Thursday, December 27, 2012

An Athletes Christmas

With all the serious racing done and dusted by early December one would think the festive season would be a time we can let our hair down a little.  Well yes…and no.  The powers-that-be have deemed the first two months of the new year appropriate to hold the most important races on the domestic calendar – the National MTB and Road Race titles. 

This effectively kills any plans of a no-holds-barred assault on the liquor cabinet and for this I am thankful, eventually.  Having had, shall we say, an interesting relationship with booze in a previous life I’ve been super-sensitive to my drinking habits and the habits of those surrounding me.  The best on-bike performance of my career was preceded by 3 alcohol-free months.  In retrospect I can’t say if it was the physical effects of abstaining that improved performance or that I was obviously highly motivated to take such a vow and this was reflected in my training.  My attitude over the last couple of years has mellowed and I have adopted the maxim that if there are more alcohol-free days in my week than days of indulgence, I’m all good.  Health guidelines advise that any more than 4 standard drinks is officially a binge and let me tell you that’s not nearly as much red wine as you would think!  A recent article I read in a reputable newspaper (is there any such thing any more??) said doctors do not know of a more beneficial medicine than red wine in terms of antioxidants, but more importantly it is the social act of drinking with friends that also affords a benefit to a person’s mental health.  So don’t drink alone okay?  And no, the dog doesn’t count as company.

The upside to doing a bazillion training miles as part of my ‘base building’ phase is the inability to put on weight or to even maintain what I have.  In the last month I’ve watched the small suggestion of cleavage I had disappear to leave me with the chest of a 10 year old boy.  Nicely balanced with the fact my ass has gone the other way due to muscles accumulated from many mountain ascents and I am reminded that I don’t do this sport for the stunning physique it affords.  Suffering eating-fatigue I was relieved to see a notable absence of bananas, gluten free bread and spinach at the Christmas spread.  As my ex-husband and his brother are chefs I have never been expected to hold the festive banquet but am allowed to bring a salad which everyone pretends to enjoy.  This year involved the consumption of seven different animals: chicken, turkey, duck, beef, octopus, scallops and prawns.  Not bad for a former vegetarian.

For the first time in many years I gave myself Christmas Day off training.  I hope none of my coaching clients are reading this after my “it’s just another day” speech!  The reason for doing this is for the sake of my long-suffering family who put up with my fatigue and grumpiness for 364 days of the year.  I just wanted to wake up on Christmas Day and be able to spend every hour with family and friends and reflecting on how much they mean to me and how much less my life would be without them.  And I wanted to do this while NOT wearing lycra.  Sponsors are great and all, but it’s friends and family that really make all my adventures possible.

After turning it over in my mind I really couldn’t find a great reason to do Road Nationals in Ballarat so my next big race will be the Australian MTB Championships in Canberra, late February.  I also decided against the ‘new and improved – mark 2’ MTB National Series for many reasons which I won’t go in to here but if anyone would like my honest opinion I will certainly give it, as always.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cape To Cape - Margaret River

It’s took me until Day 3 to remember why I came to Margaret River.  Yes, this is a famous wine region.  But as elite riders we’re here to perform so it’s not like we’re out getting slaughtered after every stage (no matter what stories you hear!).  I came to see the countryside and to find out if there were any good MTB trails.  We’re talking single-track because, let’s face it, no one comes to the other side of the continent to ride fire-road, no matter how pretty the views are.

The good news is that Margaret River is on track to be an MTB Mecca.  Much work has been done since 2011 and the Pine Trail could be mistaken for NZ’s Rotorua, while others are typically WA with pea gravel at every corner.  The sheer height of the berms and number of table tops resulted in a lot of “woo hoo!!”s echoing through the forest on the penultimate state of .  It had restored some faith in the riders after a shocking opening stage containing a 2km beach run/ride through the soft sand or Indian Ocean depending on how close you got to the ‘good’ sand (i.e. sand that didn’t swallow your wheel and stop you dead).  A few people were physically washed off their bikes by waves – not usually something you have to anticipate during a mountain bike race.  The 2.25 Racing Ralphs kept me afloat but my short legs were not optimal for the sand dune dash back to the trails.

Event organizers seem to have taken a ‘broccoli before dessert’ approach as each stage was better than the last.  The second day was when my legs completely died – a combination of being a little over-done when I arrived and picking up a virus on the flight over which caused my lymph glands to swell to the size of golf balls and my throat was struggling with all those razor blades I’d apparently swallowed.  Unfortunately this was the day of the dreaded ‘double stage’ with the Red Bull shoot out Super D at 5pm.  A full 12 hours in cycling knicks and I was feeling most unsocial, but grudgingly admitted that the mostly downhill trail at ‘The Pines’ was worth it.

With Jenny Fay running away with the lead and third place being a fair gap behind I settled in to defensive mode, hoping I wasn’t suffering from anything exotic that would have serious repercussions down the track.  It allowed me to have a little more fun with the event, riding with Kiwi adventure racer Nic Leary following her lines a little too closely as she overcooked a massive berm and we both catapulted into the forest, laughing.  Putting faces to the names of some  clients was also a highlight of the trip.

Trying to do this race without the support of a team with drivers and vans is a big mistake.  I was very lucky to call in a lot of favours and goodwill from the Rockstar team, Shimano and even the camera crew to get me to and from the racing points and accommodation.  In retrospect the plan would be to base in Margaret River, a town so cool I was window shopping in the real estate agency.  Urban Bean made the best coffee of the week and was open at 6.30am for a pre-race heart starter.  There are plenty of great places to eat in the main street and I am regretting passing up the steak at the Settlers Tavern in favour of the Thai beef salad (never order Thai beef salad unless you are actually IN a Thai restaurant!).  I love my Shotz but at the end of the day I was very grateful for something less sweet and ‘gel-like’.

The list of wineries we raced through reads like my favourite aisle at Dan Murphys’s but the most memorable sight was the ocean – I’ve never seen water so clear and perfect aquamarine in colour.  Due to my pathological fear of sharks I’m not much of a beach person but at the end of the racing I was straight into a bikini to wade in the still waters of Dunsborough beach to wash away the dirt and sand of the last 4 days and make some dent in the obligatory cycling-tan. 

It was a hectic race and would require some careful logistical planning but I will definitely be rushing back to the region.  In a word – breathtaking!

Many thanks to my sponsors:  Giant, Ride Mechanic, For The Riders, Shotz, Schwalbe & PCS.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Flight Centre Epic 2012

The aftermath of an MTB marathon is never pretty.  Human detritus in salt encrusted jerseys litter the grass just beyond the finish line, containing the vomiters, the crampers, the bleeders.  But overwhelmingly they are also the grinners and sometimes the criers, with sweet, sweet relief at finally making the finish line.  I generally fall into several of these categories, so I’m definitely getting the full ‘epic’ experience.

Road tripping with the MarathonMTB crew that morning we all knew what was coming.  Sure we were swapping war stories of previous adventures and full of pre-race taper energy but there was a general understanding that the next 4 or so hours were going to hurt.  Each of us were establishing the reasons we race and put ourselves through this unpleasantness:  personal satisfaction tinged with masochism; glory; cash to pay for the next race - but mainly to accumulate more war stories to tell on the next road trip.

After beginning its life as a point-to-point race the 10th Flight Centre Epic is now run in a more participant friendly loop format, starting and finishing at Spicers Hiddenvale.  Even more friendly was the 50km checkpoint which was back at the start/finish so bottles could be left to pick up mid-race but there was also plenty of water, Shotz electrolyte and fruit at multiple spots which took away the usual anxiety of being stranded dry on a scorching QLD spring day.

My marathon races follow a predictable pattern now where I struggle for the first hour, when pace is too fast and attacks are going, and then suffer for the last hour when my legs are empty and seem to have quit negotiations with my brain.  And so it went yesterday with National XC champ Jenni King and 8 time Epic veteran Naomi Hansen gapping me in the 15km.  Being one of the few elite riders with a camelback my plan was to consume as much fluid as possible over the first 50km as drinking would be very difficult with 37km of predominantly singletrack remaining.

On only the 3rd ride of my new Giant 29er hardtail I was very conservative on the technical sections, not knowing the limits of the bike.  That faded quickly though after several ‘eyes shut’ moments, sure I was headed for a crash only to have the big wheels roll out of it.  If I am ever going to suffer the roughness on a hardtail the FC Epic is the race I do it in, but with 20 psi in the tyres it was strangely forgiving and once we hit the major climb of the race 30ks in it was also very fast.  Feeling renewed on second-hour legs I rode away from King and Hansen on the climb and worked to extend the advantage for the next couple of hours.

Having raced a 24 hour solo out at Hiddenvale in 2010 it was comforting to be on familiar trails over the last half of the race.  The course looped over itself several times which was a bit confusing in the exhausted delirium of several hours of racing, leading to many moments of wondering if I’d missed a turn.  In fact this is the first Epic where I HAVEN’T gone off course and had to carefully hoist my lycra clad butt over a barbed wire fence so kudos to the course marking!  However at 70ks there was an oddly placed sign which read ‘8kms’ which caught many non GPS equipped riders out as they emptied the tanks thinking the finish line was nigh. 

Having drunk to the point of getting a stitch in the beginning I now had a pounding head as my dehydrated brain rock back and forth due to the difficulty of getting bottle to mouth on the trails.  I had regressed to merely riding, not racing, and was very grateful to be coming up through slower riders finishing the shorter 50km race as it gave me an excuse not be maxing out the pace – I was just being courteous, right?  With a few mere hundreds of metres to the finish line some riders lay spread-eagled beside the trail and it was encouraging to see people hurting more than I was.  EVERYONE hurts – some are just riding faster while they do it!

There were no tears crossing the finish line, just a desperate search for fluid and a few all-fours moments to relieve my aching back and my nauseous stomach simultaneously.  Apologies to the people I left mid-conversation throughout the day but my hasty exit probably saved your shoes.  As usual I didn’t get to speak to as many people as I would have liked to and need to book at Spicers one year so I can sit back on the lawn and relax with a glass of wine instead of beating a hasty retreat back to Brisbane and real life.

Thanks to Donna Dall from PCS for my race winning form, Liv/giant for the sweet new bike, the boys at For The Riders for another mechanical-free race (owner Tim did the 87ks on a singlespeed – pure madness), Darryl at Shotz nutrition for fueling not just me, but the entire event, Schwalbe tires – the Snakeskins are now Epic-proven, Owen from Ride Mechanic and his amazing Bike Milk chain lube and Moonshine chamois cream (no friction in either area, thankyou!), and the Fleur & Hayden Brooks in conjuction with Spicers for the great organisation and trails.  Also thanks to the 1600+ competitors who supported South-east Queensland’s iconic event.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New Season Bling

I was waiting for an opportunity to have a big ‘ta-dah’ with my new toys for the upcoming season.  But with the best plans going astray (and this plan not even being close to my best) the cat is out of the bag.  Yes, I am on a 29er hardtail this year, riding for Liv/Giant.  Despite being thought a 29er ‘hater’ I have never been – I have merely been bemoaning the lack of options for someone of my sub 165cm stature.  The strong demand for 29ers has resulted in basically all new imported bikes coming fitted with the big wheels and 26 inch wheels seemingly confined to European world cup courses.

Having accepted that 29ers are possibly faster, or at least no slower, than 26ers the choice which remained was choosing a brand.  Of course I wanted a super light bike with nice geometry and lots of carbon and titanium goodness but I am also focused on what I can do off the bike to promote the sport.  Liv/giant is the perfect fit with their commitment to womens’ participation in cycling for fun and a healthy lifestyle.  In my coaching role at Progressive Coaching Systems this is also a big goal for us and an area we hope to make inroads in the future.

With the Flight Centre Epic on this weekend it has been a bit of a rush to get used to the bigger wheels but also being back on a hardtail for the first time in 2 years.  I have become such a lazy rider and my butt is now paying the tax!  We are still awaiting the 2013 model so Giant have generously loaned me a bike until it arrives.  Being pretty keen to perform well in Queensland’s premier MTB Marathon a few modifications have been made…

  • Enve carbon wheels, on loan from For The Riders.  Always nerve wracking riding borrowed wheels and I wish someone hadn’t mentioned how much they cost to replace!
  • Bars straight from the 26er: not wanting to change too much at once I’m still running my narrow bars.  At 580mm I’m unlikely to get them stuck anywhere.
  • Selle Italia SLR Carbon seat: again, straight from the old bike.  It looks like it should be uncomfortable but it is honestly the most comfy saddle to grace my rear end to date, and only 115g to boot.
  •  The boys at NS Dynamics wound the forks in to 80mm to lower the front end.  In future I will be winding them back out when I get a seriously negative rise stem but due to the bigger steerer tube we couldn’t get our hands on one to fit by the weekend.

Schwalbe Racing Ralph Snake Skins which are the second lightest in the range with a slight weight penalty for the security of added puncture protection.  Good for 90% of trail conditions the RR model has been my go-to tyre for 3 years now – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Also continuing their support are Shotz nutrition and Ride Mechanic keeping body and bike running like well-oiled machines.  I love both of these companies for making great products which perform, but also because they are Aussie businesses. 

I’ve heard there are a record 1600 riders entered for the Epic this year which shows that mountain biking is très popular in south-east Queensland.  I can’t wait to tow the line at the race which started it all!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

State Road Race Championships - Goombungee

Where the hell is Goombungee?  The question on everyone’s lips and evidently quite a few riders never managed to find it as there were a total of 5, count em, 5, in the Elite Women’s race.  At 2.5 hours from Brisbane it might have been a paddock too far for many competitors, especially considering we were all racing for glory and a $2 medal.  One saving grace was the discovery of a Zarraffa’s café in North Toowoomba which opened at 5.30am – there is a god!

With only five elites and two under 19s it was difficult to know how to play the race.  It was one of those lively spring days where the wind seems to come from everywhere.  When you think you have the direction pegged and try to shelter behind another rider you’re still being buffeted.  I decided pre-race that I wasn’t going to endure 5 hours of driving to tap around and sprint it out in the last 300m.  Forcing the pace up every climb the bunch was down to four by the second lap – the elite podium with an under 19 tagging along for the ride.

We still had at least an hour and a half to race and after a few attacks on the third lap the fourth was pedestrian as everyone conserved energy for the inevitable attacks on the final go-around.  While it is not the most mountainous of courses, Goombungee has three short climbs where gaps could be formed.  It was the last of these, just 1km from the finish line, where a sharp acceleration by my Pensar Hawk team mate Kat Garfoot, decided the race as she pulled away over the top.  I tried to go with her but I’m definitely feeling more ‘diesel’ like these days and going from tooling-along to warp-speed is not something my legs will co-operate with.  As Kat disappeared down the road, I kept looking back as I had managed to gap previous State Champ Simone Grounds and hold it to the line for a silver medal.

People often ask me if I prefer racing mountain bikes or the road.  While MTB is my first love, road racing can be awesome, but is very dependent on who shows up.  Therefore, is far less fun when hardly anyone shows up!  Such a shame as the last two state RR champs I have raced, I’ve shared the podium with two-time national Crit champ Kirsty Broun, Oceania TT champ and Olympic rep Shara Gillow, Italian pro-rider Carly Hibberd (RIP), and Katrin is currently ranked 4th in the National Road Series so it can’t be said that the competition isn’t hot! 

Although I understand the struggle to get permits to race on roads with such anti-cyclist attitudes in society it would be nice to occasionally race for a state title within shouting distance of interested spectators.  A little closer to the charming regional centre of Toowoomba would be nice…if only to make the coffee run shorter.  A big thanks to Ian, David and Robyn of Pensar Hawk Racing and to all the girls who came out to hurt.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I was prompted in the non-racing blog by this article on Cycling News regarding Matt Lloyd.  Apparently the Lampre rider had what we term a ‘carpark crash’ where he fell off, not in the heat of battle at 60kph, elbow to elbow with the world’s best, but cruising in the neutral zone before the start of the race.  Embarrassed much?  The reason he gave was that he was “just losing interest”, which struck me as odd.  He’s in the biggest bike race in the world and it’s all a bit of a yawn?  It would be interesting to know exactly what DOES excite Mr Lloyd!

It was also how I had been feeling for a while about my own racing and training.  Chalking it up to a ‘comedown’ after the World Cup circuit I have continued to phone-in my training sessions, putting my body through the motions even though my head and my heart were often not in it.  I’ve still managed good results with a 2nd at the National Marathon Championships and an unbeaten streak in the Queensland XCO series.  I am fortunate to be able to get on the podium despite not particularly being ‘in the zone’ or in the mood.
Being prone to periods of depression I’ve become quite good at managing it but with such a long stretch of being ‘up’ perhaps I’d become bit blasé in monitoring myself and using the mental tools that have been working so well over the last 12 months.  There had been some emotional low points lately too, with the loss of my grandmother and some family upheaval.  I wondered if I’d fallen out of love with mountain biking, the way one realizes in any relationship and has to tell their partner “I’m sorry, but I’m just not as in to you as I was”. 

I’ve never particularly liked the winter months and my major bouts of depressive illness have usually coincided with this time of the year, which is what had me reading about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)  While my friends in southern states or in countries like Switzerland and Canada scoff that Brisbane does not even have a true winter, the disorder is less about how cold it gets and is more related to the reduced hours of sunlight exposure.  I’m luckier than some and have a lifestyle that lets me wait until the sun is actually up before I train, but even then, covered in arm warmers, leg warmers and sunglasses coupled with the grey skies we’ve had lately it’s doubtful the poor little UV rays have had a fair go.

So I’ve added to my mood disorder toolbox a couple of new strategies and will try spending the last 20 minutes of my training session with a few less winter layers and with my sunglasses in my pocket to see if this makes a difference.  It’s free, easy and must be better than sleeping for 12 hours a day and waking up tired and completely lacking in motivation. 

My love affair with mountain biking is not waning and if anything is becoming deeper now that I have taken on a role as coach with and am looking forward to living vicariously through my athletes for my fix of athletic success.  It IS time to find some new riding challenges though so any suggestions will be welcomed.  J

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Battle On The Border - Women's National Road Series

Swapping my MTB for a road bike it was off to stunning Kingscliff for the long weekend and the second round of the Women’s National Road series (NRS).  It felt a bit weird being back on skinny wheels again and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d raced on the road but was looking forward to the ‘newness’ of it all.  After a week off post-Europe then a bit of strength and endurance work I was also dreading the pace of racing.  Thankfully the rain that had dogged the South-east corner over the past couple of weeks cleared on cue leaving a perfect autumn sky and friendly racing temperatures. 

Kicking off on Saturday with a 7km TT I was like a fish out of water.  Someone attached funny bars to the front of my road bike, put a disc wheel in the back and encouraged me to wear a reverse cone-head style helmet.   Wondering what a 10 minute race felt like I visualized the 3km time trials my old running coach held for us monthly – push to the point of nausea, then push a bit more.  Fumbling with my hand position I made my way around in under 11 minutes so was reasonably satisfied while the other girls took out 2nd and 5th in closer to the 10 minute mark.

In a good position to have our rider Ruth Corset move into the leader’s jersey we started the road race a couple of hours after the TT.  Despite the ominous looking profile there was only one major climb and the bunch stayed together over the top.  Soon after I managed to get in a break of four which looked good until one rider got a puncture and dropped back to the bunch which left me, a strong rider from the Holden team and a KOM contestant who kept ducking turns saying she couldn’t possibly pull through.  Welcome to road racing!  Figuring if I kept the gas on the VIS and other teams would have to chase, leaving our team to sit in, we stayed away until well into the final lap.  After the catch Ruth attacked up the main climb and was not see again gaining almost a minute advantage on the next on GC.

Backing up for another 85k’s of racing on Sunday was something my body was strongly protesting.  Our job was to control the bunch, follow any breaks and keep Ruth in the leader’s jersey.  Managing to ride near the front in the first lap and hang off the back of a few half-hearted breaks I settled back into the bunch to suffer quietly while our rider Zoe Watters went up the road in a group of four.  After feeling quite strong the previous day my legs were screaming on the rolling hills.  My bunch sense had improved though and I managed to avoid becoming a casualty of the fast descents, pot-holes and touch of wheels which were claiming a few in the group.  People think mountain-biking is risky.  These girls are pinning it down mountains at 70+ kph just centimetres from each others’ back tyres – pure insanity!!

Monday saw the finale of a 30 minute criterium on the winding streets around Mantra and Peppers resorts.  With such a tight circuit the field was immediately strung out leaving riders in a lung-searing, leg-exploding game of accelerating out of corners and trying to get back on the wheel of the rider in front.  I knew the first 10 minutes would be brutal but thought if I could survive that then I just might make it to the end in the main bunch.  After the initial flurry of attacks which shelled half the field and resulted in a few riders ending up in the garden beds there was a brief lull before the call came for ‘3 laps to go’.  Getting a bit excited I overcooked a corner, locked up the back wheel in a spectacular skid narrowly avoided the barricades and kept riding leaving onlookers catching their breaths.   I , like, completely meant to do that *life flashing before eyes*.   Despite being absolutely no help to our stage and overall winner I managed to finish with the bunch ending the weekend at 11th on General Classification. 

The team rode unbelievably and it was such an honour to ride with the girls.  Team management pulled out all the stops to enable a big performance with lush accommodation (with spa!); organizing all the equipment; delicious meals; hand holding; wine purchasing and even had a coffee machine firing up in the team tent with heart-starting Di Bella coffee.  Also thanks to Anouska for your magical hands and the post race massages.  It was very nice to be on the receiving end for a change.   The first win for Pensar Hawk in the women’s NRS and hopefully there are more to come. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Houffalize - World Cup #2

Waking up to 20cms of snow was the best sign I could think of that it was time to leave the Swiss Alps. I had loved my time there and it will always be remembered for its’ many kilometers of quiet training roads and strength-building climbs. I thought I had spent enough time doing downhill runs of impossibly steep and muddy ‘trails’ to have conquered my fear of the vertical. Then I arrived in Houffalize.

An exhausting 8 hour drive from Gryon (I wasn’t driving but it’s hard on navigators too) the town in the Belgian Ardennes was a sight for sore eyes. It was quintessential everything from the traditional stone houses, cobbles, verdant rolling hills and cozy beer cafes on many corners. I’ve given up taking photos of towns like this as my skills with a camera have no doubt been far surpassed by those before me so I acquired this one from the internet courtesy of

Houffalize is one of those places that seem to be stuck in time and you just want to hug it and tell it to never change. Yep, I am smitten! Situated between Bastogne and Liege these are also hallowed roads for road cycling and some of the infamous ‘hard man races’ are held close to here, renown for providing the riders with no place to hide. And so it is on the dirt too.

Television rarely does justice to mountain bike races. It just never conveys who truly steep and treacherous the landscape is. I predict the Houffalize course will make less than exciting viewing as it lacks the man made obstacles of Pietermaritzburg where the difficulty is obvious. What is does have is my official ‘steepest course I have ever ridden’ title. I think I had previously awarded this to the Czech race of 2011 but it has now lost its crown. Not content to be merely steep it also desired to be rainy, muddy and then it hailed just for good measure making for an interesting first practice session. Of the 4 very technical sections I rode two of them, hard a good hard look at the other two and decided to sleep on it.

I’ve developed a habit of spending a lot of time looking at sections that scare me. There is something to be gained through the vicarious experience or watching other riders choose their lines. Even repeatedly approaching the obstacle and stopping at the last minute I find helpful in memorizing exactly what it looks like and exactly where I want my bike to go. Then there will be one ‘practice run’ when I just keep rolling and suddenly I’ve ridden it. Well, if everything goes like I saw it in my head anyway. Sleeping on it just gives me a whole night to see myself acing the line.

It worked like a charm and Fridays’ practice session was a picture of smoothness and control, in stark contrast to the UCI registration process that saw half the elite field border on hypothermia after waiting in a line for 2 hours. Apparently being the governing body of cycling they are more concerned with the ‘big picture’ issues than streamlining their sign-on procedures.

As an atheist it’s quite hypocritical for me to pray but I was doing something close to it to ensure a dry race on Sunday. A quick open of the window on race morning confirmed the fact that it was bloody cold with ominous grey skies but luckily no rain. The roll to the start was excruciating and resulted in numb extremities and what I can only describe as an external ‘brain freeze’ experience. Undressing to race was almost unthinkable but in the end I peeled off the leg warmers and settled for arm warmers and a double-jersey arrangement.

The start loop was akin to a wall of dirt and I had anticipated that we would be off walking it once the first person unclipped. Bingo! But it was a bit of a relief considering what the next 90 minutes or so held for us. It was an course that would see a lot of riders ‘blowing up’ after starting too hard so I planned to stay out of trouble the first couple of laps and ride consistently for the remaining. After locking bars with someone on the start line in usual form I was dead last at the top of the first climb. Working my way through the back markers I was grinding up the ascents, working to keep the front wheel on the dirt, and then seemed to pass most girls at the top of the climbs as they slowed to recover while I put what power I had left into the pedals.

The only people colder than the racers were our long suffering pit crews, standing atop the plateau in a howling Belgian wind with the chill factor close to zero degrees. Belgian fans seem impervious to the weather though and lined the course with their cheers of “Allez!” and the smell of hot chips and cigars thick in the air.

In the unofficial race to finish higher than your number plate I came up short with a 73rd placing after starting 70th. My form has been static since the National Championships which is a bit disappointing. Looking at the Australian results in general though it is a good sign that riders are finishing on the final lap which was not all that common a few years ago. This race was likely to be my last international World Cup and I am delighted to have seen it out on one of the iconic Euro XCO courses.

To all those who have been part of the journey, my sincerest thanks. A special mention to Donna Dall of PCS Coaching for her program and putting up with my emotional rollercoaster. Also, to the lads from For The Riders MTB shop who have supported me for 4 years both with equipment and making me ride stupidly gnarly trails early on Thursday mornings. I’m working on the next phase of my riding so thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Monday, April 9, 2012

One for the gear heads

Race week at last! I’m super excited to be at the pointy end of my training and racing block. It has been such a special experience having this opportunity to live and train in Europe so I can arrive in the best possible condition for the World Cup in Belgium. I’d like to thank everyone who made this possible especially my hosts Vaughan and Rose who opened their home to me in the Swiss Alps. It wouldn’t have been possible without you – Merci!

I’ve compiled a list of equipment I have also found indispensible in the Euro conditions so, as well as being a plug for some of my sponsors, I hope you can find it useful if you are thinking of making the trip or just searching for some better options for the local trails.

Sram XX 26-39 Chain set

Initially running a 28-42 I swapped to the smaller chain rings before I headed to NZ as I remembered how steep the World Cup courses were. Having the 26 is great for keeping the legs at a good cadence while climbing and the 39 means I can ride longer in the big ring when the course calls for it. XCO courses don’t call for a 42-11 combo so it’s no loss, but I’ve kept the bigger rings for when I’m racing marathons.

Adidas windproof jacket

Surviving the cold is all about layers. Having a wind and waterproof jacket helps take out the ‘chill’ factor that makes cycling most uncomfortable in winter. Wearing arm warmers, a jersey and an undershirt beneath the jacket was enough to get me through 2 degree training sessions. The advantage with the jacket is when it gets warmer I just folded it up and put it in my back pocket. Very handy.

Thermal gloves

The extremities always take the brunt of the cold weather so even when the body is warm, the hands are likely to be cold due to reduced blood flow. A good pair of weather proof gloves literally saved my life – not being able to brake when you’re hands are frozen is sub optimal. They give a bit of a ‘michelin man’ feeling so not ideal for mountain biking, but for road sessions which tend to be faster and windier they were a godsend.

Adidas Evil Eye Half Rim Pro Glasses

I have 2 sets of these glasses, one for racing and one for every day. I love the lenses, which are interchangeable, but the LST Actives are great for the varying light conditions of MTB. They feel really firm on your face and even after some of the biggest crashes I’ve had they are still stuck there! An absolute must shading the retinas and keeping pesky branches out of your baby blues.

Santa Cruz Carbon Blur XC

Okay, so a dual suspension is not the obvious choice for racing world cup and I am among a small minority, but it is a seriously fast bike and also a lot more fun for general riding. With a 69.5 degree head angle it’s slightly more relaxed than an XC racing hardtail (between 0.5-1.5 degree) but still feels snappy in the single trail and more confident in the steep descending. At 9.6 kg it’s on par with the pro 29ers so there’s no weight penalty either. The guys as NSDynamics worked their magic on the RP23 shock so it pedals efficiently to the top of the hill while saving my butt on the way down.

So that’s just a few things from the armoury. I’ll wait until I see the course in Belgium to decide between the Schwalbe Racing Ralphs or Nobby Nics but the latter certainly have the mud clearing advantage. Crank Brothers Egg Beater 11 pedals really come into their own around here too when you’ve hiked-a-bike and need to clip in with muddy cleats. It’s a brave soul who runs Shimanos and a frequently frustrated one as my riding buddy found out yesterday.

Next week will be my race report from the Houffalize World Cup. Thanks for reading! J

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pietermaritzburg - World cup #1

TUESDAY (I think??)

Twenty-four hours of travelling later I landed in PMB. Normally I quite like plane travel but with a fever, cough and sinus it was not so great. And now, jet lag – laying awake from 2am with no wireless connection is torture. It’s hard to complain when I wake up to a perfect South African morning at Arlington guesthouse. What a stunning and enormous house. With six massive rooms, it sleeps 9 including 2 staff and is two doors down from the main house where the Felt Otzal Bionic team are staying. It has sixteen-foot ceilings and parquetry floors – just amazing. The to-do list: power adapter, WIFI, food and of course putting the bike together.


There is always so much day left over when all you have to do is course reconnaissance. Being a morning rider I’d prefer to get it done first thing but official practice isn’t until 12pm as they are still doing work on the course – nothing like a last minute job hey? I managed a lap yesterday and it goes something like this: Steep, flat and boring, twisty downhill, really steep uphill, twisty single track, crazy rock garden, steep uphill, tame single track, ridiculous drop off, gap jump, crazy log arrangement, steep, boring bit, rock garden into another rock garden, some steep downhill and start again. I’m praying it doesn’t rain as it would make most of the techy downhill sections unrideable.

I managed to get 7 hours sleep last night with the aid of some anti-histamines. I also went sans sunglasses yesterday to get as much UV light onto the retina as possible to tell my brain that despite what it thinks it is time for my eyes to be open. Lack of TV is doing my head in but at least I’ve solved the coffee situation with the purchase of some filter papers today. I’m solving all the big issues.


My fourth day in the ‘burg’ and I’m starting to get comfortable. I’m riding some unbelievable shit on the course – all the A lines. Yes, I almost broke my ribs today, but that’s not important. I’m just very excited to be mastering my fear of these things. Personal growth – it’s what this sport is all about. A big thanks to Aus coach Chris Clarke for showing me the lines and implying I was a wuss if I didn’t ride them.
Recovery days are incredibly boring without TV or Facebook. As usual we have make grocery shopping into a hobby. They don’t have gluten free bread but I’m gonna get me some ostrich meat before I leave.


Well the race has been done and dusted. I didn’t go as well as I’d hoped but I rode a smart race, pacing to give myself the best chance to make the final lap without getting pulled out at the 80% mark. It was the race-within-a-race story where I settled in with a few riders, each of us attacking and coming back, swapping positions. Knowing that I come strong in the second half of the race I held a bit in reserve on the steep climbs and passed on the flats when the others were sitting up trying to recover.

Realising that my ribs are actually broken (I had 7 broken ribs in 12 months, so trust me, I know when they’re broken) I rode 2 of the chicken lines costing me about 12 seconds per lap – 1 minute for the race. My favourite part of the course was the big jump into the double, which others were having a bit of trouble with – go figure. My form was not enough for a top 40 finish to get a good start for Houffalize so I decided the play was to ride safe, chalk up a result and live to fight another day.

I now have 4 weeks of training ahead of me instead of physio and rehab. Yes, mountain biking is about fitness and skill, but it’s also about judgement.
The Pietermaritzburg course is the site of the World Champs for 2013 and has all the hallmarks of a course worthy of the title. However the start may need to be revised as we were walking up a climb after the first ten seconds and then walking the second switchback climb a few minutes later as 75 girls funneled into a 3 foot wide track. The rain the previous night had dried out and the conditions were hot and very Australian-like. We were much luckier than the under 23 women who copped a torrential downpour in the afternoon forcing organizers to close the A-lines for
safety and shorten the race to 3 laps.

At the behest of the Aussie coach I went for a roll for another hour and a half post race to flush the legs out and get some k’s in before being restricted to the confines of a 747. Flying out on Monday afternoon for Geneva it gives me some time to actually SEE a bit of World cup action instead of being part of it. We are off to the downhill finals tomorrow to cheer on the Aussies and some of the guys we have sharing the B&B with.

Thanks to my sponsors as always: For The Riders, Sram, Shotz, Schwalbe, Adidas Eyewear, Jet Black, PCS Coaching.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Get rid of the National series

I really dislike bagging an idea unless I have an alternative (I still do it but I hate myself afterwards, trust me). Having not been overly impressed by the new National series format it got me thinking about what would be a better way forward. Most of the discussion has been about tweaking events and trimming around the edges without asking why we actually need a national series anyway. Let’s face it, it’s expensive, a logistic nightmare, questionably organised and generally leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. In the last 5 years have you ever heard someone say “Oh my god, how good was the National series this year? It’s been great value for money, easy to get to and flawlessly executed. I’ll definitely be back next year!” No, me either.

People have taken the lack of interest in the series as a reflection on the state of the sport. I disagree. When you have events like the Otway Odyssey, Highland fling and various other marathon, stage races and timed races selling out it seems the sport of mountain biking is in robust health. It’s Cross country racing that’s in trouble. It’s as if MTBA have taken a discipline that is fast, furious and fun and made it (tempting to insert another ‘f’ word here)…excruciating. XCO popularity should be right up there with marathons – they are cheaper to run as you only have to marshal 5km or trail, not 100; they are more spectator-friendly having access to racers at least once per lap; and they are more time efficient both for the event and the training leading up to it, not requiring alienation from your family every weekend while you ‘clock up the k’s’ to make sure you reach the finish line.

The following are some notes visualizing an integration of national level racing into the state system which (in QLD at least) is floundering. Without the expectation of having to travel the length and breadth of the country, I think many riders and their long suffering parents and partners, would be free to focus on racing in their area, making the state champs a focal event leading up to the national titles. It would also make the UCI category racing truly national instead of skewed towards the southern states, in particular Victoria.

1. Elite riders want UCI points and high class competition/courses
2. Juniors want race experience and financial help to get to national titles
3. Recreational riders don’t want to travel too far, want racing to be fun, getting lapped out sucks

The format…
1. Elite XCO on Saturday, recreational classes on Sunday
2. Elite and U23 are Cat 2 UCI races and pay appropriate $ as per UCI rules
3. Elite and U23 are OPEN events to riders from other states/countries
4. Recreational classes may be open or closed with riders from that state given entry priority and gridding
5. State placings and prizes are given only to the riders from that state
6. Recreational classes do not have the 80% rule. Make the race time-based (eg. 1 hour, finish the lap you’re on)
7. Courses need better design with open climbing for passing
8. Have technical features to challenge riders, but a longer B-line to bypass the features to ensure new riders are not intimidated out of the sport (Perth did this particularly well).

These are just a few changes that could make XCO cheaper, less intimidating and more efficient. Apparently a good deal of our MTBA membership gets sunk into the national series so if we replace the series with something profitable it follows that our membership fees will go down…right? Not holding my breath.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mount Buller - future of the national series?

Still scarred by the ordeal that was the first National Round for 2012 I decided to give the format another go, this time in Mount Buller. What swayed me? The reputation of the trails as ‘must ride’; the fact that there would be no ‘Eliminator’ format which was a massive time-waster in the previous round and a desire to learn more about what is really wrong with Australia’s supposedly premier racing series.

I’ve spent a lot of the weekend listening to people’s reasons for attending this round and also a lot of the complaints and compliments. I can’t vouch for the sample size but it seems consistent with what others have shared on social media. So let’s break it down…

1. Interesting trails – The authorities at Buller have obviously invested heavily in their trail network and are now working hard to recoup that money. Events such as Bike Buller have enabled many recreational riders to sample the trails and they have voted with their feet…er…wheels…?

2. Location – MTB in Australia is still very Victorian-centred. Why is this? I speculate it’s because they have a government that is receptive to trail access improvement and developing networks. They also have mountains – big ones. A race in Victoria is guaranteed to attract more people assisted by its proximity to NSW. Being able to stay ‘on mountain’ and within riding distance of the race start is also a massive advantage over other events.

3. Ride time – If you’re being slugged $170 for the weekend (no, this is not a misprint) then you expect a fair bit of race time so the hourly rate becomes reasonable. As an elite rider this round was a definite improvement on the previous round with a Super D of 20+ mins, the XCO of 1 hour 40 mins and a XC Enduro format of a similar length. Compare this with less than 7 mins of racing in Perth in the ‘support events’ and Buller was a hands down winner.

BUT (and there is always a ‘but’), why the hell Masters and Super Masters riders would travel the length of the country to ride 1 or 2 laps as their ‘regulation’ XCO is beyond me! The Masters mens category was won in 37 MINUTES. How is this giving riders value for money, which has been the catch-cry of MTBA thoughout this experiment?

The stage which prompted the most debate would have been the Super D down the Delatite trail. Not technical per say, but as a loose steep fireroad the speeds were such that when things went bad, they went really bad. The body count stands at 3 that I know of, all admitted to hospital for x-rays, observation after concussion and in one case plastic surgery after a spate of facial injuries. As National Coach Chris Clarke said to me, it was up to each rider to judge how fast to ride this stage, which is a fair call. The feedback I received was that this event should have been scheduled for later in the weekend. Many people did not turn up until Friday and so only had one practice run before their race run. As XCO is still regarded as the main event by the elite riders there was also a risk of tiring yourself out for Saturdays event, or crashing and putting an end to your entire weekend. A Sunday scheduling for the Super D would have given everyone more practice time and perhaps a safer event.

Organisation, or lack of it, is still the biggest criticism of the series. In our bag of goodies from rego ($170 and no water bottle??) there were two flyers with the race schedules, however each was DIFFERENT with conflicting start times for events creating uncertainty and a general ‘here we go again’ attitude of riders accustomed to the adhoc management of these events. MTBA officials have complained of riders’ tardiness to start lines and the headaches it causes them. I would say to them that THEY ARE SETTING THE PRECEDENT. When events and presentations rarely run on time this becomes the expectation of riders who then build this in to their schedule actually expecting the event to be a shambles. Riders not being able to get a straight answer about some aspect of the event because the rules are being made on the run does not make for a professional event.

And how many times do we have to be dragged through the saga which is the Presentation ceremony? I’m not a software expert but was really impressed with the website showing real-time race results – fantastic system! Just a question – if I can see a riders lap times as they are happening, why does it take an hour for a MTBA rep to get a printout to work out the final placings for the weekend? And then get it completely wrong and award prize money to the WRONG RIDERS and send the rightful winners away empty handed wondering what went wrong. Not good enough!

It’s time for MTBA to decide if this is a stage race or a series of individual events. If the latter, then do presentations and prizes for each individual stage straight after its completion and forget about the GC. If the former then dispense with the stage presentations (everyone can check them online and Facebook their results) and focus on getting the GC results correct and start instilling some confidence in your paying customers.

(Footnote: For the record, I finished 2nd for the weekend and had a lovely time.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Training camp and the New Year

Sweltering away in Brisbane humidity the drier, near perfect climate of the Christmas training camp seems a lifetime ago. Why a training camp? Well everyone else seemed to be doing one and I had camp-envy! I’d been considering one for a while as a chance to get out of the CBD for some long uninterrupted riding and prevent staleness caused by the rut of riding the same roads and trails day in, day out. Being away from home you’re also less tempted to indulge in work or spring cleaning so it gives your body a chance to recover and properly absorb the training.

Mount Beauty fit the bill perfectly with its access to the climbs of Falls Creek, Mounts Hotham and Buffalo as well as some very handy singletrack. MTB identities Paul and Neil Van Der Ploeg and Tori Thomas also hail from here meaning it punches above its weight as a breeding ground for cycling talent. Meeting Matt and Laura at a race in Langkawi they generously accommodated me and allowed me to abuse their coffee machine for five days of epic riding. The highlight being the New Years Eve riding where I demanded I be bleeding from my eyes and groveling home. It took 173km return to Dinner Plains and 3200+ of climbing but it was ‘mission accomplished’. Turning out to be quite the adventure it began with one of the group breaking a collar bone descending Tawonga Gap and ended with me running out of water and having to refill at a mountain stream (better than tap water I tell you!). I have no idea how I made it to midnight but the impromptu Limbo comp at the Van Der Ploegs has confirmed that I have zero lumbar flexibility these days.

After a recovery week I am back training and working into the higher intensity intervals to develop speed for the block of racing in February and March which consists of National Champs, Oceania Champs and a World Cup. It’s nice to see the numbers on the Garmin looking better each week as the red-zone becomes more familiar. It sounds sick but I actually love ergo sessions – or at least love what they can do for my form. The key will be not to over-do it and to make sure I turn up to the start line fresh.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Minimum wage for women's cycling

(In response to this article

Hosking’s comments are born of a personal frustration and I don’t believe are helpful to women’s cycling. She should be putting forward reasons FOR a minimum wage not launching profanities at a single person in Pat McQuaid, as he is not the only person complicit in retarding the growth of womens’ sport. This situation is not specific to cycling, or indeed sport, and is a reflection of a society which is still coming to terms with gender parity across the board.

Being paid to ride a bike is, in my view, very much a privilege, not a right as many cyclists (male and female) seem to think it is. We are in the entertainment industry, not saving starving children or curing cancer. Demanding to be paid is like petitioning for a minimum wage for balancing a ball on your head – its only valuable if someone is willing to pay to watch it.

Despite that, the positive spillover benefits of cycling and sport should be used as grounds to trial a minimum wage or basic funding, to produce a high grade competition that will hopefully then be seen to be worthy of increased corporate support. For young women to see cycling as a viable career is the best way to grow the sport and create role models as the Cadels, McEwans and O’Grady’s have done for young boys.

Cycling has been used to great effect to promote causes such as Cancer research funding, Depression Awareness and Child protection as well as general health and well-being in the community. For cycling to lead the way in supporting womens’ sport would demonstrate the power of the sport to change the attitudes of society instead of merely reflecting them.