The Fling was Flung...
I'm few beers down (how good are post race beers?!) so this might be a long one - apologies for any self-indulgence!
As you can see, I came 11th. Unless you win, its pretty academic in an Elite race. This is just a story of the weekend, the lead-up, and my highlights.
Its no secret (nor an advertisement) that I do a bit of coaching with my housemate, good mate, and side-kick Kyle. "Pepper Coaching" means that when we go to races like the Fling, we are just as nervous for 'our' athletes as we are for our own. Nobmobbers - Dicko and BT (Wayne and Brian) have both come on so much, and Brian in particular has been killing in it in training recently. Wayne has had sickness, work and family commitments, as well as a huge hangover from winning the National Champs earlier this year. Kyle and I just wanted them both to have their best race.
In the 50km, there was Garry Millburn, and Jayden Ward (Kyles younger brother). Garry is just getting stronger and stronger - a huge CX season, and now some crit racing - he loves a startline. Jayden is growing into a great rider, and is so talented.
Then there is Kyle and I. Training together pretty much everyday. Every success, every failure, or flunked session, or disappointment. We went in with similar aims - despite our different abilities. We both just wanted a solid ride, and to finish well.
It was raining. It was cold. I was literally thanking god for the inclement weather. It felt like racing back in Britain!
As we took the startline, I thought about a conversation I had with my girlfriend the night before. She was saying "you seem to know everyone, and you tell me that all of them are really fast" - after we had done rego and met a bunch of other riders. I said to her "the really worrying thing, is that I look at them all and think - Jesus, he is so good at X, and he is really good at Y, and it sometimes gets into your head, and makes you doubt".
I stood on the startline and shared a joke with guy than I was privileged to share a race with - Lachlan Morton. Roadie Extraordinaire. Google him. Yes - he rides for Garmin, yes, he is only 21, and yes, he rode away from the best climbers in the world in some recent Tours. He is back in Sydney for a break, and Kyle and I talked him into racing. He borrowed a spare bike, and hey presto. With Look road pedals and cleats, he was there. What a legend.
The gun goes, and we roll out. 200m into the race, Lachlan attacks. Uh-oh. A few of the mtb riders are like "what is that guy doing? He's bought some Garmin kit, and thinks he is a pro". Soon, they realise that they probably didn't want to give him too much room. He came back.
Grassy climb, water crossing #1, bit of firetrail, another water crossing. By this stage, the pace was such that the group was probably 20 strong. Lachlan was there, as were all the MTB hitters. Garry was up the front - the sole representative of the 50km race, and Kyle and I were towards the back, keeping our proverbial powder dry.
Unfortunately, Jayden had become detached, and the speed we were moving at meant that he couldn't get back on.
Water crossing #2 (the deep one) is where there is usually a split. Sure enough, there was a split. The dude wearing Look road cleats got dropped! Poor sod. He tried to get into his pedals, but they were all clogged with mud. Bye bye.
I was rolling along with Dan "number 2 XC rider in the world" McConnell, and Jason 'WC' English. Safe wheels. Ride a bit more, get to transition, basically all together.
Think. Stay calm. Find Bryony with the drinks and food. I scoffed down a Clif bar (wow - they are good!) and drank a carton of coconut water. We rolled out.
Big shock - there actually was a train!!!! Bells ringing, we all wait. Train goes by.
In a moment of madness, Andy Blair decided he couldn't wait for the barriers to lift, and rode around them before they raised. A decision that would cost him dearly in the end.
Smashing along into Wingello Forest, I notice Jason English had missed the group. Gone.
Get to The Wall, and there we all climb up. I'm just 20m off the back, and one of the backmarkers gets in the gap between me and the bunch. He tries to climb, and despite me calling, he unclips his unsuccessful attempt right in front of me, and blocks the track. Good bye group.
I compose myself, and ride on. I'm joined by Jason. We ride together. I go passed Nobmobber "Fatboy" on a climb, and he offers me encouragement. it feels good to get some support.
Jase and I are sharing the work, and we are motoring - but we have lost sight of the group. Eat, drink.
At the end of the traditional 'Red' loop, just as we are climbing up to the feedzone at the start of the 'yellow' loop, Jase does his usual trick - just keeps getting faster.
All of a sudden, I'm on my limit. Knowing the real climbing is still to come, I bid him farewell, and settle in for a yellow loop on my own. A timetrial.
I actually quite like this sort of riding, and know that I can roll pretty well on my own.
Calm, even pressure on the pedals. Good cadence, relaxed breathing. Climb steady, but push over the tops and drive the flats. An even power output.
Halfway hill - tick. The Kick (I hate this one) - tick. The Outer Limits - tick. Wow, I'm going quite well. I feel ok.
Hitting that headwind on the open roads back to Wingello all alone wasn't great, as I imagined the lead group swapping turns, and smashing along. I just kept the pressure on and jumped from bunch to bunch up the road. Setting myself new targets as soon as caught the last one.
I get to the transition, and I reaslise in front my, by 10 seconds, is a big bunch - Dan Mac, Dylan Cooper, Adrian Jackson, and Lewis Cressy. "YES!". I had ridden it perfectly alone, and was still right up there. It reconfirmed my love of an open, rolling, time trial.
2nd transition. Bryony was there again. Calm, collected. She gave me another Clif bar. Another coco water. She wiped my face, and told me a story unrelated to the race. It was good. It made me laugh. Dan and Dylan were clearly pulling the pin at this point. Too cold.
Stage 3. Myself, Adrian and Lewis rode really well together. Until the b'stards dropped me on The Rollercoaster. Oh well, nearly done now.
Just the fireroad / gravel climb, and Broke Back to go. I rolled over both these feeling fine, no cramps, and some good strength. I got a bunch of support from some people I didn't recognise. Thanks whomever you are.
Your call, turn left. Last climb. Up we go. Hit the road, smash it. And she's done. FINISHED. 11th place. I was so delighted. I have battled for a few years with the Fling. It felt good to get a solid, honest, lonely, ride done for an 11th.
I saw Bryony first. A warm jacket, a hug. Fantastic. Then Kyle. He came over and high-fived me. He had come 7th or 8th. A great ride in his first fling. He had punctured too!
I felt so happy.
Jayden - not his best day. He's still young at 17, and he is learning that somedays, things don't go well. His disappointment was tempered with him telling me that Garry had dominated the 50km to take it overall. Yes!
I shiver my way back to the car, and bump into Wayne and Brian. Both looking pleased with themselves. I'll leave them (in their SXC blog) to tell their story, but they had bashed 7 bells out of each other, and come away smiling. Wayne taking it on the day.
What a team they will make at the Cape Epic in March. Good mates, similar strengths.
Drive home, wash the bike, sit down. Drink a beer. And smile to myself. What a race. The whole lot of us. 'Team Pepper' in its broadest sense had a great day. From an individual perspective - I am delighted.
Speaking of teams, it leaves just one more race for the year. the Hellfire Cup in Tasmania. A pairs race. What better than for me to pair up with Garry, and Kyle to pair up with Jayden? It'll be great.
A few thank-you's: to everyone that said 'good luck', 'well done', 'awesome', 'go on mate' - before, during or after the race. It does make a difference. I am sometimes a bit distant before a race, not keen to chat. Its not rudeness, just preoccupied. Thanks or everyone making an effort.
Although it is a cliché, its true to say that it wouldn't be possible without Hugh and the guys at CBD in Sydney. Hugh, himself, stayed after work on Monday night to fix my bike which had suffered an issue that could only be solved with steady hands, and a....DREMEL! Awesome service. Thank you.
Final thanks must go to Bryony - feeding me in the cold, wet, rain. Sharing rubbish jokes and stories with me mid-race might seem odd, but its great. I'm very lucky.
Now - another beer......thanks for reading!