Stage 5 Irvinebank – Mt Mulligan
Hump day. There is a point in any mountain bike stage race where you finally feel that the end is in sight. We’ve just made it there in the Crocodile Trophy, finishing 5 out of 9 stages.
There was an air of uncertainty yesterday about whether the riders who hid bottles for feeds would be penalised by the 10 minute time penalty, as was the penalty we were told about at the start of the race. It turned out to be a warning. So those of us who raced by using only the water truck to fill out bottles once per 26km lap were more than a bit frustrated. More annoyingly, Justin received a 15 minute time penalty for not checking in at the finish, instead heading straight to eat and rehydrate – as the feed situation doesn’t really suit a Type 1 diabetic in such hot conditions. The general enforcement of rules at the Croc Trophy seems to be highly sporadic and done on a whim. With a race that is not sanctioned by any governing body, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
After yesterday’s utterly painful 4 lap race around Irvinebank, it was hoped that racing would start reasonably steadily today. No such luck, with Dominick Hrinkow hitting it from the gun. He was quickly followed and soon enough we were strung out on the dirt road out of Irvinebank. That’s such a painful way to start 120km. As soon as the group settled, the elastic stretched again. FFS!
I snuck a look around the 20 people in front of me and saw a Subaru-MarathonMTB.com jersey on the front – Justin was drilling it. A far cry from ‘just riding’ as he said he would to Matt Page just before the start.
A break developed with Justin, Mike Mulkens, Krenn and a couple of others. Done, time to sit up. The cloud cover was trying to turn to drizzle, but just wasn’t getting there. It was great relief from the previous days baking heat anyway.
As we turned off the good dirt road onto a farm track, the main front group thinned, and then split as Ivan Rybarik and Ondrej Fojtik applied some power. Werner made the group, as did a couple of other riders. Passing through some old farmland, we hit the worn out 4WD track that we raced along last year. While not overly technical as we know it, it was loose, rough, and often steep. When you’re in the box, that’s technical enough. The drizzle had increased, and if you came off the line on the trail, you were off.
With Ondrej Slezak, we pushed ahead of the group, and it seemed like everyone had a moment. One particular V ditch across the track on a downhill had me thankful the headtube didn’t rip off my bike. I backed off a bit then. A few riders caught and passed me, and I hit open terrain alone, and wet in the rain, about 30km in. Sub-optimal.
With no one in sight in front or behind, I pushed on as best as I could, but knew I would get caught, not catch those ahead. By a river crossing we had a group of 8, and with some reasonable work we caught the group in front by the 2nd depot. Justin, Werner, Matt Page, the Crocodile Tears riders and plenty of others. Grupetto time! No one in the group was overly threatened by those up the road. We should have a good bunch on the decent dirt roads to the finish.
Two things ruined this plan. Firstly, we took a different route to last year, crossing to some more rough double track that bordered on bad singletrack. Secondly, the leading Masters riders seemed intent on drilling it. The rain, pace and hurt increased. Justin and I questioned why Werner was pushing hard at the front causing us to dangle off the back.
By the last depot, the stage was set. A strong Belgian slipped right through, and was gone. The rest of us paused to refill bottles and hit it again. Jeremy Ross kept attacking. This was less than fun.
With about 15km to go, and after numerous attacks, Ondrej Slezak slipped off the front. Hoping to escape the constant attacks, I followed, and soon enough Josef Benetseder joined us. He’s more than a few levels above me, and when he said ‘faster’ I really had no response. So it was me and Slezak, suffering on the corrugations, and with the dust of trucks coming by. It was great to get across the line and be able to back off for the first time in what seemed like hours.