I had a killer time doing the Duo Classic last year with Lewy Cressey, only the second edition of this fresh event held at Kowen and Sparrow just outside Canberra. It was such a well run event with a great atmosphere, a combo that’s not so common with races these days. So I was hanging to race it again, especially when good friend Dan McConnell said he was keen to pair up. I was confident we could get fit just in time and have enough form to hammer the whole 50km of flowing single track, despite the crazy temperatures in Canberra. And with my first National race for ages in Mt Buller next weekend, I wanted to get my first race under the belt on my new Superfly 9.9 hardtail.
So how did it go? Things started off nicely on the nice long fire road start loop to space riders out early on. I cruised on the front just to stay out of trouble, while Dan sat back observing and assessing as he does so well. It wasn’t long until the pace started to gradually increase though, with a few keenos sprinting for the first single track. Dan and I kept it cool though, staying near enough to the front to not get blocked, but not pushing the pace. 50km on these trails wears riders out more they then often realise, so we weren’t in any great rush. Having said that though, I did make sure I got to the front at the peak, before the main descent. Mainly to avoid eating dust – and minimising how much I had to clean my bike after the race – but also to get in my own groove instead of descending at others’ pace. Dan was a few wheels back, so I wasn’t going to push it, but I made sure things kept flowing along. And that was a perfect pace to be able to enjoy the great tracks in East Kowen while still feeling like I was racing.
By the time we hit Sparrow Hill it was Dan and I hitting the highest point, with the Swell riders in tow, then our Target Trek team mates Brendan J and Sid T. Everyone else was out of contention by then, which was strange because the pace felt like it was pretty cruisy up until that point. That’s about when I realised I’m fitter than I thought and was enjoying riding at the front but still feeling comfy. Maybe too comfy though, as a stick jumped into my wheel and caused me to pause for a bit. The Swell boys got a whiff and started going all out. The gap was only 5 or 10 seconds, but Dan and I both agreed it looked like they were sprinting flat out. A pace they surely wouldn’t hold. So instead of matching it we just went our own pace, ate and drank, kept things smooth, and kept them within site. Brendan and Sid had dropped off at this point, Sid maybe feeling the lack of Ks at the moment (he’ll be back on it soon I’m sure).
Maca and I shared the work nicely, leading out when a section suited us and making sure one or the other didn’t use extra mental energy leading for too long. I felt strong and Maca looked strong. We planned to up the pace in the second half. And when we did we caught the Swell guys straight away, passed them, then set the tempo. I was keen to ‘attack’ on the main climb and Dan was too. As we approached it though I felt my back tyre soften. It was just after the rockiest part of the course, where there were extra sharp and jagged rocks that were hard to avoid. I didn’t feel I hit anything, but I was sure my tyre was deflating, not my form.
It’s hard to pull over when you’re leading, but when I was sure it was flat I accepted it and got on with the job of fixing it. That’s when years of fixing punctures paid off. I dropped the gears down, popped the wheel out, ripped the tyre off, pulled the valve out while Dan got a tube and CO2 ready, wacked it in, quickly inflated, slammed the wheel back in, and we were off in about 2 minutes. We didn’t rush the climb we were on though, letting the lactic flush. Once we’d built up the pace we felt good again. Although with only 20km to go I wasn’t so sure we could make the time back. But we needed the training anyway, so we gave it a shot. To be honest I was keen to hit it harder to give us a better chance of getting the lead again, but Dan kept it chilled and I wasn’t going to question the man who mastered the art of finishing strongly in all the World Cups last season.
We rode error-free for the rest of it, dodging traffic with no major problems, then with about 5km to go we spotted the leaders up ahead. As we caught them Dan stuck past in the second last single track, but I couldn’t squeeze through without risking tangling up with the others. Dan surged ahead and I waited until the next open section to pass Lewis, then the last grass field to pass Blair. It was just after that when I hit Dan’s back wheel as he went unusually slow through the last corner. It turned out he had a slow leak up front and did amazingly well to not roll the tyre. I led the way up the finish straight hoping Dan would keep it going. The winner went off the second rider, so it was up to him. And although Dan crossed the line with a flat front tyre, he held it together. I think his superior wheelie skills came in handy.
It was a big relief to finish, and especially to win, as there were a lot of riders retiring with flat tyres out there. Kowen’s sharp little rocks are often underestimated because the tracks in general are quite smooth and it’s hard to stay focused for every section. That’s part of the challenge out there and it looked like everyone was enjoying it. From my perspective this was a class A event, in terms of how it was run, the race course, prizes, attention to detail, and the atmosphere that was created. And the pairs aspect of the race adds an extra dimension. It was definitely a step up from last year, which was already a great event. If you like bike events that have a nice balance of fun and challenges and missed the Duo this time around make sure you do it next year.
Photos: Greg Long