James Williamson – a friend I constantly miss. Racing for him in March each year helps to remind me of not only what he was about, but why he inspired so many of us. This year’s Willo Enduro was no exception. Seeing so many motivated people of all shapes and sizes roll up on Sunday morning to enjoy the Wingello trails set, by default, a great atmosphere. I rolled up in the ‘race dads’ 4×4 with Grant J and Grantley B after quick and easy trip from the 2611 hub. Not quite over a lingering cold and lacking sleep, I thought I’d be dreading any race. But driving up with keen and positive guys, plus the vibe at the race site and the thoughts of James, got me surprisingly keen and ready to do it.
With a two minute warm up heading to the start I was sure I’d have to ease into it and do the minimum in the first few minutes, then build into the race. So I followed. That didn’t last long, as in road races where sitting in and following not only gets boring but I feel slack and want to earn my keep. So I punched it off the front and made sure I got the holeshot into the first single track. And how good are the single tracks in Wingello! The addition of the new set later in the loop made and already amazing course even better. Even though I felt horrible physically there was a part of me that really wanted to do more laps, just to hit those trails again.
I made an effort to keep smooth and efficient, as I didn’t like my chances of lasting long without popping or cramping. But with a smooth run in one of the longer single tracks early on I got a gap and the chase group didn’t seem especially itching to work hard to bring me back, even when I was taking it easy on the fire trails. So I kept going with two aims: 1. have a lead going into the main climb, allowing me to go my own pace and not get dropped, and 2. make sure my team mate Brendan Johnston wasn’t expected to do any work in the chase group, even though he was the race favourite.
It didn’t take long for ‘Trekky’ to jump across to me on the climb, leaving the chase group (including the Ward brothers, English, and a few others) behind. By that stage I felt like death, but the early move had worked and I wasn’t going to waste it. Especially when I was now with a strong team mate and with the hard part of lap 1 done. From there I did what I could to pull turns and keep the pace high, but by the time we hit lap 2 it was clear I wasn’t going to get to the finish without cramping and fading if I matched Brendan’s workload. So I said “I’ll do what I can, but I haven’t felt this bad for a long time”. He said “all good man. We’ll just tempo it. Sit in.” And we did, and I did, for over 1.5 laps. Luckily I could use the single tracks to keep the pace on while resting, allowing me to get through other tougher sections. Brendan was kind and didn’t leave me until the last main climb, when my whole system exploded. It wasn’t a pretty sight. But I was happy to nurse the cramps to the top and get to the final fun section knowing we’d held off the pack behind by a fair way.
So it was the toughest day out for a while and highlighted not only my lack of fitness but also the fact that if you’re keen enough you get pull out an okay result. I enjoyed it in a sick kind of way. Maybe because it was in honour of Jimi, maybe because I finally didn’t miss a race this season, maybe because I got to ride with a mate, or maybe because the tracks were so much fun. A combo I guess. It was a bonus to see Trekky on top of the podium. James would have liked that – the young blood hitting it. Kyle Ward also did great backing up from Ottway to place third, making it a Trek Bikes 1-2-3.
Speaking of which, it was great to see all the kids races with good turnouts and all the young’ens ripping it up. It’s not that it’s our future stars that makes it great to see. It’s simply that it’s great to see young kids getting outdoors doing something fun and challenging for the right reasons. Just having a go at such a great sport.
You can a more rounded perspective of the elite part of the 2015 Willo on Marathon MTB