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Viva L’Italia

Well Italy is pretty great. It’s so different from Australia yet up here in the North, the people are warm and welcoming, probably more so than at home. I have indulged in many many $1Euro espresso (um, is it bad to say that I think my Australian espresso is better!?) had the best gelati I have ever eaten, and the best pizza I have eaten, too.

My very limited Italian is becoming slightly less limited, to the point where I can recognise all the pizza menu ingredients. Very handy when you’re hungry. But that’s about it. For the first few days any time someone talked to me I would defect to the European language I have a little knowledge of: German, with the occasional French phrase thrown in.

Very funny how the brain mixes them all together.

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A bunch of posers in a beautiful place.

My initial experiences of the trails over here have been great, but very challenging. Well, you don’t go halfway across the world for nothing, and I can affirm that the trails are Epic. I have built a hardtail for the race, which features 3600m vertical in 98km, but regret the decision each time the trail turns downhill. Most of it is ok, really, but there are a few long fireroad and singletrack descents which are just out of control: steep like nothing we have in Australia; one line, littered with large chunky rocks. Oh and at least a -30% incline. Just madness. You come off the line (as you sometimes invariably do toting around a 9kg 100m travel hardtail) and you are off in the bush, off a cliff, or madly tripoding trying to find your way back on the right line. Or running. I didn’t count on running down any fireroads during the race so fingers crossed I have a smooth run come race day!

The climbs are absolutely epic, but I definitely factored the epic-ness of this into my training. Obviously a long way off the Gunn-Rita’s of the world, but I am feeling strong for the AB in my world.  The first climb is an absolute groveller; it’s 4k long and averages about a million percent. For those of you who know where I live, imagine 4k’s of my road and you will get the picture. Oh and it’s dirt. Apparently it’s one of the nastiest (I have ridden all but two, and can attest from what I have ridden, that it is the meanest so far!) so I suppose good to get it over with early!

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These guys are absolutely amazing. They have helped with EVERYTHING. Plus they are very handy translators. Thank you!

A kind-of luge-descent on a rail meanders past you with people joyously enjoying their lack of energy expenditure, as you’re trying not to die, 5km into the race, bike fucking at 25%. It’s the stuff sore backs are made of.

No rest for the wicked, as you pelt down the fireroad trying not to burn out your brakes, or ping pong into the scree and die. But I am ready for it for sure!

With the potential for incoming rain the next few days, it could get really interesting with the sketchy, wet trails in the closing km’s of the race. The singletrack is steep, wet, rooty and unforgiving. It’s a hang on and slide it out kind of experience. But once again, I signed up for an epic adventure (perhaps not as epic as this is going to be, though!) so I am ready to fight.

And try not to die on the fireroad.

Hooray for not dying!

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Airport stopovers

The past few years I have seen more airports than I care to remember. Many memories are indeed quite foggy in the blurry stopover haze that hits you very similarly to 3am on a night shift.

This time, the lead into my event (and resulting airport time) has been quite a low-stress affair. I have had great results over a longer period of time, and have somehow managed to be mostly quite consistent. The increase in fitness has been measurable, and measured, which gives a lot of confidence heading into a big event. The workshop has been flat-out and I have been doing the lion’s share of parenting and housework in the lead-up, having had time off work. This has been fine, and juggling training works well, but it’s amazing how flat out you can be when you’re not even at work!

I talk about confidence a lot. How some of us trick ourselves or psych ourselves out, how confidence really is a key determinant in performance. But for all the confidence I have developed over the past few years, nothing can make up for the fact that XCM World Champs in the Dolomites is at altitude, mainly fireroad and exceptionally climby. All but the last one aren’t my forte and in large doses perhaps that isn’t, either. I ain’t no Neff, that’s for sure, but I am strong domestically and as strong for the distance as I have ever been.

The caveat is, though; it doesn’t matter. I have nothing to prove and just have a plan to go an execute, anything else is a bonus, should altitude render me 67th then so be it; if I can make a plan and execute it well then that’s great. But who knows. It really is the great unknown. There are joys and freedoms in understanding who you are: a mum, paramedic, writer coach AND athlete, not a professional athlete. Looking at all I do, I think that makes it even more special to me, being able to go drink espresso in Italy wearing green and gold, knowing I have done the work to the best of my ability, even as an amateur.

But that’s kind of what I love about bike racing and travel, just going and doing it regardless of what your head–and sometimes what your body–wants to do. Sometimes their trajectories are markedly different from the mission you had planned. Of course, in terms of the actual racing, to say you do it for the challenge is a total cop-out. What part of the race challenges you, what do you love? It provokes more questions than answers. There is such scope for uncertainty in bike racing, but if you can be certain of yourself that’s one less thing to worry about.

For me, the delight and joy in racing now comes from the ability to go and travel to new and amazing destinations and truly experience a place viscerally, while pedaling through new, uncharted terrain. It’s the same grounding connection to the outside that you get feeling the crunch of leaves under your wheels on a local loop, but with the magic and mystique of a new frontier, laying your eyes upon parts of the world previously unseen, trying new things; food, trails, climbs.

Truly, my last XCM Worlds campaign was a huge adventure; though I had traveled before, I had never traveled solo, across the world, to a non-English speaking country for a bike race. Good thing my friend Bathmat was there in an act of solidarity when it came to cultural exchanges when buying baguettes and trying to find the correct word for soymilk.

But the whole experience was quite transformative, looking back. Such an adventure and put a whole bunch of foundation bricks in the wall for subsequent years both on and off the bike.

So while the past few days have been spent in an anxious flurry; arranging school care, drop-offs, meals for the family when I am away, appropriate program updates for 10+ athletes to get through the next couple of weeks, dealing with a sick tummy-aching 6 year old, working on my tax return, thinking about (yet not yet completing, FUCK!) invoices, trying to sweet talk a new phone into working, paying bills, entering timesheets and packing, as soon as you’re on the plan it’s sayonara real life! Well, sort of.

(Except when I remembered what I had forgotten (electrolyte and Ventolin…eep!).

Sometimes, I think, we can be lured into seeking happiness in potential. I wrote a long post about what is the conventional life, and if it leads to happiness two years ago en route to or from France for the last XCM Worlds. I don’t think there really is any one, true answer. But I know that there have been a few things that have increased my own personal happiness quotient, and you know what? Seeking the big H through flogging yourself as an unhappy clam in a bike race wasn’t really the way to do it.

You have good races when you ride happy. You ride happy when you are happy. But how to get to happy? Especially if you’re not happy? That’s the tricky stuff. I see many, many unhappy bike racers around. Is it that personality types are attracted to the data and suffering of XCO and XCM racing? Or are they traits developed as part of development in the sport? Who knows, chicken and egg stuff.

Well things like anxiety and depression tend look look behind us (depression, looking for supporting evidence that we are shit from past experiences) and into the future (oh my god WHAT IF?: anxiety) so maybe future proofing this is by learning to live in the now, stop putting expectations on yourself and just exist.

I think those that can see the beauty and goodness in the everyday have much greater potential for the big H than those always looking forward, feverish with expectation, driven to make right the past. But maybe I am just too many (bad) coffees deep, floating like a jellyfish on an airport stopover in Dubai?

Probably.

WA100 Dwellingup: Some Very Dark Places

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we thought we’d conquered long ago”- Nietzsche

This is a quote I found a while ago, but really resonated with me, someone who routinely has bouts of insomnia and then wonders why things are SO HARD. Well, really they aren’t, it just feels that way when you’re tired. And now I have the wisdom of having been tired for a LONG time (parenting, shift work, general insomnia definitely not linked to excessive coffee consumption), I mostly know what to expect.

However once in a while, it really takes you by surprise. The fatigue arcs up, you have no capacity to manage it within the parameters of your normal, everyday working life, and all of a sudden you are inundated with unhelpful thoughts you had ironed out a millennia ago.

Having raced the Reef to Reef last week, I always knew that backing up for the final round of the XCM National Series in Dwellingup—a 104km race with 2000m elevation—would be a bit of a task. Being one for a bit of a challenge, add in taking the red-eye arriving the day prior to the race, and returning the night of the race seemed less bad on paper than in reality. Yikes. 

Anyway, no woe is me: we are all fucking tired, and my main competitor at the race being my stage race Bae, Brizzle-cat, meant that we were in the same fucking post Reef to Reef boat, floating down a shitstream of fatigue.

Can I just say that WA is delightful. More and more I am able to really appreciate and relish my time away riding bikes, as I have managed to care less about the outcome and be confident in my ability to get it done. It’s really refreshing to be able to travel to weird places, with a bunch of likeminded idiots, and experience a whole different part of Australia’s ecosystem so intimately.

WA had an amazing mixture of dirt and flora that is so unique to the region. The red dirt, pea gravel splitting apart iconic Australian gums, littered with grass trees; a real marriage of bush and beach. I feel more Australian for the fact that I now have visited all states and territories.

Anyway, race day rolled around and it was freezing. There was ice on the feed zone tables, which did not bode well for someone who spent the whole of the part of Grafton she raced almost crying with the cold. Ok well, so it was gonna be cold; you can’t control the weather. The warm-up consisted of riding in circles on the main road which was in direct sunlight…and drinking coffee. Marathon racing is about the first 20km being a warm-up right?

The start rollout was quite gentlemanly, until about 10km in, up a large dirt road, the bunch splintered. The average speed for the first hour of the race would have been well over 25km, as we toiled up firewood hills and down skatey pea-gravelly descents. 

I had a gap on the rest of the girls but was just grinding away, literally (not theoretically haha!) ‘just riding tempo’ as it appeared all I could get the legs to do in the cold weather. About halfway through the first (42km) lap Briony and Sarah Tucknott rode up to me as I was atrociously toiling in all aspects of the world, and I was relieved to have a bit of a crew to ride with that I knew would set a reliable pace.

Well Bri-dawg was hauling, very quick, through the remainder of the first loop. “This is moderately uncomfortable” I was thinking. It seemed that she knew where to go with her previous races in the region which was incredibly handy as I am very adept at wrong turns and weird lines. Her, Sarah and I rode through the feed to the second, 26km loop together and I decided I should probably actually do some work rather than being slack and morose, and was on the front for a good portion of the next loop. This 26km loop featured totally different soil type, dark black hero loam scattered with rocks, and was mainly fire-road but featured some longer climbs.

Aside from nearly dying down a firewood (true story can be confirmed by B-Dizzle) this loop was just pretty moderate, I found myself inadvertently riding away from Balony and Sarah up Big Bertha, however Brawny managed to get back on which was sweet because it wasn’t really planned that we split up and I hadn’t attacked and I kind of just wanted the company to shut the very loud little devil on my shoulder up because the head talk was about as grim as my legs were (still haven’t gotten out of tempo at this point..but yes I realise my heart rate was a bit subdued due to aforementioned ongoing fatigue), with me not really wanting to continue riding my bike. Wanting to never race again. Definitely not going to Italy. Yep, it was loud and grim. But it can be silenced with focus and positivity. Repeatedly.

Anyway, there were two other quite protracted climbs following the Bertha, and I was just riding my own pace and once again found myself alone, then rode up to Junior Owen Elvy, who as competing in the 68km event.

I was like “FFS WTF, I feel shit and now I have to try and keep a gap!”. Pretty funny thinking back, but as I crested Kenny’s Killer climb and passed a bunch of dudes walking up it (!) I gained a little bit of confidence, after all, as the very wise Jo Rowell once told me “you always come good”*. 

The next feed zone stop was snappy as I smashed a little coke, swapped a bottle and headed out onto the road. Maybe it was the coke, the fact that the mercury cracked 12 degrees, having eaten 4 caffeinated gels, or the knowledge that the final 36km won’t take more than 2hrs (and indeed a bit less), but I was all of a sudden ready to go. I ride up to a guy ahead of me “let’s ride together”. “Sure!” he said. His name was Neil and he had been at Reef to Reef the week prior.

So we rode together for around 10km, but I started to feel good. Like REALLY good, and began to smash all the single track and climbs out of the saddle. 

Alright….well this is unexpected. It must be at least 15 degrees then, I’ve probably just thawed out…let’s see what we can do here. I set a new goal to TT the remainder of the course and see what I could do. Whooping and hollering through the single track, I somehow found my skills had returned and I wasn’t, in fact, a hubbard. I was taking steezy lines again and punching all the climbs wherever I could. SO I AM NOT BROKEN HALLELUJAH!

I managed to pass many broken bodies in the final stages of the race, I would say at least ten in the final 30km, of which many Blondie also managed to pass. It was chalk and cheese how I felt for the first 3hrs compared to that final 2hrs, and really quite unexpected when compared to the early race thoughts of “I have never been this tired in a race in my life” and “if a catastrophic mechanical happened now I would be totes chill I would hitchhike back to town and go to the pub and it would be warm, no biggie”. There was a constant running dialogue between that angel and devil on the shoulder all throughout the early stages of the race.

I kept on teasing myself/fooling myself that the final fireroad was just around the corner (it wasn’t. For like 10km..but you can believe anything when you’re on the rivet, high on excessive caffeine and focussed on pushing).

Then, all of a sudden…it was. A moto met me “are you the leading female?” he said “I fucking hope so!” I said as I assumed the TT position for the last 6 or so km on dirt. There were still people to be caught and so I kept driving it right to the end, and when I crossed the road and headed into the finish I was cross-eyed, empty. Maybe a single tear was shed. I am not sure. 

I still couldn’t quite understand or believe how the day had unfolded, but I guess that’s the benefit of developing resilience, tenacity and a positive mental attitude. It doesn’t come innately to many of us, and it’s not foolproof; it’s a skill that needs to be worked on and refined, and I definitely had to unpack the suitcase full of skills I have be squirrelling away for a few years throughout this race. I certainly didn’t expect to have to do that, but in the end I am proud of just getting through it, and coming good at the end was a huge surprise and a huge bonus. That feeling of railing and punching through the trails for the last 90min-2hrs nearly made up for the start. Nearly. But it’s that knife-edge of pain and suffering; and joy and accomplishment.

Bone-broth is riding as strong as I have ever seen her ride (though to be fair I didn’t see her form at the Cape Epic before her crash, but it was reportedly VERY strong) and is in for really good things for the Pioneer, and honestly, should she have won I would have been very happy for her. And she will. Soon.

So in the end, I was very happy to take the 2018 XCM Series in Elite women, 3 out of 4 races ending with gold and the other with silver. As a mum with a job and many other conflicting priorities in my life I am happy to say that I am proud of it, even though the fields at times were pretty thin, I still raced as best I could. I know Australian mountain biking is a small pond, but you have to be kind to yourself and accept results graciously, I did the work and reaped the results, there’s not much innate marathon ability in my bones!

And so it’s true, mores in Dwellingup than any other race this season, that when you’re tired you are attacked by ideas conquered long ago, but with a bit of work, good reflection and wisdom of age and experience, you can unpack that suitcase and manage this assault of ideas much better than we could have previously.

*It may be days after the race, but it will happen.

Stage Racing at the Reef to Reef

Brisbane is pretty cold in winter. Sometimes we crack single digits. I am pretty lucky to live up high, where it rarely happens, but if I am to whizz the 200m vertical down our driveway and road into the valley, it gets close to zero on the reg, and that is pretty much unacceptable for me, a professed warm-weather loving lizard-type. If I need arm warmers, it’s unacceptably cold.

So when Bri-Dog (aka: B-Dizzle, Brio, B-Mat or Briony Mattocks, depending on how I am feeling) asked me if i wanted to head up to FNQ for the inaugural Reef to Reef pairs stage race I was pretty keen.

Something about the cold has my body squeaking and squealing like it needs an oil change, I often can’t seem to feel warmed up or put out power, so a four day holiday (errr…I mean bike race) was just the ticket to warm both the heart and body.

Arriving in Cairns, we found our accommodation, to be shared with the Cyclist Australia Magazine team (Moderate and Shippy). B-Dizzle had left her phone in Sydney airport (situation usual for the walking Mrs Mess, but we love her anyway) but had somehow commandeered a paper map and found her way to the accommodation. A short ride to James Cook University, home of the Smithfield Mountain Bike trails, we found our way around the stage one trails for a little pre-ride.

Gee whiz, if this set the bar for the rest of the race, the bar was pretty damn high! Weaving small sections of the 2017 World Champs course into its design, the 20km course featured around 800m vertical, and there were no free metres gained. Each and every one was a stem chewing berg. The course featured some of the best of Smithfield’s red dirt trails’ fast, loose and flowy, married with some flat fast grassy areas, and of course, killer climbs.

When we all got back to the accommodation we were all feeling the nervous anticipation of the looming stage 1. Conducted as a time trial, pairs would head off around Smithfield in 30 second intervals, aiming to seed themselves well for the remaining stages.

Stage 1

We started in the top ten teams, and were the first female team to hit the course. We had a team 30sec ahead who we thought would be a good carrot to chase. They provided the first of the team fishes to lure in throughout the course, as we managed the catch in the early stages of the race. The next challenge was to try and figure out how best to ride with each other, as in any teams racing, each rider has their strengths, and without riding with Brio in the leadup to the race it was up to us to figure that shit out on the racetrack.

Pootling along we managed to catch another two teams and were hauling along nicely without incident until the last kilometre of the race, where Bri-Dawg had a little nap down Jacob’s Ladder. I was waiting for about a minute, like ‘oh shit what’s gone on? Hope it’s not her collarbone?’ (Brio had not long ago broken her collarbone in a super unlucky incident in a stage race in South Africa). I began to sweat (more than I already was). But alas, after a few more moments she burst out of the jungle, crumbed like a schnitzel but otherwise unbroken and we finished the stage. She’s one tough cookie that girl. One down three to go. Thank god!

Looking extremely attractive in the pink (hahaha)SMLXL

 

Stage 2

Stage two was advertised as 50km with 600m climbing but ended up being 50km with closer to 1000m! Despite stage 3 being longer in distance, stage 2 was definitely the queen stage of the event. Brizzzly and I were feeling pretty good today, and we started strong before finding a group on the early road section. The course soon turned into steep, undulating 4wd track with several creek crossings. The trial was rocky and at times difficult to ride due to the loose rock and sand.  Coming back from the first loop through the start area, mixed pair Em Viotto and partner caught us, using their supreme road skills, and we stayed with them through the next section of single track. From there we rode as a four for a while until a few descents and climbs later I realised that they weren’t with us anymore. Back to being lonely teamies.

We soon found ourselves riding up an awesome single track climb, littered with rocks and amongst the gum, it was a real standout as it twisted back and forth to the peak through the dry terrain. Our efforts were rewarded with a fast and flowy descent, loose and squally but grin inducing as we whooped and hollered through the trees. After this we came to a feed zone, and the great grovel. This was another loop similar to the start, but with more loose, red-rock descents and little baby heads littering the trail. Through it was really a fireroad, there often wasn’t more than one line through the rough stuff. We climbed some more, and descended again and again with the leg-sapping climbs. Somewhere Bizzlemangle’s chain came off, we regrouped. Took a feed, then were in the final stages of the race.

We were pretty lonely, and Brian managed to find a stick in her drivetrain, which I realised as she yelled loudly for help in the last 15km of single track. No help was needed (we don’t need no man, after all!) and we were back in business. The final single track featured ant-mounds, scree, rough dirt and rocks. It was fast and flowy and skatey as fuck, but a real treat after the toiling of the previous kilometres. My heart soared as I snaked my way between trees and earth.

In the closing moments of the race I let go, I was flowing through the trails in my own world when I realised Biscuit wasn’t behind me. Sheeeit! I sop and another rider comes up to me and speaks very loudly in french. Pour Quais? I had no idea what was going on. Oh heck. That collarbone SHEEEIT! I wait for a bit and contemplate backtracking when she pops out of the bush, but something was wrong. She is pedalling with one leg. Oh fuck.

She’s broken her fucking leg. This is it. We are fucked. End of race. WTF.

She gets a bit closer and I see a pedal attached to her foot. “FUCK Bitmap! How the hell did that happen!?” the seemingly impossible had happened and Brownie’s pedal had unscrewed itself (probability of this ever happening is damn near 0%). We weren’t far from the end, we had fucked around already. I was like “Benjamin, just fucking ride as hard as you can with one leg”. We got onto the fireroad and I pushed her the last couple of kms. Apparently riding one-legged really hurts that quad!

Stage 3

The faces of riders look noticeably fatigued by day three of any stage race, and the Reef to Reef was no exception. Riders wearily mounted their bikes knowing that a warm up was a good idea, but clenching their teeth as the sore legs were forced into action again.

Today’s stage was the longest in distance, but would be similar in duration to Stage 2 due to long, with fast sections of road and less single track. A fast start saw us turn into different sections of undulating dirt road. I felt pretty stoked that it was a more conservative start, but perhaps the legs just felt good, as others looked less impressed with the bunch pace? Partner in crime Buzzman tried to shake things up early as she was bored with the road racing, but nothing stuck. Shortly after, about 15km in, we were met with a turn onto single track style cow path. I don’t even know if a cow path is a thing…but that’s what I am calling it; it’s definitely one good line and a lot of shockers with giant death-holes in them.

I felt in my element and led the bunch down the faux-cow singletrack, until I got to a large open area, looked around and only saw daylight. After they came through Bri explained there was a lot of misadventure behind me; absolute bunch carnage. ARGH! I felt pretty lucky to have a clear view of the trails in front!

We faced a few more water crossings, and delved deep into the rainforest. This course was mainly an out and back with a loop at the end (shaped like a chupa-chup) and the loop was deep in dark tranquil rainforest. At this point, Bri and I got sick of just riding and drove the bunch for some substantial time. Sometimes this prods some (mainly male, TBH) egos into doing some work on the front, but not today. Coming out onto a road section one of the local teams came and lead the way for a bit, until a short 1-2min road climb loomed ahead. Aha! I thought, I’ll stretch this out. By merely winding it up, we had singled out on the entrance to the next bit: single track. It was a move that paid off well as I snaked through the sandy moto tracks with just one other rider.

I had a LOT of fun in the moto singletrack. As you can see...SMXLL

 

Briony wasn’t in sight behind at this point, but I knew how well she was riding and I knew she could read a move, so I kept going and decided to head to the feed zone for a snappy bottle change. As I had pulled up, changed my bodies and gotten Briony’s ready, she quickly powered through alone: success! Plus our super organised feeding techniques were pretty steezy. Bulk points for steeze,

We trundled on and were swamped by a fast group of guys and we rode out along the undulating, cow-holed singletrack on their wheel. The efforts of earlier in the day were catching up, and Briony led all through the section and it was awesome to have a reliable wheel to follow, and someone to call the potentially race-ending holes out for me!

We lost contact with the group at the road, and by god did we try and time-trial back on. We were so close, but the bunch wouldn’t let up, and so in the end the elastic band broke and we swapped off for the last, brutal 15km. It was very hard, just the way stage racing should be. We were stoked crossing the line, we had done some awesome team work, ridden some sweet single track and seen some epic rainforest. All was good!

Stage 4

This is it! The end! It is such a feeling of accomplishment finishing a stage race, no matter where you are in the field. We wound our way up to Weatherby station, a huge cattle station near the start of Stage 3, where our last day would finish. Unlike the rest of the stages, this one was a point to point race, and we would do a loop of the rural area (rocky bergs, ponies and moo-cows) followed by a section of gravel road before turning down the mystical Bump Track. From the end of this steep chute, we headed through the back of cane country to finish on the shores of beautiful Port Douglas beach.

Well the gun went, and I wasn’t sure if I regretted the choice of having a coffee instead of a warm up before this stage. Both would have been optimal but beggars can’t be choosers, and with a hefty dose of stage race insomnia, I chose the former. A moderate rollout saw us stick with the front bunch for a few km before splintering off into the dirt roads with a smaller group. There were audible groans as the toll of three days racing made itself known amongst competitors. There was pushing and towing ahoy; both Bri and I wished at this point we had someone to push us! (we don’t need no man…but a little push would have been welcomed…).

A few km into the race some ambiguous signage broke up the group as we stopped and pondered the way, and we found ourselves hans solo. No big deal, this happens, and we ended up swapping off through the rough double track. We rode back up to a lot of the people we were with, as many riders chose to push up a steep incline that Bianca and I rode, then I promptly fell down an incline after making a mistake on some very off camber trail, and we were back off the group again. My bad. #tired #hubbard #myfault

Riding back through the properties, Brita-filter was a lifesaver as my legs didn’t want a bar of it. We managed to regroup after passing through Weatherby again, and we hot the dreaded dirt road. Where is this elusive Bump track?

With another couple of riders dangling in front, we managed to ride a consistent race just behind them. When we got down the first part of the Bump, we were in a group again, then slow running out of a difficult creek meant we were off the back. This was the way it was to be for today, work hard, catch up, fuck up again, out the back; repeat ad finitum.

Oh well, tired legs have that effect, and once we had pinned it down the steep but fun track of Bumps and popped out onto the road, the group was just there. Engaging some oft discussed not often used crown of fork TT position, we caught them with gusto and unlike the stage prior, the ego’s flared up and I found myself not having to do much more work, instead sitting on the group. #winning A few twists and turns through deep cane country, and some interesting bike path riding, we finally turned onto the beach! The joyous ending was in sight!

But where was it? Was it that speck so far away?

Indeed it was, it was probably 5km away at the other end of the beach. Trying to engage TT mode was difficult at this stage of the race, and the obstacles that required dodging en route to the finish included people walking along the beach on their phones, and kids digging holes. But that’s what beach is all about. Crossing that line we felt awesome, and immediately vowed to come back on a tropical holiday again, as we ripped off our shoes and jersey’s and plunged into the cool sea water. Bliss!

So all in all a great success. We had an amazing time, good racing, great mates and the best part was it was all in a tropical wonderland! It was great to get to know team Cyclist Australia, and Sam & Co a bit better and enjoy the delights of a tropical holiday with a smattering of solid days on the bike!

Gifts from two wheels

Everyone who races bikes, and even rides bikes, does sport, is a musician, or otherwise is highly invested in a hobby, has a motivation that drives them to continue the habit. I have talked about motivation and what it means on a number of occasions, and whether that motivation is positive or negative.

Closely related to the driving force behind our daily patterns is the rewards we get from habitually doing something that–at least in the case of sports and training–isn’t always instantly gratifying.

I have been thinking about everything that the world of cycling has given me in the tumultuous ten-year history I have been riding, and it’s far more varied than one may think.

There are some obvious external gifts we are rewarded with; increased fitness, new friendship groups via social groups on the bike, a literal vehicle to travel to work, in some cases employment through the industry, great glutes (lol), an extra 8kg or so of muscle mass…

The real gifts, however, are those that aren’t visible to the eye. Sorting through a seemingly endless bag of number plates from bike races long ago through to more recently, I was able to recall many races where events had happened that had challenged and changed me. I was literally able to put together a timeline based on cycling events that ranged from who I was 10 years ago to where I am now. From an awkward self-deprecating, ever striving, anxious novice; to the awkward, slightly more confident, always striving, experienced cyclist with a slightly healthier anxiety level, that I am now.

The path is never linear and always has some added challenges, see below. (Ie: two degrees, a child, 18months of chronic illness, some form of mental breakdown, blah blah blah).

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But what defines success? When I started riding years ago I didn’t even have an end goal, certainly racing ‘well’ at a national level would be a dream but not something I could ever envisage happening. But you continue riding and racing because of the physical, tangible things it gives you as well as the mental clarity, goal setting and achieving and ability to see progress.

And in parallel to your own progress, the goal posts of the sport continually shift. The standards are always changing; riders become stronger, courses get harder, athletes must either adapt and accept the increased speed and technicality required or be happy to stay where they are.

The greatest things that the bike has given me isn’t the opportunity to represent Australia at a world level on a couple of occasions, nor is it the privilege to wear the stripes. Though both of these are pretty great (and I would argue the shocker I had in Cairns last year definitely prompted a reset of values).

The greatest gift I have been bequeathed, not without a great deal of effort on my part, is the ability to know that I am actually an okay person with or without results. When you have been chasing, then have some form of success and you’re just the same old person it really drives home the existential questions…especially if the expectation is for you to change, or be different because of it. When you can turn it around and race and ride for love and not validation, it comes from a different place and a different headspace that is much sustainable for the long-term. You don’t fear competition, you can accept whatever happens on the day, and you know it has absofuckinglutely no effect on your worth as a human being.

So what has bike racing really given me?

-Perspective on what’s important (hint: not bike racing, though it is great),

-A relationship, husband and child (certainly didn’t bank on that when I picked up the GT Avalanche 1.0: rim-brake spec)

-Falling into a fiery pit of despair and coming out harder, better, faster, stronger….like a phoenix (or Daft Punk song, yo),

-An adequate sense of self-worth,

-A tenable ability to conjure watts and power and pain from the bottom of my soul, even when not fit, because you know what a pit of despair is like and you know how far you can push yourself. Sure the numbers may not always be pretty and you may not always be super fast uphill, but you can always delve deep into that pain cave,

-Self-enlightenment in how, and why I ride, and the ability to honestly appraise my own (and others…) motivation and drive to ride,

– The ability to accept and forgive and be kind to myself; no trading in self-flagellation. Nope the sun doesn’t shine outta my arse, but nor does it shine out of anyone elses,

-While it once gave me a sense of identity, coming full circle has meant that you can find yourself outside sport, and be happy with that.

So I am absolutely stoked to be riding and racing my bike. I mean…not today; today I have a rancid post-fever cough with chunks in it and I feel a bit how-are-you-going. But generally, i’m stoked. When you ask the question “what’s possible?”,  line up and have a go, and even if you fail you’re going to be ok; it’s truly liberating.

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This contains a selection of plates from my first few races to now (first few; Scott team of 4, Highland Fling Half), first Marathon (Boonah Marathon), The Full Highland Fling I did 6 months post-partum…singlespeed, The first national series races where I cracked top-5, the first Cycle Epic I placed third in full marathon, 8 weeks gestation (oops), first OS trip racing ProXCT, first Marathon Worlds, first national series race win, first XCO worlds and First National Champ plate. What a whirlwind ride!

The long hard grind

I have never had a good race at Bayview. A few years ago, at the first event, I entered the 100km in the midst of quite a significant life funk. I figured if I could get through it it would surely pull me out of the life funk. It was a bad idea. I didn’t get through it and the funk stayed in situ.

Last year I did the teams event with Aido. I had just gotten back on the bike after my shoulder injury and wasn’t very fit, I wasn’t feeling great about myself as I had gained back some weight after being lean and fit for the national XCO season, and just….Bayview. Ugh.

For those of you who haven’t done the event, it’s 94km of sandy twisty trail, with 95% of this being singletrack. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE singletrack, but the sheer amount and profile of the event makes it a lot harder than it seems. While the whole event only has 1800m of climbing; not much at all for a marathon of that length, it is made up of hundreds of small 1min long climbs. There are no long descents for recovery. It’s a pedaller’s wet dream and an anaerobe’s nightmare.

This year I wasn’t going to enter the event. I swore to myself I would only enter events that I liked or were new or exciting. Bayview was none of those things to me, however, the organiser–Lonnie–changed up the race course; there was some new singletrack, and a bit more recovery and passing and drinking time with some sustained fireroad sections. All in all it was a great improvement.

Plus, how many events do you get to wear the green and gold in a year? AND only an hour away?

Off the back of a pretty harrowing 2-degree Grafton experience, I had taken a couple of weeks off the bike. It was fantastic and I was surprised at how damn busy I was even when you take out 12–16hours a week of training. Of course, I did some things, like embarking upon a strength program that consists primarily of picking up very heavy things and walking strangely for days afterwards.

The week before the event I get back on the bike and EVERYTHING is hard. Which is to be expected. I enter the race but know it’s going to be a struggle, as much mentally as physically on that course.

The rains had come a couple of days prior and a large deluge overnight meant that race day was set to be moist. The small elite women’s field headed off with elite men, up the first fireroad (which was pretty rude TBH) Holly and I had snuck in amidst the elite men and I believe were already away from the rest of the elite women.

We found ourselves with a group of two elite men, and that’s kind of how it was for the start loop (10km). One dropped off through the first main loop and so there were three of us, and we were hauling along at a solid tempo. We certainly weren’t racing out of our skins, but the constant pedalling and repetitive small inclines do take their toll.

Towards the end of the first main loop (the 52km mark) one of the elite men we were riding with, friend Andrew Crawley, began to pay the price for having his first mountain bike ride in three months, and took a break through the feed, and so it was Holly and I.

We started the second main lap. We had a chat up the first climb, and I was obviously more puffed then young Holly. I had missed a water feed on course in the first lap, and was feeling a little parched, and so I was expecting her to come around and put the jandal down. It’s what I would have done if I was in her position…stalk like a tiger then bam. Take the prey when you sense its weakness.

So when she attacked up the wall after a couple of little attempts before, I had nothing to answer with. I had a red hot go but hit the rev limiter pretty quickly, and then spent the next 30mins freewheeling and running into things. It certainly wasn’t my idea to go and blow, but in the case that someone is attacking do you give it a nudge and see, or do you just sit up and ride tempo because that was your plan?

In the end, it’s a race and you do what you can to win it. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t, but you gotta roll the dice.

Holly’s dice were pretty solid as she rode off into the distance. It was going to be a long sad 30km solo. Brad Babel passed me as a broken former shell of myself after the attack. He told Aido I was blown to smithereens and wouldn’t be making it in home for sunset.

Post-rev-limit induced mushroom cloud I knew I couldn’t catch her, but after a feed, some food and a guzzled bottle of hydration I was going to give it all I could, after all; it ain’t over until it’s over and MTB is all about the variables.

The rest of the race was difficult to get motivated riding by myself. I wished I had someone to ride with, but alas I don’t remember passing anyone and I don’t think anyone passed me. I willed my legs to keep turning, I cursed the pedalling, and generally coaxed my body through the pedally, sloppy mess of Bayview.

I was about to celebrate not crashing in the tight muddy singletrack, when one of the last grass trees of the event jumped in front of me and I scorpioned into the scrub. Ugh. I heard someone coming behind as I jumped back on my bike, it was Dave P. The saddle was sideways. I jump off and try to whack it back, but in the end I get my tool out and move it.

Gee whiz what a difference 90sec of recovery does to the legs! 90sec of not pedalling was like heaven on a course like that. The last 12km was fast. I passed Dave Penhaligon again and zoomed off home.

Not pedalling is bliss!

And so I came in second behind the super speedy Harris, who I wasn’t going to catch regardless, because she is waaaay to good at the pedalling right now.

But most importantly, I had a reasonably positive race. And I got back before sunset. Sure I could have done without the blow on the chase, but there were people in far worse condition getting home, and I still took a solid 8th or so in the Elite men field. It goes to show that no matter how slow you feel you’re going, you’re probably not going that slow.

Onwards and upwards, I was pretty happy with the result all things considered and am excited to launch into some training. I have a few upcoming events that I am really excited about, and am heading to Dwellingup for the final round of the XCM National Series as I find myself leading the Elite Women category!

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“With great power comes great responsibility” -Spiderman (and/or Voltaire)

I have spent a fair bit of time the past week, in between the soul-destroying forays into night shift, doing some navel gazing. The problem is I am really good at thinking about things and peeling the it all away layer by layer, each facet examined.

This is not always a good thing! In fact it often leads to uncovering more negative thoughts than the unexamined life would have one discover.

But regardless, I was thinking about the process of getting to this point, where I am very fortunate and humbled to be able to wear the green and gold stripes. It has been a long process, filled with ups and downs, mountains and valleys.

I thought back to my first season, where my third mountain bike race ever was a National Series race, where I finished about 20mins down (they didn’t use the 80% rule…obviously) and I was energized, disappointed and humbled by the whole race, and just so amazed at the girls at the front.

Star-struck, in fact!

I can’t even remember who won (I was, after all, snivelling around the back) but I have no doubt that Tory Thomas and Zoe King would have been battling at the front. Two amazing stars in my eyes for many years!

They surely didn’t even know it at the time, but for XCO the likes of Rowena Fry, Tory Thomas, Zoe King, Jenni King and Katherine O’Shea were just absolute rock stars of the XCO world. Rebecca Henderson was another; she was fast as soon as she was out of the uterus. When I raced my first marathon (also finishing at least 15min behind the winner!) I was introduced to some other names which I also immediately thought were just SO GOOD. These included Naomi Hansen, Imogen Smith and Jodie Willett. At some stage, a whole host of new riders burst onto the scene and were just phenomenal even though they were new, the likes of Heather Logie, Peta Mullens and Jenny Fay. So amazing! So fast! How the hell could I ever be that good?

And you know what made the difference? Almost all of these women were friendly and open to saying hi to me, some little ol’ skinny hurter who crashed every race, just riding out the back trying to get through it. Road racing, and running were different worlds in contrast, and all anyone wants is to be treated with respect and included and I guess that’s why mountain biking was a stayer. Even though I was crap.

The other day I was getting my knee patched up in the medical tent (because while some things have changed, having little naps mid-trail have been pretty consistent), these guys who didn’t know me from a bar of soap were asking about riding. Do you do many of these? How lonng have you done it? Are you any good? (Well the last one was paraphrased but you know you get that feeling when someone is trying to suss you out).

I was almost about to say “Ooooh no I am not very fast”. Then I stopped myself.

What utter drivel! Can you imagine what they would have thought if they found out I won the race and said ‘yeah, but you know I am not very fast’. What would my competitors further afield think if they heard me talking down my own speed at the front of the race? It’s utterly absurd; and certainly wouldn’t make them feel very good about their own achievements!

What would I think if I was talking to any of the girls I mentioned earlier, with stars in my eyes in total awe of their achievements, and they said, ‘yeah but I am not very fast’, after winning a national level race.

And that’s when it hit me…that perhaps other people see me in the way I saw all these amazing athletes throughout my development as a rider?

While the Green and Gold XCM jersey may mean fuck-all for many people, it is pretty special to me, and represents ten years of suffering, progress and self-actualisation. It’s taken a kid, two degrees, and a lot of growth and change to get here. Sometimes the things you work the hardest and longest for are the most worthwhile and I am very very happy to be in this position.

For some people, though, I guess I probably am seen as that fast rider out the front. And though the ‘power’ of a domestic champ jersey in an Australian fringe sport like mountain biking certainly isn’t on par publically with a footy grand final, or swimming gold, there is a certain responsibility you cannot simply opt out of when you are at the front of even a fringe sport like mountain biking. And it’s not just champs; it’s all the women and men who line up at the elite level.

The thing is, when you are seen as a high-performer in any sport, you are already a role model for others. Whether you like it or not, you set the standards for behaviour, eithics and sportsmanship in the sport.

And so, here’s the crux; if I hadn’t had good experiences with those in the sport early on, I wouldn’t be here now, and so I feel that when you’re that implicit role-model, you have a duty to be the person you needed when you were growing up/developing in the sport.

Sportsmanship has been defined as ‘an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect and a sense of fellowship for one’s competitors’.

The way one reacts to a game sport, race or player will either embody or reject the values of sportsmanship.

There is nothing I love more than smashing myself on the track with a bunch of other hitters, then sitting down and enjoying a milkshake and coffee afterwards. This is the awesome thing about our sport, and it’s something I want to continue for as long as I race.

Some examples of awesome sportsmanship I see in mountain biking include:

• encouragement of others in all levels of the sport;

• sense of camraderie, especially if someone is injured or distressed in the race;

• swallowing of pride and congratulating those who beat you on the day as well as showing grace in the case of winning, and congratulating your competitors;

• making time to talk to those newer to the sport; and,

• accepting and understanding the nature of mountain biking; there are many variables, and so owning your race experience is important.

Examples of poor sportsmanship, which are thankfully rare in the sport but still can happen include:

• Being a sore loser/blaming external factors for poor performance;

• Being an ungracious winner;

• Not embodying the friendly nature of mountain bike racing (ie: care and respect for one’s competitors);

• Cheating in any form; and

• Acting in any other manner that could be seen as unethical or detrimental to the image of the sport.

And these aren’t just for those at the elite level of the sport, it’s a trickle down effect. If you ride in any capacity, you need to be the change you want to see. You want to embody the values of sport, promote fair play and good sportsmanship, because without that mountain biking has the potential to lose it’s gleam, to become less family friendly and become representative of the tarnished culture that is represented in some higher profile sports in Australia.

So this year is about encouraging newer riders in the sport, getting women on the race track, embodying the vlues I hold dearly and generally being a good human.

The seeds of doubt don’t grow if you don’t water them

 

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Ow. Pic: Ruth Corset

 

 

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Green and Gold!

 

“Ugh” I said, chewing in the near-darkness of the early morning. Karen had the right idea, she was on the crumpet program; easy to get down, minimal chewing. I stoically continued chewing muesli, thinking ‘well I am going to have to be pretty determined to finish this thing off today, may as well get some practice in with the muesli’. It’s a mixture of nerves and excitement, little shreds of doubt creep in only to have to be swatted away repeatedly. And so it was for the morning of the 2018 Cross Country Marathon National Champs in Townsville.

So it’s been a long while since I have written intensively about a race. Race reports have kind-of left me feeling a bit flat since I stopped continually placing importance on bike racing in my life.

I recently competed in Lasseters Easter in the Alice, combining the first round of the Australian XCM National Series, and surprised myself to have some great form and took the marathon stage and overall stage race win, but most importantly I hung out with amazing people, enjoyed the trails and had a good time. Which is the number one priority nowadays.

I felt pretty confident to have a good race in Townsville, after all the endurance was coming on and the power was there, and it seemed to have a similar profile to Alice. Then the course changed locations, and though I was outwardly excited to try a different course, knowing that this course featured 4x30min climbs planted those little seeds of doubt; after all I had actively refused to purposefully manipulate my weight, instead working on power and consistent sub-threshold efforts, and I knew I wasn’t at the most optimal climbing weight.

But you ‘run what you brung’, and so while the seeds of doubt were there, I refused to water them. And for someone who is 60-61kg in a field of much smaller riders, I can generally hold my own. I just shut that thought down every time thethought of not being good enough, or light enough, to race well crept in. Cycling and endurance sports are so weight based it can do your head in, but I can take confidence from the fact that I have done well at races at a variety of weights and while where I am at isn’t the most optimal for uphill, I can still ride uphill; plus it fits with life and creates no neuroses’. Though weight-based demons were banished a long time ago from my world, when the seeds of doubt like to creep in, body image is the first chink in the armor they attack.

So we were at the start, all I wanted was a clean race and to ride as smoothly and well as possible, and stick to the plan. But marathon racing is a fickle mistress and plans are made to be adjusted and adapted, the win is when you can just roll with it.

I knew that Holly would be one to beat, and when I saw Tory’s name on the start line, I knew she would probably be hustling for a win on this particular course, too.

We lined up and I had one of my super soigneur’s, Shazzi, waiting in line to get me a coffee. Unfortunately, the coffee van turned up very late and had a very relaxed attitude to pulling espresso’s, and I went without prior to the race.

This was a new experience, and certainly lacked a little spark in the first couple of laps, but you need to ‘run what you brung’ and play the cards you’re dealt, so I focussed on trying to ride smooth and finding places to drink on the rocky course. I led out for the first part of the climb, and after a small descent Holly rode past and put some power down; I followed her with a small gap over the rest of the field. About 20min into the climb I needed to find my own rhythm, as I thought it a bit fruitless to blow up on lap one, and I watched her get some distance. After the first descent, she was right there again! This kind of happened the next two laps where she would be just ahead, with Tory Thomas just behind.

I had a cracker of a cartwheel on lap one, resulting in some claret and, now, much bruising, and Tory got a bit closer behind and I lost visual of Holly in front for a while.

Lap two was pretty uneventful. The legs didn’t yet hurt, just a little discomfort. No crashes or anything to write home about, but lap three is where it all started to unravel in the elite women’s field.

I stopped to take a pack in order to drain 1.5L in one lap to avoid the great heat-related illness adventures that I am renowned for, and also swapped a fresh water bottle out on my bike. With the power of hindsight I have left the bottle, as I was 2.5kg up with both, and with the pause to get this hydration sorted, I found Tory snapping at my heels. She was having a good lap, and we rode together from near the top of the main climb. I was really feeling the weight of a pack and a bottle.

Descending down the loose, rocky old-school Blue Ringed Octopus trail, all of a sudden we stumbled across Holly who was a minute or so up, flailing with a flat. I muttered something encouraging (or did I? I can’t remember!) then, with Tory glued to my wheel we headed up the nastiest firewood pinch of the race, searching for extra gears, I manage to somehow jam my chain between my cassette and spokes, and am wrenching it out for a bit, before having to run up the hill due to the inability to remount on a 30% hill. Tory was out of sight.

Bummer dude.

The gold was in sight, then gone again! But thinking about the outcome isn’t a good idea during a race, while keeping in the moment is pretty integral. I descended to the feed with Tory still out of sight.

Dumping the pack and downing a gel, I headed into the final lap, starting to feel good on the climb when unencumbered by the pack. Weightless! Tory was on the first descent as I climbed up, maybe 90sec up. I just kept plugging away and Dean, local rider and occasional ride buddy, passed me and told me I had ‘daylight…second’s yours!”. “I’ll just keep chugging away,” I said, or something similar.

Halfway up the climb, Tory was in view, only two switchbacks up, then one…I was closing the gap but didn’t want to get too ahead of myself early in the last lap, after all, it’s a course that can claim so many with flats and mechanicals.

The start of the second main descent I dropped it down low into the dirt (again) in a lapse of concentration, and–dusted up like a crumbed cutlet–hopped back on. I was pretty determined to maintain focus, and then to refocus asap when lying on the ground. I wasn’t sure how far Holly was…or how far ahead Tory may again be after I had hit the deck.

All of a sudden, towards the end of the final descent I see streaking red and black of Tory’s Trek team colours just ahead, I had somehow managed to close the gap.

The last few minutes of the race were fast and furious. Trying to think, evaluate options and ride towards a win is tricky 4 hours into a race.

I shot through the feed zone onto a few hundred metres on the road; Tory was just ahead, maybe 100m further up. I shut the gap down in record speed, it seemed Tory was toiling hard, perhaps the effort of her super fast third lap catching up on her.

The last kilometre of the race featured the road turning off onto a mighty short, sharp road berg, into a sketchy loose descent and this started just after I got on her wheel. I stayed on the wheel for a few seconds to pause, then as we turned the corner to the berg I launched out of the saddle putting out a 90sec-2min effort with everything I had. Nearing the top I looked back to see Tory nowhere near me, and so started the final anxiety-fraught minute into the finish straight. I rode the final bit fastishy-cautious, after all, a crash here and it would all be over again, I turned into the finish straight and without looking back rode through.

To a National Championships win! By 40secs, in the last kilometre! Wow!

I didn’t know what to expect to feel, you tend to have to push the feelings aside during racing in order to get the job done. I wasn’t bargaining on a win for 95% of the race, I had almost accepted second but continually pushed regardless. I was overcome with happiness, surprise, and sadness (that my family wasn’t in Townsville with me) all at once.

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Post race coke, magic.

I certainly didn’t have the ‘clean’ race I wanted, but in the end, I rolled the dice and played to my strengths, rode sensibly and was rewarded for it. I do feel for Holly who was on a blinder, she has so many good things coming for her, and Tory for the disappointment she would have felt being passed in the twilight moments of a national championship race.

So the book deals and sponsorship opportunities are rolling in, now I am going pro!

Just kidding.

I just dropped Elva off at school and I am back to work tomorrow. 😛

Huge thanks to my fam, for putting up with all my shit, and accepting me when I am in the foetal position after riding 4hrs in the driving rain, and then Aido has to fix my bike which is inevitably always f#$%ed due to riding in aforementioned weather. Thanks to Cyclinic for the bike-pimping, and especially to Matt from Cannondale for exceptional feed zone duties (pretty sure one time I made Matt stuff jelly dinosaurs directly into my mouth…sorry about that) and for my sweet bike, and for Shazzi for desperately trying to get me a coffee, and the fab moral support.

With Karen, Shaz, Les and Declan staying together we had a real Townsville ‘family’ happening, and such a good time chilling with some great people. Karen had a nightmare race with 4000 flats, and Declan ride strongly in one of his first races at this level.

Stoked is an understatement!

So in the end, the muesli really sealed the deal mentally. I just had to chew through it to get to the end.

Stats:

• 5 gels

• 3 electrolyte bottles

• 1×1.4L water pack

• 4 laps

• 68km, 4hr07min

• 2 crashes

• 1 mechanical (minor)

• 12 thoughts of ‘why am I doing this’

• 1000 thoughts to ‘look up’ and ‘focus’

• No heatstroke

2018: A list of broken things thus far

 

Rolling updates of my path of destruction throughout the year of 2018.

 

April:

Broken bird-flipping finger

 

March:

Bent fork lowers

IRD Battery Broken

Flat/Dead Tyre: MTB (mid race)

Flat/Dead Tyre: Road (mid miles)

Hydrapack bladder mouth piece failed

 

February:

Lost credit card

Lost child (found shortly after)

Broken derailleur

Broken Water tank pump

 

January:

Carbon Wheelset

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