The recent Australian XCM Championship was my first ever National Championship in this discipline of cycling. Despite having raced numerous elite national and state titles in road racing and XCO racing I was perhaps more intimidated by the challenge ahead of me at the XCM nationals. Being amongst only 2 riders who opted to take the opportunity to race twice on the weekend including the 1/2 marathon on the Saturday I was a little apprehensive about how my body would react to the demands that lay ahead.
My plan was to start at a reasonable tempo and then attempt to close off the final 2 laps with a bit more speed. Truth be told this is actually my plan for every XCM race I have ever done which would be a number above 50. Yet, as always this plan never is executed. It is so easy to get taken away by the thrill and the excitement of racing and the stress that you are missing a crucial move, or getting stuck behind a race deciding gap.. I make a conscious decision not to train or race with any data whatsoever relying on my own sensations, in this situation this does not lend itself to success. I rode lap 1 with good intentions at a reasonable pace in a good group of riders, by lap 2 I was feeling ok and could imagine my goal of finishing top 10 coming to fruition.
Lap 3/5 I rode with Ben May and Riley Taylor setting a pace I thought would be comfortable. It is not until you reach boiling point sometimes that you know you are there. At the beginning of lap 4 I bonked big time, losing pace with Ben and Riley and surrendering to the grim creeper who summoned me to ‘no man’s land’ which is a lonely place where motivation is hard to come by. A few more riders passed me as I started to re establish a new goal – to finish.
I know the feeling of leaving a race with a DNF next to the name, and wanted to avoid this feeling with as much power as I could. Pedalling squares and seeing dots I set out for a final lap 5 of the 17km course. The end was in sight when of course, BANG I punctured on the sharp rocks just as I had been thinking to give myself a pat on the back for good tyre/line choice and avoiding flats all weekend.
A kind passer by lent me a tyre lever as I wrestled with a stubborn bead on a wide rim with weak, weak arms. Alas, I was up and running again, made it to the finish satisfied and grateful to make it through a national elite championship.
Having a good understanding of what it takes to train for an event like this gives me upmost respect for those ahead of me on the results sheet. With a lifestyle now that I am lucky grants me 90 minute rides most days of the week, knowing that to gain the punch for a solid 4-5 hours requires much dedication and commitment to time on the bike and intensity for amounts of time that many people would consider a ‘shift’ at work. This racing rewards the tough, the driven and the devoted. A pure athlete will always win a XCM championship event, someone who understands pain, accepts it and continues to push despite it. Perhaps XCM is the discipline of cycling that grants us the best lessons for life in general. You will not succeed in XCM racing unless you handle a whole load of suffering on your journey, much the same as life in general.
The 3 time Australian national champion Brendan Johnston is a down to earth personification of these values. His handling of handing over his crown to a new champion Cameron Ivory speaks volumes of the professionalism and grace in both these athletes. Again, this speaks to the values that enable success in XCM. An understanding of suffering and a tolerance and respect for pain. Subsequently, the XCM community is usually a quite tight knit one with athletes respecting each others ability in this excruciating sport.
The top 5 on the men’s podium are all names that would not be amiss among the top 20 at an elite road national championship. In fact the winner Cameron Ivory achieved this last year as has Michael England and Brendan Johnston in years past.
These are all well rounded athletes with an extraordinary ability to deal with discomfort. I see a list of names who all have a lot to look forward to or have also already achieved tremendously in cycling. Why I love coming back to XCM racing, the people are genuine and it reminds us of what life is all about… Nothing worthwhile in life was ever meant to be easy. 5 laps of that brutal course in Townsville was definitely not easy but definitely feels worthwhile. Congratulations to the most deserving history making champion Cameron Ivory! The very first Australian MTBer to hold the XCO, XCM and XCE titles all for the same calendar year! Fair to say the best rider wins in XCM, respect also to the most successful Australian XCM racer of all time Brendan Johnston.