You know those cyclists you read about, blessed with an abundance of natural talent, who recount their entry into the sport of cycling by winning their very first bike race? Or they just know from a very early age that they’re somehow ‘different’ from the rest of their competitors? Well, that’s not me.
I can only think of one single race win off the top of my head and even then, it was because the person who crossed the line first had entered an age category, rather than Elite! If Will Hayter hadn’t titled his article, “A Journeyman’s Journey to XCM Worlds” in relation to his participation at XCM World Champs last year, I would have used it for this article. In fact, I probably would have used his first sentence too (“Journeyman: A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding”). Instead, perhaps I’ll take the term “Everyman: An ordinary or typical human being”.
I’ve always known that I’m different from my competitors. But when I say different, I mean that i’m a terribly average athlete. I once got quite excited when quizzing my parents on their sporting prowess, in an attempt to convince myself that I might have the same superhuman genes, when my father told me that he had taken three hat-tricks in high school cricket. My excitement didn’t last long when he qualified that by telling me that at the time he was playing in the Under 13Fs! It seems that I was always destined to be athletically average.
However, despite a rather ordinary physiology combined with some persistent asthma which started at a very young age, I’ve inherited an extremely strong work ethic and stubbornness that I found very well-suited to the sport of endurance mountain biking. After discovering that I could combine my love of international travel with mountain bike racing, my life hasn’t really ever been the same. In the last five years or so, I’ve ticked off the Crocodile Trophy (back when it was ‘proper’ hard), Tour de Timor, Cape Epic and TransAlp. I’ve also done countless European marathon races. These are the events that get me really excited to race mountain bikes – big climbs, big crowds, tough racing and a touch of that mythical element we simply call ‘Euro’. Throughout every race that I’ve done, my enthusiasm has far outweighed my talent, however by applying a stubbornly strong work ethic to my training, I’ve seen consistent improvement year on year.
Like Will, I started to wonder if I could someday race XCM World Championships. It started more as an undeveloped thought bubble, much like I now realise that my decision to race the Crocodile Trophy was made unconsciously while watching SBS highlights of what looked like an amazingly crazy race back in the 1990s (a time when I was short, fat, unfit and never dreamed of racing bikes competitively ). However, with my evolution of training and results over time, it ultimately became a realistic goal and one that I concluded, as Will did, that the UCI MTB Marathon Series was my best bet at qualifying for XCM Worlds.
At the beginning of 2015, I took a look at the UCI Marathon Series schedule and noticed a new round listed in the Philippines. I’d already committed to racing TransAlp that year so a second European trip was off the cards due to a lack of funds and leave and the only other possibilities were in South America. The event in the Philippines suited my schedule, appeared to be logistically fairly simple to put together and was a lot closer to home than any other UCI Marathon Series event I was aware of.
After procrastinating all year, I made a snap decision a couple of weeks out to commit to the race and give it a crack. I have to admit, it was probably one of the most stressful races I’ve ever done. One where it doesn’t matter if I did the best race I was capable of, if I didn’t get a top 20 result, it would be a failure for me and the whole trip to the Philippines a waste. Not only that, but the sudden shock of travelling from Melbourne (just out of winter) to racing in 34 degree heat with 80% humidity in the Philippines, having to match the ultra lightweight Asian mountain bikers (I’m not a big guy but looked like a monster next to some of these guys) and the other international guys who all had the same idea of qualifying for XCM Worlds as me. After sitting just outside the top 20 after the main climb, I was pretty stressed out about the whole situation, not helped by the fact that everyone I asked told me I was in a different position well outside the top 20. Fortunately for me, I caught a couple of guys on the descent, fired up the diesel engine in the second half and scraped in for 18th place and ultimately selection on the Australian team. While disappointed that there are only two Aussie males racing (a statistic that isn’t out of the ordinary going by past years), perhaps this will improve in the years ahead. If my story can inspire others to have a go, even better.
Rather than nerves or anxiety, my overwhelming feeling at the prospect of racing the world’s best, is pride in representing Australia at the highest level. But before I get there, there’s another Euro MTB adventure on the cards which I can’t wait to get stuck into! I certainly won’t be winning on the 26th of June, but just being there will be a victory for me and for the “Everyman”.