On the first weekend of March, the final round of the Subaru MTBA National Series was run in Toowoomba, about an hour and a half inland of Brisbane, in Queensland. With four riders spread over 3 states on the Subaru-MarathonMTB.COM Team for 2016, it’s pretty rare that paths cross many times through the year, given different goals, racing disciplines, and priorities. But for Toowoomba, both Imogen Smith, Sebastian Jayne and myself were able to head up the range for a weekend of cross-country racing.
One of the benefits of having riders in three states is that you might sometimes get assistance from a team mate when travelling to a state that’s not your own. In this case, as Imogen and I live in Brisbane, Sebastian was able to travel without the need to book a hire car, lug lots of tools, or think too much about accommodation and general logistics. And being able to build a bike in a home workshop is way better than a car park.
It also proved to be an excellent opportunity to supply Seb with his Ride Mechanic bike maintenance product for the year – it’s a Queensland brand after all!
Brisbane isn’t a long way from Toowoomba, but with with bikes, bodies and equipment loaded in the trusty Subaru Forester – it wasn’t exactly a fast trip up the range to the Garden City. You could probably spot the car a mile away, given how covered we were with Norcos. What’s the collective noun for Norcos anyway?
Travelling as a team can create new challenges. Our team structure has changed a little since 2012 and 2013, when we had five riders. At that time, we all pretty much focused on the same races, so often it was a larger group of us in the one location, eating together, flying together, travelling together. It was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t always the best way to spread our riders around to cover the broad range of events in Australia – and abroad.
As a smaller team now, we tend to be operating on our own or in pairs. As you can imagine, as Imogen and I are married we do a lot of travelling and racing together. So on a different tact to years passed, Imogen and I sat back and watched as young Seb Jayne and photographer Robert Conroy navigated shopping for the weekend, and cooking themselves some dinner. Suffice to say our meal was a little better cooked, and probably more nutritionally sound. We used to just have one person cook – and for the next team gathering, that’s probably going to be the better solution after seeing uncooked pasta, pineapple, overcooked pumpkin, and wraps all used in the one meal.
Course check in Toowoomba
Friday brought race rego and practice. The Norco Revolver 9.2 FS team bikes are still pretty new. While Sebastian had some good time racing on his at the Snowies MTB Festival, Imogen was yet to race hers in anger after a plan travel mechanical forced her out of The Willo a few minutes in. Getting time on a new bike in a race situation is imperative to knowing if you’ve got the setup 100% right. So having the time do do a few practice laps on the dusty course at Jubilee Park was definitely worthwhile. Course practice is rarely possible in a stage race, or overseas marathon. But having the chance to find the best lines, and choose the right tyre pressure, shock pressure and lenses for your eyewear is all essential for high level XCO performance.
Seb managed to crash through a chute, and spend some time with the first aid crew – there was no serious damage, but a further trip to the chemist for more wound dressings was on the cards. And some great help from Trek Racing Australia’s Peter Dowse to get his busted brake lever sorted out.
Night number two saw some better meals, and the general pre-race banter and antics. Bottles were filled, bikes washed and lubed,
Race Day: XCO in Toowoomba
With the complexities of 3 racers racing in 3 races – Saturday was always going to be long. Imogen was up first in the Elite Women’s race, lining up against stars like Bec Henderson, Jenni King, Samara Shepard, and local riders Anna Beck and Jodie Willett – plus quite a few others from around the country.
From Imogen Smith:
“I headed off to the Toowoomba XCO national round in an effort to get some hard racing and riding-under-pressure practice to feed my big goal of the year – the Australian XCM Champs in Derby, Tasmania on 10th April. I ‘trained through’ for Toowoomba – the only national XCO event I’ll be doing this season, so turning up on the start line far from fresh and worried about my singletrack skills (I always find something to obsess about before the start gun) meant nerves really got the better of me and I rode dreadfully for the first couple of laps – bad lines, sharp, unnecessary braking, shocking feed zone skillz etc. – nearly pulling out at one point (when I realised I was riding at tempo heartrate and almost burst into tears!). I caught sight of Karen Hill, a fantastic rider who was having a similarly bad day, though, and although I dropped a chain right when I was considering a triumphant overtake (which then seemed to take an hour to fix), I felt a bit more in-the-race and with another lap I passed the lovely Karen and began to feel more positive – corroborated in negative splits. Things were looking up… then all of a sudden the race was over.
I was pleased enough with where I ended up, I loved the track, and it was a good reminder that you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. I’m not the fastest singletrack rider but I have other skills I can draw on, too. After presentations I headed out for some more training kms – but I had to cut those short when I realised I couldn’t see out of one eye and that I was developing a migraine – which I was lucky enough to catch early and nuke with some ibuprofen (I don’t get bad migraines – I just struggle to see. I’m very lucky and I could carry on as normal within an hour). I got a lift home and realised there was nothing in the fridge, I was without a car, and starving. I’m so grateful to our sponsor Pure Edge because I always have a quality recovery drink right after I ride, even if I find myself in the middle of the bush – but that had well and truly worn off by this point! I scraped together a pasta meal and raided the freezer for icecream, then headed to bed for an early night…
I’ve been incredibly lucky this year to be invited to join a fantastic bunch of women (some of them old friends) in the new, Brisbane-based Harcourts-UQCC Women’s Road Team, and for the first time in years I’ve been building my top end in crit racing and – wait for it – sprint training – on the road. So I backed up the XCO race with the first round of the Sizzling Summer Series criterium the next day – making for a pretty intense weekend of racing! Data doesn’t lie: I actually performed much better in the crit than I did the day before at the XCO – even though the XCO was more important to me. This just goes to show what you can do once the pressure’s off. Something I’ll try to keep in mind at my target races in the coming months.”
There was little room between elite men’s and women’s, and I was kept busy finding Seb’s prepared bottles, taking photos of the prize giving for Imogen’s race, putting a hamburger in my mouth – and then getting to the start in case Seb needed anything at the last minute. It’s busy, but it is rewarding knowing that all the little bits of help you can provide do add up.
Lining up against the likes of Dan McConnell and much of the rest of Australia’s XCO elite – Seb looked fresh and ready – despite a crash on Friday that took some skin off and bruised his ribs.
From Sebastian Jayne:
“Dealing with ‘stuff’ seems to go hand in hand with both bicycle racing and life. Dealing with good stuff like ice cream is fun – hurts a little if you eat too fast, but overall a good outcome. Dealing with bad stuff like crashing isn’t fun. Hurts a lot at first, and then you wake up the next day, stuck to the sheets, muscles seized up, with the knowledge an XCO race of 1:30h at #Fullgas lays only hours away!
Come warm up, the nerves were hitting pretty hard, and even my caffeine gels couldn’t calm me down … I knew I had been riding well in training and after a good warm up the body wasn’t feeling too bad. But warm up pace and XC pace is a night-and-day comparison. With a predominantly singletrack lap, the initial start climb was vital and therefore required a gear up from #Fullgas. So about Superman’s endurance pace …
At least that’s how fast it felt, and after the first lap my mind was scrambled. Although that’s a standard day in the office for XC’ing, the added heat wasn’t helping! I’m learning not to use ‘fluffy’ words in Uni at the moment but adding in oppressive to describe the heat seems fitting. Its unjust infliction of hardship was not welcome. By the second lap, things weren’t looking or feeling good. The body was twisted on the bike and all the bumps and niggles from the crash seemed to be continually amplified as I pushed on.
By about lap 3-4 it was lights out and everything shut down. The body was done and the mind was over pushing through the pain. Dealing with the good stuff like ice cream is fun. Dealing with defeat isn’t fun. Having a second chance the next day to go full gas and redeem yourself with a 4th in a short course race, I’d throw that one straight in the fun box!”
My time in Toowoomba
And my race? Well I elected to race Masters 1/2 as that’s my age group, and it allowed me to feed my team mates and do some reporting. Alas, not only does standing in a feedzone make for poor preparation – so does general poor preparation. I’m loathe do to much intensity focused training, and it showed. Although I got one hero lap in – that was it before I retired to the side of the course to leave the other blokes to fight it out.
Back in Brisbane, bikes were cleaned, the car was unpacked – and we went out for an early Thai meal. We joked about the weekend, laughed at each other’s expense, and talked about the rest of the year. There aren’t many opportunities where 3 or more of us will be in the one spot, but I’m looking forward to them. While it’s always a little more running around with more people, it’s still a bigger experience and it’s great to be able to share your team mates successes, or be there to support them when things don’t go to plan.