Monday, March 10, 2008

Australian National Cross Country Series Round 4 – Mt Beauty, Victoria.

The Cotic Bontrager Race Team has arrived back in the UK, leaving behind the hot dusty days of Oz and settling back into the frost filled mornings of winter in the UK. I decided to write my last Aussie race report when I returned to the UK, as I thought the distant memories of an Aussie summer would bring some much needed warmth back into my bones….mmmm maybe not as I sit here all rugged up in a dozen layers and my trusty ol’ Cotic beanie.

It was a week between the Australia National cross country race in Canberra and the final round of the Australian Series down in the Victorian Alps. After a disastrous race in Canberra I couldn’t wait to have another crack at a national XC race. I had all this built up frustration that I wanted to let rip on the racecourse and I was determined to make the final race in Oz a good one. Ian was also pleased I had another race so soon after the worst race of my life, as he was forced to spend over 6hrs in the same vehicle with an angry Ms Potter, who I must say was becoming quite the whingeing Pom of the Potter brigade at that moment in time. As somebody who loves to race hard, there’s nothing worse when perfect preparation and strong legs aren’t enough to bring home a good result. I guess that’s what makes mountain bike racing so exciting, and why I actually thrive on turning a bad race into a good one.

I was looking forward to racing at Mt Beauty again. The mountain bike club, ‘Team Mount Beauty’ who were organising the event, have developed a wide range of trails over the years, including plenty of down hill tracks that are all very testing, along with huge single track climbs that are a pleasure to suffer on, if that makes any sense. The area is similar to our summer home in the French Pyrenees, and the local mountain bike scene is a true blue biker friendly one. I’m not going to go into tonnes of detail about the three days leading up to the race. All I can say is those three days were spent riding and enjoying the beauty that is Mt Beauty, it’s one of the loveliest places to go mountain biking in Oz.

The morning of race day I woke up feeling rather sad as I knew it might be a couple of years before we would return to race in Australia again, unless we win the lottery. Ian couldn’t understand my mixed emotions the morning of the race. One minute angry to race hard, the next minute a right cry-baby who was sad to leave Oz…so as all good husbands do he threw me in the pool. It did the trick though, as I couldn’t stop laughing after that and all my nerves disappeared.

I decided to warm up early and focus on my race plan, or rather I tried to think of a half decent race plan. I knew a good start was crucial, but I was going to be starting towards the back of the grid, which meant I could get blocked on the single track early on as there wasn’t much overtaking space on this course. I tried to imagine each section of the course and where there would be opportunities to pass people.

The start of the course was a fairly wide 100m climb that soon became a narrow piece of single track into the first technical section of the race. A set of tight switchbacks followed, before a series of step-downs in between a couple of gum trees or rather one tree that had been split at the base to form a V. It wasn’t a difficult section to ride slowly, but you had to be careful your handle bar didn’t catch the side of each trunk as it would be easy to lose momentum and end up kissing dirt. There was an A and B line at the end of this section. The B line was a short steep drop on to the fire road, while the A line was again through a tree, but you had to roll over a huge root to begin with as you entered the V line of the trunk. In practice I only saw the elite men riding the quicker line. Ian asked me what line I would ride during the race. It wasn’t really a question though, but rather ‘YOU WILL RIDE THAT LINE!’ I can tell when Ian expects me to ride something easily. Mr Potter gives me this daring little smile and sometimes does this really bad imitation of some creature called Yoda who says ‘Do or do not, there is no try!’. The voice is cringe worthy at the best of times. The A line was definitely the faster line. So I went for it and had no worries rolling through the tree, in fact it was quite easy once I relaxed and believed I could ride it. One of my pet hates is when your mind plays tricks on you and makes you think a trail is much harder than it actually is.

Once you dropped on to the fire road the climb really started and soon turned into a narrow piece of single track that weaved up the mountainside. I lost count of the number of switchbacks, and rooty straights that followed; plus there was a cheeky little rock garden that forced your whole body into action in order to maintain constant speed over the sharp jagged rocks.

At the top of the climb there was a wide trail of no more than 300m long that lead to some really testing single track at speed. There were fast sandy berms, and logs to jump, before a tight switch back that dropped into a fast bomb hole, that was longer than any bomb hole I have ever ridden in the UK. The trail was pretty rough at the bottom, with plenty of braking bumps to keep it testing. Then the trail narrowed into an off camber section over a few rocks, before another off camber shoot that had roots and rocks across it, forcing you on to the clearest line that was right on the edge of a drop that was eroding away.

The trail then undulated through the tress and this is when the fun really started. You could pick up plenty of speed, but there were numerous obstacles in the way from rock gardens to north shore, drop offs to bmx style jumps that kept you buzzing all the way down. Parts of the trail were grippy for an Aussie trail, but every so often the sandy sections would leave you drifting wide as your tyres tried to find grip. There were a few short steep climbs towards the end of this section to remind you how painfully fun mountain biking always is, before more fast bermed sections that were such a pleasure to ride hard. Once you left the gum trees behind you faced a wide grassy descent that had huge deep gullies all the way down. Ian was jumping the lot of them in practice, and just letting the brakes off all the way down. I was a bit more conservative (or perhaps a little too chicken) to let the brakes off completely, as I had visions of nose-diving in the air if I got my timing wrong. There was a drop off at the end of this section as the trail widened, before a short piece of single track that opened up to the finishing straight.

I spent my entire warm up before the race imagining the course from start to finish and different scenarios that could take place. I knew the lines I wanted to take and even dared myself to let go of the brakes on the last grassy track, as that was the only section I was not riding aggressively enough in practice.

When the race started, as expected I was blocked, and not in the best of positions early on as I made my way into the first technical section between the trees. I was ready to dismount and run, as I knew there would be a bottleneck and somebody was bound to fall. As expected it was a girl right in front of me, so I jumped through the trees trying my best not to tread on her head and focused on riding the A line. All the girls in front were taking the B line, so I knew it was a good opportunity to make up some positions. However I didn’t have a lot of speed and as I approached the root the side of my body was forced into the trunk and I was on the verge of going over the handlebars. There were a lot of spectators watching this section, and as always you heard the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as the riders passed by, including plenty of cheering. I didn’t want to kiss dirt in front of this crowd, so I had to think of Ian’s bad Yoda impression ‘Do or Do Not, there is no try!’. I looked ahead and somehow made it on to the fire road where I moved into 5th or 6th position…so three cheers for Yoda who made me think DO!

I started to make up more places on the climb, but found myself behind Dellys Starr who had about a 20 second gap on Rowena Fry who was leading the series and Tory Thomas the local favourite. I tried several time to pass the girls in front, but they held their line confidently and I remained buzzing on their back wheels. I felt like I could have ridden the climb quicker, but I was lacking any short sprint power to get by. On the descents they were both rapid, and I had to give it everything to keep them in sight. It wasn’t until half way round the third lap that I finally passed Tory and caught up to Rowena who was in second place. I remained on Rowena’s back wheel and encouraged her to get a move on up the climb, as I was certain we were going to be caught.

On the final lap I had to think about making a move, as I knew I had to be in front of Rowena going into the final descent. It wasn’t until the top of the final climb that I passed Rowena and then I just sprinted as hard as I could. I thought Rowena was still on my back wheel, and I knew I had to let go of the brakes down the last grassy descent if I was going to stay in front. I remembered Yoda and thought to myself ‘Do or Do Not! There is no Try!’. I pushed myself to find air over the grassy jumps and let out a little squeal in the process. I would like to say it was a squeal of delight, but I’m pretty sure it was one of ‘Holly cow, please let me land this…type squeal’ if you get my drift. I sprinted all the way across the finishing straight and took a very pleasing second place behind Dellys Starr.

I absolutely loved this race from start to finish. The course was testing both physically and technically. It wasn’t enough to be fit, you had to be able to ride a mountain bike to really enjoy this course. It was a nice feeling to have a good race, especially as this was the last national race on my 07 Cotic Soda, who has looked after me and been my own little brumby of a race bike. I have a slightly different Soda for 2008 that will hopefully be built up very soon, as I can’t wait to show her off to the biking world.

As always I’m very grateful to the Cotic Bontrager Team and loyal sponsors who continue to support my racing adventures in Oz, UK and across Europe.
Also a special thank you to Yoda for your inspirational words, and Ian Potter for being such a great team mate!

No comments: