Everybody will be wearing these. Available at the next Qld Cyclocross event you go to.
Everybody will be wearing these. Available at the next Qld Cyclocross event you go to.
I have met and talked with lots of excellent people who are also push bicyclist cycle riders. Both in my duties for BQ, and recently with the regular ABC spot, The Squeaky Wheel (612 ABC & statewide in Qld at 5 am Saturdays for half an hour, repeated Sundays on ABC Digital at 2pm).
But Neil Ennis is probably the man who exemplifies what I like most about cycling.
Now there are lots of things I like about bike riding. Clean and green and congestion-free and sustainable and human-powered and human-speed and human-scale. These are ‘saving the world’ aspects to cycling that are great.
Getting fit and being active at any age and developing calves of iron and healthifising* my heart and lungs. These are excellent personal benefits to riding a bike.
But regular readers will know that what I actually like most about the bicycle ridings is the fun.
Neil was the in-studio guest for last weekend’s edition of the Squeaky Wheel. And he has lots of fun when he goes for a ride. You can hear it in his voice.
Have a listen … I’ll just wait here.
So if you wanted to have that sort of fun for yourself, get over to MTB Dirt, and you will see Neil posting regularly in the ‘Organise a Ride’ section.
But if you just want to choose your own adventure, Neil has a guide for you here, as his latest contribution to the site Mountain Bike Life. It’s yet another inspiring read. Get out there and have some fun. You can start right at your own front door!
I really am not a grammar nazi, and I’m all for free expression and getting it all down through the keyboard and out into the wide wide world of the Interwebs.
But just to be helpful, I provide this guide to the common homophones to do with bicycles and riding. For the benefit of people posting on forums, and on the Social Networks.
I hope this has helped you. It has certainly helped me.
We went for a ride yesterday afternoon: the Ithaca Creekacross.
We, on this occasion, were a group of about 20 bike riders. You can pick some of the usual suspects out in some of the photos (link goes to pix on Facebook, I don’t know whether the whole world will be able to see them).
I had chosen a route that went along creekside bike paths and quiet connecting streets. We followed Ithaca Creek, and Enoggera Creek, we went past two little BMX practice tracks, and the ‘Blue Nurses’ dirt jumps.
We started with a coffee (at Beans on the Green, Bardon Bowls Club), and finished with a beer (or beer substitute).
Those are the facts, Your Honour, and they are not in dispute.
But the facts don’t begin to convey how much of a hoot this ride was. In the comprehensive safety briefing before we rode off, I just said: “When we get to a park, feel free to be creative!”
And the result was just short of suburban mayhem, tempered only by respect for other path users and each other. As I have said more than once before, much of what I like about cyclocross is to do with the feeling of being a big kid on a bike. This ride was that feeling, times a thousand. We weren’t racing, we were simply mucking around, diving in and out of trees, looking for banks to ride up or ridgelines to surf down.
I was reminded of the Rat Patrol, which was a favourite show of my childhood. But on bikes, with less shooting.
Of course, some people pushed beyond the edge of their skill limits (especially at the dirt jumps) and fell off. But there was no lasting damage to person or bike.
At the end of the day, there were 20 people smiling and laughing and joking and clinking bottles and saying we should do this again. Sounds like a grand idea. Kedron Brookacross here we come!
So while I did manage a nice spin around some bike paths, as preparation for a Queensland Cyclocross social ride, I did not join the Saturday road bunch, or do a proper mtb ride Sunday.
But if I’m all full of weak excuses on my own behalf, I am also ABSOLUTELY STOKED about the performances of Australian mountain bikers, racing at the highest level in Europe.
We are all sick of hearing from cycling commentators that Cadel Evans is a former mountain biker. Every time he goes around a corner without falling off, it is attributed to his skills from “his days as a top mountain biker”.
And until yesterday, Cadel was the only Australian to have won a round of the mountain bike cross-country World Cup. Plenty of Aussies have won World Cup rounds in other mtb disciplines such as downhill and four-cross, but the cross-country has been dominated by Euro pros since the 1990s when Switzerland’s Thomas Frischknecht led the charge.
Things are changing.
And the names of the people who are changing things are Dan McConnell and Rebecca Henderson. They are a team in all senses of the word. They race for Trek, they are a couple, and they both won World Cup races at Albstadt in Germany.
Bec won the under-23 womens in a dominating fashion, taking over the lead after the first lap and going away to the best part of a minute’s lead. In XC races in Australia, this is her usual modus operandi — she is the reigning under-23 Australian champ, and in that race she was actually faster than Peta Mullens who won the open race — but to see her do it to a World Cup field was kinda amazing.
And if we called it quits right there, then combine that with Cadel’s continued great form in the Giro and it’s cause for celebration.
But the next night was the mens XC race. Dan McConnell has been a steady improver in the last couple of years … but in his own words, he was aiming for a top-20 finish for the first World Cup of the year.
It was an eventful race. World champ and defending World Cup winner Nino Schurter had problems early and wasn’t a factor. So the other dominant figure on the XC scene, Julien Absolon powered away from the field, racing this year on a BMC 29er and looking fabulously unstoppable. Until his bike stopped. The derailleur jammed in the muddy conditions, and Absolon basically ripped the rear wheel out of its place. You have to get back to the technical area for mechanical repairs in a mtb race, and Absolon had no chance of that.
So the race was wide open. The Spanish rider Sergio Mantecon got past Fabian Giger and into the lead, and looked good for the win. But with one lap to go, Olympic champ Jaroslav Kulhavy, and Maxim Marotte (France) and McConnell were only 10 seconds behind Mantecon.
I was watching on Red Bull TV on the computer. McConnell had started well, and was racing early in the top 10. Then when Absolon put the hammer down and people tried to go with him, Dan drifted back to about 12th or 13th.
Back as the race went on, he started picking up places each lap. And looking stronger as others were looking tired. And climbing like a machine!
So on the climbs on the last lap, McConnell left Kulhavy and Marotte in his wake, and caught up to Mantecon. He stayed with him on the descent, and then powered past him just before they started the sprint. In the end, McConnell had a sprint and Mantecon had nothing.
It was one of the best, most exciting cross-country races I’ve seen. The commentators were gobsmacked by McConnell’s win. And he seemed just as surprised as anyone.
Sid Taberlay (former national XC camp, now a veteran, who has had some criticism of MTBA’s lack of success in developing top riders)
— Sid Taberlay (@SidTaberlay) May 19, 2013
And we’re still not done.
Over at Punta Ala, Italy, was the first round of the Enduro World Series. You knew this was on the agenda, and of course you’ve all been busting to read my review of the event.
And you know I’m not surprised that Jared Graves rode a great race and finished third. He even beat Barel and Clementz in the final stage of the day (Stage 5).
But the big favourite, Fabian Barel (France) beat the original superstar of enduro racing, Jerome Clementz, also from France.
Graves is going to be there right with the big boys all season. And he is so strong, and so determined, and so consistent. He can win this thing, and he sure can win a couple of rounds along the way.
There’s no video coverage to link to yet, but it will show up soon on either Vital MTB or Pinkbike.
A great weekend. C’mon Cadel … now you can win the Giro! You’re an Aussie mountain biker!
— Bec Henderson (@bec_henderson) May 19, 2013
It might be entirely coincidental that gravity enduro racing has become massive in Queensland just at the same time that a Enduro World Series has been launched.
But with SEQ Gravity Enduro about to complete its three-race series, with the last leg at Mt Joyce on Sunday (get out there and race if you possibly can … GE is the perfect type of mtb race for anyone who loves the singletrack), the Enduro World Series is about to get all serious in Italy.
And if you check out who is racing there, it is a who’s who of Australian, American, British and European mountain biking hero figures: Brian Lopes, Steve Peat, Fabian Barel, Nico Vouilloz, Cedric Gracia.
Vital MTB website has a preview of the series.
I am hoping that our local hero Jared Graves gets his name up there. It seems like it is perfect for his blend of amazing downhill speed and power across the ground, in the same way that local XC legend Aiden Lefmann has surprised all the downhill guys by being the best at gravity enduro here.
Not long to wait to find out! Expect good online video coverage on VitalMTB, and Dirt. I wouldn’t bother with Cyclingnews or Cycling Central for this stuff.
Nick O’Donnell was at Bowl-o-cross, as you certainly were as well.
And he took some photos, as is his wont. The gallery is on the Photostore on Roadie.net.au (anyone else slightly amused that some of Nick’s best work on Roadie shows off-road cycling?).
I like this one.
Get over there and find one you like, to have and hold and keep forever. To remind you of the day that cyclocross in Queensland went to the next level.
It was a big weekend in sport!
Other people’s views of Bowl-o-cross:
On the radio, you can’t see me waving my hands around when I talk.
This Great South East segment went to air on Sunday March 31, but I’ve only just got hold of a copy. Critique/heckle me in the comments.
My favourite moment: the fake laughs from both Emmas right at the end after I’ve made a terrible Dad joke about testing positive for caffeine.
Last Sunday I raced in the National Cross-Country Marathon (XCM) Championships, held at Atherton in Far North Queensland.
And in a stunning follow up to this post, I can report that elite mountain bikers are amazing athletes, and that some of them are pretty cool people too.
How do I know this? Well, one of them is my friend.
Imogen has had quite a few mentions on this blog in the past. We have only known each other for about a year, but we seem to get on very well … you know how you just click with some people?
So I was fortunate to be able to organise two three-day trips out of Cairns. The first one was for work, with my BQ colleagues Leah and Graeme working on the route and campsites for this year’s Cycle Queensland event, from Mission Beach to Port Douglas. It is going to be a wonderful ride … If you have a chance to come along I promise you won’t regret it!
And the second part of the trip was the XCM champs in Atherton, using the newish trail network just next to the town, Mt Baldy National Park. When I knew I was going, Imogen was the first person I went to, to see whether she was also keen to go.
So it was that on the day before the National XCM champs that I came to be hanging out in the car park at the Mt Baldy trailhead with Imo and some of her mtb friends, all of whom happen to be among the elite riders, people who have won races all over Australia and indeed the world.
So off we go for a reconnoitre of the course. A full lap of the course would be 32 km and include 1200 metres of vertical ascent. Yep, that means the marathon is about 3.5km of straight up.
So we go for a look at the first single track loop, and assess the situation after that. As soon as the trail pointed upwards, I let the group go. Although that sounds like I had some say in the matter, and we know that’s not true … the group just disappeared up the trail like elite athletes riding away from … someone who isn’t.
But the single track was very cool, and the descents when I got to them were superb. Really flowy, bermy trails.
Mike and Naomi and Peter and Imogen and Graeme and co were all waiting for me at the end of the trail as it rejoined the fire trail. And the was some discussion about how much of the lap to do. The single track section was roughly the first quarter of the lap. It was followed by a BIG fire-road climb, the more climbing, and some rainforest, and more climbing, and finally some downhill singletrack, and a flatter section of new trail to finish.
So some of this discussion happened while they were waiting for me. And the plan was to ride up the massive fire road climb, and then turn back down the singletrack descent.
Of course I wasn’t sure how long the climb was. And I didn’t realise how long it would just go up and up.
So when I eventually got to the top of the climb, the group had long gone. I went back down the fire road and rejoined the trail for the flat section, and got back to the event centre some unspecified time after all the others.
Reconnaissance done. There was plenty of discussion about what category to be in, and how long a full lap would take and how many bottles to carry, or whether to wear a Camelback. I understand all this stuff — I am a mtb nerd too — but it really wasn’t going to make much difference to me. All I needed to know was: could I even finish the half marathon?
So I managed to cajole Imo into a little bit of sight-seeing before heading back to the motel for rest and race preparation, which chiefly revolves around FOOD. And drink I suppose, but mostly food.
The restaurant options in Atherton are limited. Especially for vegetarian elite athletes. Picky vegetarian elite mtb racers.
So it was decided that Imogen would cook. (Note passive voice construction to that sentence which avoids the delicate negotiations that took place)
Imogen is a single woman, lives on her own. And I have rarely seen her eat. And she is as skinny as an elite female mtber, and from what she had told me, her dietary habits might be labelled idiosyncratic. But she told me was a good cook.
And you know what?
With eggplant and spinach and rocket and tomato and broccoli and pesto. We even had sufficient leftovers for the next night, when we were starving following the race.
End of race preparation saga. What follows is the race day itself.
I was doing the half marathon, one and a half laps (in Male Masters). And Imogen was doing the full marathon, three laps. The cut-off time for starting the last lap was 3pm.
The starts were staggered, and my category got under way at 9.30 am on a warm day in Atherton. By the end of the first singletrack section, I could tell it was going to be a long, hard day.
My preparation for this race, realistically, had been non-existent. And although the downhill singletrack was massive amounts of fun, most of the time would be spent climbing. Not something that appeals to me a lot. Climbing on the mtb is a necessary evil.
But some people — elite mtbers mostly — actually like climbing and are good at it.
On that subject, Imogen had said to me the previous night: “Just let the hill come to you . Take your time and find a rhythm.”
It’s really good advice.
It doesn’t matter where you are in a long mtb race, you end up seeing the same people. The elite riders pass everyone, but the people you are racing “with” are your companions for the whole day.
And so I conversed occasionally with people as we slogged up the steep short hills out on the back of the course. And asked nicely for the track when I caught up again with the super-masters woman who was a better climber than me, but more cautious on the downhills.
And over time, I rode slower and slower, until on any hill I was barely moving forwards. And most downhills I was coasting. It was as though my legs had decided not to contribute to this effort any longer.
And this was before I had even completed one 32km lap. I came to the event village, and pulled over for a can of coke from the canteen, before even completing the lap. As I got going again and passed through the start-finish line, Hayden the commissaire said to me: “But I saw you over there sitting down!”
Meg and Pete were at the feed zone, and Pete lubed my chain and Meg filled my hydration pack. Pete’s race was over early when his shifter broke. And Meg had injured herself on the reconnaissance ride. So these two top-level riders were helping me (and others!) in the pits.
Off I went, with a Coke in my belly and encouragement from Meg. And I cruised as much as I could up the singletrack climb, because I knew that the best section of the course for me was the singletrack descent.
Imo’s longtime friend Mike Blewitt came up to lap me. You don’t know who is coming past you as they approach. But MIke said, “Thanks Andrew” when I got off the track to let him past.
And I thought, for a mad moment, to follow him down the descent. Over my shoulder as the course doubled back on itself, I could see Jodie Willett, another elite rider, who I know a little bit.
So I’m trying to not let Mike disappear away from me, and at the same time I’m anxious to be able to let Jodie through when she needs to get past.
So I’m flat out, flowing the trail, full-on attack position, railing the berms, pumping the downside of bumps, getting as low as I can.
Out of a berm, there’s a rocky section of trail. Then a muddy section, with several deep ruts in the mud. And then a log across the trail, and a tree to the right.
At least four things to process in all of that as I set up for the log, and end up catching the tree with my handlebar and going OTB.
So I’m on the ground, disentangling myself from my bike, as Jodie comes past, barely looks at me (in my imagination, saying “another muppet stacks it”) and disappears out of my life.
Having read Jodie’s race report since, I think she was in a world of pain as well.
This left only the fire road climb as the last major obstacle to me finishing the event. I came out of singletrack at a marshal point, and stopped, slumped over the bars, bike pointed up the hill. The marshals at each checkpoint on the course had a competitor list, and were ticking off numbers as we went past.
So the marshal said to me: “Andrew, you just have to get to the top of this hill and you’ve done it.”
“I know. But it might take a while.”
After a couple of minutes of slumpedness, I got off the bike, and started to trudge up the hill.
Three things happened on the hill. First, while I was still walking, Naomi Hansen came past. Still riding, still looking as strong as ever, but wishing for the end of the event, just the same as me.
Second, I got to a point on the climb where I thought I might be strong enough to ride again. So I got back on the bike, and found if not a rhythm, then at least some forward motion.
And third, a familiar voice from behind me as I was churning slowly up the hill.
“I don’t believe it. Get outta the way Demack! I’ll see you at dinner!”
I gave Imo a big push up the hill as she came past. It gave me a boost as well. Mentally, not physically. I had nothing left physically.
But the top of the hill came along eventually. And after that some sweet sweet downhill. I didn’t care how rough the trail was … it was going down and that was all I cared about.
I finished. Received congratulations from Meg and Pete. Bought a chocolate brownie, and a powerade and a coke from the canteen. Scoffed it all in about five minutes. Still covered in dried mud, I gave my bike a cursory clean. Got changed out of riding kit, but because I was expecting still to ride back to the motel, I left the muddy bike shoes on.
And cheered in Naomi and Imo as they arrived. And anyone else who crossed the line. Heroes all.
The presentations followed. The post-race post-mortem. Where did you go? What happened to you? No, really? What about those leeches/snakes/tree kangaroos/hills/rocks/berms/views/bastards.
What about Jenni Fay? What about that Jason English?
Imogen finished 7th in elite women, a result that she was content with. I believe that she will do better and get faster in these events as her ‘comeback’ continues. She is such a talented athlete and an amazing bike rider. The only people who were faster than Imo on the last lap of the marathon were the top two placegetters, Jenny Fay and Jenni King.
I was just happy to have finished the course, still be on two feet and in one piece. And although cramps plagued me for the rest of the time I was conscious on that afternoon/evening, Imo and I still had a great dinner, and icecream, and watched ‘Downton Abbey’ before lapsing into unconsciousness.
The Atherton trails are really good … Ridgey-Didge is the name of Trail 6 and it is a beauty. I am definitely riding there again in September.
More relevant coverage from last Sunday:
And the ‘restless gorilla’ thing? That was how I felt two days later.