Round 1 and 2 of the 2017 MTBA XCO National Series are well worth a mention, not even for the fact that they were both epically interesting races, but for the lessons they dished out in abundance. I sure hadn’t expected the long 11 hour slog down into regional NSW for two back to back cross-country races be so filled with highs and lows.
Sussing the course out on Friday, the remainder of the day was spent reading a book, as I had no preschooler demanding my attention (thanks Grandma!). I was worringly relaxed.
Race day came and it was more of the same, perhaps the calm before the storm as I began to feel some of the expected butterflies once the appropriate amount of coffee had been ingested (ie: bulk). Hitting some little doubles up on a bit of singletrack next to the fireroad people were warming up (and down; blasphemy!), I was pretty motivated.
Realistically with the stacked field of ladies I would have been happy with top five. After dancing on the start line, the gun went and a quickly settled in to about 5th. Eliza Kwan and Megan Williams went off like a frog in a sock, but Rebecca Henderson and myself came around them in the midst of the main climb, and with gusto had a break.
Lap one Bec had about 10sec on me, with Kath McInerney chasing not too far behind. The gap forward and backward lengthened, when heading into the fourth of five laps I was about a minute down on Bec with Kath a further 90sec or so behind.
The legs weren’t chainless, I was feeling the burn; and with an average heart rate of 184 I was tasting the burn too, but managing a pretty consistent lap times (just pulling progressively more awful faces). The hardtail was amazing, I felt pinned and shredding, lapping a few age groupers on the fireroad before dropping into the final descent to the start finish where I would be heading to my final lap.
I had a sneaky look behind on the climb; daylight.
“Just put it in and one more lap, push; remember you love this”.
Flicking through the berms and into a rut something wasn’t quite right, my legs weren’t chainless but all of a sudden—with no preceding factors—my 1×11 drivetrain was. I hop off, 30sec passes and the masters riders pass me while I try and untangle the puzzle of my drivetrain; fix or run? Fix or run?
Pedal it on, flicks off—chain is tangled. Chain is tangled? WTF? Look at derailleur; cage is broken. Kaput. Cooked out. It’s been a minute or so of trailside fuckery and Kath comes down followed by Eliza. I utter a growling “fuuuuuuuuuccccccck” and ponder throwing my bike in the bush. I don’t. I try and coast down the hill but can’t even freewheel.
Bike is broked.
I push my bike down the hill, filled with incredulous despair. It was raw and it hurt a lot. No tears until Aido came and found me and I allowed myself two minutes of being mildly weepy, then I pulled up my socks, put my big girl panties on and wound it back to being slightly glum with vague stares into the ether for the next hour.
It wasn’t a pretty race but I believe it was, to this day, one of the best I have had. The course suited me, the competition was fierce. I was riding my little guts out. So it made sense that the wound was deep there for a moment.
Dealing with adversity is always something I have in the back of my mind when I race bikes nowadays. If it’s having a crash, dropping a bottle, missing nutrition or a mechanical; the way we deal with adversity can make or break us as athletes.
“It’s just a fucking bike race”, I thought, though other less helpful thoughts also passed my mind “what if this is as good as it gets”, and “no one remembers second”. I had briefly forgotten that no one remembers any mountain bike results because it’s just fucking bike racing and while I love it, it really doesn’t contribute to the world.
Hanging out all day watching Aido race Mas1 and subsequently ponder another comeback to Elite racing, followed by watching Sibly figure out that XC racing is an exercise in abject suffering and push the limits of how hard he can go, I had crap recovery. Headed out on the backup pushy late that arvo then headed to the pool for a dip and to wash the day away.
Bulk food with the CBR crew and bed; tomorrow was another day but I wasn’t feeling super confident about it.
A dodgy sleeper in the best of circumstances, the night after a race is never forthcoming with the Z’s.
The next morning I was sad and sore, but coffee gave me a high five and a pat on the bum to get out there in my tiger onesie and practice what I preach.
Warming up was more arduous than the day prior, it was apparent the legs weren’t feeling overly snappy but everyone is in the same boat; I did a lap less than most the day prior!
On the start line the heart rate eventually climbed to where it was supposed to be and we were off again, with the same usual suspects ramping the pace up on the front. Along the first part of grassy double track, the pace wasn’t that hot, so I sort of thought ‘fuck this, do or die’ and managed to put a good 20-sec gap into the rest of the field by the top of the first climb.
I didn’t really have a plan. I knew I was in an uncomfortable place, but I was the day prior and was quite consistent so I embraced the ‘risk it for the biscuit’ approach and tried to get a visual gap. By the second lap I had stopped running into things from the intensity and it just hurt. Remembered to eat and had some reprieve. I knew everyone would be totally boxed after the day prior so just channeled Dory and ‘just keep swimming’ and puffed on.
The course was longer so we were to race four rather than five laps, and it just seemed to go on and on. It was a hillier course, with one long climb broken up into smaller tip-of-the-saddle numbers that you simply wouldn’t ride for fun, because it’s simply not fun. The first descent was less inspiring. All in all I believe the course the day prior suited my far more; slightly more tech, punchier. The Canberra crew would be lapping up this loose and dusty pine forest!
Despite undereating during the race and being totally busted, I headed into the final lap over two minutes up on Bec. Really I had no idea what was going on I was just in puff-and-pedal mode mainly. I hadn’t seen Bec at all, but I tried to keep the pressure on, after all (as I learnt the hard way the day prior) it ain’t over ’till it’s over. The last three laps slowed, I don’t reckon an extra gel would have helped that much I was at the point where the legs had run out of zap and I had to keep telling them to pedal on flat bits in the middle of the descent. Pedal damn you! PEDAL!
Dropping into the final descent I hadn’t seen Bec, I allowed myself a smile, though it probably looked more like a grimace, HANG ON AB KEEP PEDALLING YOU NEVER KNOW.
I kept pedalling. The head tilt was extreme by that stage, the Garmin covered in dribble. Dropping into the finish area there were clusters of people yelling for me; I was actually super lucky people yelled all around the course every lap…but I was too boxed to acknowledge them.
Coming around the final corner the spectators explode again as Bec just pops out of the bush.
She had put in the fastest lap of the day, over 2mins faster than her previous lap, and was all of a sudden after a long solo race, hot on my heels. As I get into the final chute I don’t risk looking back, just trying my best at sprinting with cramp-twitchy legs, and then it’s done. No time for salutes. She comes in about 10sec behind in the end. I had won an Elite National XCO round.
As a self-proclaimed “Epic Hubbard” I am not sure what happened!
Photo creds to Russ Baker.