I’ve been to the dizzying heights of Mt Buller three times before in my short career as a mountain bicyclist. The first time it rained and my clothes got dirty, the second time my bike exploded and the third time only my pedal exploded! Progress! (note: it didn’t actually explode it just broke). I was hoping it would be fourth time lucky. Or maybe fourth time better prepared? In a bit of déjà vu for Mountain Bike Australia, the fire danger rating was once again touching boiling point. But unlike last year the fires hadn’t started yet so there wasn’t smoke on the mountain, which meant you could enjoy the views!
ACT 1– Pedaling with pausations.
First up for the weekend was the Subaru MTBA XCE, or cross country eliminator – a 1–3 min course where 3–4 riders go head-to-head in an attempt to win. Simples!
A time trial was used first to sort out who’s who and create the lists for the heats. I put down a good lap, putting down the power up the climb then keeping it smooth down the stairs and onto the finish. I’ve always struggled with time trials, but I have increased my hourly weet-bix intake, which must be the reason for me putting down the third best time, equal with Olympian Dan McConnell. Or maybe it was my new Bianchi Methano 29l, or more Tai chi and green tea. Not that I actually drink green tea or do Tai chi. Anyway onto the heats!
The top two in each heat progresses, and so on and so forth, until you end up with four riders who battle it out for the podium position. It’s tough to gauge how you might go in the heats, as riders who don’t generally do well in the normal cross country can do well in XCE. So you need to enter each heat as if it is the final. After the main climb on the course, positions are usually set and if you are in the top 2 then it is time to gauge how far back third is and see how much energy you can conserve. As the main thing in XCE, it is not so much the initial sprint but it’s backing it up heat after heat. This is how my first few heats went. Putting the power down up the climbs, making the top 2 and then conserving to the finish. All things were going smoothly until the semi finals. I was up against fastest qualifier Jack Lamshed, Swell-Specialized’s Andy Blair and U19 rider Felix Smalley. The start was very hustle and bustle and as a result I was left sitting adrift with my feet out of my pedals heading for the shoreline. Felix was behind me facing a similar fate with Andy and Jack motoring away. I recovered quickly though, and tried to hunt down Jack for that final spot into the finals. I gave it everything around the course but was not catching Jack and could only hope that he had a slip up and I could come through and ‘pull a Bradbury’. But it was to no avail and it was into the small final for me. The semi really took it out of me though and Felix bested me in the small final. This meant I ended the night sixth, one position outside of the much needed UCI points. Dan McConnell got the win in the finals with Andy Blair and Jack Lamshed rounding out the podium.
ACT 2 – Pedaling without pausations.
The race start on Saturday came around quickly… is what I would say if the race start was in the morning and not 3pm in the afternoon. But anyway after a long morning of being busy enough to not fall asleep but not too busy that all I wanted to do was sleep, it was onto the race! The Buller course is not overly technical but is very physical, with the extra add-on that it is at altitude. I had a pretty smooth start up the initial concrete road and then with some luck, maneuvered my way around some crashes and hold ups leading into the singletrack and slotted in nicely behind Mark Tupalski. Positions didn’t change much for the next half-lap as there was a lot of single track and not much room for passing. Then it was out onto a road for an undulating traverse across the ridge. Mark attacked our little group as soon as we exited the single track. I thought about going with him but decided to be a bit more cautious after my fast start in Adelaide and sat in trying to conserve a bit for the later laps. The second lap went much the same with a group forming at the start of the single track and sticking together until we exited onto the traverse. Tristan Ward and I had a small gap as we exited the single track and I pressed on. Coming around for the third lap I was by myself for the first time in the race, and was glad to take the single track at my speed and not have to be breathing in the dust from those in front, as it was incredibly dusty the first few laps! I was travelling along great and feeling strong. I was sitting fifth in U23 at this point and happy with my position.
ACT 3 – The Final Pausation
I started the fourth lap on my own again and was travelling smoothly until I started the singletrack ascent. I started to cramp and had to get off and walk. I honestly can’t remember the last time I cramped in a race, and there was nothing I could do but watch the other riders ride away from me. This was demoralising and over the next few laps things just got worse. Unfortunately there isn’t much else I can write about. I was pulled out by the 80% rule at the beginning of the last lap and that was that.
Congratulations to the eventual winners Dan McConnell, Jared Graves and, a great ride by Cam Ivory for third overall and first U23. Full results can be found on Durt.com.au
On another note, the next round is at the new venue of Echuca on the Murray River. I’ll be putting up a little piece with some photos in the coming days of the tracks there. For now all I can tell you is it’s flat, there will be dirt and corners …