Race season must wait another two weeks

My racing intentions for this year seemed clear back in October 2012. My plan was to race the entire Real Insurance XCM series (slated at the time to be seven 100km+ events), and fill gaps in the calendar with a few other races – some shorter XC, some enduro/all-mountain and perhaps some timed endurance.And another crack at Kanangra.

Oh, how that all fell apart. The XCM Series itself is now a non-starter, though the individual events remain. I’m racing Capital Punishment on March 16th, but am not confirmed for any other of the former XCMs. I am, however, confirmed for Round one of the Shimano MTB GP, which is what I’ve been stressing about for the last few weeks.

I get obsessive in race leadups. Round one of the Shimano MTB GP was scheduled for February 23 at the Awaba MTB Park near Newcastle. So I spent a few days riding laps of Awaba, making sure I knew the sections and corners and figuring out the best way to manage hydration and nutrition for the four-hour ride.  When the official route was announced, I went back, checked the B-line up Camelback Hill (which I’d never ridden) and wired every corner on the entire track. I also obsessed over bike setup and ended up changing my stem for a longer riding position, slamming it down two spacers and moving my saddle forward on its rails. I agonised about running narrower bars, rode another lap and decided to keep the wide (720mm) bars. I was set for quick laps.

Then the rain came.

And the round was postponed.

Then the round was rescheduled and moved to Ourimbah.

I’d never ridden Ourimbah. It was a weekday with no weekend between the announcement and the race. There was nothing else for it. I threw an afternoon off and went to check out the trail. My laps were slow, but that was because I was stopping at every key point to examine the track, as well as getting mildly lost. I met up with the race organisers, Martin and Juliane, and extracted as much info as I could. I dropped my saddle by an extra few cm to accommodate the big dropoff, and fretted about how terribly slow the first lap was – I just couldn’t make it flow together. I got hung up on my wide bars at a critical section of the track and spent too much time on my feet and not enough time on my pedals.

Lap two, however, linked up into a relatively smooth, quite quick smashfest, and I went away feeling like I could pull a pretty good few laps on race day. I also managed to avoid hanging up on the bars this time, though I did get a fair amount of wheelspin on my worn tyres.

Reel forward to Thursday evening, and I’m again obsessing about race day. I had a new pair of schmick race wheels – Hope hubs and discs with ZTR rims – bought second-hand but unridden from a good mate, which I was saving for Capital Punishment. Had the round gone ahead at a dryish Awaba, I’d have run part-worn tyres to give quick straight line speed, on my original, reliable, inner-tubed Shimano/Alex wheels. However a wet Ourimbah demanded more grip, meaning fresh tyres.

So it was time to bite the bullet, get the rubber on the rims and run the new wheels. So out came the shiny new wheels, the tubeless kit and the two new Continental Race King tyres, and I had my introduction to tubeless tyre fitting. Damn, tyres are hard to get on when you’re trying not to use levers, and sealant gets everywhere if you’re a bit clumsy with it. In addition, the popping noises as you inflate for the first time scare the crap out of any nearby dogs. Also, when you forget to double- check the directional rotation, there’s more of a sinking feeling than usual.* And finally, sometimes there’s a slow leak and you have to dribble more sealant in through the valve stem, reinflate and rotate until you’re sure the seal is good. Oh happy days.

I also had to fit the cassette, which took a long hunt for the right tool, and on top of that, there was a brake issue. The wheels were originally specced for a Gary Fisher Rumblefish, so the attached disc rotors were 182mm and 160mm. My BMC Speedfox came with 180mm at both ends, so in addition to fitting new tubeless tyres, I decided to reduce the rear brake mount to fit the 160mm disc, and re-adjust the caliper position to ensure correct rotation. That done, I discovered the 2mm front disc difference resulted in an ever so tiny lack of clearance over the rotor’s center spider. So I had to hunt through my spares box for some 2mm spacers, remove the front caliper and re-fit, re-align and re-test. Then take the bike out into the thrashing rain and dark to test braking and gear shifting. Thankfully, it turned out to be spot on first go and I needed less than a kilometre to be satisfied. The bars were left at 720mm, but not without some serious dithering on my part.

That all done, I figured out a shopping list – new pair of shorts, gels, electrolyte tabs, spare spare tubes etc – and sorted through my nutrition box and toolkit ready for race day. This is the price of obsessing over the first race of the season. A Thursday night spent covering one’s self in tyre sealant and chain lube, getting soaking wet, scraping your knuckles with spanners and generally being a pain-in-the-ass to your long-suffering partner, who is hungry and would like the kitchen work surface to be clear now so that dinner can commence thank you very much.

I bet you can’t guess what then happened on Friday morning?

Yep, that’s right. The round was postponed again. This time, to Easter Monday, April 1st. And back at Awaba.

I don’t think my poor nerves can take it. So, race season now starts at Capital Punishment on Saturday 16th March, on a course I’ve never ridden. I’m therefore making a conscious, considered decision to just go to Canberra and not give a crap about how I go. The aim is simply to get from the start to the finish, enjoy the ride, look at the scenery and have some fun on the way. And then the OCD can restart for Easter Monday.  


* Luckily for me, I managed to get the rotation correct. It was a worry for a minute though.

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