Rocks and me have a tense relationship. Its not like I was pelted with them at primary school or had to dig my way out of a collapsed quarry, but we just don't seem to get along.
Bendigo has lots of rocks. Plenty of them. So many of the damn things that they've made a reasonable living out of fixing high explosive to them and replacing them with big holes in the ground.
I've heard that Bendigo trailbuilders like rocks. They sleep on rocks, mix rocks with their drinking water and name their children after different types of rocks. And so why I was surprised to see vast amounts of palaeozoic metasediment reaching out to rip holes in anything resembling shoe leather or tyre rubber escapes me.
We rolled through the trail, looking out for fast lines, letting our legs feel the climbs and generally faffed about with not too much to do except impersonate serious bike riders. A quick chat with Joel (MTB club member) about tyres - specifically about their distinct lack of longevity in Bendigo - and we meandered off to Jimmy's holiday pad in Bridgewater.
One of the relatively cool things about mountain biking is that you can get to see some interesting places. Race road crits in Melbourne and its unlikely you'd see anything like Bridgewater - unless you took a left turn at the Port Melbourne hot-dog circuit and didn't realize your mistake for 15 hours.
|The view from the back door|
After an excellent sleep, with breakfast digesting and bikes on the roof we headed off to race central. Now fans of history would know that Bendigo is a pretty serious place for cycling. Its got both heritage and gravitas - and as a Bendigo bike racer, after braving sub zero winter mornings and mid summer days that would freeze and burn your tackle off in equal measure, you're a reasonably robust individual. Not to mention fast.
Such is the stature of racing in Bendigo that big names were present and large groups of lazy sub-rouleurs were not. Its not a place where you get out your rusty old rig for a annual charity roll around a circuit laid down by the crazy niece of the local mayor - no sir, if you came to a race in Bendigo, you came to race. And this was painfully apparent when the gun went off.
|Hounds, just waiting for a rabbit|
The pack shot out of the starting gate like the unfriendly side of a Claymore and within 90 seconds I was holding onto my hair trying to stay with the leading pack as both the trail and my heart rate went sharply skywards. I have this view (another one, I have plenty) that keeping the team elites in sight for the first couple of kilometers is an honourable goal. The rationale being that it provides both a carrot (a rider to catch) and a stick (a rider catching me) to keep this old nag moving at race pace for the duration of the event.
As the early kilometers moved from future tense to recent history I noticed a skinny bloke with big legs hovering around, sporting a little too much 'silver on his back' so to speak. Letting the pups get an early break on me is one thing, but letting the old dogs take the steak before I've had a sniff? That's not the way we roll.
"Soooo, which category are you in mate?"
"Solo" came the one word reply.
Bollocks. This bloke looked a month older than me and he was doing exactly what cagey old buggers do. Give away nothing, except a carefully opened can of whoop-ass.
From what I could ascertain, Old Mate here was rivale numero uno. He looked composed, focused and properly dangerous. So 4 clicks into a race that was going to run north of a ton of kilometers, I attacked.
It wasn't a bar twisting Tommy Voeckler burst up the trail, but a more camouflaged little effort as I ever so quietly tried to slip off the front without raising the alarm. By lap one I had made 15 seconds, lap two it'd reached 25 and by the time laps 3 and 4 had rolled under me he was reaching his bottles almost a minute after I'd got mine.
There was daylight between him and me, enough space to convince him to settle into his own race and not worry about where I was. Or so I'd hoped.
The course, while only an 8 kilometer loop had some distinct challenges. Sprinkled over the tight uphill switchbacks was a confetti of loose and sharp rocks - and on the fast and flowing downhill sections waited their more sedentary cousins, lurking in the trail like hungry crocs. As opposed to Beechworth, where the elements had worn some of the personality from the granite, these rocks looked like they'd had a little C4 surgery and were bearing their teeth in post-op displeasure.
I'd thought to keep the pressure on until I'd done 6 laps, putting a gap of at least two minutes between me and Old Mate, but in doing so I took a line passing a cat on a downhill section that pushed me straight into the waiting jaws of a trail croc.
Both tyres punctured as I hit it with latex spinning off the tyre and into my face as it hemorrhaged from the wounds. I had my bike upside down pumping air into it as Old Mate came past - and he didn't say a thing. From the neck up he was like an Easter Island statue, his face being completely bereft of expression. That's just pure hardened professionalism, and it irritated me no end.
|No champ, he's now in front of you|
By the time I had refilled my front tyre, nursed my rear tyre home to transition, I had chopped up over three minutes. Add to that a very well executed filling of my bleeding rear wheel (thanks Craig) and subsequent pressure change I had not only been caught by the elite 3 hour riders but had gone another two minutes into debt. Not only that, but I was a little cranky now too. And so I chased.
And chased, and chased.
I chased Old Mate Easter Island like the meaning of life was hanging off his saddle.
|A composed Jimmy Lefebvre smashing the 3 hour|
I thrashed myself on lap 12, half out of self loathing for picking a stupid line earlier in the race and half entertaining the possibility that the evil puncture trolls had dolled out a little rupture to one of Easter's rubber hoops, but nay, honest racing was in the house. Such things were not to be - and rightfully so.
By the time I crossed the line with 3 minutes left on the clock and had been convinced by race commentator Big Rich to do another lap I had burnt everything there was to burn. The course had been fast and fun, but after 6 and a half hours of rocks, tricky climbs and tight technical berms I had been chopped up like sashimi.
I let myself roll through the last lap, semi-content that I'd given all I had and that the win had deservedly been taken by another cat. Easter's real name is Peter Casey, who (I discover after a little Google stalking) is a consistent top three finisher and has actually pulled the kinds of results in the kinds of races that I aspire to. In our post race conversation he turned out to be a nice bloke and at one point, he even smiled.
In addition to the Bendigo MTB putting on a cracking race, a big thanks go to Jimmy Lefebvre who sorted me out with digs, kit and help during the weekend, and even found time to have a blinder himself. And a massive shout out to Craig, Paul and Dan (and their loved ones) from the Earth Wind and Water crew who again, raced, smashed it and were there to fill bottles and deliver harsh motivation from the transition area.
Objective validation of my story (ie race results) can be found here: http://www.mtbbendigo.com/files/6013/7872/1904/2013-MagellanBenCyc6hr-Detailed.pdf and Garmin guff is below, for the cats who dig that stuff:
Thanks for stopping by.