It was only seven weeks ago that I stepped onto my first real mountain bike (opposed to the $150 Kmart model I was given for my 11th birthday). Courtesy of Jarrod, I was perched on a Dual Suspension Ninety-Six Carbon Team-D Merida valued at over $10,000...just to complete a social ride! Since then, I have been on a MTB only once, and that was to race the BMC 100kms, or more accurately 'hunger flat' just 40kms in and grovel home. So today, although I am yet to purchase a mountain bike, MTB shoes, MTB gloves or anything associated with a MTB, I competed in the Bendigo 6hr MTB Race. My application came about due to boredom, and that is why an impulsive click led to a somewhat apprehensive solo entry...
To me, it was more of a 'ride' than a 'race', which still doesn't excuse my poor preparation. Firstly, I slept in. While eating my four weet-bix smothered in honey and a tub of sugar, I placed my still damp kit in the dryer...the thought of 6hrs in a wet chamois didn't really tempt me! I prepared just the one drink bottle filled with water, threw the Merida in the car and took off to the petrol station to purchase chocolate muffins, Mars Bars and Allen's snakes for race food. Amazingly, Jarrod's hand drawn map didn't get me lost on the way to Cavagna's Road, which was timely because registration was closing as I ran to the tent. I was racing under my lucky number 54, hoping that luck was on my side today for 6hrs of racing around a 9km circuit, comprising of a lot more single track than I had anticipated...
The whole MTB scene is new to me. People bought tents and chairs and tables and pre-mixed drinks and food etc. as most competitors were participating as a member of a team. At the conclusion of each lap you must dismount, walk past the timing tent, then you are free to tag your partner, take on food and drink, and in my case fault on re-mounting on every attempt to lift my leg over the rather large Merida frame. I wish three things. First, that I had been prepared with a pump and tube for the 'what if I puncture' situations. Second, that I hadn't found the time to moisturise my arms, legs and face this morning, because despite only crashing on three occasions I was sporting a full body mud mask. Third, that Jarrod hadn't removed the small chain ring from his Merida (this wish came after 4hrs).
I went unscathed in my first two laps, simply enjoying the track for the lovely, rocky, dusty terrain that god had provided me with, and trying to pace myself for the 6hrs of riding that was to come. I went into the third lap with a 21sec advantage over second placed solo woman Jessica Douglas; Australian 24hour MTB Champion, and was sure I had gone out too hard when people started passing me back just one hour in! I became suspicious when I was losing control of the bike of every sandy corner, and even more suspicious when a marshal yelled to me that I had a front wheel puncture. I failed to recognise the dilemma because a flat tyre and suspension feel the same to me...or maybe I didn't want to identify the problem because of the whole 'I don't have a tube or pump and I'm a blonde' remarks that would no doubt follow.
Jess was the first to stop and offer her services, but it was James from Castlemaine who not only stopped and gave me his tube and canister, but changed the puncture for me! Thank you! I went through the next time check 3.46min in arrears and spent the next two laps chasing hard to bring the gap back to 3 seconds as we neared the 3hour mark. I rode the next three laps steady, stopping every lap to refuel on water, coke, mars bars and the occasional oiling of the chain. I was getting used to the course and my legs still felt great, but in the back of my mind I knew my motivation was coming to an end. I had given myself eight laps as a target for the day, but unfortunately that landmark came prior to five hours in the saddle, dammit!
The last hour was a painful one. My hands were cramping, my forearms bruised, I had a blister on the back of my left heel, and I won't even begin to describe the condition of my arse! I spent my time in conversation with passing cyclists, enjoying the ride and taking in the scenery for everything it was worth (despite the fact I'd passed it ten times). I completed 10 laps in 5hrs50min, and immediately wished I had ridden 10minutes slower so that I didn't feel compelled to start another. A 13 minute unassailable lead meant that I had claimed my first ever MTB win, but regardless, I challenged a final lap. You could say I lost on that challenge when I punctured yet again! Finally, after 6hrs 28min 43sec I dismounted my bike for the final time. There wasn't the expected assault of bodily pain I had anticipated...it subsided while I took a moment to appreciate the people, the food, the atmosphere, and the satisfaction that is MTB'ing :)
Results: Bendigo 6hour MTB, Cavagna's Track
Photos 1 and 3 courtesy of Akuna Digital Imaging
Photos 2, 4 and 5 courtesy of Russell