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Bendigo Golden Triangle Epic – March 2014

I have history with this race. The last time I turned up I spent 8 and a half hours essentially wandering around with my head in a plastic bag full of cat shit pretending to be a bike racer. I had mechanicals on masse, got dehydrated, got lost, food flatted and for all money basically had a (non-free range) pig of a time.

This year, using my free entry into the race I scored at the Bendigo Six Hour, I was back to avenge my pride. This raced owed my ego a debt and collection was due. I was coming into some form, had some kick-ass SRAM Roam 60 carbon wheels on my ride and a bunch of race food from Pro4mance that was handing out the big power. Boxes were all ticked and I was going to get all Ninja on this shit.

Not a Ninja, or a bike racer. You cant race with hair like that…
unless you’re Tim McGrath. (Stolen from the Interwebs)

The day before race day was spent milling with Jimmy Lefebvre and his water ski mates on the banks of the Lodden river in Bridgewater. The weather was totally random, one minute calm and balmy and the next howling with cyclonic winds and wine-bottle sized raindrops.

It meant good and bad things…good in that it should water down a notoriously dusty course and bad in that it may have deposited the Pivot marquee I’d set up at race central earlier that day in some arbitrary Bendigo suburb.

The course was looking just like…what I like. Flat (ish), technical and with the rain bedding it down, fast and tacky. The start list however was not. Generally reserved for masochists this race was stacked with strong names, none more so than Shane Roberts – the two time champion, who I’d previously seen disappearing into the forest from the get-go like he’d mixed up his miles with his meters.
We were each up for a three-peat of a twisted 52km circuit, largely made up of the same bloody rocks that Bendigo make most things out of (breakfast for one) and a fair swathe of brutal, off camber singletrack. (Course GarminConnect link for trail geeks). We knew it’d be a long race. The marshals were suggesting a winning time north of 8 hours.

We all milled around, shared stupid nervous jokes, got a ceremonial race briefing and in the yawning light of a modestly beautiful Bendigo morning, we were released into our event.

As expected, Shane Roberts lept off the line and bolted up the road. He did that last year and for all I knew he did it the year before. I thought it best to hang with him as long as I could, just to see what he had. Quite a bit as it turned out. I had been on his wheel for about 10 minutes when I looked behind me to see nothing but  an empty and eerily quiet forest. We began taking turns, eventually breaking into conversation – and while still mashing the pedals having a pretty good old chinwag at the same time.

We tested each other occasionally during that first lap, quietly and half-heartedly flicking on the power or the speed to see if it would dent the other, and for 99% of that first 2 and a half hours, it did absolutely nothing. In the last 1% however, Shane took some sick skills to technical section just before the start of the second lap and began getting smaller and harder to see – eventually crossing the pads about 10 seconds up.

About to cross the timing pads for the start of their race however were the 50km riders. Shane relived his race start by sprinting up the strait and before I knew it I was gapped by about 30 meters and surrounded by the 50km elites. I chewed on some tough love as I fought to stay on their wheels – wheels which pretty quickly had locked back onto a certain Mr Roberts, some 60 seconds later.

A Zoolander moment “All he had to do was turn right”

Strangely we’d all caught some of the slower riders from the 100km race and during the ensuing hilarity – involving comically relaxed beginners and super-pro XC whippets from the 50km race, I managed to pass Shane as he found himself caught behind a suddenly prostrate backmarker. And as I tried to stay on the vicious wheels of the guys who had brought me up to him, I managed to create a little gap between us.

I was bouncing off the rev limiter staying with this one guy. He lacked finesse in the singletrack where I took a ceremonial turn at the front, but he would open the taps on the open sections, dragging me along some 10 kms an hour faster than I otherwise would have. We were burning past and burning off guys in his category, let alone mine and I was in that sort of enjoyable place where the pain is actually fun. Eventually I was jettisoned off the back – but by that stage I was only 1500 meters from the start of my final lap – but critically about 1500 meters in front of Shane.

The commentator was frothing as I came through. I swapped into a fresh Camelbak and bolted up the hill to what sounded like him revving up the prospect of a ‘changing of the guard’ – or somesuch.
It did provide big inspiration though, and with relatively clean and clear trail ahead of me I attacked the last 53 kilometers like a birthday party kid attacks a Pinata.

Sometimes in long races, it gets quiet. There was nobody out on the trail except for the odd 100km rider who would initially freak out as I approached and would fire up the encouragement as I passed. I too was a little edgy. As one point I took a wrong turn and ended up burning valuable matches tearing up 500 odd meters of wrong way trails. In a rare moment of clarity I managed to u-turn and get back on track before too much damage was done, but it did nothing to soothe my nerves.

I was terrified of getting caught, and in such situations the cup of my imagination runneth over. There were the three CO2 cartridges I had in my Camelbak. Every so often they would clink together and through the fabric and over the noise of the trail, it sounded exactly like somebody – ie Shane Roberts – was changing gear, right on my wheel. So I would periodically hear this click/clink, look behind me in panic and bolt off as if I’d actually seen some errant big cat.

Thats me…on the right

The I kept checking my watch, looking behind me, pretending not to be totally freaked out as I passed dudes on the trail and dug right into the hurt bank trying to reel in the finish line. The 8km to go sign heralded the start of some ‘I might win this’ sentiment, but also the start of some 5km of new and very technical trail. Even though I had already gone over it twice before and despite going as hard as I could, I was still only creeping through it. Race HQ felt like miles away – but soon enough, the trail opened up and I laid down heavy pedal strokes in a desperate attempt to remove whatever space there was between me and the win.

And win I did, thankfully.

I win something! Get the shakas out

It must be pointed out that the Bendigo MTB club has much to be proud of. All categories of the Golden Triangle Epic attracted very deep gene pools of MTB racers, the trail was a fantastic mix of tacky hardpack, tech-rocks, and flowy whippable turns and like always, the race was run with the efficiency of a German arms factory with the vibe of a community garden.

A big thanks again to Bendigo MTB for a cracking race, to Jimmy Lefebvre who put me up at Casa de la Lefebvre in Bridgewater, and to my awesome sponsors, Cycles GalleriaPro4Mance Sports Nutrition and Jet Black for all the things they do best.

More stuff to follow should you be remotely interested (photos are quite good).

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