facing up first, but once I had got the juices going, the blood pumping to the vital organs and the sweat rolling from my forehead I returned to their den ready to get the business done.
As is customary at the start of such couplings, the pace was fast and frenetic. There was plenty of bumping and grinding and I needed to wrestle with those around me to keep upright. I found myself having to squeeze through the smallest of openings as we moved into the singletrack but soon settled into a more organised pace with the occasional pumping required to continue the momentum as we straddled our steeds through the constant rises and falls and twists and turns.
I clawed my way past Briony Mattocks, eventual winner of the 4 hour female open, who had shot out of the starting gate, and then followed the train through the remaining sections of the course. Andrew Wells, came past me near the end of the lap and I was able to close up behind him on the descent into the transition area as he was held back by the tiring participants ahead. I handed over to Browny, who made short work of the 12 km course, posting the team's fastest lap of 31:29 minutes. Pickles was quick to rise to the occasion and shot round in 33:14. By this time, we were comfortably ahead in our Masters category. To keep it interesting, we decided to focus on trying to keep pace with WSMTB's open Male threes who were currently sitting in second. This was to prove somewhat premature as we had expended too much energy too early and there was not enough left in reserve to keep the same intensity for the full seven hours.
I was enjoying the downtime between my 34-35 minute exertions, giving me approximately an hour to refuel, rehydrate and refocus. I was able to really get to know my two sparring partners, while watching the orgy of pain unfold on the track in front of me. Jason English, once again, reigned victorious, with Ed McDonald, Callum McNamara, Ondrej Slezak and Michael Kafka filling the podium and taking home the events major prize money. Other soloists grinding out the long hours alone included Master's Jamie Vogele, who was to cramp late in the day and lose the top step to Jason Morgan on the penultimate lap, fifth placed Dave Langley, who looked completely spent, and young Sara Mills, whose late crash opened up her septic knee and required emergency Ibuprofen to continue.
My teammates were done for the day as I climbed the grassy hill to begin my final lap. The course was now very quiet and the chaos of the first four hours was a distant memory. My right wrist, which I had broken weeks earlier and which had hampered my solo efforts of late, was now helping to flick me smoothly through corners and around the tacky berms which had greatly benefitted from the short downpour of rain. I crossed the line to finish in the midsts of Browny and Pickles, two laps ahead of our nearest opposition. We vowed to do it all again in Wingello on the 28th June. Without doubt, I would recommend the threesome format to everyone. It's great to be able to break up the sessions of intense effort with longer periods of downtime but, most importantly, it's a hell of a lot of fun.
Not at the Races
After gallivanting around the world in the last few months, racing at the Sudety MTB Challenge in Poland and the Czech Republic and the Mongolia Bike Challenge, it was time to return to racing in Australia. What better way than to team up with Mike Israel in the Masters Pairs Category at the magnificent sun-baked Kinross Forest track in Orange.
By the time I finished my fourth lap, my times had slipped from 27.30 to 28.09 and we were six minutes behind the leading two teams. Mike decided to do a double lap, in an attempt to eat into their lead and averaged an impressive 27.40 for the two laps. But a real titanic battle was unfolding ahead and on lap 9, the two leading teams were separated by a bike length and neither looked like cracking. For us, our day was done. For the next three laps, the two leading teams could not be separated and it took an almighty effort from Mark Hardy, fuelled up on several chocolate frogs, to finally put some daylight between them and open up a minute lead. This was enough and the final winning margin was just two minutes, with Mike and I ten minutes back and missing the cut-off for the final lap.
The Chocolate Foot series always seems to throw up close, competitive racing at wonderful venues around New South Wales. This has always been true in the solo category, as it was for our first venture into pairs racing. It really depends on who has the goods on the day, in a competition where any of the top four or five teams could win. With Paul and Jason Morgan (BBC-Shimano) and Darren Smith and Richard Peil (Trek Racing Australia) also involved in the Masters Pairs Category, this has certainly been an exciting series involving some quality athletes. I hope to be able to learn from this experience, and return next year a stronger and better rider.
Breathtaking Bike Battles By the Border of Bateman's Bay
Once again the long drive down was shared with James Lamb, and the kilometres just melted away in no time at all. Memorably, while running low on fuel, I decided to wait for the next Coles service station to make use of my discount vouchers. Caltex, however, seem to have a monopoly on fuel on the south coast and after passing several of these I turned to my trusty GPS navigation system for voice activated directions to our target station. After failing to respond to my voice requests, Chops turned to manual, only to be told we needed to return to Nowra. We ignored the pesky machine and continued on, the fuel light now illuminated. I told Chops we would patronise the next fuel stop, no matter what, and simultaneously, we both decided it was time for a refreshing chocolate milk. Suddenly, a Coles appeared on the other side of the road and we pulled over only to find my voucher was two days out of date and unusable, and then to find they had sold out of chocolate milk. But I digress...
My next lap was soaked in an air of complacency as I believed that this might actually be a comfortable day in the saddle. However, at the completion of the lap, Browny told me we were now two and half minutes down on the team of Fortyplusfothers. I checked the timing which revealed that this pairing were flying. After my third lap, which involved a serious refocussing I was amazed to discover that we were now four and a half minutes back and had dropped to third. Worse still, we were only thirty-five seconds ahead of Ben Edols and Roelof Burger and close to falling off the podium altogether. Quite simply, some of the competition were putting in amazingly quick laps, 2-3 minutes faster than us.
Browny and I were able to maintain our consistency during our penultimate laps unlike the leaders who were tiring. As I handed over to Browny the lead was just 90 seconds with just two minutes separating second, third and fourth. Anything could happen and the race was up for grabs for all four teams. I was convinced the leaders, Fortyplusfrothers, were keeping some energy in reserve and would surely kick again and leave us all in their wake.
We approached another slower rider and I called track making sure I didn't inform the guy that there were two of us. That was my rivals perogative after all. I passed and heard a collision behind. The two had come together. I powered on but he had recovered and was still in hot pursuit. Clayton Locke appeared ahead and I called early, knowing we were now at the top end of the final climb and this steep pinch would be a great opportunity to gap my competitor. I easily passed Clayton and sensed my opportunity. Now at the top of the snake climb I failed to pass another rider but fortunately, this time, he didn't hold me up too much. I passed him half way down and knew Matthew still had to get past as the track plummeted again. The last kilometre was fairly flat and I was not going to succumb here. I dragged out the last ounces of energy and recruited the last of my rebellious muscle fibres. I could see Browny in his bright, fluro Jetblack top and he was celebrating. I cracked into a sprint and embraced my buddy on the line. We had done it. Thirty-eight seconds later Matthew crossed the line, with Jason Morgan of BBC-Shimano just over a minute back and Ben and Roelof fading a little to finish five minutes in arrears.
Racing like this, doesn't happen all too often and it is even sweeter when you come from behind to win. It was hard to wipe the smile from my face for hours afterwards. We were quick to congratulate the second place team of Matthew Pandelus and Troy Roberts and found out that both had suffered with cramp later in the race. Matthew's plan to hold my wheel until the bottom of the snake trail where he would jump past me on the final section of fireroad never had a chance to reach fruition. Mutual respect abounded and we were all in awe of the great track that had been the backdrop to such a wonderful race. It had been a long drive, but certainly worth every second with Mogo being one of the best tracks I've ever ridden. Chocolate Foot STM Organisers Joe and Fi have certainly dished out a winning combination by including this venue in their wonderful series, allowing mountain bikers of all levels to experience one of the best tracks NSW has to offer. Without doubt this is a race that will live long in the memory...
La Dolce Vita and the Passion for Life
Life is Beautiful. Every now and again, a few days roll around and the wonder of life comes erupting to the surface, its unbridled form morphing into everyday life. Invariably, it is not until days later that the beauty of these moments are fully realised and subsequently cherished. The weekend of the 17th and 18th of May was undoubtedly, one of those all too rare moments.
The 315 km road trip from Sydney to Taree passed in a blink of the eye as James Lamb 'Chops' and I swapped stories with a sprinkling of wisdom and a generous dollop of humour. On arriving at the race venue, the extended mountain bike family, who gather five times annually for a Chocolate Foot biking extravaganza, were quick to greet us and to welcome Chops back to the racing fold, from which he has been absent for far too long. Aware of last year's nocturnal sojourn among drop bears and vampire bats the previous time I was in these wild parts, I pulled myself away from the throngs of biking friends and onto the track for a rapid practice lap. Chops carved perfect lines through Kiwarrak State Forest and I clung to the hole in the air he left behind. The lap over, we met Mike Israel at the Crescent Motel, before driving all over town in search of decent food, finally settling on a eating establishment, approximately 50 metres from our starting point! A few competitive games of pool, with race partner Mike and I pairing up to obliterate the impressive Chops and Timmy 'Trick-shot' Stubenrauch, were followed by a quality Taree 'chicken parmigiana' straight from a 'Big W' microwave. The local rock band was about to stir up the natives and so we made a hasty retreat past the drunken female forms, who were starting to sniff out fresh, foreign blood, the facial hair beginning to sprout across their cold, rabid, staring eyes.
I had booked a hotel room alone so I could engage in one of my greatest solo night time passions. I didn't want to disturb others with my screaming, knowing I would feel pain and ecstasy in equal measure, but unaware that my frustration would turn to such joy at its climax.
Arsenal were striving to end nine years of suffering without a trophy by taking on Hull City in the FA Cup Final, the world's oldest Football Cup Competition. Having watched Arsenal for nearly 45 years, I knew that being massive favourites made absolutely no difference. After eight minutes, it was 2-0 to Hull and it could have been worse if Gibbs hadn't headed off the line after twelve minutes. Arsenal hadn't really touched the ball. However, Arsenal eventually stirred into action and nine minutes later Santi Cazorla scored a fantastic free-kick to make it 2-1 With just 19 minutes left, Koscielny swivelled in the box to equalise for Arsenal. In the second period of extra time, our talisman, Aaron Ramsey slotted home a wonderful goal from a Giroud backflick and Arsenal were FA Cup Champions. A magic moment that will live long in the memory.
With just three hours sleep, I dragged my physical form to the race track and was relieved to know I wasn't required to ride 7 straight hours against the likes of Jason McAvoy, Stu Adams, Dave Langley, Ian Bridgland and even Garry James, who was now riding in the newly formed Super Masters Category, much to everyone else's relief. Furthermore, Mike was keen to set the early pace and this meant I could relax for the first half an hour.
I stood at the top of the first fireroad climb, and was amazed at the sheer number of riders who were competing. The pace at the front was frenetic, but both Mike and Chops had positioned themselves among the leading riders, vindicating the decision to let Mike start first for our newly formed 'Turner and Hooch' team.
It wasn't long before Mike came charging into transition, and as I quickly hit top speed, I spotted Chops ahead and in my cross-hairs. On the microphone, Joe was quick to notice this and announce that I would be hunting him down over the next lap. Like a dog to a bone, I managed to close on his wheel, with a solitary rider in between. For four kilometres, this was an absolute thrill of a roller coaster ride. The track was insanely fast and I was 'swooping' like a peregrine falcon through the incredibly groomed trails. Apparently, some diligent soul had spent over six hours walking the 10 km trail network with an industrial leaf blower in order to clear the track of sticks and leaves. The result was an unbelievably fast track that was an absolute dream to ride. With half the course complete, I suddenly realised I had pushed myself into the dreaded 'red zone'. As a solo rider, I am not used to this ferocious pace among the very quickest riders. The lactate had flooded my body and I had to back off and let Chops go. I tried to limit the damage and recover the heart rate by maintaining a less frantic pace.
Mike and I had marked the 'Benny and the Jet' pairing of Mark Hardy and Ben Edols as the team to beat. We were soon to build a slender lead over them, which opened up more significantly when Ben twice dropped his chain and then suffered a slow puncture. However, we were getting our asses kicked by 'Trek Racing Australia' featuring Masters National Champion, Darren Smith, and the all-powerful Richard Piel. Like Hull had succumbed to Arsenal pressure hours earlier, I was hoping 'Trek Racing' would suffer the same fate. After establishing an early lead, the similarities and parallels would end right there. Not even Arsenal super coach Arsene Wenger could have roused us to an unlikey victory in this particular contest. The Trek boys remained formidably strong and consistent throughout and finished victorious in Masters Pairs and fourth overall.
'Turner and Hooch' finished the race second in category and 11th overall, with Ben and Mark rounding out the podium. Jason English, Ed McDonald and Andrew Lloyd made up the solo elite podium, with Chops a creditable 5th (and 25th overall) in his comeback race.
It was, without doubt, a remarkable weekend combining great racing on sensational trails, wonderful times with brilliant mountain bike friends and an Arsenal win that will live long in the memory. Mogo, and the infamous 'Snake Track' awaits on the 15th June, in what is sure to be another breath-taking race, in all categories.
Fitting Finale to a Furiously Fought Series
The organisers of the Chocolate Foot STM Series chose to make Kinross Forest the location for the final round of the series. With an abundance of flowing singletrack, absorbing technical sections and heart-pounding descents, the reasons for their decision were clear. Many categories were still closely contested and the Masters Solo was no different. Garry James was likely to take out the series win, but only four points separated myself and Dave Langley in third. Throw Paul Brodie into the mix and an intriguing day of racing lay ahead.
Orange had avoided the deluge of rain that had been soaking Sydney and the East coast, and offered up clear, blue skies and a dry and dusty track which had undergone a lot of trail work since last year's inaugural STM event. Needless to say, the track was fantastic to race on!
Paul Brodie was the early pace-setter once again in the Master's Solo and led for five hours and by up to six minutes from Garry, before he was finally reeled in. The duo fought it out for the next two laps before Paul finally cracked and Garry was able to seal yet another victory. A few minutes behind, Dave and I were fighting our own private duel. Dave invariably starts conservatively and endeavours to grind his rivals down. Four and a quarter hours had elapsed when I glimpsed the 'Soggy Bottom' blue and yellow shirt of my nemesis. It wasn't too long before he had caught, passed and left me choking in his dust. I chased him hard, and on lap nine, we were the fastest two masters solo riders on course. Unfortunately, I couldn't maintain the pace, and Dave started to open up a sizable gap, whilst maintaining his pace for the next two laps.
With an hour and twenty minutes left of the series, I calculated I had three laps to go and I ought to at least attempt to close the gap on the three leading riders. I was really enjoying the course, particularly the 'A' lines, which may have been only marginally faster, but they were making the course slightly more challenging and, at the same time, a great deal of fun. Furthermore, I was being admirably supported by my wife in transition, who was making my bottle changes flawless, allowing me to roll through and maintain momentum. To my surprise, I suddenly spotted Dave in the switchbacks ahead. The problem was, I only had half a lap to close the gap and I would have to overtake him on the downhill, which would have been extremely hazardous. Dave had also spotted me and shot off like a scolded animal. My attempt to reclaim third place was to end in vain, the final gap being 46 seconds, and Dave was to claim second place in the series.
This is my third STM series and it has been one of the most memorable. Joe and Fi have taken the races to great locations and created a great atmosphere at all their events. The racing in the Masters Solo has been amazing, and I have forged some great friendships with my fellow competitors. Congratulations to Garry on his second series win, but also to Dave Langley, Jason McAvoy, Mike Israel, and Paul Brodie for making our races so competitive. The rivalry brings out the best in all of us. A number of races have been decided by minutes, sometimes seconds, and even though the riding is fierce, the respect is always conspicuous. Next year, I look forward to reconvening the battles and competition of the last three years.
A World of Hurt!
Coming off nine days of racing in North Queensland, in hot and humid conditions, undergoing 15,000 metres of vertical climbing and covering around 900 kilometres in one of the World's toughest mountain bike races probably didn't bode well for a race just seven days later. Throw in WEMBO's 24 hour solo at Mt. Stromlo a week before 'the Croc' and even a casual observer might predict this race would be 'somewhat challenging'.
Lining up for the start of the race, I exchanged pleasantries with a number of riders, including newly crowned World Champion Solo rider Garry James. After congratulating him on his recent sparkling form, he asked me if I had ' good legs' in which I replied 'very possibly', but I'm sure my response lacked any real conviction. It was therefore no surprise that this race was to prove I possessed legs made more akin to jelly and blancmange.
The first lap started well as I jumped on a train of four riders with Garry at the head of affairs. I knew that Garry was the favourite to win the Masters Category and it made sense to keep him in my sights. Jason McAvoy was attending a wedding and Mike Israel was another notable absentee. Dave Langley seemed to pose a threat although he had been struggling with a back injury that had already scuppered his quest for glory at WEMBO. I had also spotted Canberra's Paul Brodie at the start line and knew he would certainly be mixing it up with the main contenders. Indeed, it was Paul who raced into an early lead, which he was to hold for almost four hours.
Half way through the first lap, I began to lose touch with Garry's small armada of riders and I found myself moving backwards through the field. My early exuberance and energy seemed to have seeped through those weary legs and my confidence quickly waned. Clayton Locke glided past, and his dark lycra racing kit soon flickered away into a distant memory. I had turned up to race without any real expectations. The dusty and technical course was starting to bite. The short pinch climbs became increasingly more difficult and the heat sucked the sweat from my aching body and left crystals of salt across my short and shirt. Three hours had elapsed and I was suffering. Passing through transition, I heard I was in fifth. These races are an endurance test and I knew others would be in similar difficulty and I would just need to be consistent and the riders ahead would come back to me.
Ahead, I spotted the black shirt of Clayton Locke and I moved behind him. I was impressed with how well he was riding but now I had paid my respects it was time to send him back down through the field. I accelerated past him on a pinch climb and simultaneously my left calf cramped. I had to reduce my speed and Clayton came powering by and immediately distanced me. Shortly after, I stopped for water in transition and had to guzzle one whole bottle instantly, before setting off to hunt my prey. It wasn't too long before I caught Clayton,and this time, I passed him on a fast section of fireroad. Clayton didn't respond and I was now up to third and in a podium position.
The last two hours were about survival. I was riding with just one brake (my front brake had failed three hours in), I was cramping badly , my feet had swollen in the heat, my hands were sore and I had a stitch, which I just couldn't rid myself of. My attention was diverted from the track and then I lost control on a dusty descent and crashed, swallowing a mouthful of the loose dust. As I tried to stand my right calf cramped. I tried to stretch the muscle, prompting my right thigh to cramp painfully. I sat in the middle of the track helpless for what seemed like an age. As I tried to stand, my left thigh cramped and so I waited a little longer. On standing, I found my bars had turned in the crash and so I was forced to make the necessary adjustments as two riders came by. Fortunately, neither were in my category.
I managed to nurse myself to the finish. I had seen that Dave Langley had been struggling with his back problems and so I knew I just needed to stay ahead of Clayton. To my surprise, I finished on the same lap as eventual winner Garry and second place Paul with only 15 minutes separating the three of us. Clayton had finished half an hour early and was two laps back.
I was completely exhausted at the finish and continued to cramp while driving back to Sydney. It's been a tough few weeks and it is time to relax a little before the final installment of this excellent series at Kinross Forest in Orange in three weeks' time.
River Deep Mountain High - Climbing out of the Hole of Despair
I was rudely awoken at four in the morning, my alarm clock pleading with me to surface from my bed and make the relatively short two hour journey north. The fast, flowing trails of Awaba awaited. It had been a hot night and the remnants of that heat lingered in the early morning air. The warmth of spring was destined to thrive in the day ahead and it would be necessary to keep well hydrated in the battle that would ensue.
The Turner Czar had suffered a broken carbon seatpost and front derailleur issues in its previous outing and a visit to the on-site race mechanic melted away my concerns and I was ready for the race ahead. Indeed, I was seeking some grains of redemption, after a disappointing showing at the Kowalski Classic just seven days earlier. A lighter week of training and a readjustment to a slightly higher saddle height had left me feeling more optimistic.
The usual suspects lined up for the race start. Garry James, Jason McAvoy and Dave Langley would be difficult to beat and Mike Israel had returned to the fray after missing the first two instalments of the STM Series. With notable exceptions Stu Adams injured and Pete Selkrig racing Cyclo-Cross, the Masters field remained daunting. Considering my recent lack of form, a podium position looked like a long-shot so my initial goal was to remain competitive for the full duration of the 7 hours.
After three laps, I was in 6th place with Jason, Mike and Garry setting the early pace while Dave had just glided past me leaving me desperately clinging to his wheel. Before he left me struggling up the switchbacks on camelback we had passed Mike Israel. Perhaps a big week of training had left him heavy legged. Once again, Dave was looking strong and it seems that in every race he continues to improve. At the pace he was going, I was convinced he would begin to reel in the other early leaders.
Success at the World 24 hour is my ultimate goal and training has been geared towards this end. Psychologically, I have suffered recently but it appears that I am not alone in this, and a number of riders have been having a crisis of confidence and some poor results of late. Ultimately, it is better to have a poor result now so that fatigue can be addressed and the rider is hopefully able to return to form before it is too late. Races, such as this one, can provide a good yardstick for what adjustments need to be administered to a training programme in order to maximize the chances of peaking at the optimum time.
Now sitting in 5th place, I felt reasonably fresh and I was getting some admirable support from Kylie McAvoy in transition and plenty of support from friends in teams. Furthermore, I was enjoying the Awaba track and the sweeping descents through rainforest and the resonating rumble as I traversed the numerous bridges that adorn this wonderful course. On lap 7, I was still lapping consistently under 40 minutes and I was surprised to see Garry James ahead. He looked like he was really struggling, a sight I can not recall ever seeing before. Garry is such a strong rider and I would not be surprised if he was yet another victim of overtraining for the World 24 hour.
Jason and Dave, I believed, were now sitting comfortably in 1st and 2nd respectively, and with Mike and Garry only distant threats I began to relax and my next 2 laps were over two minutes slower. Coming into transition, I glimpsed Mike's blue and white Turramurra shirt along with Open Male Solo rider Matthew Clutterham. Not quite sure how he had closed the gap I put the hammer down. Surely this would break him. My 10th lap was quick and, as I went through transition, I was shocked to be told Dave was only just ahead. Sure enough I soon caught him, and I prepared for the ensuing last lap battle. It never happened as Dave pulled to one side and ushered me through. I stepped up the pace, just in case, but there was no riposte.
I continued to push hard but surely now I was secure in second place. It was at this point I made a fatal error. I was still visualising my celebration as I crossed the line when I caught a glimpse of that blue and white shirt on the switchbacks. Surely not. How could he possibly make up that time and hadn't he cracked on the previous lap. I responded with as much gusto as I could muster. But this only seemed to drag more venom from the beast behind. I heard the roar of a incensed animal as we descended the fireroad and he was now right on my shoulder but I was able to hold the racing line into the singletrack. Mike was literally breathing down my neck and as we climbed the Murderhorn I lost traction for a split second and he seized the moment. He powered through the sniggles as I simultaneously called on every last sinew in my tiring legs. It proved of little help. Mike claimed an incredible 2nd place putting in his 2nd fastest lap of the day on the final circuit to move him up two places. The final margin was just 12 seconds while Dave was a scant two minutes behind.
Very rarely does a 7 hour enduro throw up such close racing and it was a pleasure to be involved in a titanic tussle with two great bike riders and two of the nicest guys you could possibly wish to meet. Jason McAvoy was unquestionably the star act, winning by a comfortable 10 minute margin, but the drama was undoubtedly played out behind.
As for WEMBO, in two weeks time, I think we can all take the positives out of this race. Personally, I feel I am recovering the form that went awry in recent weeks. It is more than likely that we will all be involved in comparable drama at Mt. Stromlo, particularly considering three of us will be competing in the same age category.
Bloody Horns of Complacency
Competition in the Chocolate Foot STM Series resumed after a three month hiatus caused by inclement autumn weather conditions in the NSW region. The mild, sunny conditions of the past few weeks continued and were a welcoming sight for a massive field of 420 riders, including 92 solo riders across all categories.
The Male Masters Solo Category included 42 riders and the list included some of the finest exponents of the discipline. Garry James, fresh from a successful foray in The Trans Alps stage race in Austria, was the clear favourite. Jason McAvoy (2nd in Round 1 at Taree) loomed as a major threat, while Dave Langley (4th in Round 1) had just completed two weeks hill training in the Pyrenees and was likely to carry good form into this race. Throw in Trent Moore, Paul Brodie and Richard Peil and a tough day was certainly in the offing.
As is the norm in most mountain bike races, the self-seeding at the start is often a farce but I managed to position myself close to the front and made a quick start through the fireroad thereby avoiding the bottle-neck into the singletrack. But on only the 2nd lap I heard a loud crack and I feared my race was already over. I slowed, checked down on the bike and somehow all seemed well and I carried on with no shortage of relief.
Coondoo Road has very little climbing and is not at all technical but the singletrack rewards the rider with plenty of flow and enjoyable descending. The organisers had built a steep bridge which broke up the small amount of fireroad that was needed to link sections of the singletrack and certainly represented an interesting addition to the usual course.
At the end of lap seven, I was in 4th position and as I came for a new bottle in transition I pulled up alongside Trent Moore. As we left for the next lap, a battle for supremacy unfolded reminiscent of past battles, particularly in this very series two years ago when we finished first and second overall. I would pull away on some of the short climbs but then, after the descents, he would be on my back wheel once again. At the end of lap 8, I grasped the opportunity to sneak past a slower rider at the end of a short fireroad and ducked into the singletrack. Trent missed the opportunity and was held up long enough for me to put in a significant gap he would be unable to close. Enduro racing is not just about physical ability, but so much is fought out in the head; any mental advantage can be critical and opening a gap on a fellow competitor is a massive mental boost and conversely. This very fact was to be my downfall later in the race.
For the first five hours I have to admit I was feeling really strong. On lap nine I had overtaken Jason McAvoy, who was having mechanical problems, and he was soon to withdraw from the race altogether. I crossed under the bridge as Dave Langley went over it. This represented at least 4 minutes lead and so I continued in my pursuit of Garry James who was a fair way up the track. I was feeling smug and pretty secure in 2nd place. However, it was at this point my body started to retaliate under the constant physiological stress I was placing it under. My rear tyre was low on pressure and had punctured and repaired itself in two different places. Furthermore, I had tinkered with my nutrition strategy and, as a consequence, I had not consumed enough 'Optimizer' energy drink. I switched from my protein and carbohydrate solution to flat coke in order to inject a caffeine and sugar hit which I had been told only a few days earlier was a trick triathletes often use in the final stretch of the run leg in order to come home with a 'wet sail'. It didn't work and I felt 'no lift' but just remember coating my teeth with acid and sugar. Suddenly Dave Langley appeared on my shoulder and chirped 'Just one lap to go', then literally cruised past. I immediately was held up by a slower rider and he was gone...along with my will and my second place.
Garry was to finish comfortably in first, with Dave and I making up the podium. Trent rolled in just over a minute behind. In the Open Male Solo, Ed McDonald continues to dominate, with only 3 teams able to muster more laps, while Eliza Kwan took out the Female Solo category clocking up an impressive 14 laps.
This was another great event from the Chocolate Foot Organisers Joe and Fi. The series is becoming extremely popular and this year the competition is fierce not least because the World 24 hour looms just ten weeks away. The next race will be held on the 29th September at Awaba and close battles and ferocious racing is guaranteed.
Vampire Bats, Drop Bears and Chocolate Legs
An exciting new venue welcomed many returning riders to the first round of the highly regarded Chocolate Foot Singletrack Mind Series. On arrival at the event centre, I was told of the strong Masters field that was assembling for the forthcoming race including returning Champion Garry James, Jason McAvoy and the enigmatic but incredibly quick Stu Adams. I was going into the event on the back of some solid racing form and the news just helped whet my appetite. I hurriedly erected my tent and with unbridled enthusiasm set off for a quick practice lap. Despite the encroaching darkness and my failure to take any form of illumination, I sped off undeterred, even ignoring a bemused Anthony Maloney spluttering the words 'he'll never make it'.
This was to provide me with my first lesson of a testing weekend. After going a kilometre and a half in the wrong direction, I back-tracked and started the 10 kilometre loop, immediately enjoying the smooth flow of these lovingly groomed trails. My joy didn't last, as it wasn't too long before the sun dipped below the horizon, by which time I had only just passed the 4 kilometre marker. I pushed on, but now I had to adjust my pace in order to safely negotiate the many variations in the terrain. Much worse were the deeply lush rainforest sections, which would cast me in complete darkness. I was now struggling, straining my eyes and guided merely by the pale glow that emanated from the track and a scattering of white painted arrows. Suddenly, I was hit by a wing of a bat and now I certainly knew I had made a huge mistake leaving so late. I cursed my stupidity and only minutes later I was hit with a sickening thud in the chest. What hit me, I still don't know, but if I had been American it sure was a 'drop bear'. After a distressing and uncomfortable 45 minutes, I eventually saw light ahead and my nights salvation.
My next mistake was to place myself mid-pack for the start of the race. The uphill firetrail would usually provide riders with the opportunity to sort out a reasonable pecking order for negotiating the singletrack. But when I tried to overtake the slower riders by passing down the middle I was met with an array of large rocks that barred any thought of forward progress. So it was, I entered the forest already out of touch with my main rivals. Shortly after, Elvio Fernandes, incidentally one of the friendliest guys on the circuit, lost his front wheel and hit the ground with an almighty crack and I tumbled over his stricken machine. After asking twice whether he was alright he told me he was fine but I later found out he had been concussed, somehow putting in another 4 laps before retiring himself and his severely fractured helmet.
I tried to focus on closing the gap on my major rivals but the track required flow and I was punching into corners too fast and exiting with a handful of brake. In my desperation not to lose more time, I failed to drink and eat enough and, although my lap times remained consistent, they were doing nothing for my quest to catch Stu, Jason and Garry. On the 5th lap my legs had turned to chocolate and I then catapulted myself over my handlebars on an embarrassingly innocuous section of track. Shortly after, I was told my saddle bag was dangling limply from my seat post and the contents were about to be vomited into the scrub. I had to stop to salvage my bike spares and this allowed Dave Langley to pass and take 4th place. For 6 laps I chased, but Dave was able to maintain a 30-60 second gap helped by the fact he could monitor my progress each circuit when the course cut back on itself.
I finished the race dehydrated and sore. Perhaps my final mistake was over-training with nearly 100 hours and 2200 kilometres of riding, just in the month of April. Curse those Strava Challenges! Congratulations to Stu Adams who managed to hold off a fast-finishing Jason McAvoy and to Garry James, who, like Jason, had raced the seriously tough Australian Marathon Championship in Atherton, Queensland the previous Sunday. I was left to rue my mistakes but I was still pleased to have finished 5th in a strong Masters field and beating the likes of Guy Cowan and Ash Turner. The Chocolate Foot Series never fails to impress and Joe and Fi have served up another great venue with races at Nowra, Awaba, Welby and Orange still to come. With double National and World Champion Jason English committed to racing the Series, the reputation of this event will continue to flourish.
Awaba and Chocolate Foot Fetishes
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!
I am a Level 3 Cycle Coach with British Cycling & the Association of British Cyclists.
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