You know, after Tour Divide its kind of hard to get worked up about 90km. After all, when you’ve ridden more than 230km a day for 20+ days… well, 90km just doesn’t seem that hard.
At least that’s what I was telling myself as I was getting organised to drive down to Canberra for the Kowalski Classic – a 90km MTB Marathon which promised to take in the majority of the famed single track around Kowen Forest and Sparrow Hill. I’d ridden there before and rated it as one of the best tracks I’d ridden in the country… well, actually anywhere really (and yes I include Rotorua in that list!).
Well. I was feeling good until I went out for a 75km ride the weekend before the race. So it seems that the few weeks of being sick post Tour Divide have taken a bit of a toll. Fine on the hills but not much depth there!
But hey – several thousand kilometers in the legs and besides… how hard could it be?
Of course that was until I read Shippo’s course preview. Uh oh, flowing single track…. yeah yeah, oh, its apparently tough… oh and a bit bumpy… hmmm bumpy + rigid singlespeed might be tough…
Well despite my misgivings I loaded up the family truckster and headed off to our nation’s capital for a few hours of sweet single track. Of course the race is really closer to Queanbeyan than Canberra (home of Mark Webber dinchaknow) but thats a whole other rant for a whole other time!
I arrived at race rego at about 5pm the day before the race and straight away this was somehow different to the last MTB marathon I’d entered. It wasn’t the flawless registration process – that’s pretty much de-rigeur these days. It wasn’t the easy parking or even the well stocked sponsors tent… it was the beer tent. Yup, a beer tent. Straight away this says this is a MTB event designed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. I was starting to find my happy place!
Now, to really get into the race spirit I’d have camped at the track but I figure that I’ve done enough sleeping on the ground in sub-zero temperatures this year that my ‘MTB Hard Man’ credentials are well established so I took advantage of one of the many fine hotels in downtown Queanbeyan. Of course my hotel selection was based on (a) proximity to the track and (b) lowest price. In hindsight I could have perhaps chosen better criteria.
My other major mistake was choosing a takeaway chinese meal from what I’m sure is normally one of Queanbeyan’s finer restaurants. Whilst I sensibly didn’t eat most of it… well, more on that later.
After a fitful nights sleep (traffic noise, cold room, takeaway doing its best to escape – you know how it is) I wolfed down a couple of bowls of cornflakes and headed out to the track not feeling the best but still keen to ride.
My memories of the trails were of miles of buttery smooth flow so it was with some surprise that in a pre-race chat with Cannondale-Sugoi gun Andrew Hall he complained bitterly about the condition of the trails. Of course, I haven’t really known Andrew to be happy before a race…
I seeded myself in Wave 2 – not up with the fast(est) boys but given the size of the first climb and the whole ‘singlespeed needs momentum’ thing I didn’t want to get too held up. Of course what goes up must go down and thus the pattern of the day was set.
So it turns out that the impression one gets from riding trails on full suspension 29er is quite different from riding them on a rigid single speed. Also, whilst riding across America has its advantages fitness-wise it perhaps isn’t the best preparation for 90km of tight single track! So right now I’d just like to offer an apology for those I passed on hills only to hold up once we got back into the woods.
The combination of tougher than expected trails, some steep pinches and the dodgy takeaway from the night before were taking their toll and by about 2 hours in I had pretty much decided that I was going to pack it in at transition and call it a day. Then I hit ‘The Escalator’ – path to hell would have been a better description – snaking singletrack carved into the side of a hill. Well, that was the end of the dodgy takeaway (once again, apologies for those who came after).
Well after that I improved markedly and all thoughts of quitting were well and truly forgotten by the time we got through to Sparrow Hill. Ahhh, glorious Sparrow – climbs that I could get on top of with just enough elevation to sort out the geared boys (and ladies), smooth sweeping downhill single track and fun rock gardens, Glorious Sparrow. I even started to make up some places and stopped feeling like crap.
I crossed the line in about 5h 25min or so – roughly top 12% or so of finishers. Probably not as fast as I wanted to be but actually in the end it was pretty good first race back.
I was chewing the fat the other night with some mates and we were talking about the iconic races we’d done (or wanted to do) overseas and got talking about what truly makes a classic and what were the classic races in Oz. I reckon the Kowalski has what it takes to be come one of the must-do’s of the Australian calendar – the length is deceptive (‘only’ 90km) but its about 85% single track, enjoyable trails that re pretty easy to ride but hard to ride fast, a good vibe on course, well organised and put together by a great crew.
Is short, it left me smashed, tired and wanting more. I’ll be back!