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Bright – tranquil town, punishing racing

Bright in Victoria is now in my top 5 favourite towns to visit. [Ed – I’ll take that back now, 2 weeks later, after getting a $180 speeding fine in the mail for doing 84 in an 80 zone down the main street. Harsh!]

With a few more hard rides under the belt since Buller I was keen to hit up both the XCO and XCM at Bright, on the Saturday and Sunday respectively. I also decided at the last minute that the team relay on Thursday would be a good chance to open it up and test the track at speed. In the end it was a good week or racing and an excellent week hanging out in a nice town with a great feel, seemingly very keen to have cyclists hanging around.

Race 1: Team Relay

I’d never raced a team relay aside from 8 and 24hr races. One lap flat out, then handing over to my three Trek Racing Australia team mates to finish the job sounded painful but beneficial two days before the XCO. And without much of a warm up it really hurt! My legs were on the defensive from the gun. I took the whole week easy, so they felt locked up and tight. But at least my lungs felt fine. I just couldn’t get going and push hard enough to stay with the two feather weights Ivory and Crosby, who make 30 seconds on me and led the race out at warp speed and setting their teams up nicely. I came in third, but I was confident we’d gain it back, with our all-round strong team… until our second rider, young Tucknott, had a huge bust up right at the end of his lap. His walk back to the start took a few minutes. So despite Holly Harris and Jack Lavis doing solid laps we had to miss the podium and finish 4th. Hopefully the bad luck was done with for all of us for the weekend.

Race 2: Cross Country

Saturday, the XCO, the big one, the one we’ve all been training for. A high quality field and a tough track. I felt pretty fresh, but still concerned with the lack of hill work I’d done. But I like the track as a whole and I was looking forward to just giving it a good nudge.

My aim for the race – to start off easy and build up to a strong finish after ensuring I prioritise fuel intake. With a dodgy start loop going into a tight and narrow uphill single track, it would be the usual tussle for positions and trying to avoid a pile up. I entered the narrow track in the top ten, so it was a good start. But with everyone slamming their brakes, causing a domino effect, I rammed into the rider in front and hit a tree, stepping off my bike. Unsurprisingly the dominoes kept falling and it was mayhem behind. It brought on flashbacks of World Cup XCs. I had to press on to keep out of trouble.

Basically I tried to ride my own race and not over-reach. Going by heart rate and not going over 180 beats for more than 10 seconds at any point was my focus. It seemed to work well, as I finished as strongly as I started. But I simply didn’t have the raw strength or power to match the top three riders – McConnell, Graves and Tupac. I finished 6th and actually enjoyed the race, but would’ve liked to have felt stronger and sharper. But I need another two months or so till I’m at that point. I was also lucky the u23s were separate, as I’m sure a few of them would’ve pipped me. But finishing with a positive feeling about the race and my progress was good, even though my result was worse than last year’s Nationals.

But that’s it for my XCO campaign for 2014. For a run down of the XCO at Bright check out RC’s report on The Roost Mag.

Into marathon mode now…

Race 3: Marathon

The Bright marathon course was one of the best I’ve seen, with a good mix of terrain and a lot of fast and tricky trails. After one rest day the legs were always going to be heavy for this one. But if you’re going to have tired and dead legs for a race a marathon is probably the best type of race to do. It normally means you can be confident you won’t blow up, seeing as you can’t push your legs to the point that your aerobic system crashes out. The start of the race was pretty cruisy, which was lucky for me the way I felt. Then Sam Chancellor decided it was time to boost and led through the amazing trails at a better pace. Jackson and I went with him, followed by English, Mather and Hughes. It strung out by the end of the first 26km lap of three though. Chancellor and Jackson hammered one of the steeper climbs and I felt too dead to respond. They got onto the next fire trail sections and swapped off, while I did it alone. I needed to eat and drink while it was smooth, but in hindsight that cost me time and a tactical advantage. I had to decide whether to dig deeper and move up to those two or ease up and ride with Mather and English, who were also working together. There was too much fast fire trail to ride alone for the whole race.

I decided to be more conservative than usual and ease up. But in the end Mather and English didn’t seem to be pushing the pace on the fast sections anyway. Less so the technical sections. And it wasn’t long till we dropped Mather anyway. So I made the wrong decision, but figured I could still build up for a strong finish and hope Jackson or Chancellor would fade. I rode lap two at tempo with English, then upped it on the last lap. I did feel better each lap and knew I could go that pace all day, so I didn’t hold back from half way, dropping English and catching the valiant Chancellor right near the end. I felt bad for passing him, as I respected how aggressively he raced and knew he deserved a good result. He held on for third though. And I was still a couple of minutes of Jackson, who clearly finished strongly and got a well deserved win to now lead the overall National XCM Series. I was satisfied with 2nd. But hopefully with more confidence in my fitness next time I’ll go back to racing more aggressively and empty the tank a bit more by the end.

So in the end it was a ‘solid’ weekend of racing, but so much more work needs to be done until I’m where I was when I could win both XCO and XCM races. A couple of slack years will need to be undone. Hopefully it doesn’t take me all season to pick it up. Some hard hill efforts coming up, if I can recover in time. Capital Punishment is only in five days. Hmmm…

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