I woke this morning on day two of The Redback in Alice Springs to what I thought was a truck reversing into my hotel room. Turns out the wind had blown up overnight and was roaring through the courtyard of the Mercure, shaking the ghost gums and kicking up sand. It brought cooler weather, with maximum temperatures today hitting just 24 degrees. So while I swore off bottles yesterday after my feedzone kerfuffle, I decided to run one for the ITT, a 22-kilometre burn through Alice’s eastern trails, before switching to Camelbaks for the remaining three stages of the event. I also wondered how much of this wind would be blowing directly in my face.
While the TSSes (training stress scores) I rack up during racing aren’t necessarily more than I would in a big training week, I find I need to eat more, and more, and MOAR, the longer a race goes on. Handily, I also find that my appetite gets lower and lower the more tired, battered, and nerve-wracked I get. Stage racing is as much about what goes on off the bike as the watts you push through the pedals, so I’ve stacked my hotel bar fridge with snacks and treats to get me through.
I usually chuck any attempt at healthy eating out the window and just eat one food group: Whatever I Can Get Down (Usually Junk). By the end of a stage race I usually subsist on a combination of milkshakes, hot chips, and peanut M&Ms. Anyway. This morning it took me rather a long while to chew through six Weet-Bix (a sorry show after my breakfast buffet performance yesterday), ending abruptly when I realised I was running late for my race start.
I threw my kit on and pedalled over, did a lame warm up (rode for four minutes at 100 watts), then realised I’d forgotten all my spares and tools, and it was too late to go and get them. I promised myself not to break anything instead. I filled in the remaining 20 minutes by visiting the Alice Springs Golf Club’s ladies’ bathroom three times. The Alice Springs Golf Club’s ladies is perhaps the nicest bathroom ever bestowed on a mountain bike stage race, and deserves mention. There are flowers, scented soaps, a floral lounge, lots of whimsical posters (The only reason I’m a good golfer is that I have a lot of balls), fresh towels, and beauty products, and I learnt that Sunday night is steak night, and how to care for the green.
It was finally time to go, and I got off to a spectacular start by missing my pedal 18 times, then turning into five kilometres of block headwind and hitting a top speed of 15km/h.
I had had some thoughts of going all-out for the course record, which would mean I’d have to ride the 22-kilometre stage in one hour or less. I tried not to let the immense grovel into the wind deter me, and just resorted to ugly, hard, sideways-headed pedal mashing. Today’s stage offered a bunch of delights, including sand traps, nasty climbs, a thankless stretch of something called ‘bulldozer track’, and of course the wind. When we got to the bulldozer track (which was as nice as it sounds) I could see second-placed female, Kim, who’d started a minute in front of me, about 15 seconds ahead, and I found this rather motivating.
The course swung off the sandy road and back into singletrack, where we were blessed with a fast but not-all-that-useful tailwind. I jammed the bike into the 11-tooth and scared myself shitless riding swooping trails at about 40km/h, braking stupidly on sandy corners and pinging around whenever I let concentration slip. Soon I was on Kim’s wheel and she kindly let me past. Then sat on. Uh oh!
What to do? We were back in open, headwind country and she was getting a good draft! I decided not to push it and said goodbye to any remaining chance at the course record (probably already out of my grasp, but a girl can dream!). The important race is for the overall, and I couldn’t waste energy helping Kim (lovely as she is) get to the finish line, so I powered down. I sat up and had a drink, I looked at the scenery, and I wondered if she’d pass me again. After a bit of this we hit a maze of sandtraps and both of us made mistakes, but I got lucky and found a tiny gap, and with the wind swinging about managed to pull away.
Then we were climbing, a mass of fast men catching up and everything dissolving into confusion. I crawled away, the wind blew me clean off the track and I had to walk, then I crept away again. Suddenly it was the last, fast, techy descent. On the way into the golf course the real top guys were passing at incredible speed. ‘Jump on!’, yelled James Downing. No chance! I rested my hands on the bars and put my head down all the way to the line. 1:03:53 and top 20 overall. Three and a half minutes off the record (that’s a lot), and a good excuse to come back another year and try again!
The men’s race, which I witnessed in the final kilometre of the course, looked close, fast, and really rather friendly. In the end, Chris Hanson won in 53:40, with Ben Henderson in second on 54:13, and local boy Ben Gooley third in 55:33. Kim Willocks came in about 1 minute 30 behind me. Zoe Cuthbert took third place in 106:47.
Overall, I have a narrow lead in the women’s category, while Ben Henderson retains his lead in the men’s. The gaps are small, and anything can happen!
Tonight we’re headed out over the same course for the 22-kilometre stage 4 night race. I’ll update you tomorrow on that one.