I loved racing Nationals last year for the first time, so it wasn't hard deciding to do it again this year.
Like most people, I had a few weeks off work over the Festive Season and spent the time up at Mount Beauty, like a lot of mountain bikers seem to do, for my final preparation. This break ended with an adventure to the top of Mount Bogong.
With the race on the Friday, I flew into Adelaide on the Wednesday morning and was picked up by my soigneur, Woo Senior, a quick stop into the accommodation to check in and pick my steed up (thanks a bucket to D.C who did the drive over with all the teams bikes) then out to the course to bang out some laps. The course terrain reminded me of Mt. Stromlo, dusty/sandy with a general smattering of imbedded rocks. Technically I found the course no dramas. After my laps the only concerns I had was if I'd remember when I needed to slow down for sharp corners in the fast sections.
Thursday was one more lap to consolidate my memory then rest up for race day.
The access and parking isn't the best but thankfully Friday morning isn't too busy out at the course and I'm twiddling my thumbs getting nervous in the Fitzroy Revolution marquee. Finally it's time to kit up and get the legs slowly into the groove on a good steady fire road that runs through the guts of the course. I notice Rob Eva out there too with a few other riders: "did he have a plate zip tied on?" Is the after thought. We pass each other again: "YEP! ... Wow, I get to race the living legend of Australian mountain biking! Wonder how fit he is? Guess I'm about to find out".
Finally the time to head back to the start/finish area comes and we are called up to the start line. It's seeded, so being the defending Champion, I'm called up 1st. Next is Evan James. With his local knowledge he's definitely one to watch, then a few more guys and Rob Eva, the dark horse, also makes it to the front of the grid. We're in the starter's hands and get the 15 second call. The gun can go off anytime now... We are away and I get away clean, though the gear feels a bit light on so I'm changing up a few.
Rob is about a half bike length ahead as we round the 1st sweeping left. I'm on his right and watch as he chops Evan. It's quickly into the 1st of the single track and I'm happy at 3rd wheel. There's a short open section with a solid short and sharp pinch. 2nd wheel has gone out too hard and blows backwards, so it's Rob leading me into the major climb that's your classic single track switch backed climb, my fave! By the top we've got a gap on 3rd, Evan James.
Next is some downward pointing flowing single track and Rob shows his bike skills as he looks real smooth and fast. There's more climbing though they are tiered and not that long. I usually go into a race without a plan and just go with the flow and wait for intuition to kick in. It kicks in, and I smash it past Rob on a small rise. I don't let up on any of the climbs which make up the first half of the course. The last climb gets dubbed 'The Roubaix climb' as it's a minefield of half imbedded rocks and to get through it you have to monster over it in a low gear. You then pop out to the feedzone that marks the slow fast and flowing downward trip back to the finish. This is the part of the course where you need to keep off the brakes but remember the odd spot to jump on them so you don't end up over cooking the corners. There's one section that is a false flat and I make sure my legs are hurting at the end of it.
Arguably the most technical section is next, a snaking steepish section of rutted out burms with a myriad of options to cut straight through them over rock drop offs. At the bottom of this Rob is back on my wheel. We stay like this down a switch back descent before a small but usable climb up to the start/finish. Use it I do and smash it out of the saddle with no response from Rob. A clean bidon exchange with Woo Senior, and flat out back around the the climb out of the village area to head up it as hard as I can for a second time. I've got to use the first half of the course to my advantage and climb as fast as I can to negate Rob's descending prowess. Anxiety creeps in and this lap isn't the cleanest. I settle into the last half, where it counts, and it starts flowing a lot better.
Another perfectly clean bidon from Woo Senior and encouragement from D.C in the tech zone. It's around for the last time with the mantra "are you REALLY hurting?" going over and over in my head. I have the odd check behind and I can't see Rob though this doesn't stop the pressure. If anything it encourages me to push harder to make sure he can't see me. I'm on the back half of the course now and still keeping the pressure on. I come up on the last section of flat fire road and slam it into the big ring... The chain is now off the big ring and resting on my crank arm! I reach down and nurse it back onto the big ring like I'm disarming a bomb. Defused, I'm back up to speed within 5 seconds. I reach the descending burms and I feel like I can start to back off, relax and make sure I stick it. Through the switch back descent and I'm cruising it. Back to the bottom of the last small climb and I stand and squeeze as much out of my legs as I can then top out with the line in view! "Fuck-it, this time I'm doing a Euro line cross" and it's both hands off the bars with fists in the air as I go under the blow up finish line.
The full set of photos from the weekend including both the Elite races can be found here.