Or in less eloquent terms: Riding mountain bikes on actual mountains can be scary as fcuk.
I know Buller well. Over the last five years I've ridden its rapidly maturing and altogether brilliant trail network, and despite the fact it will scare the bejesus out of me at any given moment and command more hardness than six months in the Foreign Legion - the riding at Buller is big 'A' awesome.
And so it was that Rapid Ascent took their twisted minds to Buller and created the Mt Buller MTB Festival and that their version of an all-in race weekend, 4 contrasting events over 3 days of racing was going to be brutally hard and quite possibly - shit hot fun.
Having raced this event before I had my expectations. Last year I was half as fit and earned a Vets 4th, but this year - tooled up with some confidence and a kick ass carbon 29er I was ready to lay some smack down. Interesting to note that smack (whatever it actually is), wasn't really in the mood to lay down, and in fact came out swinging like a gibbon.
In the first race Rapid Ascent loaded up a 50 km short-marathon with about as many high meters as you could fit in a Dubai hotel and with the addition of a sneaky opening climb up around the Arlberg we were all deep in oxygen debt within about a kilometer of the starting gate.
I was holding onto the pointy end in about 6th or 7th wheel as we powered over One Tree Hill and track and pointed ourselves downhill, towards the Corn Hill and the very honest Stonefly climb. Tim Jamieson was the only visible threat in my category he was only 20 meters or so up the trail - well within striking distance should I not pop or blow something up.
I'd change gear - hope I wasn't about to snap a chain and continue, but the sounds and symptoms also continued, becoming more pronounced and regular. Eventually, as I tried to rip into the fire-road that summits Mt Stirling - my hub, which by that stage was sounding like a SWAT team hunting the waterside workers union - totally gave way. Halfway up a gravel ladder I was spinning forward like I would be if spinning backward. Pedal spins - wheel doesn't, crazy - and as my rivals crested the hill and disappeared - totally heartbreaking.
I took up Sam Maffetts generous offer to use his event sanctioned toolkit from the back of his ute at the top of Stirling, and despite removing and resetting the cassette I was getting myself ready to chew into the bitter reality of a DNF.
DNF-ing is F-ing crap. I was getting all bi-polar, yelling 'Allez' at passing racers when I saw them and when alone, ripping out torrents of obscenities as I tried to manage my frustration.
Eventually I found my way back to the village with some help from Rapid Ascent and set about trying to get my wheel sorted.
I had no luck at bike shop at the top (XX1 freehub bodies aren't in great supply yet) and despite the efforts of Dan at Jet Black and Phil at Cycles Galleria - no help from the mountain was forthcoming. In short, it meant a day spent behind the wheel and not on the trail if I wanted to race again that weekend.
First world problem, yes, but I was gutted. DNF-ing is bad, DNS-ing is something I've never done. I was consoled by Kyllie and endurance hard-man Simon Goninon (think 24 hour Tough Mudder - he did one) while we drank cider and watched the very excellent pump-track comp put on in the village.
Sunday morning came around with me under a seat belt and eight hours later, as the sun set on the cracking Buller day I'd missed - I was back on the mountain with my BH Ultimate 29 hard tail, with nothing more to do than lament a lost day and to take a couple of hours to ride out some frustration in preparation for Monday's hitout.
In the starting chute for the final race of the weekend, some were showing signs of fatigue more than others. I'd pretended to earn my stripes by thrashing out a bunch of descents and ascents late on Sunday, but I was really only doing course reconnaissance. There were bandages a-plenty, mismatched wheels, tubeless tires with tubes in them, and grips and gloves sharing new damage from the weekends frivolity. Not that it made much difference, because there were sheep stations on the line apparently - and when the horn sounded the mob bolted out of the gates like death-row rams with a chance at freedom.
I was able to hang with the top ten as we shot off toward the start of Copperhead trail. I had ol Tim Jamieson sitting on my wheel and another bloke in front who was strong as neat rum but handled a bike like he'd been drinking too much of it. So with the goal of getting a little clean air in front of me for the technical descent approaching, I attacked.
|Are you kids crazy starting at a pace like this? Show the old man some respect...|
I got over Corn Hill OK, did alright on the climb up to Misty Twist and then started to feel decidedly average. The kind of average you feel when you know that the decision to not eat on the last section of clear trail was the wrong one. Add that to the Burke and Wills moment on finding that there is no more water in that bottle and things were beginning to look pretty bleak. I was food flatting, dehydrated and the brutal climb I was on at the time was bouncing me around like I was a cocktail party waiter trying to offload hors d'oeuvres made of crab-shit.
|I think I can, I think I can. The Little Red Engine getting over Corn Hill climb.|
From that point on I was riding through a wall of noise. A veritable cacophony of heavy breathing, strained grunts and terrible gear changes all mixing with the fear and self doubt that swims into ones mind when the warning lights start flicking up on the dash. In my oxygen deprived and sugar depleted state I was passed by two guys who had the wherewithal to not only ride fast but eat and even occasionally drink. I knew that Tim Jamieson was probably catching me but I could do nothing but tip in more than I thought I had. In desperation I set about adopting a mindset akin to the kind that I adopt in the finale of really long races. 'Hurt yourself son - it helps to pass the time'.
And so as the final few kilometers climbed and went - I was still grovelling around in the cockpit, chewing the laminate off my stem trying to imagine that anyone who would take my little piece of category glory was still two minutes away. As it turned out, they were.
I crossed the line 1st in Vets, 8th overall and with a little north of two minutes in front of Tim Jamieson - (who had comfortably won overall vets honours) and after a little post victory exuberance settled in for a period of relatively relaxed breathing.
It hurts to DNF, and kills me to DNS but in the post race glow of a little win at the dead-rubber end of an event I still let myself enjoy a few warm and fuzzies - and it is in these moments that I remember why I race and what it means to me. Moreover - to thank all those cats that make racing - racing.
Mad ups to Phil at Cycles Galleria and Dan from Jet Black for all their help, Simon Goninon for being around and true to form (ie larger than life), and to Rapid Ascent for putting on another clinic in how to run a kick ass mountain bike race. And not to rotate a cliche, but big thanks to the broader MTBing community, who are an excellent bunch of cats and a true pleasure to be around - for being a critical part of what constitutes a great event and great racing.
And a very proud and heartfelt thanks to Kyllie Archer, my loved and loving wife who not only helped me through my first world problems and subsequent moping - but even had the time to place first and fourth in the two events she raced. Super-chick. X