Thursday, December 27, 2012
Thursday, November 1, 2012
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 www.pcscoaching.com.au clients was also a highlight of the trip.
Many thanks to my sponsors: Giant, Ride Mechanic, For The Riders, Shotz, Schwalbe & PCS.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
- 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.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
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
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
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 chalet-houffalize.be.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 onlineresults.com.au 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
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
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.