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March 2015

My 1st Enduro Race – WA Gravity Enduro, Round 1, Pemberton

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“You’re gonna have to give me a while, I don’t want to slow you up”  I nervously told Sam Hill, Mike Jones and a few others as they queued behind me at the start of my first run. Early on a Sunday morning in Feb 15, as  200 men and women were throwing them down the slopes of the pemberton bike park as part of the 1st round of the WA Gravity enduro (wage). The event consisted of 6 timed downhill (mostly) runs and climbs not timed.

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 Being in the masters category (40-49) I foolishly thought I might do ok. Little did I know this is actually the most popular and most fiercely contested age group in cycling in WA. Which is why Sam Hill and co were queuing behind me. The riders had been split into 2 groups with one group doing runs 1 through 6, and the other doing 3,4,5,1,2,6. As elite riders in Group 1 they had already done runs 1&2 on the other hill, before the 2nd group (masters) had all completed runs 3. This was not the way I would have planned to start my first enduro race.DSC00080

The timing at the gate at the top of each run gave each rider 30 seconds between each rider. 30 seconds seems like an age when you are waiting for the light to go green and you have some of the world’s best DH World Cup guys directly behind you in the queue. Hopefully they would give me at least a minute.

I had been practicing the day before on this hill. I knew the tracks on this side of the park were incredibly dusty, off camber and rutted with a few lung busting climbs just to finish you off. Luckily I had been adopted into a random group of about 6 guys had all joined up on the trails to practice each section on the Saturday. These guys were really sweet, and on the Sunday whoever you bumped into was wishing you well and asking about how you went on your runs.

Continually worried that one of the elite guys would be breathing down my neck on the run, I was going for it on my first 3 runs. Breathless,  feeling a bit dizzy and exhausted I finished the first three runs. I was pleased that the elite guys had not over taken me, they very kindly took note of my request at beginning. The bike was running well and life was good.

Over to the other hill. I had practiced only one of these runs early before the event and there were demons in my head about some of the woodwork obstacles on run 1. I bumped into DH legend Chris Kovarik at the top of the hill, so I shook his hand wished him well and got ready to start. At 14 seconds he holds the greatest winning margin in the DH world cup from back at Fort William in 2002 (check it out on Youtube).  Luckily there was no one behind me now at the gate, so much less pressure – just me against the track.

Beeeeeeep…….and the green light goes off on the gate, so I head off. There is not much in the tank by now so I am conserving whatever I can. There are lots of doubles at the top which I am rolling fast and absorbing, my jumping ability waining together with my energy. The first big obstacle looms into view, a wooden rack dropping a few feet into a berm. Skill wise it’s nothing and I have done harder things many times. However, after having only rolled this in practice despite its still a threat. I must jump it in race, cleared it – phew, nicely set up for the sweeping right hand berm. Up to next obstacle an 8ft high wooden roller or the chicken run. One of the photographers hollered, and I went towards the woodwork for the first time (I had taken the easy route during practice). Cleared it, and got some well needed encouragement from the photographer at the same time.  Next I was flying down the following fast left hand berm. Massive thud as I hit the dirt. I went down hard for a reason I still don’t understand. The front tyre had slipped out from beneath me. System check done, all ok apart from knee and foot. I had hefty d30 knee pads on so I knew that my knee would be ok by my foot was really throbbing. I pulled the bike off the trail to assess the damage. The bike had landed on the side of my left heel and I thought at best it was a bruised bone. It hurt to walk but was ok on a pedal, so after straightening the handlebars I limped on.

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With the run over I had a choice. Do the final two runs (and climbs) or pull out and score no points for this round. I decided to press on. Run 2 was pretty horrible. A nasty rock garden and a few uphill sprints that went on and on. Just what I needed when I felt so broken.

By the time I was doing the 6th and final run I was in a better place. I was looking forward to finishing and actually started to enjoy the final track. It was steep flowey track and some massive wooden berms and the looming finish gate was giving me the motivation to dig deep. I managed a low, fast and semi stylish looking tabletop for one of the final jumps where a crowd had been gathering all weekend. A short  section through the woods by the lake and I saw the finish gate, touched my RFID bracelet on the timer and it was all over. It was a relief to see my wife there waiting for me, although I couldn’t manage much conversation at the time. After an ice pack and a few drinks I was feeling better to watch the podiums and prize giving.

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No suprise my queue buddy DH legend Sam Hill  won the event and Chris Kovarik came third in elites. I was way down the field in Masters and just pleased that I had completed the event (many didn’t).

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Afterwards a few trips to A&E and an Orthopedic consultant luckily my heal injury was just a bruised bone. Off the bike for a while, and no weight bearing through my heal for a while. Boo 😦

Luckily the positive memories last longer and overall Pemberton was great fun, good trails, great event and there was a really good atmosphere between the riders. I now have a new max heart rate of 197, a pair of crutches that need to go back to the hospital and a vow to my wife that I wont be doing any bike races for a while. At least until bubba is a bit older !

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Mount Wellington – North South Track, Hobart, Tasmania

IMG_2496 “Aren’t you going to be cold at the top ?” The taxi driver asked as we gained elevation up Hobart’s Mount Wellington. It was a cold & wet autumn morning and we finally broke through the clouds on our ascent up the mountain road, in the battered Toyota Prius taxi. The look on his face when I told him where we were going and what I was about to do was a picture. Obviously mountain biking on real mountains is not for everyone.

As I was in Hobart for only 2 nights I didn’t want to miss out on a run down the North South track which runs bizarrely from South to North. The trail head is at the Springs area on Pinnacle road approximately three quarters from the top of the mountain. The 12km trail had been described as the “best singletrack in Australia”, quite a claim !. After riding a fair bit of the trails in WA although nothing on the east side, my curiousity had got the better of me.

Earlier that morning after failing to find a bike shop that was open to hire bikes past 1pm the previous afternoon I was at the Specialized Demo at the Cenotaph park, after providing my ID/Credit card etc the SWorks Camber 29 bike was being expertly set up for my height and weight care of the Specialized Australia mechanics.  Luckily care of the “Bike Ride” shop in Hobart they had asked me to come to the demo as the store Specialized camber demo bike they had was missing when we got to Hobart just before closing time on the Saturday afternoon. The demo team said come back in an hour once I had a good feel for the bike, but the guys from the shop have me the nod as I had told them I would be riding the North South track. They say the trail takes 2 hours to cycle. 1 hour into my Demo I was still in the taxi after reaching the trail head. IMG_2502 After a pointer from a local guy unloading his bike from a van in the carpark I found the trail head. North South track found, right then…let’s have it. Luckily the forest canopy kept me warm and after a few minutes I could take off the jacket and buff scarf. A few little climbs, dips and bus stops, the trail flowed really well. A few double black diamond obstacles lay to the left or right of the trail. After recovering from a heal bone injury (and a significant threat from the wife about injuring myself again) I left these well alone. The damp bright green moss and the quality of the singletrack reminded me of some of the Afan trails in South Wales where I often used to enjoy riding with my buddies in the UK. IMG_2499 IMG_2506Soon I got to a large rocky field which was quite a spectacle. Less  daunting than it looked, I cleared it ok. Knowing the locals I had seen in the carpark would be catching up soon I was not hanging around. Eventually the trail opened up to a Rangers hut in a clearing. Time for an energy drink and a breather. I chatted with a few walkers and then went to explore the hut. It was a respite for walkers on the mountain in adverse conditions. Luckily the sun was out by this point so I didn’t need to use the hut for its intended purpose.

IMG_2497IMG_2504By this point I was getting used to the bike and the next section of the trial was seriously good fun. I hit a few steeper sections, berms and small but floaty jumps, the elevation was now starting to drop a bit. The surface was changing to a loose dusty & rocky base. I was weaving the 29er wheels carefully through every corner, not only because of my wife’s threat, but also the fact that this was my first proper ride on a 29in bike. This section was so much fun, I wish it had lasted a lot longer. IMG_2498 IMG_2500 The bike was soaking up everything the trail and I gave it, and was I starting to feel more confident floating the bike over the peaks of the trail. A few river crossings and climbs and I was back to the cover of the forest. The trail carried on with a gradual descent until it steepened up again and started to drop via a few switchbacks into the Glenorchy mtb park.

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 A quick stop to look at the park map, and then it was onward down the North South trail. A few forks avoiding black runs and it was nearing completion . I railed the final berms through the bike park jump section and I could see Tasola park, which I recognised as the exit of the trail. Upset that it was over, but knowing I had a demo bike to return meant a few minutes descent on the road and picking up the bike path back into Hobart. It had taken 1 hour to do the route and now I had to get my head down for a fast 10km hike to get the bike to the Demo in the park. I gave the bike back muddy, with my legs aching and sporting a hugh grin. IMG_2510 Was it the best trail in Australia – I cannot say, but certainly the best one I have ridden so far :). Overall I was very impressed with the Sworks Camber 29er Carbon, the SWorks carbon crank (XX1 gearing), Command post, and the Roval carbon wheels. It soaked up everything very well, but it felt too big to properly throw around. For now I will stick with the 27.5 Anthem at home. Carbon cranks and rims may have to go on the wish list though 🙂

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