Waking up in your own bed on race day is a pretty rare thing, and this weekend’s Bayview Blast, held just 45 minutes from my Brisbane home, was the first national-level race this year that’s afforded me the privilege.
On the other hand, being pretty spoiled for good singletrack really close to home (about a kilometre from my front door these days), means that the first time I’d ridden the famous Bayview trails was the day before the event, when I drove down for some course recon. After this ride on Saturday I was a little worried – the race track was almost 100% singletrack, much of it so narrow and twisty that overtaking was going to be extremely difficult, and for the anxious people among us, stressful. I was also pretty concerned about the distance. One 25km lap looked like it would take up to 1:30, and with four of those on the cards, it was going to be a very long day out for the Elite Women’s field. My worries piled up: I’d been fighting off a cold for several days, I wasn’t really recovered from the Cape to Cape stage race and travel from WA just a week ago, I was suffering a bout of insomnia, I was blah, blah, blah. The usual.
So I took comfort in the special extras you get when you race local: a home trainer, camp chairs, Esky in the boot, and my very own soigneur! Mike was happy to hand me bottles yesterday, something that wouldn’t usually happen in a race we’d have to travel for – no-one gets on a plane to stand in transition all day.
Warming up on the trainer I watched the temperature on my Garmin creep up to 31 degrees and was quickly dripping sweat all over my sunglasses and soaking my jersey. It was 7:30am. I did my best to keep cool and Mike and I had various discussions about how I was going to get enough to drink. One disadvantage of our Bianchi Methanol FS bikes is that they only have a single bottle cage. I decided not to start the race with my Camelbak, as I wanted to get a fast start and the extra weight really was a bit much, especially as I find hydration packs get in the way around corners – and there were plenty of those!
Then, just before I started racing I noticed a problem with my shifter, which came out of nowhere. Mike had a look and said it was just jamming, and would be fine, so I pedalled up the road to the start line. The elite racers set off 5 minutes before other categories, which included teams racing over 50 and 100kms. When the gun went off everyone was happy to just cruise up the bitumen road stretch, proving a little disappointing for (nonetheless) cheering spectators, but a welcome relief for me. I’ve been primed for (but dreading) more intense starts like the ones from the front of European races, as well as more recently jumping at the gun with the pressure of 1,000 participants behind me in last week’s Cape to Cape. We got going up a gravel climb and everyone was spaced out when we entered the singletrack, straight into the first sweeping climb. I could see the other girls a few wheels back and I tried to keep up with the men, feeling quite comfortable. Pretty soon we started descending and swooping through long, fast corners. Three elite guys overtook me, but then I was on my own for ages.
The track had some pretty distinct zones. The first few kilometres were fun and flowy, with some cool jumps and logs and a sandy/hardpack surface. This ended with one of the few sections of fire road past the dreaded chicken farm, where every racer put in a solid maximal effort just to get away from the smell, and turned into narrowing singletrack that eventually gave led into what I called ‘Grugland’.
(Digression alert) Although the children’s book character Grug, as many Aussie readers will know, came from a Burrawang tree, he actually most closely resembles a grasstree (Xanthorrhoea sp.), and consensus has it Grug is indeed a grasstree that the author Ted Prior pretty much got it wrong. So! Grugland was a 2–3km stretch through the densest forest of grasstrees I’ve ever seen. The track was narrow, twisted, and incredibly close to the very solid Grugs, and I kept a tight grip as I went through each lap, my arms flayed by the spikey ‘leaves’ of grass. By the end of the race several riders had been less lucky than I, with a few beheaded bits of Grug lying beside the track. The grasstrees gave way to the hardest section – an even tighter, twistier run of singletrack through a swampy tea tree forest with narrow trunks so close together that nearly everyone I spoke to had clipped their bars, knees, or elbows, and it was difficult to maintain speed or any kind of flow. Before too long this was all over and we were into The Maze, a sandy, mercifully fast section of sinewy blind corners blasting through bush so dense it was like a solid hedge about 8 feet high. From this point the track got rougher and rockier, all of it old-school singletrack of off-camber corners, log jumps, ups and downs, before the final 5km.
These last five kilometres took nearly as long to ride as the first 20km of the track, and featured almost all the 460m of climbing in each lap. While never really steep or technical, the relentless upping and downing took its toll, particularly in the intense humidity and blazing heat, which must have reached the mid-thirties by mid-morning. The lap ended with a 500-metre run down a swooping flow track, with tonnes of jumps, berms, and spectators, before transition.
By the end of the first lap I realised the shifter problem was not resolved, and I was having dreadful trouble with my gears, with the chain skipping off all the four or so easier cogs on my cassette except the (nearly useless on this course) 42-tooth. I struggled with this on the climb, unable to find a useable gear, and while over the next two laps I worked out where to alternate between spinning and slowing down, and grinding up mid-cassette and hammering my legs, I also had trouble dealing with the mental struggle: ‘WTF is wrong?’ ‘Why won’t the gears work?’ ‘Did Mike change my cassette and not tell me?’ ‘I’m gonna kill him’, etc. The problem is still a mystery but it seems to be that the poor shifter (it’s had a good innings) needs a service and wasn’t pulling the cable through properly. I’m happy I managed to deal with it and that for once, a flat course played in my favour – if it had been really hilly out there I would have struggled desperately with so few useable gears. I was able to click, clatter, and grind through most of the lap without too much problem, just a lot of noise – much of which was my own swearing.
One thing I’ve learnt is never to buy into the ‘race emergency’ scenario. The fact of mountain bike racing is that a clean race where nothing goes wrong is a rare occasion indeed – nearly everyone has to deal with some kind of mechanical, crash, or bad luck. While I was battling my shifter, Briony Mattocks, a few minutes behind me, was attacked by a snake which caused her to suffer a big crash on some fast fire road. But you should see the snake.
I was very low on fluid by the second half of the first lap so decided to take the Camelbak for my second, sacrificing a few seconds in transition to throw it on. This was the best decision I made all race. I swapped back to bottles but I should have actually refilled it and used it again. I was unsure how much of a gap I had on Briony in second, though, and I simply didn’t want to stop. Everyone was incredibly thirsty and ended up rationing their fluid, and while hydration packs don’t look pro, they certainly do the job in conditions like those.
Where I had expected tonnes and tonnes of traffic with the teams event and the 50km racers, in actual fact I saw very few people on track. At times I thought I heard the clicking of gears or spinning of a freewheel, but more often than not it was a stick falling from a tree, or the buzz of cicadas in the heat. By the third lap I was almost completely alone. I had no solid info on where the other racers were, but I knew Briony is a strong finisher so I kept my head down, kept clicking into harder gears, getting out of the saddle, ‘sprinting’ out of corners. I also primed myself for the inevitable slump I tend to get in lap races when, at the beginning of the third lap, I realise to my immense anguish that I’m only halfway through. I made it my mission to go for it on the third lap and accept the pain and it worked a treat – for once my body hurt more than my thoughts. Before too long and it was the final lap. I gave myself a little cheer every time I passed a landmark for the last time: goodbye jump! Goodbye berm! Goodbye chicken smell! Goodbye Grugs! My ears buzzed, my head pounded, my back, legs, and arms ached, a blister formed on my palm (that’s a first) – An above-average amount of pain for a five-and-a-half hour race – I blame the corners and the heat.
A few notes on some things that helped: I wore Adidas Evil Eye Halfrim Pro sunglasses with ‘LST Bright’ (I call them orange) lenses, which were just perfect in the really variable light conditions, from dense shade to blinding sunlight, and helped immensely when it came to picking out the nearly invisible track from dense foliage and moving shadows. I used Ride Mechanic Bike Mix lube which has the huge benefit of being made locally, so it was perfect for Brisbane’s dry conditions and showed no sign of wearing off after nearly 6-hours’ use. I also ate about 12 SiS gels. The Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team have an amazing sponsor in PureEdge nutrition, but they don’t do gels, so we buy our own. SiS have been my favourite for a long time and yesterday the fact that they are isotonic (hydrating) was really, really valuable. They didn’t stave off the dehydration but they didn’t make it worse, and I had no cramping and no stomach problems.
I was chuffed to win over the talented Briony Mattocks in second, but had to sit down for several minutes and sip on cold water before I was much good to anyone. Mechanicals were pretty decisive in the men’s event, with Michael England riding a perfect race to win the day, followed by the ever-strong Jason English who recovered from a broken seat to beat Ethan Kelly from the Sunshine Coast in third, while James Downing suffered a terrible puncture and had to change a tyre, coming fourth. While sadly neither could make it yesterday, Jenny and Andy Blair have won the National XCM Series.
The Bayview Blast had an incredible atmosphere. Every marshal, spectator, and participant was full of friendly words and encouragement and I while I think the event suffered a bit of a lack of elite participants, being relatively new and the last of the series after a long, long season for Aussie marathoners, it has a huge future and should definitely be back on the National XCM calendar next year. And hell, why not in mid-winter!?
Check here for full results