Thursday, 27 February 2014

Gravity 12 Hour - February 2014

It was a throw away line, something like 'I hope the rain comes...' or something equally stupid. Only farmers, green-keepers and people in sudden self immolation remorse say stuff like that, not mountain bike riders.
There is some kind of twisted rationale to my madness. On my drive up to Bright I was watching bush fire smoke lurking around the mountains, mixing with the raging humidity creating air as easy to breath as flatulence in a vacuum. With some rain, maybe a nice gentle 5 mm the air would clear, the trails would bed down and the riding would be as easy as losing your keys.

I woke at 3 am to the sound of what I know to be rain and lazily let a little smile settle on my face as I drifted back to sleep. 3 hours later when I woke up properly, that smile had every reason to be absent. It was still raining, and by the prevalence of mud and puddles on the ground outside, it hadn't stopped. I wondered if this gave me reason to be gloomy.

In the starting chute gloom was without companions. Everybody was chumming it up, allowing all the unseriousness of long racing in torrid conditions to flow over. It seems to be a given in endurance mountain biking, in that knowing that your day will hurt like bladder stones allows all those high expectations we can have to be washed away by the rain, mud and broken derailleurs.

On the encouragement of MTB emperor and MC Norm Douglas, we solo riders corralled ourselves at the front of the race, relieved that we were exempt from the onerous task of running to our bikes in a LeMans start. I led the solos out into the rain and mud and onto what turned out to be a very honest mountain bike coursed indeed.
There were proper climbs, fast, flowing and altogether technical sections of single track. In between were short bands of fireroad allowing the consumption of suddenly muddied bananas, gels or anything that flew or crawled within chewing range.

Half a lap in - half a kilo of mud on...already

The rain kept coming. During the first lap we solos kept ourselves largely together. Jess Douglas was there in amongst the boys keeping us both honest and slightly scared, Kev Skidmore and  Sam Moffitt of Wembo fame were letting their legs warm up and lurking around the edges was a bloke I'd never seen before. Like most of us he was skinny, had sunken cheeks and hollowed eyes and that kind on expression that indicated that he'd tasted too much of his own blood. His name was Corey Davies and he reminded me of Peter Carey - another freakishly fast dude that I've yet to beat.

I was still on point when the first serious climb reared out of the ground and was promptly passed by almost everyone in my little peloton. Kev Skidmore, Richie Read and Sam Moffitt all disappeared and I was left alone to hold up the team riders as they flashed through the trails behind us.
The rain kept coming and within a couple of laps large parts of the trail was turning to shit. Various different shades, textures and resulting levels of grip, but it all had the consistency of baby-poo mixed with fast setting Araldite. At about lap three I cracked it. In a flash pit-stop I changed out my Racing Ralph front wheel with one equipped with a Rocket Ron tread pattern and my world changed. Within two laps I had caught and passed messers Read, Moffitt and Skidmore and during the course of adding a couple of pounds of mud onto my face had put a couple of minutes into the bank.

Male Solo Top Five - A bit rude out of context

The trail had started with its own dry weather technical challenges but with the incessant rain it was becoming a bona fide bike handling nightmare. It was like the twisted spawn of Belgian Cyclocross and the Red Bull Rampage was lurking in the pines, ready to mug the unsuspecting with a fistful of wet roots and muddy off-camber.
But even with mud trying to fill in every cavity on my face I was finding that this tough love was working for me and I began to cruise through the trails thinking that my secret stash of grip happily spinning away on my front wheel was enough to counter any massive differences in pure power or athletic prowess.

Laps 6 to 9 rolled by. It'd be true to say I was feeling a little lonely. In many of these races I pass the time swapping stupid stories with Kev Skidmore, but he and his gripless race tyres were sliding around the trail 2 or 3 kilometers behind.
Coming into the pits and shortly before the rapid ingestion of some mud covered food (long fingered gloves - downside # 1) I'd asked Kenny Soiza, Pit God to the Gods, to give me an update on gaps, times, fashion trends - whatever. 

On my next pit I heard that I was in front, eight minutes or so up on Corey Davies. But he had cut his last lap 2 minutes faster than me. I'd counted out 10 laps so far, had planned to do 14 which meant that at current numbers he and I would be finishing this race with a balls -out sprint. Something I could do without after 12 hours of mud therapy.

Really? Really. Real racing starts now. (Stolen from the Interwebs)
So I tipped it in. On my next pit Kenny said that he's still coming and that my lead was now 6 minutes. On lap 11 I tipped in some more. In my attempt to hold on I attacked anything that didn't threaten to attack me. Hills, fire road, even some fast jumps that I thought I had wired. With the rain stopping my grip advantage had been whittled away as the trails began to dry out and become tacky, and despite me lifting my work rate by a factor of 5 by the time I launched into lap 12 Kenny told me I had only 4 minutes in the bank. 

Now I was scared. I found myself tearing out of pit lane with a mouth full of jellies, chocolate and mud and trying to catch and hold the wheel of a team whippet as they blasted up the trail.
Not only was I scared, but now I was starting to hurt. World 24 hour Champ Jess Douglas has this great saying that resonates with crazy endurance athletes - Pain only hurts. Its the 'only' bit that should take precedence in that statement, but it was the only bit I forgot at the time. And during that lap-long moment, pain was synonymous with shit, and with the absence of the 'only', I was left with 'shit hurts'. I still find it bizarre sometimes that I pay money for this.

There was some upside however. My lap times were starting to come down, the trail was way easier to stay fast on and I had the fear derived tailwind of somebody being chased. It was only at the start of lap 15 when Kenny and Bede had moved from 'hold him off' to 'you've got it in the bag' did I let myself start to entertain the thought of winning this thing.

Nevertheless, I charged out into my final lap with a consortium of imaginary woes. Puncture, mechanical, blood sugar dive - damnit, alien abduction - anything that might befall me as I forced my exhausted cadaver through one last loop. But none of these things happened and lo and behold I crossed this line first and threw a couple of shakas in celebration to a warm reception from Norm Douglas and the assembled crowd.

Yay. I'll take that.

Podium - chuffed

Norm made quite something of a category rider winning overall - which I was grateful for. I was (and am) very grateful to Cycles Galleria who beyond being a kick-ass bike shop, race tuned my XX1 and plied me with enough excellent Endura product to power another 15 laps, Jet Black for letting my ride be the totally epic Pivot Mach 420C, to Finishline Events and Bike Superstore for putting on and supporting the race and mad thanks (again and again) to Kenny, Bede and Kev for putting up with my shit and supporting me through to a handy little win.

Big props as well to Corey Davies, Kev Skidmore, Sam Moffitt and the indestructible Jess Douglas who all won stuff and rode like lords. Yeah.

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