It’s a race report. Sorry.
Worlds. I awoke that morning and didn’t feel nervous. I don’t know why, there was a vague sense of foreboding which I suppose was my own way of making nerves, but no butterflies, dry mouth or any of the usual distinguishable pre-race anxieties.
We arrive at Laissac, parking next to the NZ representative and sheila from across the ditch, Jeanette. We are on the early side but soon all the Euro’s turn up, someone even has their own van with their name emblazoned across it. I don’t know who anyone is in their country kit, it’s a bit different from watching World Cup XCO on Redbull, though if I followed it closely enough many of the faces would be familiar.
Warm up is pretty unsuccessful, legs feel dead. It’s not cold but I am feeling pretty un-warmed and uninspired. Trying to get the mojo up (I realise that my lack of mojo is probably a bit of fatigue mixed in with a weird type of pre-race jitters) I find a spot in the sun and get out my iPod. Immediately Paul Kelly comes on. He’s not quite The Prodigy in the psych-up stakes, but manages to channel a little bit of Australian nostalgia and pride into me and together with that ray of sunlight and some conservative dancing (after all I was in the cattle grid…and I did’t know how my dancing would be received in serious euroland) I felt that whatever transpired on the race course, it would be a good day. I would make it so.
Lining up next to a couple of Swiss birds, including Jolanda Neff, was super surreal, but super cool. The heart rate did it’s thing and increased with the 15-second call, and we were off. I didn’t feel right jostling for front position so held a good mid-field position up the first climb. The legs weren’t on, I noticed that immediately. It was ok, I made peace with riding into it.
Imogen was out for blood, I had her in contact until near the first feed and could tell she was a woman on a mission. I rode with Jenni King for a while, after she passed me hubbarding up a technical climb. It took a few of these (maybe, like 40km in…) to realise that my struggling to balance and maintain momentum up some of the technical stuff probably had a lot to do with my gearing and less to do with my skill and strength, but at the time I was like “what the fuck are you doing ya fucking drongo, when did you learn to ride your bike, in the last shower?”. Running a 32T up front is a ballsy move in a European marathon, I realised in retrospect.
The first and second feedzone, the Aussies were all mid-20’s to mid-30’s in position, I passed Jenni again, we rode around the same place for a good portion of the race. I managed to find good people to ride with, however once again in retrospect following someone else pace for half an hour—in this case a British rider—was a great move in self-preservation but maybe not the best as I ended up losing some time but riding a bit too much within myself.
I managed at different times to be stuck behind some terrible descenders in singletrack, aggressive passing in Euro single track is not my forte so it was difficult for me to get past. I feel like riding badly is contagious, as the first third to half of the race I was struggling to get the groove on. One time, when I had found some mojo again, I managed to pass two women on the technical single track that had awesome little jumps and whoops, and I managed to drop them and close the gap to next group in front of me.
There were the Spanish climbers; what they say about them is true, like rockets up the hill but all akimbo coming down. They rode up to me on the fireroad climb and I forced a gap on a fire-road descent.
I can’t even describe the climbs. The profile looked like there were four main climbs, three in the first half and one at 50km but there was so much more ascent than that. The reality of the course was that if you weren’t going up you were going down. Bar for the last 2km, the whole course was at least + or -‘ve 6 degrees. It was like a wall of stem choices, but without the 0-degree option.
We hit a tough climb reminiscent of “Camp Mountain Long” at about 35km which was decisive in me riding away from the British rider, and then at 45km another, to the 5th feedzone. As I had managed to grapple together some mojo a couple of hours in, here was where I managed to move up from about 35th, where I was sitting. I had left the Spanish, French and British rider and rode up to a Brazilian girl near the feedzone.
I wasn’t even sure if the climb to the feed zone was part of the final, horrible climb of which I had the profile etched into my brain, but hadn’t yet ridden (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). After a descent from the feed zone I questioned the Brazilian girl, “Is this the long final climb” to which she replied “yes I think this is the beginning of it. It’s Singletrack, it’s hard and is going to hurt a lot”. To which I replied “Yes, well, it’s supposed to”. She didn’t lie, it was an exceptionally steep start to the climb, it was the anaerobic XC in me that got me on my 32T up that goat-track and forced a gap on the Brazilian girl.
And then there was one. 15km to go, there was no one behind me, there was no one in front of me. The climb lasted what seemed like hours. It was probably almost an hour. It came up an unmown, dead, slow, exposed grassy hill that would have been only 20% gradient, but it was 100% soul-destroying. It was all I could do to keep the legs turning to maintain the bike’s forward motion with the 32T, my brain just kept on thinking “just like lightline, no giving up” and I made it up. Then it turned, and you kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing.
Then there was ED! Best ever! Jenni’s partner and feedzone expert Ed was ahead, which meant I had hit the last feed and the “final descent” back to Laissac. I use quotation marks because there was a buttload of climbing in the last descent. A few 100m+ elevation pinches when you’re already totally trashed to kick you in the guts. A few bits of high-speed singletrack that spit you out on a fireroad with an almost 180-degree turn that were muffed due to a distinct lack of having ridden that part of the course. Off and shuffling, doing shoulder checks. How much longer? This is almost it? A bit of mud slip and slide, and I see a familiar sign (I think). We are on a farm road and JUST MAYBE NEAR THE END?
The final few km’s were through the back streets of Laissac, on grass, gravel and bitumen. A finish was so near but felt so far as I switched into TT mode (let’s face it, not my forte) draped my tired body over my bars and just pummelled myself to the line. Coming into the finish straight, the elite men having finished a few minutes prior, felt amazing. My legs cramped in the finish straight (power of the mind I reckon, they knew it was over then!) and I was pretty joyous to have finished. Starting without expectation on myself, I saw an excited Mike in the finish, “Do you reckon I went top 40?” I asked him, honestly no knowing how I had gone “40?” he said”I reckon you were 25th!”.
Imogen had come in several minutes earlier in 20th, so I was stoked. Jenni rolled in 34th and Briony in 41st. Great Australian results all around. Official results had me at 28th, which was something I probably wouldn’t thought was possible considering the level of competition and field there and my own view of myself as a random Aussie who got a little bit fit for a bike race in France.
So now i’m back at work, back at home, parenting, doing 10000 loads of washing and living real life. Bit of a bummer really. Australian bread really sucks, and wine here is expensive; good thing the coffee and beer is much, much better. I haven’t even wanted to contemplate riding my bike—quite unprecedented for me—but such is the nature of such a build up to an event like this. Some time off 0400 starts is nice (also, it’s fucking cold), and guilt free wine and food has been excellent, but soon it will be time to knuckle down again as I get concerned about not being able to pedal up hills and being a bit, “out of condition”…i’ll start when I get some good feels and motivation about turning a pedal.