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Geelong 3 Hour – Gazebo without the relaxation.

The GMBC is a proud and vigorous club. They run a bunch of races in their You Yangs stomping ground but only a and few that fizz and pop more than a round of their very popular Gazebo series. Its a roll call of all those kids that shave down and oil up and get out the mad-skillz over trail that Victorian mountain biking would almost call its ceremonial heart.

As such it was a packed starting chute that I found myself in for this, the last round of the series. It was straining with talent, most of it up the terrifying front of this group – with the likes of Adrian Jackson and Sam Chancellor trying to out psyche the very serious Murray Spink. Not to mention just about every other cat with a number swinging from their bars and a race-face north of the neck line.
And I’ve been there many times, but I never fail to be surprised by how flat-out XC races start. There is no commissar waving a doily from the top of a red Skoda tempting the race to roll into its climax – no way, its the equivalent of firing 10 or 11 salvos of human cannonballs, all at once.
Halfway up the main straight my heartrate was nearing critical levels – and not looking like it was going to have the chance come down.
Early efforts – A grade reminding me where I am
A long line of riders hit the singletrack. I had stuck with what resembled the front group (about half of the pack) and pretty quickly found myself settled in. A little too settled as it turned out. About three wheels up a dude fast enough to sprint with A Grade was showing some fine B grade technical skills, holding up a little-too-polite line of meandering spandex.
By the time passing was opportune, the fast group was away and much work was required to cover the real estate between me and the last of those wheels.
But I set about it. The course was relatively flat, bereft of 7 km strips of climbing instead swapping them out with the beautiful sweeping uphill berms that when hit hard enough still made you whoop, even while you were pooped. Once on the top of the hill we bombed down through Lactic Acid, one of my favourite ever descents. It is fast, really fast – with slippery small-gravel and stretcher spec rock gardens at the top ending with sweeping berm-jump-berm combinations at the bottom that would make a rider throw mad tail whips, had they not had timing attached to their lines.
The race progressed and I was starting to drag in some kids. The spaces between riders in short A grade races are always so much longer than enduro races, and each rider I caught felt like a little serious moment. I eventually caught an old Kung Fu associate Adam Elford who was recovering from illness (half dead and still fast enough to be at the sharp end of A grade) and ever so slowly I was reeling in veteran hard-man Tim Jamieson. I got to him with some effort and even got by old TJ, but shake him off? A totally different proposition. I attacked a little, spun up and out of a couple of corners, bombed a couple of technical descents but not enough to pop the old bugger. He occasionally took his turn at the front and probably threw his version of a half-hearted attack as well but coming into laps 7 and 8 we were still suckered together.

As the race ticked away we’d crawled into the top ten – and as we near the finish line at 2:55 odd we chalk and cheesed. Strange voices were rationalizing the idea of finishing now, holding back for the Mt Buller race, saving my legs, being safe with my preparation, and in a rare moment, I believed them. I sat up – and Tim, he took off. It took about four guys to roll past me, uncomfortably parked under my marquee before I got back on my bike.

With clear trail ahead I took off, to reduce some of my losses, only to have them revisit when my favourite descent issued an invoice for all the fun it had given me.
I hit a rock garden a little too hot, burped my front tire and ended up with a dribbling flat that tracksided me about 2 kilometers later. To his credit Jimmy Lefebvre – who was running hot in B grade rescued me with a CO2 but by that stage my top 8 finish had swelled to 12th.
Still – as far as prep races go it totally rocked. There are few things as fun as whipping through golden trail being pushed and pulled along at race pace and for that I’m very grateful to the GMBC for basically being bloody awesome, at almost everything. Props to Glenn Tournier, an old 3 Peaks colleague who smashed it to win B grade and to AJ, Sam Chancellor and Murray Spink for showing us how its done. Results are here and GMBC stuff is all here.
Thanks to Cycles Galleria for their love and attention pre-race and to all the guys on the day for helping out with the marquee and other infrastructure. Racing rocks.archie – Geelong

Archie Gravity 12 Hour

It was a throw away line, something like ‘I hope the rain comes…’ or something equally stupid. Only farmers, green-keepers and people in sudden self immolation remorse say stuff like that, not mountain bike riders.
There is some kind of twisted rationale to my madness. On my drive up to Bright I was watching bush fire smoke lurking around the mountains, mixing with the raging humidity creating air as easy to breath as flatulence in a vacuum. With some rain, maybe a nice gentle 5 mm the air would clear, the trails would bed down and the riding would be as easy as losing your keys.

I woke at 3 am to the sound of what I know to be rain and lazily let a little smile settle on my face as I drifted back to sleep. 3 hours later when I woke up properly, that smile had every reason to be absent. It was still raining, and by the prevalence of mud and puddles on the ground outside, it hadn’t stopped. I wondered if this gave me reason to be gloomy.

In the starting chute gloom was without companions. Everybody was chumming it up, allowing all the unseriousness of long racing in torrid conditions to flow over. It seems to be a given in endurance mountain biking, in that knowing that your day will hurt like bladder stones allows all those high expectations we can have to be washed away by the rain, mud and broken derailleurs.

On the encouragement of MTB emperor and MC Norm Douglas, we solo riders corralled ourselves at the front of the race, relieved that we were exempt from the onerous task of running to our bikes in a LeMans start. I led the solos out into the rain and mud and onto what turned out to be a very honest mountain bike coursed indeed.
There were proper climbs, fast, flowing and altogether technical sections of single track. In between were short bands of fireroad allowing the consumption of suddenly muddied bananas, gels or anything that flew or crawled within chewing range.

Half a lap in – half a kilo of mud on…already

The rain kept coming. During the first lap we solos kept ourselves largely together. Jess Douglas was there in amongst the boys keeping us both honest and slightly scared, Kev Skidmore and  Sam Moffitt of Wembo fame were letting their legs warm up and lurking around the edges was a bloke I’d never seen before. Like most of us he was skinny, had sunken cheeks and hollowed eyes and that kind on expression that indicated that he’d tasted too much of his own blood. His name was Corey Davies and he reminded me of Peter Carey – another freakishly fast dude that I’ve yet to beat.

I was still on point when the first serious climb reared out of the ground and was promptly passed by almost everyone in my little peloton. Kev Skidmore, Richie Read and Sam Moffitt all disappeared and I was left alone to hold up the team riders as they flashed through the trails behind us.
The rain kept coming and within a couple of laps large parts of the trail was turning to shit. Various different shades, textures and resulting levels of grip, but it all had the consistency of baby-poo mixed with fast setting Araldite. At about lap three I cracked it. In a flash pit-stop I changed out my Racing Ralph front wheel with one equipped with a Rocket Ron tread pattern and my world changed. Within two laps I had caught and passed messers Read, Moffitt and Skidmore and during the course of adding a couple of pounds of mud onto my face had put a couple of minutes into the bank.

Male Solo Top Five – A bit rude out of context

The trail had started with its own dry weather technical challenges but with the incessant rain it was becoming a bona fide bike handling nightmare. It was like the twisted spawn of Belgian Cyclocross and the Red Bull Rampage was lurking in the pines, ready to mug the unsuspecting with a fistful of wet roots and muddy off-camber.
But even with mud trying to fill in every cavity on my face I was finding that this tough love was working for me and I began to cruise through the trails thinking that my secret stash of grip happily spinning away on my front wheel was enough to counter any massive differences in pure power or athletic prowess.

Laps 6 to 9 rolled by. It’d be true to say I was feeling a little lonely. In many of these races I pass the time swapping stupid stories with Kev Skidmore, but he and his gripless race tyres were sliding around the trail 2 or 3 kilometers behind.
Coming into the pits and shortly before the rapid ingestion of some mud covered food (long fingered gloves – downside # 1) I’d asked Kenny Soiza, Pit God to the Gods, to give me an update on gaps, times, fashion trends – whatever.

On my next pit I heard that I was in front, eight minutes or so up on Corey Davies. But he had cut his last lap 2 minutes faster than me. I’d counted out 10 laps so far, had planned to do 14 which meant that at current numbers he and I would be finishing this race with a balls -out sprint. Something I could do without after 12 hours of mud therapy.

Really? Really. Real racing starts now. (Stolen from the Interwebs)

So I tipped it in. On my next pit Kenny said that he’s still coming and that my lead was now 6 minutes. On lap 11 I tipped in some more. In my attempt to hold on I attacked anything that didn’t threaten to attack me. Hills, fire road, even some fast jumps that I thought I had wired. With the rain stopping my grip advantage had been whittled away as the trails began to dry out and become tacky, and despite me lifting my work rate by a factor of 5 by the time I launched into lap 12 Kenny told me I had only 4 minutes in the bank.

Now I was scared. I found myself tearing out of pit lane with a mouth full of jellies, chocolate and mud and trying to catch and hold the wheel of a team whippet as they blasted up the trail.
Not only was I scared, but now I was starting to hurt. World 24 hour Champ Jess Douglas has this great saying that resonates with crazy endurance athletes – Pain only hurts. Its the ‘only’ bit that should take precedence in that statement, but it was the only bit I forgot at the time. And during that lap-long moment, pain was synonymous with shit, and with the absence of the ‘only’, I was left with ‘shit hurts’. I still find it bizarre sometimes that I pay money for this.

There was some upside however. My lap times were starting to come down, the trail was way easier to stay fast on and I had the fear derived tailwind of somebody being chased. It was only at the start of lap 15 when Kenny and Bede had moved from ‘hold him off’ to ‘you’ve got it in the bag’ did I let myself start to entertain the thought of winning this thing.

Nevertheless, I charged out into my final lap with a consortium of imaginary woes. Puncture, mechanical, blood sugar dive – damnit, alien abduction – anything that might befall me as I forced my exhausted cadaver through one last loop. But none of these things happened and lo and behold I crossed this line first and threw a couple of shakas in celebration to a warm reception from Norm Douglas and the assembled crowd.

Yay. I’ll take that.

Podium – chuffed

Norm made quite something of a category rider winning overall – which I was grateful for. I was (and am) very grateful to Cycles Galleria who beyond being a kick-ass bike shop, race tuned my XX1 and plied me with enough excellent Endura product to power another 15 laps, Jet Black for letting my ride be the totally epic Pivot Mach 420C, to Finishline Events and Bike Superstore for putting on and supporting the race and mad thanks (again and again) to Kenny, Bede and Kev for putting up with my shit and supporting me through to a handy little win.

Big props as well to Corey Davies, Kev Skidmore, Sam Moffitt and the indestructible Jess Douglas who all won stuff and rode like lords. Yeah.

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