“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it.”
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup.”
I wonder if Bruce rode Mt Stromlo before sharing this gem of wisdom. I think he must have. As those words ring truer with every lap you do around the tough World Trail built singletrack. Like water, when racing around Stromlo you can’t afford to spend energy fighting the rocks. There’s just too many of them! They’re everywhere!
A tough and iconic racetrack was set for round 4 of the Subaru Mountain Bike Australia national series – taking in Cardiac climb and the infamous Hammerhead rock section. Both key parts of the epic 2009 World Championship battle between Nino Schurter and Julian Absalon. Races like this national round are true testaments to the legacy that large world events leave behind.
I was eager to get back to racing after missing the Pemberton rounds of the national series. Being the home of my first national race back in 2010, I was hoping the Stromlo trails would be somewhat of a new start for me, after a dismal 2014. Practice went well with Hammerhead dialed in and the rest of the track running sweet. The local ‘trail fairies’ had done some work on the track recently by adding dirt into the gaps between some of the rocky sections. Without proper bedding in, this dirt was getting blown out and making a few sections very slippery. Ironically trying to make sections easier ended up making them harder!
As usual, the morning of the race went by as a blur. Suddenly we are on the start line, facing 6 laps, starting with a dirt road climb to spread the field out. Once the whistle blew, I tried to make my way forward through the pack, and by the first corner I was sitting near the front of the field. As there was close to 3 minutes of dirt road until the singletrack entry, people were trying to sit at the front but not on the front. We were altogether until a steep section, three-quarters up the climb. A small group broke clear, containing series leader Scott Bowden (4-Shaw) and Olympian Dan McConnell (Trek Factory Racing).
I was sitting on Specialized rider Andy Blair’s wheel as we entered the singletrack. As we exited the World Champ and Luge sections of track, the gaps were slightly bigger and crossing the line for the first lap I was in a small group, holding down positions 5th – 9th. On the return to Cardiac for the second time there were a few attacks from our little group. I pushed to the front and entered the singletrack in the lead of our group.
Up Cardiac, I pushed the pace and slightly distanced the others. As the World Champ climb starts with Cardiac and is followed immediately by a technical rock section finishing off with Hammerhead, you don’t have any time to recover. Going a little bit too hard on Cardiac put me over the limit and I started making small mistakes. I came up to the Hammerhead section with way too much speed and slid on the deep dust on the entry. I was way off line but somehow pin balled my way through and came out the other side unscathed. I then took some deep breaths and pressed on down the Luge. Over the next few laps some stuff probably happened, but like Ricky Bobby (Talladega nights) I too, felt like I was on a spaceship.
On the closing laps, I caught a glimpse of Mark Tupalski (TORQ) through the trees. Gaps are tough to gauge on the Stromlo trails with so many obstacles and switchbacks populating the space. But wishful thinking led me to believe I was closing in. I started to cramp as I climbed Cardiac for the final time, but could see Mark so I pushed on. Once over the top, I knew it was downhill all the way, which would make closing the gap a lot harder. I pushed it till the line but the gap held. After only finishing two XCO races on the lead lap all last year, placing 9th was pretty smashing. Although not where I want to be, it is on the way, so that will do for now.
Sunday was the Rockytrail AMB 100 marathon event. Having not done many XCO events in the past few months, I chose to do the 33 km option. Being a similar length. As usual Rocky Trail had set a fantastic lap, which encompassed close to every track on the hill. Up the main trunk climb, I was accompanied by two juniors, Ben Metcalfe and Bryan Dunkin. We stuck together over the back and it wasn’t until the “Fire Road of Pain” that I was alone. That climb is aptly named.
From then on, it was time for my Bianchi and me to return to the form where this story began, shapeless like water. Flowing down the Luge on the path of least resistance, I went off a jump and landed straight on a rock. We’ll just call that a waterfall! Lucky my Stan’s rims are bombproof and kept me upright to take the win.
Overall it was an awesome weekend. Flawless organisation from both MTBA and Rocky Trail Entertainment made it a great weekend. Some good legs also helped! Now it’s time to focus on Oceanias just weeks away in Toowoomba and then National Champs in Bright.