Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pain at the 6Hr (or was that the 8Hr?)

Today was the last of the State Enduro Series at Officer Scout camp, a relatively local race for me and the first hit-out since the Croc (not counting Thur night dirt crit this week!). My body is in enough pain for it to have been an 8 hour race, but despite the little printing mistake on the otherwise very nice trophy it was acutally a 6 hour. My self imposed limit for solo races is 6 hours, and that is going to stay for the time being, despite many people telling me I should race 12 and 24Hrs (I like going fast too much to do silly long races). 6 hours is the longest training rides I do anyway, and what better way to get in a bit of hard training than to enter a race.

The start was typically fast as the teams guys went for the hole-shot into the first bit of steep singletrack, but I threw a spanner in the works and smashed it out to lead for most of the 1st lap. Not wanting to look like an idiot, I had to then keep up a solid pace, and rode amongst the leading teams for the first few hours. After that I began fading, but was still increasing my lead in Solo. I ended up lapping the solo field, which meant I could stop a bit before the 6 hour mark and still win. 2nd and 3rd got out for a final lap which meant they ended up back on the same no of laps, but who wants to have the presentations waiting for you ;) Craig Peacock also was out flying the Merida Flight Centre colours, and came home with a trohpy in the Solo 40+ class.

Big props to FTF dudes for putting on a tough little circuit. The Merida FLX was the perfect weapon for the tight singletrack; the geometry is dialled down for fast twisty XC racing, and being a scant 9kg doesn't make it bad either ;) Schwalbe Racing Ralphs once again proved why they are my favorite tire by hooking in all day in the sometimes loose, otherwise tacky circuit, leaning over further each lap as I got to know the course better. Pics by Stephen Rowe will be up later here, and best of luck to Stephen who will be under the surgeons knife soon to beat the dreaded C, we will all be looking forward to seeing him back soon snapping away at our races.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Not completely according to plan

Things got off to a good start at the Croc, until the racing started anyway! The vibe was good within the team, with Tim and Jo amped to have a crack at the overall titles, and Nick and I ready to do whatever we could to help them. We all arrived in Cairns a couple of days before, and in between showers (yes it was raining!) we ducked out for a quick spin, media commitments and filling our stomachs in anticipation.

Thanks to Andy from Kaos for priming the rig, it didn't miss a beat. Ozriders also gets a mention for their spiffy chain protectors, great grips (no blisters in 1300km!) and new 'Specks' sealant (no flats in 1300km!).
This didn't stay white for long ...
Day one (Mareeba - Irvinebank, 86km) proved to be a bit of a shock for us guys. It started OK, with all 3 of us making the selection with 6 Czechs from VIG racing, but in the end they proved too strong and we had to let them ride off as the pace was blowing us apart. Tim, Nick and I continued on, but about 25km from the end on one of the rough, washed out descents I lost my front wheel in a rut and went about digging up some dirt with my face. The other guys stopped to make sure I was OK, but the small group we were with got away, and we ended the day a disappointing 15 or so minutes behind.
It is a long race, so we went into stage 2 (Irvinebank - Koombooloomba, 128km) with higher hopes. It turned out to be an easier day, with a big group staying together until the end, with a break away of 2 Czechs and another single one getting away in the final 1/4 of the stage.
Stage 3 (Koombooloomba - Gunawarra, 122km) we knew was going to sort out the pretenders from the contenders, and it didn't disappoint. The start was very fast, and Tim decided early on to drop back and help Jo who was having a ding-dong battle with Karen Steurs from Belgium for the women's competition. Nick and I lasted a while with the lead group, but in the end we were dropped, and had a very long ride in.
Stage 4 (Gunawarra - Chillagoe, 130km) was the turning point for the team, as we now knew that a high GC placing was out of the question for us guys, so we decided to throw everything at keeping Jo in the women's GC jersey. We all rode stage 4 with Jo, trying a few times to drop Karen, but in the end it finished in a sprint with the Belgium edging Jo out by the width of a Racing Ralph knob - if only she had been using 2.25 tyres like me!
Stage 5 (Chillagoe - Chillagoe, 100km) was an out-and-back which on paper should have been an easy day. We decided that one of us could afford to stay up the pointy end and go for a stage win, and that proved to be me as I jumped into an early break which the GC contenders were happy to let go. The break worked well for more than 70km until the games started, and in the end the group of 7 was down to me and Ivan from the almightly VIG team. He attacked on a climb about 5km to go, and it was the 2 of us time trialling it home with him 20 sec up the road. In the end that's how it stayed, and although I was so close to winning I was still thrilled with 2nd place.
Stage 6 (Chillagoe - Mt Mulgrave, 138km) was a flat boring stage, and all of us rode with Jo in a good size bunch. Luckily we were all around her, as she flatted and I gave up my wheel while Nick and Tim rode her back onto the bunch. After fixing Jo's wheel, I smashed it for 10km to get back onto the bunch, and sat in for the rest of the way to Mt Mulgrave. Luckily for us although the stage finish and camp was in the middle of nowhere, there was a beautiful river to keep us cool in the 40+ heat :)
Stage 7 (Mt Mulgrave - Laura, 148km) was one of the worst stages, long, sandy, corrugated and very hot (40+ again), but proved to be the highlight for the team. Nick went up the road in an early break and was looking good. Tim and I were riding with Jo, and through the tough sand had put a good gap into Karen and were powering on when we caught Nick who had a flat. Bad luck for Nick, but great for us and with the full team together we managed to put many useful minutes between us and Karen.
Stage 8 (Laura - Cooktown, 142km) proved how quickly you can fall in stage racing. Things were going well, Jo and the rest of us marking Karen in the bunch, despite their dirty tactics like attacking in the feed zones! Then the hills started, and Jo was quickly going backwards compared to Karen. She managed to get in a bunch ahead of us, which wouldn't have been too bad except that she had 20 Belgiums working for her (some actually waited for her), while we were stuck in a bunch with plenty of parasites so it was up to us 3 guys to drive into the block headwind into Cooktown. It was a bad day, and we lost the jersey plus 14 mintues to Karen.
Stage 9 (Cooktown - Ayton, 128km) was our last stand, as the final day is a neutral stage, to peg back Karen and get Jo onto the top step. After their dirty tactics yesterday, we thew everything at them, but in the end Karen proved stronger on the steep finale, and we lost more time to the Belgiums.
Stage 10 (Ayton - Cape Tribulation, 42km) is a neutral stage as it goes along the main coastal road (dirt track) up the cape. It was an awsome way to finish an incredible race, and hitting the beach at Cape Tribulation was a surreal feeling (although you can't swim because of the crocs!)
In the end we didn't have an overall winner, but 2nd place for Jo was still an excellent outcome, and we had got plenty of airtime over the week with the close racing which is why we are really here anyway!
Thanks to the Merida Flight Centre team and all our sponsors. Lazer helmets and BBB sunnies, for their killer products, Infinit nutrition for keeping us fueled through the toughest conditions known to man and Schwalbe tires for keeping us the most flat-free team in the whole race. Finally a big hand to Paul Traynor for travelling with us fickle racers and bowing to our every wish!
Typical afternoon at camp Merida Flight Centre
Although the final stage was neutral there was still plenty of steep climbing to do!
Ivan "Ivanator" Ryarik of VIG, he's a cool guy and will be staying in Australia for 6 months.
The team with our hero Jiri, who we always referred to as Maurice (as in the Bee Gees), or Jesus
Where's Merida Flight Centre?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The last will and testament of AJ

I am sitting at home looking at my packed bags wondering if anything I have in them is going to help me through 1200km of far north QLD outback roads - probably not.

For those not familiar with the Crocodile Trophy let me fill you in: 1200km in 10 stages, all on corrugated sandy roads, temperatures 40+ deg and hoards of ex and current pro Euros ready to smash you into the dust. What have I got myself into?!

The Merida - Flight Centre team will be Tim Bennett, Nick Both and myself. The other 2 guys rode it last year, with Tim picking up 3rd overall, and the plan is to again get Tim onto the steps by the end of the race (preferably the highest one!). Also joining us is Tim's wife Jo, who will be looking to take home a top spot in the women's category (and yes they do ride the full distance).

It is time to get this Blog happening again, so I will be re-launching during the Croc, sending in updates whenever the reception allows. I've heard there is a guy with a 4WD who travels with the race with a huge aerial; reckon it adds value? (Castle, circa 1997)

So if you heard from me again, please be grateful, you'll never know when it might be my last post before i'm taken by a croc at one of the river crossings or simply melt onto my top tube.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

World Champs Finale

Firstly my apologies for not posting sooner, but I have been a little under the weather for the final few days of the races. It all started turning pear shaped on the morning of the rest day (Thursday) when I started violently throwing up. Luckily it was only food poisoning and lasted only a few hours, but the rest of that day I had to pretty much lie down and try and eat and drink little bits when I felt I could.

Having eaten a decent amount by Friday morning I decided to start the Long Final, but the signs my body was giving when warming up were less than positive! I started a pretty conservative pace in case I had misjudged how much food I had been able to put away and I hit the wall half way round. I had a quite clean ride, losing only a little time on a dodgy Polish track which is where the eventual winner Ruslan Gritslan (Russia) caught me and I followed him home. Amazingly despite how crap I was feeling I finished the day in 6th place, my 3rd podium from the 3 individual races! I was very disappointed to have caught whatever bug I got, but I can't be too unhappy with how I went in the circumstances.

Saturday (today) was the relay race, and our team of Alex, Paul and myself were looking to move up quite a few places from our unlucky start number of 13. Things didn't get off to a good start with Alex making a big error and losing quite a few minutes to the front teams. Paul rode pretty steady and I was able to pick up a few more places, but I wasn't really feeling much better than the day before and made a single 3 minute error, so finished many minutes off the pace myself. In the end it looks like we were 11th nation across the line.

So I am signing off for now, the banquet and party are soon so it is time to finally kick back. Another point of interest is that I am avoiding my Houdini packing routine for the flight home, as I have sold my Spark to Greg, one of the NZ'ers who lives in Moscow. I fly out of Warsaw Sunday evening and land back in Melbourne Tue morning, so I will be able to catch up with some of you again pretty soon.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


For the second time in my life I have made it onto the top step at the World MTBO Champs, this time it was again the middle distance discipline. My race was very good for the first 1/3, and then steady from then on with a few small wobbles in a desperate attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In the end I stopped the clock in 54:13, 26 sec ahead of Soren Strunge of Denmark and my old foe from the 2004 relay sprint finish Lubomir Tomecek of Czech Republic.

It is another race tomorrow, a qualification for the Long distance final. So unfortunately it is bed time now, and i'll update again after the race tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

World MTBO Champs - Podium in the Sprint

The World MTBO Champs got off to a fast start yesterday evening with the Sprint distance event held in the technical terrain around the university in Olsztyn, Poland. I had a race where I never felt entirely comfortable with the map, but got the flow going on the 2nd of two loops and managed to scrape onto the podium with a 6th place.

Initially I was quite disappointed with my race, but looking back it was not too bad a result considering that I’ve never ridden a Sprint distance event at this level before, and never done one in such technical urban terrain.

The other Aussies finished mid pack, with Alex having a crash with another competitor and never really felt good after that. The girls also rode well considering for 3 out of 4 of them it was their first world champs race ever.

Middle distance race is today, and once again I am starting in the last few in the field thanks to my high world ranking. Stay tuned for more updates soon!

Moments before the start...

Finishing the first loop

Podium time. Lasse Brun Pedersen was a very worthy winner today.

The team and our karate dude at the opening ceremony.

This belonged to one of the competitors in the public races held alongside the champs. At least the townie was suited to todays terrain, not so sure about the sandy tracks we'll be on soon though.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Overdue Update

Question: Who was the first Australian to win a Tour de France?
Answer: Dellys Starr

The organisers of the l'Hexagonal VTT stage race in France bill their tour as the MTB Tour de France, and even though it is only 5 stages over 6 days it was still an awsome effort from our olympic gal Del to get on the top step with the pink jersey after the final stage.

For me the racing was not so satisfying, I struggled a little against the euros on the fast non-technical courses, and like most of the other aussies had some bad luck with the weather in the TT's. The pic of the hail storm in the post below was actually when Dan and I had our runs in the very first TT - more than half the field had a dry fast course! The rain didn't let up for the 2nd stage either, and the 4 lap XC race turned into a full blown euro mud bath, at least I had the Schwalbe Black Shark Muds at my disposal. It is almost impossible to ride badly in the mud with these tyres, I was losing time on the paved sections of each lap, but making up minutes in the muddy forest where almost everyone was walking.

The highlight of the race was the time trial around Monmartre district in Paris. The course was only 4.7km, but it was all on cobbled streets and stairs, both up and down. Once again I had shit luck with the weather as it started drizzling just before my run. The cobbles and flagstone instantly turned to ice, and even though I was being super careful I still had one small spill. The final two days were XC races again, and I resumed my usual place of around 20th place each day. Overall Nick was the best aussie guy in 15th place, and I was next in 20th, not too bad considering the field which included new world champ Christof Sauser.

I am now back in Poland preparing for the MTBO worlds which starts on Monday. All the team is now together, and we have been doing some good training and even better resting up ;)

Hex Pics

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Things to do before you die:

Yes the camera is back in action!

1. Visit Alpe d'Huez

2. Ride above 3000m

3. Ride on snow

4. Ride on a glacier

5. Ride the Megavalanche (32km, 3330m to 700m vertical)

Back to France

After sucessfully holding onto my lead for the rest of the Polish 7-Day MTBO competition, it was time to pack the bags again and hit the skies. Destination was France again, via Milano where I met up with Andy Blair and Rosie Barnes who will be also going onto the l´Hexagonal VTT stage race in the 2nd week in August.

After a stinking hot drive across the border into the Alps we finally arrived at Alpe d´Huez ski village of Tour de France fame. Alpe d´Huez is not only famous for the 21 hairpin bends which make up the road climb to the ski station, as there is hundreds of kilometers of awsome MTB trails (and the 32km downhill ¨Megavalanche¨ course).

First full day here was spent exploring some of the DH trails and then smashing back up the road, full pro roadie style with jersey flapping open as it was pushing 35 deg. The climb is pretty solid, a steeper than it looks on TV but a fairly constant gradient. The next couple of days were long but not too hard, one day was spent at Les Deux Alpes, another ski village about 30km away and the next Andy and I went the soft option and got lift tickets and did many 1000s of vertical metres in downhill runs. Not that there is anything soft about the Megavalanche or the other DH runs, i´ll be the first to admit to walking quite a few sections. We did get some funny looks though as we went bombing down the runs on our cross-country bikes, no damage done thankfully to body or bike!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Problems and Sucess in Poland

As soon as we arrived in Poland things seemed to start going wrong. The guy who was supposed to meet us at the airport with the van was late, and when he arrived it took us quite a while to work out how to fit 5 bikes and 4 people into a mid sized people mover. Later that afternoon when looking for hotels, Greg managed to leave his jacket with passport and wallet inside in a hotel room which we looked at but decided not to take. It was then that we discovered the car problem.

On the mad dash back to the hotel to try and retrieve Greg's stuff the gearbox started playing up. Eventually it simply would not go into any gear, and we were left to drive back entirely in 2nd gear. Interestingly though, we discovered that a Opel Zafira does 85km/h redlining in 2nd gear. We did find Greg's stuff and the car did make it just back, and after a while the guy who organised the car arrived to sort out the mess. Amazingly, after a couple of hours of fiddling under the bonnet he drove it away without a hint of trouble. We have actually ended up with the same car again, and I don't know what he got done to it but it is now working a treat.

The next hiccup came when we arrived at the accomodation for the 7-Day MTBO event in Nowa Kaletka. We had been told we were getting a 'house', but upon arrival we discovered all we had was a tiny glorified shack in the middle of the forest with unbelievably bad beds. After 2 painful nights there we shifted out into a hotel in the big nearby town of Olzstyn, which is a really nice town actually.

The 7-Day event got off to a mixed start, with the sprint event held in pouring rain which turned the sandy tracks into bike destroying death traps. I had a fairly good ride and won, but I know a few of the other good guys were resting up for the world ranking races on the next two days. With the rain gone, but the tracks still very wet, the Middle and Long distance races were hard work. I had good races in both, losing only a little time here and there to win both. That means with my wins in France a few weeks ago and some other races in Australia that my world ranking will jump up to around 2 or 3 in the world!

Rest day was today, and all that was in store was a spin on the roadie and settling in to watch the tour as I write this. No staying up to 2am to see the stages for me, ahh this is the life!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summer in France

After finishing the BC it was travel time again and onto Paris for leg 2 of my round the world ticket. The racing has also switched gear, with my first MTBO races outside Australia for more than 2 years. The French 5-day was held in Fontainebleau, site of the first world championships for the sport. The terrain is quite flat and sandy with a nice and complex track network to get this little rusty brain back into orienteering mode. I'm staying in an awsome huge old french house with some friends from NZ and some of their family. This place has about 10 bedrooms and I might not have found them all yet. I've managed to misplace my camera cable, so until it is found you'll just have to close your eyes and imagine.

Days 1 and 2 I used to try and settle back down and try and go as smoothly as possible in preparation for days 3 and 4 which were doubling as World Ranking Events. After a solid 2nd and 5th places for the first 2 days, I slipped it into 5th gear and despite a couple of mistakes managed to win both the important WRE days. Day 5 was a bit of a come down, with tired legs and motivation on the way down I did just the minimum to hang on to win the overall title for the 5 days, for which I got a very spiffy maillot jeune and a not so spiffy maillot verte (more fluro verte really!) for the fastest sprint betweent the last control and the finish line!

The race finished on Bastille Day which was good planning on the organisers behalf, as we could join in the festivities on the french national day. The following day was designated rest day for the Tour and us, so a trip to the nearby Disneyland was done. Was a bit of a rip off, but now I can say i've been to one. After all the saddle time on the MTB in the past week, it was good to get back on the roadie for some solid miles. The town of the stage start for the final stage of the tour is about 50km from here, so I pedalled across there to take a few pics. Now when Cadel leads them out of Etampe on the 27th still in yellow I can say that i'd ridden across the same ground ;)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

BC Bike Race

I was planning to give an update or two during the race, but that fell by the wayside once it all started and we realised how hard this thing actually was! If we weren't racing, then we were either being transported to the next stage, eating, cleaning and fixing the bikes or spleeping. Repeat for 1 week and that is the BC. It all kicked off in Shawnigan Lakes, about 1 hours north of Victoria BC on Vancouver Island. Our little party included Tim Bennett (my partner for the race), his wife Jo, Nick Both, James Kennedy (the other Flight Centre duo), Steve from San Francisco who was teaming up with Jo, and Rowena (James' wife who did an amazing job of getting food ready each day, staking our camping spots and running around for us, all despite being 5 months pregnant!)

Shawnigan Lakes School (start of day 1)
Our competition was pretty daunting, Trek VW, Kona, Mona Vie Cannondale and Gary Fisher Subaru pro teams had sent 1 or 2 pairs each, as well as 2 Canadian teams stacked with their World Champ and Olympic reps. The 90km Day 1 got off to a very bad start, with organisers sending the race through a freshly mown field, with the long grass casuing mass casualties to derailleurs, including our own Nick who lost a lot of time and both Trek riders who simply hopped onto their spare bikes. Tim and I were then sent the wrong way with then leaders, and after making our way back to 4th we then made a big wrong turn of our own fault. After that we were behind about half the field, and with Tim suffering a bit from dehydration we limped home in 7th place, a long way behind in time. Day 2 was 125km, which was taken at a very cruisy pace until a hard climb at around 85km. After that it was on for young and old, and we made up for yesterdays losses by winning a sprint finish from Trek and Kona!

Go Tim go! Winning Stage 2

The next couple of days were more of the same, with two 2nd place finishes and more singletrack each day. By the end of day 4 we had moved up to 3rd overall after our bad day 1, but doubted we could improve much more. Day 5 was another bad one for us, with a couple of flats we dropped back to 4th on GC and were getting pretty shagged after driving ourselves into the ground each day.

The final two days at Squamish and Whistler took us through some of the best singletrack on the planet, but it is all very technical and tough work to get through fast, and each day we were counting down the km to the finish which couldn't come quick enough. In the end we bumped our way back to 3rd overall, which was a fantastic result given the level of the guys we were racing against. Thanks to Flight Centre, Scott and Schwalbe tires for giving us support for this race, it was the toughest race I have ever done and every little bit of help makes the difference when we are trying to mix it up with the big guns.

Life in the box on day 7 at Whistler

One of the many log rides which are typical on BC trails

Friday, June 27, 2008

First singletrack experience

Well this is my first time in Nth America, and on the first ride we hit the jackpot. Following the directions given by some locals, James, Nick and myself headed out to the Victoria dump and some apparently good trails. What we found was awsome; undulating, technical (we were walking some bits of DH) singletrack. After a while of railing round we were pooped and headed back for a sleep!

Australia to BC

Well after leaving Melbourne it was up to Sydney (on a 747 no less, never done that before!),

Goodbye Australia ...

Hello San Francisco ...

Crater lake en route to Vancouver,

Nice mountains

Finally landing in Vancouver, Canada (check out the mountains in the background),

After a overnight in Vancouver it was across the ferry to Victoria to meet up with the rest of the Flight Centre crew.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Farewells and beginnings

Well, I've finally succumbed to the pressure and started a blog. And what better time to launch it on the eve of my 10 week assult on the world MTB and MTBO scene! Updates won't be daily like some others, but I'll be filling you in on the races which I'm doing and other cool stuff which I happen across.

Sunday was the last winter ride for the year, yes that's right kids, no more rain coats and booties for this little trooper! It was an earlish start and down to crazy Ivan's to meet the bunch, and what a bunch it was. Ivan, Rowan (both heading off to Europe today), Bellie, Grover, Clacker, Joel, Sam, Jeff, Kristian and Randall made for a pretty horsepower heavy peleton to head into the Dandenongs. With some solid climbing put away I left the others as they headed back off the mountain in the rain and scooted home before getting drenched.
Some of the crew at Sky High (Mt Dandenong), looks like Sam's giving the brown eye to the whole city!

Normally you can see the city from here ...

So it was then back home to pack ...

... two bikes, one box - they said it couldn't be done

In Canada and Europe i'll be rolling on the fantastic Schwalbe Racing Ralphs 2.1, with Black Shark Muds taken along for any serious mud encounters. Racing Ralphs are one of the best racing tyres I have ever experienced; they corner harder than anything else on everything from rocky Alice Springs singletrack to Wildside mud, and zip along without any fuss on the fast stuff.