Sunday, 1 September 2013

Six Hours in the Saddle - Beechworth VIC

I see rocks when I sleep

I'd tried hard to put the acronym of this race into a funny sentence. The best I could come up with without mutilating my first language was 'S.H.I.T.S and giggles' or 'Giving me the S.H.I.T.S'. Both were just plain stupid and had probably been done to death by hosts Beechworth Chain Gang over beer and pizza since they came up with it a couple of years ago.

The S.H.I.T.S is a standard issue 6 Hour enduro over what appeared to be a relatively short course. It was just the north side of 10 kms, not a lot of climbing and in an area known to be tacky at its wettest. Youtube had shown clips of happy old fellas lapping on bedded down hardpack trail, with nary a care in the world. It'd convinced me that this was going to be a flat out, big lungs, big legs burn to the end.

Youtube lied.

Wake up Wang! Its raceday
Old mate Jimmy Lefebvre and me had pitted overnight in Wangeratta and struck out at dawn to set up camp at race central. It was a crisp start with not a tickle of wind and the sun was out tearing up the thick fog that had come to sleep on the paddocks. For all appearances, it looked like it was going to be a cracking day.
We got to Beechworth and made it to race central. We erected the Casa d'Custard (my yellow 6 x 6 marquee) set up our race-food pantry and with everything bedded down I set off for a quick recon lap.

I had entered the solo 40+ and convinced Jimmy to come out and enter the solo as well. He's a tough lad Jimmy, well up for a challenge, but beyond smashing a couple of races at the You Yangs and Forrest he hadn't spent too many hours on the knobby tyres after crossing over from the tarmac. Before getting here I said that he'd be fine. Just tap it out, knock over 6 or 7 laps and go home happy. About 400 meters into my scoping lap I realised that I might actually be considered a bit of a prick.

To generalize, all Beechworth trail is what we might term 'honest'. It hasn't been created with a digger, it doesn't have any North Shore style bridges or jumps and it doesn't have any carpet keeping its manicured berms in place. Instead, this course looked like it had been made by a bunch of dudes who spent their day-times as either physiotherapists or bike suspension mechanics. 

The way a Garmin sees it
It was proper, skinny singletrack, both technical and very fast. There were rocks everywhere. Rocks on rocks, near other rocks before and after more rocks. The A lines were rocky and the B lines were just as rocky, only with smaller rocks. On a 6" AM bike with some body armour you'd be picking hot lines and smashing this all day. On an XC bike in man-spandex in the middle of a 6 hour enduro, it'd be smashing you.

I was out there trying to determine where I could eat and drink, but with the longest break between technical sections being only about 4 seconds I was beginning to think this race was going to make me very skinny indeed.

The way humans see it. Not me, pic blatantly stolen from

By the time I'd pretended to understand the course and had got back to camp, Jimmy had heard the word 'brutal' mentioned half a dozen times. It was indeed an honest course. Brutally honest.

The prologue involved a little something to spread out the pack and as T minus zero came around, the organizers sent us about 2 kilometers down a relatively steep gravel road. After some sub-witty banter and a remarkably relaxed official start, we all began mashing the pedals to climb back up this road and over the timing pads to get into the racing proper.

Racing at Beechworth is a cerebal challenge. The trail twists upon itself like an Escher stencil, albeit one filled with rocks. I had hit out pretty hard, with a view to keeping Tory Thomas in sight. 
I have this idea that if I'm faster than the fastest girl (girls fly - let it be known) then I'm doing ok. Its been a while since I've been able to do that - and with Tory beating me at the Blores Hill 6 hour by a minute or two I thought it to be an admirable goal. 
So I was looking out for her - I would see her through the trees just up ahead, then all of a sudden, it would look like she was just behind me. It was hard enough stopping the rocks from eating my bike without seeing where my competition was - and it was only through dumb luck that my furtive glances off the trail didn't put me in an ambulance. So I gave up on the glances, stopped thinking about podium placings and just raced.

The race tapped itself out through the first couple of hours with the an above average rate of attrition. I'd passed a myriad of cats sidelined by punctures to either tyre, tube or heart but despite hitting stuff harder than it was hitting me I'd got through unscathed - and with more than a little surprise, I found some mojo. 
It was the good stuff, serious, high potency, straight into your eyeball mojo and I started really having some fun. Laps 3, 4 and 5 had swung by without incident. Lapping with me was solo hard-man Kevin Skidmore and we were swapping positions, talking shite and trying ever so gently to gap each other. The race was going very,very well. Smooth bottle pickups, energy to burn (thanks Endura) and my 656B Mach 4 was charging through the rock gardens like it thought they were Rotorua berms. Sweet as, bro.

The way a Garmin sees a race going to pot

My tyres had been barking in protest all day, and then, not altogether unreasonably the front tyre made a sound that I really didn't want to hear. I'd hit the sharp side of a rock and cut it - leaving me with a bigger than little cut and a quicker than slow leak. I had the 'Please stop' mantra banging away in my head as I turned the leak south and hoped against hope that the whistling would be replaced by the sound of a puncture choking on latex. It didn't. Stans sealant spat out of the hole but didn't fill it. I ripped off my CO2 + sealant cannister and emptied that. The CO2 worked OK filling my tyre but the sealant, less so, doing just what the original goop did and made for the exit. Freaking out just a little, I took a punt and made for transition, which was on the other side of 4 kms of technical trail. The whistle continued and my tyre protested ever more loudly as I nursed it back to camp.

I'd lost a lot of time, but apparently was in first place as I crossed the pads to begin lap 9. At transition I got a little help from Jimmy (retired, the rocks had massacred his wrists) to pump a bunch of air into my front tyre. And with some relief I set out to roll through another couple of laps and into victory. What I didn't know that 2nd had overtaken me during my pit-stop and was doing a pretty good job of taking the win.

Lap 9 was painful. The slow leak didn't stop, the lack of pressure in it forced me to bomb less and brake more, and twice I had my bike upside down, delivering air with a hand pump. As I rolled into transition for the final lap I was told that I was now second, two minutes down on the top spot.

Sometimes there is a little moment of quiet before the effort dial is turned to 11. Its an intake of breath, a moment to consider what is about to happen and maybe even some space to wonder why. In this instance, there was no moment - it was all filled up with the chase. And chase I did.

So there I was, blasting through the trail like a psycho trying desperately to recapture the win I only recently discovered I'd had in the bag.
And as (a lack of) luck would have it, cresting on of the rocky climbs I broke my chain. An XX1 chain - 2 races old had taken a hit somewhere and with some poor gear selection and too much torque it had snapped clean through the plates. I sort of gazed at it for a bit - not really believing it was happening. It may have been 10 seconds or so, then upon remembering I'd handed off my tool pouch (read chain breaker and joining link) on the 3rd lap to a stricken rider I lifted my bike onto my shoulder and bolted down the hill to race central. 
Fortunately it wasn't far away and within a few minutes I had my bike in neutral spares with two mechanics - appreciating the urgency - working on the fix. To their credit they got me back on the trail and back in the race, but not before I'd lost enough time to be a good 10 minutes away from the win. 

Now it was all about what I didn't know. First was away, who knew where second was, and third and fourth could have been up for a podium stealing mugging for all I knew. Time ticked away as I burned matches I didn't have.

I had re-started the lap from scratch and the evening light was starting to make things look a little different. My tyre had stopped leaking allowing me to go back to pre-leak lines and I got to thinking that I was now in third place and that second was only a minute ahead. 
'He's just around the corner' I kept saying to myself 'He's just around the corner...'

To add to the theatre playing out in my mind, as I came out of the final corner to climb up to the finish line there he was. Another rider, out of the saddle, giving it everything. With one last effort I dug in and - somewhat pointlessly in the end - rolled over the line just in front.

The podium, me on the right. 
Turns out that the lad I'd passed in the finishing chute was riding with a school team and had probably wondered what the hell some ginger blowhard was doing racing him to the line.
And when all was said and done, I'd held second in the solo 40+ and had torn the paint off in the last lap for nothing other than pride. It was an incredibly well deserved win by Brian John who had been absolutely ripping all day. As irony would have it he had lost the top spot to finish 2nd the year before - in not too dissimilar circumstances.

We didn't get to thank them at the time, but I'm sure that everyone would hand out a big bag of appreciation to the Beechworth Chain Gang for putting on an an epic, spectacularly organized 6 hour race, in a beautiful location over a brilliant, if 'honest' course. Big props to everyone who raced, great crowd, great trail, great atmosphere.
Definitely on the calendar for next year.


  1. Love it mate. Great stuff.

  2. The best I could come up with without mutilating my first language was 'S.H.I.T.S and giggles' or 'Giving me the S.H.I.T.S'. barrel racing saddles