With restrictions of movement and cancellation of events in 2020 race days for our team have been few and far between. Myself and Mike Blewitt were able to race and report from the Arabian Epic- Jordan in February. Following that the classic Otway Odyssey weekend in Victoria and MTBA XCO national championship were the last race’s before a long racing hiatus that some of us are just now emerging from. GREAT to see Mike Blewitt and Imogen Smith compete at the recent Flight Centre XCM Epic in Queensland!
Myself and team mate Sam Fox both reside in the island state of Tasmania, that has been cut off from Australia let alone the rest of the world since March, 2020. So to assist with team morale, motivation and for the pure ridings sake we teamed up for a mini camp in the stunning Tasmanian coastal town of St Helens which has recently become a mecca for MTB in the state.
Myself and Sam spent some time to reflect upon how 2020 has been for us and on the development of our sport in this far flung yet unique corner of the world.
Justin Morris’ reflections:
As for most of the world’s population 2020 has thrown all my plans of course. perhaps a good reminder that the only certainties in life are death and taxes! As most of my working life is conducted either overseas or on the Australian mainland being marooned in Tasmania initially filled me with anxiety predominantly surrounding income, connections, family and career path purpose. However, necessity breeds innovation and I have since I think adopted a sustainable life not dependent upon travel. Utilising technology and good networking I think has been critical in my situation.
Racing is a part of my life that I have missed tremendously, that feeling of drive, grit and fitness has been a part of my life since 2000 and going without it in 2020 made me realise how much I do draw from it. Alas, my racing plans for 2020 were somewhat reduced from what i had been used to. Plans centred around the Epic series in Australia and The Pioneer in New Zealand. When these goals were removed training became just riding, which is actually somewhat therapeutic. Forcing oneself to appreciate the moment of pedalling rather than having the practice wrapped up around an extrinsic goal. So I have actually enjoyed my riding in 2020, although there has been a lot less of it and has been likely slower than it has ever been. The practice of riding without a specific goal highlighted to me the more simple joys of Cycling. This I am grateful for.
The other HUGE benefit this sport offers which was robbed from us for a short time here in Tasmania is the social benefits. So to be able to team up with a mate and shred trails and roads was an awesome opportunity! Sam Fox is somewhat of a local legend in the St helens area and discovering the new St Helens MTB park with him was a massive smile inducer! These trails have been groomed into the hillside just metres from the seaside, meaning a drier and more rock foundation than the famed nearby Derby trail network. I found the taste of trails we rode to be just as if not more enjoyable than Derby especially on my 100mm Norco Revolver duallie. Really cool to see amazing facilities set up here and close to a major town can’t recommend this as a riding destination highly enough!
After shredding around these trails the following day we embarked on the famed local road loop over Elephant Pass where Sam displayed the rich vein of form he is currently riding by taking numerous strava KOM’s on the journey. These roads have played a part in the training of riders like Richie Porte and Will Clarke. Stunning loop with coast, mountains and rolling farm land.. Can really experience everything in about 90km loop here. This day I converted my Norco Threshold CX rig easily into somewhat of a road racing machine, slapped on some Maxxis High Road 700x25C tyres, switch a roo’d the pedals from Shimano XT to Ultegra road pedals and the thing rails just as well my normal road bike if not better and light as a feather.
Capping the weekend off with trails and photo’s on the becoming iconic Blue Tier trail was the highlight for me. Although we only did the bottom section of this new 44km trail from the mountains to the sea, this was truly next level riding. In an age of trails geared toward ‘big travel’ bikes it was refreshing to be on a trail where everything was achievable and enjoyable on our XC rigs! The pictures by Richard Tebb capture how sweet this ridng is.. Can’t wait to get back here with a number plate on for the Dragon Trail MTB stage race in March, 2020!
From here, with a question mark still on when we may be able to leave Tasmania, racing goal setting is still a bit of a quandary. As a 34 year old now this does not phase me too much. I am grateful to have 20+ years of racing and fun life experiences under my belt before this virus and economic situation took hold of us. To be honest I do feel for the young generation of riders whom had and still have so many dreams, goals and experiences to live in life. I hope for their sake this virus situation will pass soon..
Sam Fox’s reflections
It’s pretty crazy to think that a 3 day, 2 person, team camp, has been the highlight of my training since lockdown began. But this is certainly the case. Since National XCO Champs in March, I have done a total of 4 races, 3 of which have been on a road bike, (I had planned to do over 20, most of which were located in Europe).
Fortunately for me, motivation to ride has been one of the lesser problems personally, so I have been training 20-24h/week, in preparation for the racing I hoped would come. But as the year has progressed, even domestic racing looked less likely, and more logistically challenging, so getting away for a weekend on the coast, was the perfect reset.
I was surprised to hear Justin had never ridden in St Helens, and had only been there once before! So I took it upon myself to show him some of the local sights (although we barely scratched the surface).
We arrived on Friday afternoon, and hopped on our mountain bikes; riding out to the trails from St Helens is superbly convenient, and from just outside of town is a designated trail that meanders its way to the trailhead. First we rode Pearla, Rock Lobster, and Wedged In, all of which feature the same sandy/rocky surface that lets you test the limit of your EIE carbon wheels. With our legs warmed up, and Justin’s excitement levels sufficiently stoked, I suggested we ride up the fire trail to ride some of the longer descent focused tracks. Not knowing what this involved, he agreed, and for anyone who has tried it, they probably regretted it within a few hundred metres. For anyone who hasn’t ridden the firetrail I’m talking about, it is a steep, rutted, and rocky climb, with an average gradient of around 15% for over a kilometre, with a maximum gradient of nearly 30%. Lucky Justin still has his roadie legs, and absolutely powered up it. Finally we finished with a quick descent back down into St Helens, and enjoyed a pizza for dinner in town.
Now, you can’t go to St Helens, with a road bike, and not ride Elephant, and St Mary’s pass. So despite the inclement weather, we threw our Champ Sys jackets on, and headed out. Cruising out of St Helens, along the wonderfully winding roads, and stopping for a customary coffee stop before too long, before continuing along the coast, past wineyards and some classic coastal bush. Finally we arrived at the bottom of Elephant pass, of which I had been eyeing off the Strava KOM (here) for a few days, so with a nice lead-out from Justin for a few minutes I attacked the slight headwind with gusto. Feeling good I settled into a rhythm and punched over the top (just taking the KOM by 10 seconds or so), before riding back down to meet Justin, and continuing the important part of the ride, socialising!
We cruised back down St Mary’s pass, feeling grateful to be on Maxxis Highroad tires, and Shimano Disc brakes, as the pass is infamous for crashes on the winding descent in the dry, and it was WET.
With the coastal climate being (generally) warmer than Launceston, unlike my home trails that turn into a mud bath, winter had kept the trails in impeccable condition, with the sandy trails absorbing the excess moisture, and in some places, actually improving traction. With that in mind, I knew I had to show Justin the Bay of Fires trail. Our team manager Mike Blewitt had, as always, been hard at work in the background, and organised a photographer to meet us there. Richard Tebb arrived on his E-bike, and so Justin and I were able to ride the trail unimpeded, with Richard popping up every so often to grab the incredible photos you have been seeing.
After the photo shoot we headed out to The Gardens, where I showed Justin the sights, where unfortunately he had to turn for home. I however, was itching to ride the trail again, so after some fire trail commuting, I re-rode the lower half of the Bay of Fires trail, whooping and hollering, with perhaps the occasional singing, before riding home to cap off an excellent weekend of riding bikes, in even better company.
Now it’s back to the regular grind of work and training, while we wait for the light at the end of the tunnel, that is racing.