Sunday, 10 February 2013

The 'Big Easy' MTB Race

What's in a name?
If you're going to name an event the big easy you can be fairly sure it's going to be anything but...
The big Easy held towards the end of January lived up to its tongue-in-cheek name!
The day promised to be a cracker as I drove the car around picking up some other first-time big easy riders. We got away on time and with little stress thanks to Blairs suggestion of loading the bikes the night before. Albert town being about 90k away necessitated us getting away early, the loading of bikes onto a trailer and bus drive up to the Snow Farm added more time making it a long morning to the start of the race. I much prefer an earlier race start...
I was riding my old Trek alloy 8500 hard-tail. Having recently parted company with my epic expert carbon full sus 26er I have enjoyed riding this bike while my 29er came together. It is very light and climbs better than many newer heavier setups. With the new bike coming together most of my available funds have poured into it leaving little over for other things. I decided to ride the tyres I had on the bike - the super light and skinny Schwalbe Furious Freds. As I will explain later - this decision proved both a blessing and a curse!
I spent some time prior to the race getting plenty of pasta power on board. I've learned that for me it is important to take in plenty of food in regular smaller amounts from when I first get up in the morning through to the start of the race. I keep the fibre down and the easily digestible carbs up. This way later in the race I can carry and consume less and focus on riding.
It was noticeably chilly waiting at the informal feeling start line. Looked to be quite a small field. Maybe 60 or 70 starters. A range of riders to be sure with a few notable faces. Kath Kelly looked fresh and ready to tackle the climb. She was to be the first woman home and had ridden from the valley up to the start line as additional training for her and Team mate Erin Greenes assault on the Cape Epic. Good effort. Maybe next year...
The start of the ride went much to plan. I started quietly. Moved up through the ranks as it got steeper and rougher. My bodyweight is around 6kg heavier than last year but the increased strength focus is really paying off. Still bodyweight and bike probably weigh in lighter than many in the field.
Crossed the major peak at 1hr1min feeling good and ready to see what this downhill was all about. I knew that my hard-tail, skinny, semi-slick setup would provide challenges but it wasn't as bad as I thought. To qalify that last comment - the terrain was more gnarly but I was handling it better than I thought I would. I fought my way over and down the mountain, bouncing and holding on for dear life. While I didn't pick up any riders on the down I didn't lose too many places either. Apart from one aerial dismount into soft dust I survived and set my sights on the last rider to get past me as we headed for the flats, just a few short k's from home.
Having caught and passed the rider Dallas I focused my attention on staying ahead and trying to reel in a couple more places. Dallas rallied and on a sealed stretch we had a brief conversation and readied ourselves to push for home. I felt confident that we would push each other to the end... then my rear tyre exploded!
I was off the bike, repair kit at the ready, wheel in hand in less than a minute. Unfortunately though as can be seen in the photo - there was a hole large enough to put my fist through. Bummer...
A quick assessment of what I had on hand didn't shed any light on a solution so I resigned myself to running the bike in. 5 or 6k of running and I was home.
Looking back at the ride I was pleased with a few things. I've not been out riding much over the last few months. I have regularly ridden taking my spin classes but not getting out a lot. A couple of longer rides on the previous two weekends indicated that I was Ok but a race is always a little different. The strength focus seems to be paying dividends. My ride down the hill was hard-work. Fighting a 26er hard tail down the Pisa range requires endurance and strength - especially as a rider that often takes alternative lines (ok - a crap rider:-) Follow at your peril!
I felt fresh at the end - even after an unplanned 6k run. This time last year I was pushing the body-weight down. I believe this weakened me which became evident in later months. Time will tell if I'm on the right track...
In a nutshell - ride this race if you get a chance. Outside of the event this track crosses private land so is a no-go. There is a helli-drop company that'll get you there for $700... making the 100 bucks or so entry fee seem like quite good value;-)
Blair did well. A recent 29er convert and still relatively fresh to MTB in general, his skills are improving and he will just keep getting better as the skills come up. Ross took his Giant over in much the time he was expecting and George surprised everyone and possibly himself with a very respectable effort. Not an easy 'Big Easy' ride!  

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