2013 Australian National Championships, Mt Stromlo, ACT
Sitting in the fourth row of the start line as the two minute call was made my heart rate began to lift. It was Race-face City and deathly quiet as every pair of hands repeatedly had the position on its bars adjusted. After the 15 second call the crack of the pistol began the rapid chain reaction of the clicking-in of cleats and clunking of gear changes. The bunch swarmed forward toward the first turn, and onward along the fireroad. The heart rate was well-and-truly on the run now, everybody surging as hard as they dared, vying for the best position at the end of the introductory, fireroad climb. As the gentle rise continued a few were starting to feel the pinch and I was able to claim a few positions. Feeling good, pushing hard along the open track, I was able to sneak through a couple more places before hitting the single track that set us at the base of the climb known as Cardiac Arrest, and gain another couple of places as the track steepened.
One of the toughest aspects of the course is the nature of the climb that makes up the middle third of the lap. Nearly all of the switchback turns used to scale the side of the hill seemed to be riddled with rocks that obscured the perfect line, and then pointed the rider directly into a granite feature or obstacle that demanded a little more strength to get through cleanly. Holding any kind of rhythm through this was the greatest challenge as the conga line of riders stalled and accelerated toward the summit of the loop.
Throughout the climb I worked to stay in touch with the riders in front, and just as hard to make sure I didn’t become a mobile speed hump for any riders behind. Cresting the climb pointed us into the rock garden section of some large features that approached the respected Hammerhead. This section of the course came with the highest potential of penalty for failure. I have no shame that I opted for the provided ‘B’ line. I had successfully ridden the ‘A’ line during practise and had also spent a bit of time catching my breath from a pretty heavy fall into the bottom section on an unsuccessful practise lap so took the warning on board. There were still another three rough, climbing corners before the track tipped the riders into The Luge, a fast, bermed, downhill run. Two-thirds of the way down the Luge lay one more rock garden that could be hit fast enough to let the bike float across the right line, then it was across a head-wind buffeted open plain to the last of the berms. Staying on the pedals wherever possible it was still possible to get some recovery down the run before shooting out onto the fire road toward the feed zone.
Crossing the finish line of the first lap with another rider close behind it was all go as he passed by me just before entering the next single track. Sticking with him through the next couple of sections I was able to drive a little harder, the Stumpjumper responding with incredible acceleration, and pass him whilst climbing the fireroad before the short, fast descent into the base of Cardiac Arrest. It is amazing what you can get yourself up and through when the pressure is on as I was now determined to not submit a position again.
The next couple of laps started spelling out the level of concentration that the course required. Small rocks were beginning to gain in stature on the punishing climb, bringing me to a standstill a couple of times as I lost traction or mistimed an entry. Most notable was during my third lap. The adrenalin spiked as I realised the line I was committed to was not going to help me setup my next planned change of direction. Maybe it was just the bike demonstrating that it wasn’t getting away with an easy day either. The result was rider and bike swapping positions, with the Stumpjumper showing me how it feels to be ridden down the approach to the Hammerhead. Just another spill, I got back on as quickly as I could to continue the last of the nuggety traverse to the top of The Luge.
Coming into the feed zone for the last time Ed was ever-reliably waiting with a fresh bottle ready for me to collect. Awesome! Not only handing me my bottles each lap, Ed was sparking every level of encouragement to light the jets for the last lap. Throughout the last lap I had to keep a disciplined game of speed and composure as another rider was holding onto my wheel. At times I could hear him commenting into or out of corners and through other sections I was able to create a bit of distance. I pushed as hard as I could through the last rough corners that led to the Luge then set about a fast descent. It was still wheel to wheel so I used a couple of ‘A’ lines to draw away, driving every bit of power into the pedals at every opportunity and then again along the last fire trail. With the last log-drop cleared and the final sets of pea-gravelled corners left it was a high tempo approach to the finish chute. I held position to take 5th place in the Masters XCO National MTB Championships, all tanks empty!
Having Ed hand me bottles was the icing on the cake. Ed’s positive influence found me on the start line and Jen’s coaching once again has taken me beyond levels I thought possible. Thanks heaps to Jen and Ed, together they have been instrumental in advancing the physical and technical aspects of my riding and bike setup.
And then there’s the bike and support from Topgear Cycles. I bought the Stumpjumper through Topgear Cycles, Peter’s help and ever-generous patience has made it possible to implement the changes to the bike’s setup. His assistance is always invaluable, something I’ve really appreciated through my transition to the 29er hardtail. Cheers Peter and Topgear Cycles.
Thanks to Russell Baker for the photos through the rock garden, and thanks Ed for handing me bottles between taking the start and finish line shots.