24 hour solo MTB – The Dirty Weekend

Every year Bicycle SA put on the Dirty Weekend Mountain Biking Festival, and it is easily my favourite event on the calendar. Camping out in the forest, riding some sweet single-track, and a killer atmosphere, this race rules. With 6, 12, and 24 hour options for individuals, duos and teams, there are options for all levels of fitness and skill to race.

I’d raced in a 4 man 24 hour team a bunch of times, and always thought I wasn’t quite up to doing it solo. I mean endurance mountain biking hurts plenty, and I always walked away from the 4 man team event pretty sore. But then I went and did a bunch of everestings that went for 24 hours or more, one of which was on a hard tail mountain bike, so I figured what the hell? Plus I had a dual suspension bike now, so I entered.

Cover photo by SB Dynamics.

The weather forecast for the 2 days was pretty optimal, with moderate temps and little to no rain. It had rained a little in the lead-up, so trail conditions were set to be perfect – no dust, no mud, just hero grip and good times.

Starting at 2pm, the race kicks off with the 24 and the 12 hour field together. The 12 hour guys then kick back for a rest at 8pm, before re-starting the following morning at 8am with the 6 hour riders. The field this year was a little bit down on previous years, which is a shame, it is a balltearer of an event. Maybe the fact it was 1 weekend early this year, which fell inside of fire ban season was what kept some people away. Not having fires really changes the atmosphere a fair bit. Especially after 8, when so many people kick back, tuck into a barbecue and sink some cans. It’s like a bogan festival, except everyone is pretty skinny…

I was focused on keeping my pace pretty casual from the start. With so many riders taking off at the same time, and so many of them riding as part of a team, the temptation to go hard is pretty strong. Having ‘trained’ to a ‘somewhat’ low standard, my focus was on maintaining as even an exertion level as possible. But then there was a guy to overtake… And then there was someone behind me…. Then a big climb… Goddammit Dave, slow the fuck down! So lap 1 went faster than I was intending. No sweat, I can get back on track. Lap 2 will be better. Lap 2 was not better. Lap 3 here we come. Still too fast. All of a sudden my left hamstring was cramping badly. Like really badly. Put-a-foot-down-and-yelp-in-pain badly. So things were sub-optimal to begin the race. I was standing, going nowhere, about to climb the hardest part of the lap, with a hammy that felt like a knife was buried in there… Nothing for it, but to push on and keep riding.

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Managed to land the log jump, and not crash in a screaming heap every time…. Photo: Richard Stevens.

I had my little aid station set up in the campsite of some mates, perched right at the top of the biggest climb on course. These roosters normally race as a team of 4, but with one of their squad missing, they decided to all do the 24 hour solo, but ride together, and sleep through the night. It meant I had a cracking set up to stop and have something to eat each lap on the way through. It also meant when they stopped for the evening, I got some very positive, whiskey-fueled support. I was offered a dram, but declined. They were drinking $400-a-bottle gear, and I felt $30 worth of trail-side vomit just wasn’t a positive option. I did neck an entire beer though. That shit gives you wings…

My cramp had gone, it was dark, and the 12 hour riders had retreated to their campsites. All that was left were the 24 hour riders. Teams, duos and solos. You could tell the team riders from a mile away. They were the cats that would fly past so quick, that you would wonder if they were ever even there at all.The duos pretty quickly were as fatigued as the solos, so we’d share nods, grunts and a wry smile as we would pass each other in the dark. Bonus of riding at night is that under lights you are no longer distracted by your surroundings, and can focus only on the trail ahead. It doesn’t make me any faster, but somehow obstacles that are a little intimidating by day, seem much easier at night-time.

I started breaking down the laps. From transition you’d ride some pine forest trails. Not especially tough to climb or descend, just slow as you weave in and around trees, and over treacherous roots across the trail. Then you’d break out into open eucalypt scrub where you could get a lot more pace up. This would eventually spit you out at the hardest obstacle on course. A big slab of rough rock, running across the camber of the trail. Always tough to push over, especially as I crashed here a few years ago and cut my face, so it always intimidates me. from here its open grassland and flowing trails, finishing with some very tight, large and well-constructed berms – so much fun. But my sigh was audible every time I got to the end of that section, as what followed was a long and twisting climb up the hillside, riding through clay that was just damp enough to want to grab a strong hold of your tyres. Cannot say that I looked forward to this part each lap, but my aid station was at the top, so at least I’d have a chance to rest and eat. The back half was top fun. Some SUPER LOOSE pine forest, but the rest was beautiful and flowing eucalpyt-lined single track. So, so good.

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Pine roots are not my friends. Photo: SB Dynamics

And so it went, lap after lap, trudging along in the dark. Until about 2am. 12 hours in, and I entered the cerebral palsy phase of endurance cycling. I was weaving pretty badly on parts of the trail. The climb up the switchbacks nearly broke me. I had planned to ride through, no sleep, just get it done. But when I crawled off the bike and sat down, I decided a 1 hour break was needed. I chucked on my tracky dacks, sat in the chair, and set an alarm. Alarm went off, I told it to fuck off, slept some more. All-up I had a 2 and a half hour break. Starting again sucked balls. All of the balls. Like it was a ball sucking festival, and people had come from all over the land to partake in a regional ball-sucking final. But I did restart, and after a brief period, I came good again.

Still, it was riding through the forest by yourself at night-time. I was scared of the dark as a kid. I’m still scared of the dark as a big kid. Whoever put a sheep’s skull in a tree, and dressed it up with a jacket is a legend. Could not help but say “By the power of Grey Skull” every time I went through… I thought I was funny… Also, the people who set up the rave party every year in the pine forest are also champions. Loud trance beats, fairy lights, disco balls, strobe lights, the works. Even in the pre-dawn haze the sound and light at this section put a huge grin on my face. Little things like that help make a forest at night-time more fun than terrifying.

And as always happens, the sun came up. Thank fucken fuck. OMFG how I missed the sun. It enriches the soul after the long period of hauntingly dark loneliness of the night. I’d say I had a coffee to celebrate, but I’d had 12 coffees beforehand. The back-end of the race was tops. The 12 hour guys restarted with the 6 hour guys joining them. The track was full again, transition had beats flowing, and people were there to cheer as you went past. The final few hours ticked by, and somehow I realised that I had moved up into 5th place. 5th! Go me. All I had wanted to do was ride consistently and see if I could jag 20 laps. When I saw that I’d jumped into 5th, I was goddam stoked.

Tim Loft
The steep climb at the end of every lap… It sucked, but not for too long. Photo: Tim Loft

They changed the rules this year also, so that your final lap had to be completed before 2pm. Previously you had to start your final lap before then, but not this time. I finished my 20th lap with about 50 minutes to go. It had been taking me around 55 mins to get a lap done if I pushed, so I opted out. Checking the scoreboard, 6th place was 2 laps behind me, and 4th was 2 laps in front, so my final placing was set. Ace. I went and said g’day to some other mates who’d been racing. I went back to the campsite necked a beer, and waited for my wife to turn up to take me home. That was my first solo 24 hour, and it was tops. If you are in Adelaide at the end of April/early May then get amongst it. The best race, the best atmosphere, the Dirty Weekend is awesome.

 

 

Paris Roubaix – Pro Cycling’s Breath of Fresh Air

Less and less am I finding myself engaged in stories around pro cycling. The drugs, the cheating, the robotic tactics and the lies. It gets crazy tiresome, and for the largest part I just can’t be bothered anymore. I find it harder and harder to trust race results, and the romance has gone. There are only brief glimmers of hope that shine through:

  1. Whenever Peter Sagan does anything. Anything at all. He could tie his shoes and I would happily live stream that shit.
  2. Whenever Esteban Chavez wins anything. I just want to cuddle that kid – sweetest guy in all of cycling.
  3. Paris Roubaix.

Paris Roubaix is the race I always stay up late to watch. A few mates around with a few beers, and it rules. All of the problems that are normally associated with cycling fade into the background, and a beautiful afternoon, steeped in rich history, takes place, and I watch transfixed to the action. So what makes this race different?

THE SETTING

Farm tracks, forest trails and country lanes. Paris Roubaix is a back roads tour of northern France. Even the towns the race pass through look goddam gorgeous on the screen. But the cobbled secteurs… They get rated according to how rough they are. There are groups dedicated to ensuring that they are in good condition, but not improved, they need to stay as rough as they always have been. And just to make sure that this race does suck for the riders, they plough the sides of the road, so that riders must stay on the stones. Failing this, the fans will be standing right on the side. The ride on the rocks is so bad that you will see riders riding through thick grass, muddy puddles and jumping ditches. Rough, ancient roads in a beautiful rural setting – perfect.

Cycling: 115th Paris - Roubaix 2017

THE TACTICS

This isn’t a flat sprinter’s race, where nothing happens until sprint trains wind up in the last kilometre, and we see 200 metres of action. This isn’t a long, grinding mountain stage, with teams setting tempo, so that no-one can attack, and everyone watching yawns to death. Sagan put in his first attack with over 100km to go in Roubaix this year, when he put the hammer down in the forest of Arenberg.  Last year the final 15km saw attack after attack after attack. It is old-fashioned, go-hard-when-you-feel-good racing, which makes it very exciting to watch. Teams play a lot less of a role than in other events, and the cunning and strength of the rider is what brings the reward.

THE RIDERS

I find the guys who race these events to be the most relatable. Climbers and GC riders are crazy lean, body shapes that are so far away from the norm, they are practically a different species. But the men bulldozing across the pave are much more likely to have a height and weight that you’d find on regular people, just walking down the street. Sure, they put out enough wattage to power a sports stadium, but they are a lot more ‘normal’. It makes me feel a lot closer to the action, to see people who look like regular guys.

THE SPIRIT

Last year Matt Hayman apologised for beating Tom Boonen, the sentimental favourite… Tom just smiled and said how happy he was for Matt. Then there’s the most likeable man to have ever ridden a bike – His Lordship Peter Sagan. These guys smile, they present well to the press, they often talk each other up. In other words, they just act like normal blokes, riding bikes for fun. They respect the race too. For many it is the highlight of their year. Even former pros, who still work for teams, will be heard discussing that they don’t miss having to suit up at any race, other than Roubaix. I heard Robbie McEwin talking once about how on his first race he missed the cut-off, but evaded the Marshall so he could still do a lap of the Roubaix velodrome to finish. The next year, he did all he could to make the line within time. A world class sprinter, with no hope of winning, he just wanted to respect the race and finish. That’s not even mentioning that the winners get their own shower for life, and the trophy is a cobblestone.

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THE FINISH

In an open-air concrete velodrome… It is so goddam majestic. Maybe a rider enters solo, and gets a stunning victory lap. Some years it comes down to a two-up sprint, complete with cagey track-stands as the riders eyeball each other. Other times it’s a sprint from a reduced bunch, where the final surges are more akin to the wild swings of a heavyweight bought pushing into round 15. The best 15km of racing ever are the last 15km of the 2016 race, with 5 riders trading one attack after another. The cobbles have roughened up the riders so badly, that by the time they reach the velodrome, a slow wind up is the best they can offer.

Paris Roubaix 2013

All of this adds up to something beautiful. It is not perfect, the race is imperfect, and that’s what makes it great. Riders with a semi-normal physique, riding rough back roads, attacking when it seems stupid to do so, and reaching the finish shattered, filthy and broken. The same could be said of a weekend rides with mates, or a gran fondo finish, and it’s that similarity to regular people that makes it great. The attention turns away from scandal for one weekend, and we all get to enjoy something great.

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Otway 300 – Gravel, double and single track greatness.

The Otway 300 is in it’s second year this year, and I am stoked to have ridden it. It’s a 2 day race, covering 300km and 6500m of climbing, around the town of Forrest in the Otways. Being down by the Great Ocean Road, the scenery ranges from timber forest, to lush tree-fern bush, to open farmland, and even includes some stunning beaches. Riding in pairs, the event has a unique charm, that attracts everyone from elite 24 hour racers, to weekenders looking for a challenge.
My riding mate and I had met only once, nearly 2 years before at a ride I did in Melbourne. Through the socials we realised we had similar interests, and so decided to ride together. I would say ‘race’, but with a somewhat casual build-up, we were a pair of roosters looking for a good time more than anything.

The day before the race was when Mike Hall passed away whilst competing in the Indian Pacific Wheelrace. It was all anyone was speaking about the night before, there was a tangible air of sadness amongst everyone. Event organiser Norm Douglas decided to neautralise the first few kilometres of the day out of respect. He drove at the front at a set pace, which gave people the opportunity to talk to the rider next to them. Riding in light rain and in the dark, with a river of lights flowing down the road, setting out on a long and tough day, it seemed a really fitting tribute to Mike, and an appropriate way to mourn his passing. Thank you Norm for creating that moment.

Soon enough we were underway properly, which coincided with the rain stopping and the sun coming up. Riding gravel roads through timber forests, with a light mist in the valleys around was gorgeous. Go to the Otways and ride, stunning. The long descent out of the range, dropping down to the coast was a real highlight. Laughed out arses off coming down there, the trail, the views, the amount of mud we covered ourselves in, all just tops. Could ride that roller coaster every day, and I’d still be in love with it’s curves.

 

Popping out into Apollo Bay, we had 4 treats at our disposal:

1. A rest stop with sweet beach views

2. A rest stop with mechanics to fix Lance’s mechanical woes

3. A rest stop with top food and top people.

4. A rest stop with views of the local hawks and tigers footy game.

The real point here is that the rest stops on this ride were TOPS. The topsest. The food was great, the beats were pumping, and every single station offered outstanding banter. Seeing as our little pair were not challenging anyone for a prize (we actually were dead last in our category), we thanked the volunteers by offering our wit, charm, dance moves and a healthy appetite. A standing round of applause for this squad – top shelf service.

The light rain made for good, dirty fun

From here we rolled across some open paddocks, corrugated gravel roads, sandy 4wd tracks, and some very slippery single track. It was glorious, legs-of-iron-hard, but glorious. We laughed a lot.

That got us to the half way point. All of that, and only half way… But there were only 2 things left to ride in the second half. We had to climb back up the range, and we had to ride on some old rail trails. That climb… OMFG. Never steep, and a good, grippy surface, but it. Just. Keeps. Going. Looking back on the ride file, with only a brief descent in the middle, we were climbing for more than 30km. The forest closes in on you when it’s like that. There is no more outside world. Just you, the upward pointing road, your bike and the forest. When we did pop out into farmland eventually, we just laughed. It felt weird to be on a normal road again!

Riding back to Forrest, the route followed some old rail trails. In the old days, they used to use trains to get the timber to where it needed to go. They have since been abandoned, and converted into shared use trails. We followed them downhill, and got to fly down as just reward for the grind to get up there. The local pale ales and beef went down a treat in the pub that night. 175km and 3700m down.

Day 2 and the old man groans were audible across town. Some tired legs were getting about. This was not aided by the information that there was 500m of climbing in the first 10km of the day. General distress occurred when in the first couple of kilometr a there was still a lot of descending going on. Reflecting now, I can say that what the second day lacked in distance, it made up for in general difficulty. When we finally made it to the 64km aid station, we had climbed up and down the whole range 3 times, all on wet tracks, for a total of 2400m gained. The first climb was awful, I certainly didn’t see anyone who didn’t have to walk some points. Climb 2 was hard, but manageable. Climb 3 was rude. Soul crushing. We rode all of it, no walking, but it was touch and go. When we got to the aid station at the top, we only danced a little bit, and our jokes were only mildly funny. That rate of elevation gain is like doing an everesting on a 7% gradient hill… That is muddy… Even my joy of riding was beginning to dampen, as those hills threatened to crush my soul.


At last Norm eventually shows some compassion, and the route opens up to some more serene country lanes. Reaching a checkpoint out here, we were greeted with the somewhat disappointing news that the winners had crossed the finish line, whilst we still had 50km to go. Our tactic of lulling the leaders into a false sense of security seemed to have failed. In better news, we were firming our grip on the Lanterne Rouge…


The kilometres ticked by until we finally reached the famed single track runs. These are both a crowd pleaser, and a solid sting in the tail. The trail is enjoyable, but when north of 250km into the race, they were a real effort, and certainly a way to slow down the finish.

But finish we did. Last place was ours! It didn’t matter though, that was an awesome weekend, and would go back on a second. They really are sitting on a monster there. The course is outstanding, hard, but achievable, with stunning trails, and even better views. The markings are impeccable, we had the course on our Garmins, but didn’t ever need it, there were multiple arrows at every intersection. Even better were the aid stations, the best volunteers getting around.

Couple of sports drinks to finish

If you are thinking about it next year, by all means do. Any off-road bike will work, they have a CX category, which honestly next year I would probably do.

If you want to check out the race some more, click on either their website or facebook page. If you’d like to see my two ride files click on Day 1 or Day 2.

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Gravelaide 2 – Riding a Gravel Grinduro

Riding a drop bar bike on gravel is tops. Like so much fun. The bacon frying sound that your tyres make when you hit the dirt, pushing up steep hills in totally the wrong gear, and enjoying the incredible feeling of freedom when you get out onto quiet country roads. It’s hard, it’s dirty, it’s exhilarating.

Putting the grind in grinduro

I’d ridden the first Gravelaide event last year, and was champing at the bit for version 2. Set in the southern vales of Adelaide, the full course offered 120km of off-tarmac magnificence. $65 got you an entry into all distances (there are shorter distances available, but like why?), which included the ride, and then a burger and a #hopsbasedsportsdrink at the finish (or 3 or whatever). The best part is that the course involves crossing private land, that the organisers get special permission for us to ride on, so you can’t actually go and ride this course at any time other than on the day of the event.

The start was at Ashbourne, around 55km south of Adelaide. With a couple of mates riding across the entire continent in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, I was totally inspired to ride my guts out, so I rode out to the start from home. Turned out to be a bloody long day, but so tops.

The most casual sign on and event briefing ever to start an event happened, and we took off at 9. What followed was incredible. There were hard pack, white gravel roads a-plenty, the kind that most people think of when they talk about gravel, but there were long stretches made up of totally different terrain. Grey roads with round little marbles everywhere, red sandstone tracks, with larger rocks poking out, and several LOOOOOONG stretches of very soft sand. The sand lay on the track, loudly mocking my 33c tyres, and their ineptitude for the purpose. But those sections were amongst the most fun, as I’d try to ride straight lines, whilst my back wheel kept whipping out like a hipster on a fixie. There was even a creek crossing! The scenery would change from open pasture, to dense forest and back again.

A proper creek crossing. Not everyone kept their feet dry.

I’m fairly sure the route was written when the three directors for the event would head out, and as they were riding, one would say “Hey what’s that there?” Only one would have said it, as some of the trail heads were so goddam hard to see, the other two would have missed it. Sometimes a small gate was ‘the way’. Others a small track would lead to a tiny track, which would lead to no track, and so you go forward until there is something, anything, that could be ridden. Sometimes I literally have no idea how they found out that there was a track in the direction that we went. I pity the fools who rock up to an event like this in road cleats. Christopher Walken made quite a few appearances…

This is a “Road”…

Inevitably there were sections of tarmac that had to be ridden in order to link up the course, but these were few and far between. For the very largest part, there seemed a nearly never-ending series of dirty challenges to await the riders.

Getting around involved a lot of navigating. Having the route pre-loaded in your Garmin is a must. Backing that up with the turn-by turn directions would also be a hot tip for players. I wasn’t that smart, and only had the route in my computer, which certainly isn’t fool-proof. There are a lot of loops that turn around on themselves frequently, but getting a little lost is part of the experience.

But the best part? There is no clock. Well there’s a cut-off, as people have to go home eventually, but no-one gives a shit how fast you went. Doesn’t stop those that wanna go fast from doing so, but if you want to take photos, take photos. You want to roll and chat with a mate, do it. Hell if you get tired and cut the course, there’s no prize at the end, do what makes you feel good. The ride is about adventure. You get away from the hustle and bustle of things, and see something new. I don’t even need all of my digits to count the number of cars I saw on a 120km ride. The majority of the time I was even riding by myself. It is such a great experience to be out in that environment, busting yourself in half to get up a long, steep climb, feeling like you are in the middle of nowhere. No cars, no towns, barely any people, just country lanes and tracks and your bike.

If you don’t own a bike that can ride in places like this, buy one. If you do own one, ride it more. If you live near Adelaide, then watch out for the next Gravelaide. So very good. Huge thanks to the organisers, that event was superb.

You can see my ride of the event here.

 

 

Otway 300 – 300km off road.

300 km on a mountain bike, in 2 days, with 6000m of climbing. Oh, and you get to do it in the Otway National Park, right down by the Great Ocean Road. And to join this baggy pants party, you must be riding in a pair.

Far. Ken. Oath. Where do I sign? DTR (down to ride).

Featured image from the Otway Odyssey.

The Otway 300 is run at the start of April, in and around the township of Forest in Victoria. The countryside is both ever-changing, and best-in-class gorgeous. If you haven’t heard of the Great Ocean Road, with it’s stunning vistas, and jaw-dropping terrain, then turn off Kanye West, and get out of your house. Anyone who’s ever ridden this region by bike has a great idea of what is on offer. It is a first class cycling destination.

What may not be known to all though is the quality of off road trails available. The course for the Otway 300 was designed by Jess Douglas, who whilst out riding through the idyllic farmland, and beautiful ranges in the area thought; “Oh man, how tops would it be if people got together and smashed themselves stupid over 2 days here?”. Very tops Jess, the most tops.

Part of the Old Beechy Rail Trail – image from the SMH.

The race consists of two days of riding, with approximately 170 km on day 1, and a leisurely 130km on day 2. If you’ve ever ridden a mountain bike, you’ll realise that OMFG THAT IS A RIDICULOUSLY LONG WAY. Like ow. I am sore in my back, hands and gooch thinking about it.

I first heard about the race last year, when another mate was looking for a racing partner, and I was dead keen. Unfortunately being a husband and father of two young children does come with a level of responsibility, so I had to pass. But I was determined to race next year. I had driven through the area a few times, and was keen as mustard to get back. Then I went and rode through there on an incredible 2 and a half day ride from Melbourne to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road. The Otways were an absolute stand out of the whole trip. Such incredible scenery, with lush, green forests, and rolling hills. It was a great place to be. As soon as I saw entries were popping up for this year’s event, I jumped straight in. Well I called one of the very finest roosters I know, Lance Cupido, who totally agreed, and then we were in.

Just a glimpse of the Otways, from last I rode there

There are some outstanding riders turning up again this year, not the least of which being my old mate Jason English. I rode with Jason for a charity event nearly 2 years ago, and it’ll be great to say g’day. Having won a lazy 7 world 24 hour MTB championships IN A ROW, he is a formidable rider in any event he competes in. Pretty sure he could roll up, partner with a pile of dead leaves, and still blitz everyone. After his 4th place finish last year with Shane Roberts, I should be able to offer him the advice he needs to make it up a few places on the podium this year… Last year actually saw some great racing with elite mountain bikers facing off against elite road riders. With the course not especially technically difficult, it is a great opportunity for riders of all types to pit their differing strengths against one another. The straighter sections of wide open double track offer a small advantage to the road riders, where the narrow sections of single track push the advantage back towards the baggy pants squad.

The Otways – gorgeous. Image by Grant Dixon Photography.

But whatevs man, I am signed up with the gentleman rider, Lance, and we are there to get it done. Ready to dominate the tail end of the field. Also ready to get stuck into a solid few cans from the Forest Brewery too. So stay tuned for more around the race, it promises to be a great event!