How can you not like racing at Stromlo?!
It has to be one of the most pure mountain bike destinations in Australia requiring a solid mix of both fitness and technical ability. It is one of my favourite locations to ride my mountain bike and I always try and get out there once a week if my program allows it. On St Valentine’s day I lined up for my 4th AMB100 knowing full well what to expect. The hot tip is that in February it is always going to be hot. Like, when you know it’s hot when you go outside and it is hot… That is a given. Seeing as though the 27km lap also takes in no less than 3 ascents of Mount Stromlo from different sides then it is also relatively hilly. And, Stromlo is also hard to ride as it requires all of your concentration for all of the time.
If I allow myself to flashback a couple of weeks I was on the way to Kowen Forest to race the Duo Classic with my mate Anthony Shippard. As I was heading up the hill out of Queanbeyan, Motley Crue’s Kickstart My Heart started up on the stereo. This in turn made my right foot a little heavy and the turbo was roaring through the corners each time it kicked through 3000rpm through each gear. Of course, the blue lights in the rear vision mirror were met with a couple of swear words and that slight increase in adrenalin. Fast forward to lunch time and Shippard and I had grabbed 7th place and I was on my way home slowly obeying most of the posted limits, because after being bitten once, you are twice shy.
After 2 months of ‘chugging around’ I was so eager to race again and whilst Kowen always makes me feel like I am breathing through a straw, Stromlo makes me super excited. I can actually breath there, I love the technical nature of the course and I fully rate the 2 wheel drifts that can be had!
The 14th and 20th of February for me were always going to be the early season objectives. AMB100 and Giant Odyssey on back to back weekends. I tend to get good at racing by doing the racing so the Duo was a nice little opener before the bigger objectives on offer. On Saturday night I treated myself to an awesome meal from Little Thailand in Dickson 2602 – it was, would you believe, a Green Curry Chicken with coconut rice – scientifically proven to be a good way of getting energy in my body for racing. LOL!
I always get nervous and excited about racing. The technical term in the literature is ‘arousal’ but that is a slightly awkward term to correlate bike racing to – especially when everyone is wearing lycra. So I prefer to use my own terms and try my best to keep a lid on things as well as you can stress out too much about stuff that is outside of your control.
On race day, Martin from Rockytrail was talking about the “Canberra Lines” ™ on offer up on stromlo – everyone was encouraged not to cheat in this manner – rather, consider the old school doping ways as well as the new school internal motor options. Everyone got a good chuckle from this. The simple way to look at it is like this. Just don’t do any of those things – there is no point really.
When the gun went off, Dylan Cooper got the coveted holeshot into the first right hander onto the starting fireroad. Brendan Johnston was on his wheel before Mike Blewitt decided to give everyone a ramp test up the ugly fireroad before the singletrack. This hurt a LOT…damn you Mike! The trickiest thing was keeping an eye on the 66km and 100km riders and also knowing who was who in the zoo.
There were a few questions asked as groups formed just so you knew if you had to keep an eye on them or not. I was pretty happy with my first climb up the trunk trail. Cooper (66) and Johnston (100) had escaped, Brad Morton (66) was on the hunt then there was a good group chasing them. I was in here feeling okay. OKAY is a relative term. It definitely hurt, but felt manageable as it was still overcast and relatively cool (for now)
Shippard was not feeling it today and he let me through just before the top of the climb and I led a few others through the descent of Pork Barrel out to Deep Creek. The drift was on point today and I was really having a great time in the dry and dusty conditions.
Andrew Lloyd (100) popped through just before the start of Double Dissolution and was on a mission to chase back the guys in front. After finishing 2nd at the solo 24hr chugger worlds a few years ago, I knew that he can ride Stromlo as well as anyone.
Out the back of Stromlo is a nice climb – Casuarina – it maxes at 27% which is pretty mental for dirt and needless to say, you have to chew the stem a fair bit to get up this one. The wind was picking up a fair bit out on Stromlo and after Double Dissolution I got onto Marc Williams’s (66) wheel where he dragged me and another dude along to the base of the climb. Marc’s way of climbing is akin to floating. He looks like he is not working at all, spinning a low gear very efficiently as he floats away up the climb. I chased as well as I could but I don’t float up the climbs!
The best way to race the AMB is to break the lap up into sections. First Climb, Casuarina Climb, Heart Breaker Climb – that is pretty much it for me. They fall into good sections that allow you to focus and tick off a whole lap. It also allows you to compartmentalise the pain into 3 distinct blocks.
The first lap was rattled off in 1 hour 16 minutes for me. That was okay as ultimately, they are super long laps and this race bites you big time in the latter stages. I picked up a Camelbak and headed out for lap 2. By this stage it was getting warm as I expected and I was hoping that the pack option and an extra bottle would pay off down the track. I also took about 4 gels for each lap. This sort of thing works for me when I am racing as I burn through a truckload of energy when I climb hard. That’s just me and how I ride!
On the box with some top blokes!
Half way through the 2nd lap and the temperature soared up to 31 degrees. When it comes to racing, I really like it when it is 10 degrees. This is probably due to my ranga nature. It could also be other stuff, but I’m blaming the inner ginger for this one. So what do you do when the heat is on? Inside your head on every beat? And the pressure is high just to stay alive? #sorrynotsorry — you just call up a solid serving of Rule Number 5 © and just simply get on with it. That is the best thing about push bike racing. There are so many elements that you are racing against – time, competitors, trail, weather, demons and voices inside your head! It is endless, but it is the same for everyone.
By this stage the wind had picked up to crazy levels – the north westerly helped in certain locations but made you feel slightly broken in other directions as it felt like you were moving in slow motion, time almost standing still – where you are the one who is time….
Half way through the lap I was looking down noticing the salt forming on my jersey sleeves and front. This is a good sign that you are going to suffer at some time shortly – I replace a lot as I go, but the sweat rates were super high as the temperature was unbearably high and I had to back off a bit in order to get the full distance pacing correct. As it went, by the ¾ way around that 2nd lap, I was out of fluids having smashed them pretty hard. Fortunately, I came in for the start of the 3rd lap and stocked up on more fluids – and lots of them – a Camelbak and 2 full bottles.
The 3rd lap was like moving in slow motion. Everything in the body was saying no, the jersey was fully unzipped as I tried to cool the chest as much as possible. Around every corner I was looking ahead as well as behind to see if I could see anyone that I could catch or anyone who might catch me. I started to hear imaginary bikes in corners behind me as well! At the top of the 27% Casuarina Climb for the 3rd lap the bike computer was telling me that it was 38 degrees….FFS….I was just dreaming of my recovery burgers at this stage chilling out in a nice dark airconditioned room. A few deals were also made along the way to keep myself chugging through to the finish.
So after about 4 hours and 14 minutes I crossed the line well and truly spent. Probably up there with one of the hardest races I have ever done. I was covered in sweat, salt, dust and just about everything else. In the end I rolled over in 3rd place. With the different categories rolling around it was pretty tricky to keep track of who was where and how everything was playing out. 1st and 2nd were well in front of me so even that reference was tricky to figure out!
Ultimately, I was in 2 minds about how the race went down. I knew my form was good and I felt pretty good on the first lap, but the heat smashed me to pieces in the latter half and I had to back off a fair bit. So that is the bit that was not great. But all in all, after a few years of getting 4th place it was nice to check out the view from the podium for once, so I will take that any weekend it is on offer!
In the classic 100km distance, Australian National Marathon Champion Brendan Johnston raced his green and gold jersey to victory in the elite men’s and Catherin Moore won the women’s event. Johnston’s Trek team mate Dylan Cooper took out the 2 lap challenge and Eliza Kwan claimed the women’s 66km distance. A strong Claire Whiteman impressively took out the one lap challenge in her first race back from a baby break.
Time: 4 hours 14 minutes
Maximum temperature: 38 degrees
Distance: 27km per lap
Fluid: 5 litres of Sukkie
Gels: 10 Pro4mance gels
Average Heart Rate: 169bpm / Maximum Heart Rate: 186bpm
Trimp Score: 486
Executive Summary: Reasonably difficult
Up next is the trip down to Melbourne on Thursday in readiness for the Giant Odyssey – definitely looking forward to that one! Another freaking hard one on the cards – does anyone know where the easy races are?!?!