One of the most important breakthroughs in knowledge in the past few years has been the ascension of the alternative fact.
The alternative fact basically means something that you deem to be true because a) it’s more convenient to your preconceived opinion than the actual truth or b) because you couldn’t actually be bothered to verify its accuracy. The alternative fact has blossomed in the enlightened ages of social media, mostly because the veracity of information is secondary to both the immediacy of the information, and its shock factor.
At this point, I can see a few confused readers. MarathonMTB is meant to be about bike racing, not just another crazy guy with a blog ranting about politics and in the inexorable decline of civilisation.
Politics are everywhere at the moment. You can’t even stop at a rest area toilet without being bombarded with political opinions – although I suppose a society that engages in political discourse while unceremoniously taking a dump is better than the alternative.
It would be fair to say that alternative facts pervade both sides of politics, and many aspects of life. Bike racing is not excluded from this.
The Willo Enduro was scheduled for the 7th consecutive year at Wingello State Forest on the 26th of February. The race is run by the Southern Highlands Cycling club as a lasting commemoration to James Williamson, who sadly passed away while competing in the Cape Epic in 2010. As a race with a friendly club vibe set to the back-drop of the stunning Wingello trails in the Southern Highlands, it’s quickly gathered a strong following. This year, it also formed the first round of the XCM National Series, drawing a host of strong riders, including Olympians Dan McConnell and Bec Henderson on some very shiny new Scott bikes.
The Willo Enduro in 2017 also stood as a shining counterexample to the claim that cross-country mountain bike racing is dying, with an increased field in 2017 across almost all categories. This led to a buzzing event hub on Sunday morning, with three distinct queues between the registration tent, the dreary-eyed zombies of the coffee line, and the nervous and shifting souls of the port-a-loo line.
Wingello also has a distinct tendency to look for alternative facts when it comes to the topic of summer. While most of NSW is bone-dry, somehow, the trails ended up on the spectrum of damp and drifty to delightfully tacky. While most of NSW was basking in a roasting summer, the mythical mists of the Southern Highlands rolled in across the escarpment in a cruel, wintery bind.
The draw of the Willo Enduro
For me, the Willo held a couple of particular pulls. It’s always been a favourite race for the superb trails and camaraderie, and in this instance, would be my last race in Australia for quite some time. It also provided a great opportunity to test out my new Norco Revolver hardtail, still almost entirely in stock guise. Initial impressions are fantastic – the bike specification is ready to go out of the box, with sensible parts, good finishing kit, and tubeless valves in the box along with tubeless ready Maxxis Ikons stock-standard. But most importantly for me – this bike just feels intuitive and comfortable from the very first ride. It answers all my preconceptions of just how a 29er hardtail should climb, sprint, and rail singletrack, and does it all repeatedly and reliably.
The race began into the morning drizzle. In previous years the Willo has featured a long barrel on fire-roads before the first singletrack, but this year, headed almost immediately into the trails (the course had been re-routed for an Angry Bee hazard). With an inattentive start, I found myself a long way back, and in the slick surface, wheels were soon dropped on the singletrack. With a long time to wait until a major open climb, it was a suboptimal start.
Up the road, a small and very select group had formed, including Brendan ‘Trekky’ Johnston, Dan McConnell, Tristan Ward, Michael Potter, and Mark Tupalski. These guys hung around and attacked each other through the early sinuous and surprisingly muddy singletrack, with tyres drifting and skating off roots and rocks, and the occasional bit of a wheelspin under power. Meanwhile in the women’s race, Eliza Kwan, Bec Henderson and Jenny Fay were trading blows while carving a path through the men’s fields they’d started behind.
Towards the end of the lap, the most challenging climbs reared their heads. Trekky used the KOM climb to attack the group, which subsequently exploded. Similarly in the women’s race, Jenny and Bec used their power on the open roads to prise open a gap. Despite the smorgasbord of singletrack and the relatively flat terrain, the climbs were quickly proving critical.
A personal perspective at the Willo Enduro
As for my race? I foolishly jumped on 50km winner Ben Henderson when he came flying through. The remainder of the lap was great fun until, about 20km in, the lights in the engine room simply went out. No cramping, no violent pain, no dribbling – just a total lack of power.
To take inspiration from the world of alternative facts, I soon found myself making great progress at moving through the field. This is quite like alternative facts in that, while true that I was moving through the field, I completely failed to specify which direction, and have relied on the normal use of the phrase.
I was, in fact, going backwards. At an alarming and ever increasing rate.
In lieu of this problematic situation, it was time to engage in some more alternative facts, and fabricate rationales for my dismal failure to maintain anything resembling a tempo. I picked on chronic man-flu, relocation stress, work stress – almost anything and everything available. I considered blaming the bike, before inconveniently remembering just how much I’d been loving it on the first lap, and then considering how admirably it was handling the slop.
The unfortunate reality is that mountain biking is a sport of very hard truths. There can be no hiding from things that are going wrong on the track – the only question is how you deal with them.
While self-pity and internal tantrums are useful approaches for a bit of short-term indulgence, they don’t do a very good job at getting the racing in hand done, or bringing that finish line closer. My first attempt was #enduro – crawling up the hills at the bare minimum and then bombing the greasy descents as hard as possible. My second strategy was related – sitting up a bit, and just enjoying the gorgeous Wingello trails in their own right, as they dried to super hero grip under the steady influence of a warming autumnal day. While this couldn’t relieve the fact that pedalling was proving problematic, it gave me adequate motivation to keep plodding around to the finish.
Results at the Willo Enduro
In the women’s race, the actual racing was tight and tense. Bec and Jenny were locked in a shoulder-to-shoulder, neck-and-neck battle for supremacy, with Bec eventually making a move and stamping a gap in the final kms of the race for a fantastic win. The men’s race was no less thrilling, as Trekky and Dan were shoulder to shoulder, coming to a thrilling sprint finish across the line, with the National Marathon champion prevailing.
A big thank you to Southern Highlands Cycling club for an excellent event, and the increase in numbers is easy to understand. Full results can be found here and the excellent photos of David Blucher can be found here.