This round was a lot closer to home so the week prior Director Sportif and I headed out to recon the course. Geelong MTB Club, whose home turf it is, had made a new section for the event. Two rock gardens were the main features and they were sweet-as! After a couple of goes riding and walking through these sections I had about a 70% success rate so it would be a 'suck it and see' come race day as to whether I attempt to ride or portagé (using the word 'portagé' I think makes the act of laming out a rock garden seem that more acceptable ;-P) through them.
Race day and it's wet, real wet. I wade through the sludge that will be the start\finish line to collect my race plate and go warm up out on the sealed road.
The start grid is seeded with a formula that perplexes me. Coming second in the last round I thought would have counted for something. Maybe it did, that's why I'm called to the line on the back of the grid which is three deep. Thirty seconds is called and I press the big red button on my paused heart rate monitor, it doesn't start. I keep pressing but nothing happens. It's already clogged with grit. No data will be collected today then! 15 seconds is called and the whistle blows not long after. Across the cyclocross start\finish line section and everyone is through safely. Safely is one thing but this is my worst placing wise in any XC race. Director Sportif counted 16 riders before I came past him in the feed zone, one hundred metres or so past the start. 'Shit! Lots of work to do' is the thought but I quickly calm into a sustainable max effort and start picking off riders when I can. Into the 1st solid climb and I can now see the head of the race as it winds its way up the lightly vegetated steep face. There's a large steep granite slab pinch half way up and there are riders sprawled all over it as it's too wet to ride up today. My turn, I dismount and sprint up it and pick off some more riders. A bit more climbing and another rock garden then it finally levels out and the single track winds along to the 1st descent. This is a badly eroded descent with a large rut snaking through its length from top to bottom. It's deep and if you lose a front wheel into it, it's hard to recover. This happens to the rider in front of me but I've got a buffer to avoid riding into them and adjust my line. Through the rutted section and the single track is flowing down back towards where it gets close to the start\finish line. I'm now getting glimpses of the tightly packed 1st and 2nd placed riders. I don't get too carried away and just keep a sustainable amount of pressure on myself. By the time I reach the major climb in the course I'm with them. About half way up I do a slow motion pass of Tim McColl though a gap had developed between us and 1st. I top out and the gap between 1st and me is painfully slowly closing down though I'm still not in contact. I bide my time and relax into the technical descent that I've done plenty of times before and feel like I've got it dialed. Maybe too relaxed as I make a recoverable mistake through one of the rock gardens with the back wheel getting lots of air time while the front drops off two tiers of rock and temporarily widening my eyes. More descending and I'm now about to enter the new section. With the way things are, still not in contact with 1st, I attempt and successfully ride the 1st rock garden. The second one approaches and passes without unclipping. This gives me a psychological lift. Onto the perfectly built burm section and then the sogginess sets in as the Start\Finish area looms. Approaching the feed zone I'm feeling really apprehensive about taking a hand off the bars to dump and then receive a full bottle because it feels like I'm riding through wet sponge cake mix. I manage to dump but fumble the fresh bottle! I put it out of my mind and just keep hunting for the rider up the trail.
Not long after the feed zone I make contact with the guy in 1st, Brian John. I'd heard people talk of him and seen his name before mine in the last two Otway Odyssey MTB Marathons but this was the 1st time I'd been this close to his wheel in a race. The pace feels like I can go faster but it's deceptive when you are following someone and you are close to your limit. So I watch, wait and rest up while trying to figure out the best place to attempt an attack.
There's a power climb through a boggy road section and I give it a nudge here but Brian also ups the effort. Just before the major climb there is a section of trail that is marked with bunting that's flapping about in the gusty wind making it an impossible squeeze. As Brian rides through the wind flaps the bunting to the ground and he rides over it. I pass through and it's up and caught in my bars. I keep riding hoping it will break easily, which it doesn't and I'm slowing as it's stretching. Finally I win and the bunting breaks. I get a souvenir for my efforts, some red\white bunting still attached to my bike. Finally some clear easy track and I clear the bunting from my bike before it makes its way into my drive chain and I'm into the major climb again. Not long into the climb with Brian a few bike lengths ahead, he gets a rear chain suck and is off as I pass trying to free it. Slowly he regains my rear wheel. There's a rock garden half way up and I end up dabbing through it and Brian gains the lead again through my error. We top out and just before the single track starts again for the descent, Brian takes a drink, goes to put his bottle back and tries to break before a hard right. He ends up missing the turn and I'm in front again going into the descent. Like before I just relax without mistakes this time and about half way down I'm not catching glimpses of Brian as the single track turns back on its self. Into the tricky rock garden section and I make the 1st but dab a few metres into the second. I'm able to get going again to ride up the rock slab at the end of it. Through the now moved feed zone to drier ground and a successful bottle change. I cross the dam wall and from this vantage point, spot Brian heading across the Start\Finish area. "Shit, that's got to be at least a minute gap! Right, just controlled riding here Justin" is the thought. Everything is clean and I'm back to the major climb again. I put all I can into it without blowing before the top. No problems on the descent and I'm back to the rock gardens. This time I decide to dismount before entering them and portagé through them just to be sure I'm through safely, then it's onto the soggy\boggy start\finish for the last time!
I roll past and hear my name and the words 1st place in the same sentence over the P.A and I'm smiling large!
Director Sportif and D.C are there to share the win then Brian comes in and we shake and both agree it heaps of fun racing each other. We find out that Brian had an off on the 2nd lap coming down the main descent, which is how the gap formed going into the last lap.
Now it's back to the car to scrape the mud off the sections of bare skin. The full length zipper on my jersey keeps getting jammed with grit as I try to take it off. Toasty in my clothes it was then off around the course to watch the Elite Women and Men race, which despite the rain and wind was hugely enjoyable.
A bunch of soggy pics I took after our race here.
Some not so soggy pics of the Elite's on Cyclingnews here.