With Sydney swamped in rain, it was heartening to emerge from my overnight tent with the surrounding hills blinking profusely in the early morning sunshine. The Rocky Trail Series is popular and highly regarded and yet this was my first taste of the event. I wasn't sure who my main competition would be, but it made for a pleasant change not to be racing against my illustrious rivals from the Chocolate Foot 7 hour series. With some solid training behind me, I was feeling quietly confident as I warmed up for what transpired to be a most enjoyable day.
Barely minutes before the pre-race briefing I was prudent enough to check my bike tyres. To my horror, I discovered an infestation of Bindi weed with its tiny sharp-needled seeds penetrating my tubeless Racing Ralphs. On removal of at least 9 of these vile South American thorns I was greeted with a hissing and a spurt of Stan's sealant before the hole was sealed. I dashed the kilometre back to transition to replace the lost air before returning to catch the end of the race organizers speech ushering the 300+ riders to the start corral.
I was able to begin the race pretty quickly, although the speed through the single track had to be tempered due to the loose and slippery corners. On the first lap alone two riders lost traction and unintentionally kissed the dirt. A number of the riders immediately ahead of me were racing in teams and only on course for one hot lap; during these races it makes sense to suck their wheel thereby saving energy for the long haul ahead.
With my wife and trusty assistant on an extended vacation in the UK, I was truly competing solo. For the whole race I was unaware of my overall position in the race. I would just keep charging and hope that this would be enough to win. After negotiating the five kilometres of singletrack complete with log roll-overs and rock gardens, each rider was greeted with incredibly quick fire trail which intersected the vineyards offering stunning views of the surrounding Upper Hunter Valley and up-close-and-personal views of the vines themselves. But most unique of all was on the final approach to transition having to ride through a tunnel of over-sized wine vats emanating with the aroma of fermenting wine.
At the four hour stage I was jostling with the leaders of the Masters Pairs which indicated my race pace must be reasonably quick. After about three laps of trading positions with this team I opened up a gap and I didn't see them again. At this point I lost focus and inexplicably rode straight into a tree standing innocently at the side of the track. I was grazed and my brake and gear levers twisted. I forcefully straightened my levers and started out again only to have to pull to one side to let a quicker rider past. With the light rain making the course damp I managed to locate a slippery wet rock and I smashed into the ground again. This time my right leg had taken the full force and I re-mounted my Giant Anthem 29er cursing my stupidity and lack of concentration.
My focus had returned and I was now enjoying the course despite the increasing fatigue. The singletrail had been attended to during the race and with this rebuilding, the rain soaking up the dust and fewer riders on track conditions were the best they had been all day.I passed transition with a minute of the race left. Usually this is reason to curse your luck as you start that last lap but I joyfully welcomed another thirty minutes of riding.
I crossed the line and was told I was third. To my delight, this was third overall in the solos and I had won the Masters category by over a lap. It had been a great weekend of riding, we had been blessed with a reasonably warm and relatively dry day and had competed on an extremely enjoyable track. Graeme Scott, Shimano MTB racer and the General Manager of James Estate has built some wonderful trails and this tireless work should be rewarded when more races are brought to this location in the future.
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