Back in ‘the day’, MTB events were few and far between in NSW – we had the Working Week series of 8hr endurance races (five 8hr races – a working week geddit), a Sydney 12hr and 24hr, the Dirtworks (now Convict 100), the Highland Fling and probably most made the annual pilgrimage to Canberra for the CORC (Scott) 24hr. This meant about 1 event a month if you were lucky and things pretty much shut down from November through to March or so.
Fast forward to 2013 and we are now spoilt for choice – two excellent endurance racing series (Rocky Trail and Chocolate Foot) – both of which are sufficiently different in flavour to attract their own loyal followings, more MTB marathons than I can count and not to mention the resurgence of smaller local club 3 and 6hr races… on top of that we have the burgeoning enduro and bike packing scenes. Pretty much, you could almost go to an event every week if you wanted and thats just within a 3hr drive of Sydney!
The downside is that getting out and amongst it really takes the toll out of a Wannabe Racer like myself. With tons of solid miles in the legs after Tour Divide I had plans of smashing it up in the local endurance scene. Problem is that whilst the legs were willing initially the body and then the motivation eventually said ‘no’!
Problem is that I really like riding my bike and I really like going to ‘stuff’ so the answer for me has been to dabble a bit in some different stuff. For me this has meant a bit of a trip to the dark side… road riding.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a road bike for ages – for most training its hard to beat the convenience of just riding out the front door and even fronted up at the odd criterium race at Heffron Park but really, it is not my scene and besides – crit racing seems like a fast way to get hurt as you jostle elbows with a bunch of wannabe Robbies down the main straight on the final lap!
Besides, there can be a little bit of ‘attitude’ around road racing that is a little off putting (although to tell the truth some of that is creeping into XC marathons as well).
Anyway, after getting sick (yet again) I’d decided to take the rest of the month off from racing and scratched from the Highland Fling. But then I got a call from a friend who was a man down for something called the Rapha Gentleman’s Race. Basically an unsanctioned, unsupported road race. Teams of 6 set off according to some handicapping system the only real rules being follow the course and all 6 must finish – oh and at least 1 woman in each team.
So, I’d had a good week and it was only about 140km so I figured that it would just be a bit of fun and I’d perhaps be able to deal with roadie attitude for a day.
Wow, this event was an eye-opener for me.
Firstly there was a lot of carbon bling on show with several guys on deep dish tubular wheels – brave considering that the course had smatterings of gravel but the main thing was just how relaxed and friendly it all was – almost like MTB events were 10 years ago! Just a group of people out having fun. Low key registration (basically – which team are you and have fun) and a riders briefing which was more or less follow the route notes, have fun and we’ll see you at the end set the tone for the entire day.
The promised rain (which we were counting on to give us an edge over the ‘pure’ roadies on the gravel bits didn’t eventuate and instead we were treated to 36’+ temperatures. Considering we were just supposed to be out having fun the pace was certainly on with several Strava PBs being set on the hilly (2600m of climbing in 135km) course. But for the most part it was just like out being out with 5 mates on a ride through some beautiful remote countryside.
A quick stop at Wiseman’s Ferry pub to refill water bottles and with more than 1/2 of the course covered we were all feeling great and with hopes of a better than expected finish we skipped mid-race beers at the pub and headed off. After a solid 4km climb out of Wisemans Ferry we headed back the way we came. By now the heat was starting to bake us and it felt like we were riding into a furnace. At this point the team aspect of the race really came to the fore as water bottles and electrolyte was passed between riders as we tried to make our supplies last until we reached some sort of water supply (note – fire stations always have nice cool water!).
A quick coke break at Galston and it was time to drag cramping broken bodies up the final climb – it was certainly a tired and broken group of Gentlemen that made it back. But, we finished and the sense of accomplishment and achievement from this race was better than anything since, well, finishing Tour Divide.
My choice of steed for the day was my Cannondale Super X running 700 * 28c tyres which was probably overkill for this type of thing but it was nice to be able to pick up the pace on the dirt sections – just a pity there weren’t more of them. Only thing I’d change would be to put that 11-36 cassette on the back (I run 1* 10 with a 42t up front) – 42:28 was a bit much on the longer climbs – things were all do-able but the cramping wasn’t fun.
At the finish there was just a quick low key presentation and a group of people sitting around sharing a beer – I can’t believe it, for event vibe and sheer fun factor these roadies put on a pretty good MTB event.
So, do yourself a favour – when motivation wanes and you’re starting to feel a little over it… venture to the dark side, who knows… you might just enjoy it!