Gippsland – God’s Country, with singletrack.
The best thing about racing is where one can find oneself. The Gippsland MTB event – the 6 Hour at Blores Hill takes me to Gippsland. And of all the great places I get to in Victoria, Gippsland is up there with my favorites.
Heyfield is the kind of place you’d imagine European-based ex-pats dreaming of. It’s clean, quiet, calm, and quintessentially Australian without reeking of defensive jingoism. As you drive into Heyfield it sort of wraps its arms around you, inviting you to casually listen in to the jovial conversations of the locals and to witness school kids taking a long way home on their rebirthed bikes. Strangely, it feels like a home.
Kylie and I had been to Heyfield before, fine-dined, finer-wined, and left feeling like we’d been given a healthy rubbing with a loofah made of clean fresh air.
During last year’s incarnation of the BLores Hill 6 Hour I was nursed around the course at break-neck speed by a certain Kevin Skidmore, turned myself inside out, suffered like a quitting smoker, and crossed the line in an exhausted, lactic-infused third place in Vets. Recon ride video, shake it as you mean it.
This year, I wanted to win. I’d taken open podiums and category wins in the last three six-hour races I’d competed in (missing race reports for Albury and Forrest coming soon) and despite an upset stomach and a fledgling cold in the week prior, I was enjoying the way that ‘3 from 3’ sounded in my mind.
Swanning around our little beautiful little apartment at Abington Farm after an enjoyable recon ride of the course I was feeling pretty comfortable. Confident even.
Come race day and I was excited. I always am, but this time I thought that all my ducks were lining up.
On the starting grid, I bantered amiably with Corey Davies and relived the opening 200 meters over and over in my mind – having repeated it as my warm-up.
And when the gates were opened, I was one of the first birds through the chute and found myself hitched to the wheels of the team elites, flying through the opening stanza, getting prepped to power through the kicking singletrack that is the Blores Hill circuit.
Fifteen minutes in and I was feeling like my own tailwind. I was bouncing around in the red zone but I could have been bouncing on a jumpy castle for all I cared. I had more free speed than a corrupt customs official and was living the mid-race equivalent of the high life – but unknown to me, I was under surveillance – and the bonk police were closing in. After two laps leading the solo category, I glanced back and saw Tobias Lestrell leading a group of low numbers right up to my back wheel. Corey Davies, Phil Orr, and sitting in like a syringe hidden in beach sand, was a very composed and altogether scary 40+ hitman Tim Jamieson.
On the third lap, mostly out of desperation, I suggested that Corey and I attack. We flew over the technical Trigg Point climb and swept into the singletrack. We may have opened a gap of about 20 seconds, but the effort had punctured a hole in my energy reserves. I burnt the last of my matches attempting to stick with Corey as he took a turn, only to see the fire go out as he rode off me. I made it to transition before the chase group caught and passed me. I had been nicked…guv’nor.
I spent the next few laps sitting in a cave. Both my hip flexors were killing me, I had stupidly let myself food flat, get dehydrated, and knew that ol’ TJ was mashing the pedals like they were root vegetables. I would see him heading out for a new lap as I came in – meaning about a 40-second gap – and infuriatingly that’s where it stayed for the next 3 or 4 laps – but despite refueling and replenishing and I couldn’t bridge over to him.
Despite the crushing disappointment of watching the win get away from me, there were brighter moments. My talented wife Kylie was out racing in the 6-hour pairs and I managed to pass her prompting a little on-bike affection which was a parting of the clouds.
Eventually, I was able to get some rhythm and actually started enjoying myself a little more. I was having a bit of a yarn with some of the three-hour riders when my back end started feeling a little squishy. Way squishy.
One CO2 bulb burnt and I was on my way again. Squishy though had decided to come with me. There were another four stops for air/CO2 before I started my last lap. By now I was scared again. Being the first loser is bad enough, but losing to the first loser is worse. So I powered up for my final loop and prepared to withdraw everything from the account.
With squish still floating around under my saddle and having already chewed up another CO2 I thought that brutal pace would be the better part of valor. I spent that last lap out of my saddle, weighted up over the front wheel, listening to my rear tire burping through the corners like a hick at Oktoberfest. To cap off the paranoia, team racer Richard Vrins had caught me with 300 meters to go and challenged me to a sprint finish – which after 40 minutes out of faux-sprinting I needed like having my lips stitched together.
I haven’t collapsed from the bike after a finish line since my first melodramatic races almost 10 years ago, but I did then, as it turns out only a few minutes in front of lactic addict Scott Nicholas – on a goddamn singlespeed.
When all the numbers were counted, Tobias Lestrell had pipped Phil Orr and Corey Davies for the open win, and Tim Jamieson toweled me up to the tune of 8 minutes (a shellacking) relegating me to 5th and 2nd in Open and Masters categories respectively. Kylie partnered up with Jimmy Lefebvre and crushed it to finish a category second. Golden.
A big shout out to everyone who had a crack at a super-honest loop, to the Gippsland MTB club for turning on a super friendly but killer race, to Cycles Galleria and Pro4rmance Sports Nutrition for all the wicked kit I need to belt myself in such a fashion and to Kev and Kenny, Jimmy, Craig and Ross for packing away all the kit when I was still shuffling around like a zombie.