WSMTB Summer Series Round 2

Photo credit: Bikeminded

What was effectively round one, since the original round one was cancelled, went off this weekend at Yellomundee Regional Park in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. A strong turnout, very dry conditions and monstrously loud cicadas were the order of the day

It was the first race outing for me on my Bianchi Methanol hardtail. I raced 2013 on my BMC Speedfox SF29 full-suspension rig, and I was itching to give the new hardtail a good hit out, even though Yellomundee is one of my least favourite circuits, mostly due to a broken rib I picked up there late in 2012. It’s a fairly short track, technical in nature with a nasty rock garden climb in the first half of the lap, often dry and dusty and with a couple of fast rocky descents. Suspension would be nice for those, but overall a lighter, more chuckable bike would be the better choice.

Rocking up nice and early I caught up with a couple of clubmates from LACC and headed out on a warmup lap. Clarkey was out for his first mountain bike ride, so Ash and I shepherded him through a half-lap warmup and offered what bits of advice we could as we went, arriving back at the start just in time for the race briefing, then off down the firetrail we went to the race start.

Away we went, up the big climb which thankfully we’d only be doing in full once, and into the singletrack. I picked up a couple of places on the climb itself, but nothing significant. First lap as ever was conga lines through the singletrack, and at the rock garden the inevitable chaos ensued and I was passed by Ash in the mixup. Picking up the bike and running with it, I was back on and chasing, but with heart rate maxed on the firetrail after the rockgarden  I wasn’t making much headway. Neither did I gain much on the following downhill singletrack, as my time off the mountain bike was showing. My weight distribution was a bit off in the approaches, and I was a little too nervy in the corners themselves. Accelerating away, though, was fine – the benefits of the hardtail and all that time on the road bike showing up, I think.

The race started to stabilise over the course of the lap and through the next, and there was precious little overtaking to do – just pedal to the next corner, get though it, pedal to the next, repeat. By the middle of the second lap my technique was starting to come back and my cornering felt smoother, though occasional patches of sand were giving me moments of doubt. I cleanly rode the rockgarden for what I think was the first time ever, but found my attention drifting a little through the rest of the lap – a disconcertingly early time to get all inattentive.

By the last half of lap 3 the inattention punished me, as I got too close to the apex on a gravelly uphill bend and found myself sprawled on the ground wondering how I got there. A couple of riders got by, and I was spurred back into wakefulness. Head down, back through transition and into the next lap.

At this point I noted my Garmin had lost signal somewhere and I consequently had no idea of my pace any more. My average speed display was dropping and I had no idea of my elapsed distance, speed or calorie estimate, though the elapsed time was , of course, accurate.

So I just kept pedalling and waited for the next pass through the transition to reset the Garmin and take on some extra water and food.

And so it continued, lap after lap, the heat of the day rising, the cicadas blasting out their deafening cries and me, picking up a thickening layer of grime and slowly getting smoother in the corners but weaker in the legs. I spotted familiar faces on occasion, at transition and from the spots where firetrail meets singletrack. I estimated Ash had ten minutes in hand and I wondered when the head of the field might be expected to come up and lap me. It was taking longer than expected, though eventually I heard calls for track from behind and kept aside to let the leaders do their thing. It seemed like I was lapping more than being lapped, which was a good sign. If I could hold my pace I’d only be a lap back.

So I kept my pace at a decent tempo level and chased hard where I could. Keeping an eye on the riders around me, I was happy to let pairs or threes racers gain on me and pass, but the sight of a red number plate would spur me forward, and if it passed, motivate me to chase.

My upper body, though, was getting trashed, and my right palm had developed a large blister that was making the downhill sections particularly painful. My right thumb was numb, both my feet felt like they were blistering and I was bleeding from my little slip back on lap three. If anything, the pain was slowing me down more than the fatigue, as weary arms and painful hands made cornering incrementally more difficult and raised the chance of fluffing a corner. And the heat was rising.

Into the final hour and I figured I was going to get in two more laps – making it nine – and give it up, but by the middle of lap nine I saw I had plenty in hand to go again. In my mind, I had the entire pack of solo riders breathing down my neck, and I wasn’t about to give them a free lap by giving up early. On I went. Half a bottle down the throat, half down the back of the jersey, new bottle on the bike and onto the last lap it was.

The blisters were fairly agonising, I’d lost feeling in my toes and I’d definitely picked up a little sunburn, but on I went. Towards the end of athe lap I saw a pairs rider approaching from behind and beckoned him through – we weren’t racing each other, after all. He interpreted this as a sign of distress and slowed to check if I was OK. I was fine, but it just confirmed that mountain bike racers are truly good people. We held station up the final climb into transition and crossed the line almost side by side.

I’d done ten laps and was fairly well smashed. The solo male winner, Andrew Finlayson, had pulled out everything and managed twelve laps, the only solo rider to do so. Six riders had managed eleven laps and seven riders, me included, were sitting on ten. I washed up in 14th place out of 43 solo male riders, about seven minutes back from my clubmate Ash and very happy with the result. Clarkey, on his first MTB ride, was a highly creditable 17th with nine laps.

And so homeward I went, to some nice cold beer and the People’s Choice Criterium on the TV.

The verdict on the hardtail’s first big day out? Flawless. It’s precise and fast. It goes where you point it and while it did give me a punishing, that’s as much to do with my time off the MTB as it is to do with bike choice. I guess the BMC will be staying in the stable for much of the race season this year, except for the roughest of races.

A bloody good day out. Congrats to WSMTB for putting on a great event, thanks to all the sponsors and especial thanks to all the riders for making it a successful morning in the mountains. Cheers!

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