I don’t know what to write about the 2016 Flight Centre Active Travel Cycle Epic. It was a race that wasn’t even going to happen for me until three days prior to the event. The constant peer pressure of friends asking me in person and social media “have you entered the Epic yet? I think it’s your year” had me responding with “no way I have no form, I don’t think I am emotionally ready to put myself in the box yet”.
A few gentle (and not so gentle) words of encouragement had me soul searching as to why I really didn’t want to race. Something to do with not wanting to creep around if I didn’t have the form, but then I thought fuck it, I can use a good hard training ride and so what if I don’t have a great result? It’s an XCM National Series race, it’s supposed to be tough, just go and hurt and have some fun, maybe some form will grow from it?
The lead up to the event was in one word: wet. The weeks prior were amazing, spring had definitely come to Queensland, but on the Friday multiple small deluges had everyone a bit on edge. When they didn’t cease on Saturday it evoked memories of the Epic two years ago (which thankfully I wasn’t in attendance at) where it poured the day prior and finishing times were blown way out of the water with riders manually evacuating mud from their bikes in order to keep moving.
Anyway, a later race start and reducing the course to 77km was announced Saturday and actually had me thinking for the first time “hey this could be fucking really hard, I reckon I could do well if it’s really fucking arduous. Like BRING THE BOG ON”.
On the start line noone really knew what to expect. Would it be 5hr30 mud fest? The whistle went for Elite Women, the first fire-road was boggy AF. The strong group of elite women enjoyed (well I did…) a rather recreational start to the race. Without bolting the gun it was easy to slip into a good tempo rhythm with Samara Sheppard and Em Viotto mainly setting the tempo for the first 45min. We also had Holly Harris, Peta Mullens and XCO Masters world champion Sharon Heap with us at that stage.
I was riding along thinking “well, this really isn’t very hard right now” managing to stay at or just under threshold even with the technical climbs. The start of the race was recreational AF. It was amazing. Having my turn on the front, I made an error when someone was standing at a big technical rollover (really the only technical feature) and as I hadn’t ridden it I clipped out and then couldn’t clip back in resulting in a bum-slide and much apologising from me to those behind me. The technical trail continued, and as I came out onto the fireroad I realised that I had a small gap, along with Sheppard with Harris not too far back.
Samara tested the waters putting the jandal down a little and we increased our lead from Harris.
There was a lot of boggyness at this stage feat. soul-destrying mud fields, and some of the faster age groupers came around us, most of whom Sheppard and myself rode past again up a long stretch of farmland hill, never to be seen again.
Eventually, at about 27km, we headed to the “Epic trail”, which was the first of the ‘old’ rocky trails to be used in the race. I made a conscious effort to pedal less and go faster to test the waters and how Sheppard would go, but by the time I reached the stockyards I had daylight behind me. By the time I headed back onto farmland I still couldn’t spot anyone behind me. This was when I realised I was either very brave or very stupid (historically it’s the latter), having realised if I was to maintain my position out the front I had 50km of solo singletrack riding in front of me.
Out of sight and out of mind though, as I rolled through the feedzone and start/finish at 40km with almost three minutes for a sneaky bottle change. 37km to go.
I spotted one of the local masters riders just ahead. Aha! A carrot! He was even orange; perfect. I managed to get pretty close to him when I started to feel some unwelcome tingles in my adductors. My lack of both electrolytes and long seated MTB miles, meant that this was probably going to happen at some point, but unfortunately it was with 30km to go.
With my super lazy ‘pedal less but ride faster’ mantra, I managed to spin away up the hills and just shred the descents. Every corner I was pushing the limits, knowing I could get a second here and there, off the brakes, using my body more than my legs to pump and get free speed.
At ‘Almost There’ the cramps had set in and I had to change tactics, I engaged in the sit/stand technique but they were going off like a lie detector at a cop shop. Down ‘Ripple Effect’ I was very sore, but also almost overjoyed to have 8mins of very little pedalling #bestever.
Up the final climb the cramps were so bad I employed a knees out pedalling style to take the weight of the adductors, which was moderately successful. Mullens’ parter Jarrod Moroni rode up to me with my awkward pedalling style and said “you have a huge gap”, but we still had 7km to go so I wasn’t sure to believe him or not.
The final descent down aeroplane was more of the same, riding smooth and off the brakes. For some reason pedalling on the D in the singletrack didn’t elicit cramps so I rode gravity style and then popped out onto the fireroad. With less than a km to go I ran into the tail end of the 40km race finishers, shredding around them onto the grass of the finish.
And that was it. I had crossed the line ahead of everyone else in my race; that’s the goal of racing right? I had been so focussed on riding smooth and smart that I hadn’t been able to fully comprehend the win. Like nobody came around me at all. Not one. For 50km. This is not usually what happens. Maybe they all crashed out? Surely I couldn’t have been the fastest? Madness!
I checked; they didn’t crash out. I had a tidy 6min gap on Sheppard in second with worlds teamie Briony Mattocks surging in the closing stages of the race for third. A tidy result in a very tidy field.
I think sometimes that I have to spend so much time imparting confidence and poise into my athletes and truly believing in their abilities, that sometimes it gets a little lost on me. So with not the greatest prep, post the great throat-herpes saga of 2016, at a hefty weight of 60kg, I managed my first National XCM race win. I am still a little amazed!
Huge ups to Hayden and Fleur for arranging the rain for perhaps the most int trails of the Epic ever, Rocky Mountain Bicycles Australia, Cyclinic, and Aido and Elva my always support crew.