Tuesday, 26 February 2013


When the Odyssey was over I felt a great sense of relief, but clouding that relief was whole body exhaustion, bad migraines and severe dehydration. It was just as I had anticipated, maybe even a little worse, and two days off work didn’t seem enough to cure me. Of course an early 2am arrival on Wednesday morning following a seven-hour drive didn’t help my recovery either, but I felt it more important to get out on the course on Wednesday then waste daylight hours in the car.

After a nice sleep-in we headed out to Stromlo Park for a bit of course re-con; I hated it. Every meter from Kowen Forrest back to the luge made me want to cry. The entire course felt rough and I was riding hopelessly, ready to go home if someone had only offered to take me. It was then that I met up with Ben and John Henderson who took me for a second lap. At the bottom of Cardiac we came to the first rock garden and I fell off. Ben made me do it again, and I failed. The third time I made it, just, and Ben said bluntly ‘that wasn’t good enough’. And so I rode it until it was good enough and we moved on to the next section. This went on for the entire lap and by the end of it I was in a good place mentally. After a third lap of the course, I was back to hating it…

Despite my hatred I felt that it was the best possible circuit following on from the Odyssey. There was very limited fire-trail aside from the initial start-loop, and the majority of the uphill consists of switchbacks, giving no real opportunity for prolonged efforts that I knew my legs wouldn’t be able to handle. Passing opportunities were rare once you got to the top, aside from the option of A or B line down the notorious ‘Hammerhead’, and the descent was pretty much a level playing field.

I made a few conscious decisions while out on course that day. The first being that I would ride my Trek Superfly 100; to save my body from reemerging aches and pains, and to limit the time I would have to spend out of the saddle on the rough sections if I was on a hard tail; my quads wouldn’t handle that! After looking at the course conditions I opted to run Rubena Scylla tyres both front and rear; not only are they reliable but I feel so ‘at home’ on them. I also swore that I wouldn’t even contemplate Hammerhead and instead focused on nailing the B line. I decided that on two sections, one of them being Cardiac Climb, that I would be so exhausted from a maximum effort during the race, that I would deliberately get off and run these sections to avoid the risk of ‘try and fail’. I knew I didn’t have enough time to get some of the A line’s perfect, so if there was an easier way around I would take it unless I needed to ‘block’ the track.

So on Thursday when the Team’s Relay came around, I was able to test my theories under race conditions. The Relay requires you to form a team of four riders; one Female, U19 Male, Elite or U23 Male, and a Veteran or Master+ Male. Each rider must complete one lap of the race circuit in no particular order, and the first across the line wins. Target Trek MTB Racing had entered four teams named ‘the Victors’, ‘remove Dan from twitter’, ‘I wish I had a motor on this bike’ and ‘team hairy legs’.

After a nail biting race, three teams rode off on the final lap within 10 seconds and despite closing the gap, I was still chasing John Henderson into the final finish straight to have my team lose by 1 second to ‘the Victors’. Although I didn’t time myself, I felt like I nailed everything out on course, including my designated run sections, and was left in great spirits following an amazing clean sweep of the podium!
I spent Friday again at the race circuit in Stromlo. I watched the age-groupers and spent some time with race media before hitting the track late in the afternoon. I felt hideous when out on course and had to force myself to do at least one lap before spinning the legs out around the park like a homeless person. Despite my legs, my head was calm. I knew that some discounted me for the title because I was yet to prove myself on a technical course, and I was determined to prove those people wrong.

I felt no pressure on race morning and was barely nervous during warm-up.  I knew that Bec Henderson was out to not only win the U23 race, but to trump the women across the line so my race plan was simple, to follow her. And so the fairytale goes that we rode away from the bunch on the first fire-trail climb and never looked back. I stuck to my guns and walked when planned, remained smooth through the uphill technical and pedaled at every opportunity.

Then things got weird. Usually I dread the first lap of a XC race because it’s so damn hard, but in a weird twist I felt great, and I though to myself that it must be the feeling of leading a National XC Championships!

I eventually lost small amounts of time on Bec as she rode up cardiac, but tried to keep her in sight to pace me, careful not to red line it too early. There was a point on the course I used each lap to judge whether I was making or losing time on Jenni in third and it seemed to remain steady which gave me confidence. On my fourth lap I started to hyperventilate as I came to the realisation that I could possibly win, or still lose my first XC National title. I high-fived Bec as she finished her last lap; U23 Australian Champion yet again, before pushing on through the final lap.

I made so many mistakes on that lap, but when I got to the top of the descent I started to smile and I didn’t stop until the tears came after the finish. I had so many people to thank and most of them were in line for a hug in the chute. First was my bestie Bec, coach Mark Fenner, my second Dad in John Henderson, sponsors and friends Rich Peil and Pete Dowse, event organiser Karin Jones, and then I spotted Jarrod standing to the side, who finally put his arm out for a hug, and I cried again.

I waited for team-mate Jenni King who finished as runner-up, watched Rowena Fry claim the sprint for third against Tory Thomas, and then saw Jodie Willett round out the top five. I gave them all hugs even if they didn’t want them before a few short interviews and presentations. After being presented by Courtney Atkinson (what a legend!) my day turned sour. I missed half of the men’s race and spent four hours trying to pee into a 90ml plastic cup. It was no secret that Jarrod hated the course even more than I did, and finished third in Veteran Men on the back of the Odyssey.

Sunday’s Eliminator was very uneventful for me. The heavens had opened overnight and a once exciting course had turned to mud and slush. I was on such a high from the XC that I couldn’t find the will to try and failed to qualify for the opening round, which was slightly embarrassing really. But I took it in my stride and watched on as Kath O’Shea, Rowena Fry and Lindsay Gorrell put on a top show in the final to claim the top podium spots. The miserable weather really kicked in to put a damper on out Target Trek team launch, but the message wasn’t lost through the sound of heavy rain. With four newly crowned National Champions, it’s obvious that great athletes ride Trek!