Sunday, March 27, 2011

Terra Australis - 7 day stage race through the Victorian Alps

Overall GC winners and Open Mens winners

Paired with Jason McAvoy (Onya Bike, Radical Lights)

11,000 vert m / 500 km / 7 days

When Mark Fenner suggested to Jase and I that we should race Terra Australis we really had no idea what we would be in for ...

Terra Australis is Australia's toughest mountain bike stage race. It may not be the longest stage race, in either time or distance, but the course is nothing short of brutal.

The course itself is a mixture of road, fireroad, double track, singletrack, bike path and cow paddocks. In transitioning from the alps high plains to the lower valleys the terrain is constantly changing. A well used fireroad can soon turn into a steep, rutted, debris covered goat track in no time at all.

The mechanical toll amongst the riders was very high - and in many ways this race is a race of attrition. Who can prepare their gear the best, and who can deal with on-track breakages. There was very few teams who got through the week without losing a derailleur, wheel, fork or many tires!

After the long 115km stage, much of it in the wet, the event mechanics were working on bikes until 2am and were back up at 6am to get the field up and running!

For the rest of this post, I'll write up a brief description of each stage and then go over our running gear, setup and food.

Stage 1 - Falls Creek to Mt Beauty - 65km, 1104 vert m gain

This stage is really a shortened version of the Alpine Assault 100km. Having completed this race earlier in the year, I knew what to expect - which was a huge advantage.

The race starts out with a medium paced climb up the Falls Creek access roads to the top of Mt McKay. Time can certainly be made on the bunch by getting off the front here, as the run down from the top back over the dam road can be quick and fast.

The race then enters rutted and rough double track for a climb over Mt Nelse. These rutts are big - think half your wheel in a 30 cm wide rutt!

Once over Mt Nelse, you are "rewarded" with 25km descent / 1300 vert m drop. This is some crazy sh!t. Overgrown double track, sticks, logs, holes, rocks, boulders and who knows what else litters this high speed descent. As with Alpine Assault, this part of the course is carnage on tires.  This is what UST tires are made for!

After a few little climbs, water crossings and more descending you eventually hit about 7km of fast road riding. Then it is into the Mt Beauty MTB park single track. Unlike Alpine Assault, we don't spend much time in here and the race is quickly over.

The key to this stage is surviving the descent with no mechanicals. If you can get to the front and be clear of other riders in the descent it would also be a big advantage.

Stage 2 - Falls Creek to Dinner Plain - 97km / 2264 vert m gain

(Forgot to turn on the Garmin for the first 10 km)

Having gained 6 minutes on the first stage, we were not too sure what to expect heading into this stage.

Our plan was to see how the other strong teams had pulled up and play it by feel.

As it turned out, we were off the front again pretty quickly.

The stage is on the road back from Falls Creek to Marum Point, and back around some old aqueduct trails. These are also part of the Alpine Assault course. It is very fast, and if you can work with other riders you can certainly make up a lot of time in this section.

It was shortly after that we all took a wrong turn, which ended up with some extra road miles and the bunch coming back together. We wisely waited for nearly 5 minutes for the bunch to catch up and all head off in the same direction.

After some more fast road miles, the track takes a sharp right hand turn up a very loose and steep track. Even with granny wheel spinning this is a walking track. The first of many hike-a-bike sections to come.

Once at the top, you are introduced to the first of many sketchy descents through the scrub. Lots of scratches, branches and trees down, bogs, rutts and debris littered this fast descent. Like the previous day, it is advantageous to be off the front so you can negotiate this at your own pace!

A nice river crossing awaits you at the bottom, and then you are kicked straight back into climbing mode through the farm land and back into the forest.

Once out of this forest is to down into another farm valley. The sign posting had been taken out by the local cattle, and we wasted another good 5+ minutes working out where the track went through the long grass.

This is one of the few places where it would have been a huge advantage to be behind the lead riders - as making a bee-line across these paddocks would save a heap of time.

The paddocks themselves were quite steep and slippery. Walking required, or a grinding in granny.

Once away from the paddocks and farm land it was back onto the road for a steep climb, and then back onto  fireroads.

This last 30km of fireroad and climbing was deceptive. It really took a lot out of the body. The mixture of grinding climbs, hike-a-bike and wet rocks meant the body was really working. Nearly everyone I talked too suffered in this 30km - cramps were very common.

Mentally, to get through this stage it was important to watch the terrain change. You slowly start to see the alpine snow gums appear, the granite rocks, and even where the cattle is. This helps you determine how close to town and how how into the mountains you are.

Finally, as you get higher into Dinner Plain it gets colder ... make sure you have warm clothes at the ready - especially for the finish line.

Stage 3 - Dinner Plain to Bright - 82km / 2179 vert m gain

The course profile does not do this stage justice. It is a lot harder then it looks!

We started in the misty-rain, with a easy road and dirt ride up to Mt Hotham. Nothing too steep, but certainly enough climbing to break up the bunch early.

A fast (and neutralized) road descent leads to a left hand turn towards Buckland Gap ... and this is where the hike-a-bike really begins!  Basically steep and rocky climbs of around 100 - 200 meters which can only be walked, followed by a matching steep and rocky descent. Repeat!!

We were unlucky enough for Jase to destroy his XTR derailleurearly on here. We lost around 10 - 15 minutes putting another one on (yes, we were each carrying a spare) and we did not get the cable tension quite right - resulting in him not having a full set of gears for the rest of the day. A bike mistake!

Once out of the rolling Buckland Gap section, there is a super fast fireroad descent down to Harrietville. We really pegged it down this descent to make up for lost time. This section was also a mechanical carnage waste land - derailleurs, crashes, tires and rims all suffered in this section.

It was then into a long climb over Mt Ebeneezer. Most of this climb could be done at a steady tempo. Middle ring climbing. We managed to catch back up to the lead riders of this stage on this climb, but Jase was really suffereing having pushed out a high gear for the day.

Once over the top of the mountain, there is a lot more hike-a-bike sections. Steep rocky fireroad which can only be walked ... maybe grannied if you are feeling super strong.

Eventually you are rewarded with a fast descent into Bright, and a sneak preview of the excellent single track the town has to offer.

Although we lost 50 seconds in the GC this day, we were happy to have made up the 10-15 mins we lost with the mechanical.  Proof that if you are racing Terra you need to have lots of spares with you to stay in contention.

Stage 4 - Bright Time Trial - 20km / 424 vert m gain

This stage was a great idea. A team time trial through the local single track and up over Huggins Lookout. 

The track was a good mixture of flowing single track and fireroad.  

Rain overnight and in the morning had made the course generally tacky, with only a few dodgy slippery sections. 

After the long kms the days before, it felt so good to just peg it for an hour and ride the trails.

The key to this stage is pushing it on the fireroads and on the climb. We came through 2nd on this stage, and could definitely have made up more time by pushing the climb some more. 

Stage 5 - Bright & Mt Buffalo - 115km / 2573 vert m gain

(Garmin ran out of juice in the last 15 km)

This is the Terra's "queen" stage. A big day out, with 1.5 ascents of Mt Buffalo.

This day was also the worst we had weather wise ... a day in the rain.

Although this stage has the most vertical meters, it was really not that bad. All the climbs where middle ring ascents, with only 2 or 3 sections which needed walking.

The rain had made the red clay soil quick sticky and soft. It often felt that you were being sucked backwards!

The day starts with a fireroad climb, and then a road climb. After the descents here it is more fireroad around Lake Buffalo and this leads into the big Mt Buffalo climb.

Again, this climb is really not that bad. Just spinning up in middle ring.

The descent off the otherside in the rain was sketchy - with Jase crashing and losing his seat. Yup, he got to ride the rails for 30km!

With all the rain and mud, the rear brake pads were shot so it was a fun descent.

Road then took us back into the Hancock Plantations. This had some unexpected climbs, but eventually you get to the top and it is a fast ride down through the Pine forest, onto the road and into town.

I think the key to this stage is getting off the front on the road climb up Buffalo - as much time can be made on this descent. Having time up for the big Buffalo climb is also an advantage - as you can be well out of sight of your following riders.

Stage 6 - Bright to Beechworth - 76km/ 1695 vert m gain

This day was all about tactics and knowing what was ahead. As a stage, it was quite simple. Big hill, long flat road, another hill.

The first hill of Mt Porepunkah seems long with a 16 km climb, but it it only 700 vert m. The gradient is consistent and can be ridden in the mid-range of the middle ring.

This is where time can be made up ... if your legs are fresh from the previous day you can definitely climb this fast.

Once down the otherside, a 30km road TT awaits ... if you want to do well at this stage you need to be in a strong group, or have a strong rider up the front. You would be better waiting for a group then going this section alone, as it is really long, flat and needs to be ridden fast.

Once back into the forest there are two very steep and long (over 1km) hike-a-bike sections. Toe spikes would be useful here, as the soft soil was hard to grip and walk up.

The remainder of the climbing in this section was rolling and gradual - which makes it easy to back off. To do well at this stage you need to stay on it through this section and push through to the finish.

Watch out for the hard left corners at the end of the day!

Stage 7 - Beechworth - 62km/ 992 vert m gain

The final stage! Singletrack awaits ...

This day links up three (3) main sections of single track. The links are mostly fast hard pack, and no that much of climbing.

A solid group stuck together until the first single track at the Beechworth MTB park. This single track is granite based and flowed very well. There were a few rock roll overs and rocky corners, but nothing really technical. We were certainly being paranoid about our tires through this section.

It seemed that this singletrack went on for a long time, with little km ticking over ... it was almost refreshing to be back on the open road.

The next single track was full of drops and little gullies. Beware if you are the lead rider through here, as the lines are hard to spot and there were a few places you could easily go over the bars.

Eventually, you end up in another single track park - riding the trails on the left side, and then coming back up and riding the trails on the other side. A few teams took some wrong turns in here and missed out a section. It was a little confusing having a section which you ride in both directions. But the single track was fun, and actually a little lose.

I think the key to this stage is just riding consistent. Don't do anything stupid in the single track and keep it solid on the roads / fireroad.

Food and Gear

Gear wise Jase and I each had the following with us;

* 2 x tubes
* 1 x derailleur hanger
* 1 x derailleur
* 1 x cable
* 2 litre camel back
* 1 x drink bottle
* 2 x co2
* 1 x multi-tool with chain breaker
* puncture repair kit
* hand pump

We also made a few tire boots out of an old tire in case we shredded a side wall.

I put on a new chain mid-week, and also switched over to some sintered brake pads for the wet.

All up for the week, between the pair of us we went though;

* 9 x tires (I ran 2.1 Schwalbe Rocket Ron UST, and Jase ran Maxis Larsen and Rendez)
* 4 x chains
* 7 x brake pad sets
* 1 x xtr derailleur* 1 x carbon seat
* 1 x sidi shoe buckle

Food wise I ran on Torq Energy, Torq Bars and Torq Gels.

The camel back + bottle was more then enough for even the longest stage. Perhaps if the weather had been hotter I would have needed a top up on the longer stages.  5 scoops of Torq energy in the camel back and 2 in the bottle.

Generally I had a gel every 30 - 45 minutes, and half a bar every 30 - 45 minutes.

Each morning we ate breakfast early (6am), and got in 1 or 2 no-doz tablets around 6 & 7 am. Then a caffeinated gel at the start line.  I tried not to use more then 4 caffeine gels per day, opting for the non-caffeine ones when I could.


A big thanks to Jase for riding this race with me ... I certainly pushed him a lot and he found it tough.

Thanks to Robyn and Kylie for letting us out for the week to do this race. I know it is tough to have us gone for a week - so a really big thank you!!

Thanks to the Bike Superstore for getting my Spark ready to go. It rode really well. The lockout was great transitioning from the flats to the bumps, and aside from a few chain drops it had no mechanical issues at all!!

This is one of the few races where I have really enjoyed having the longer travel XC bike!

Finally, thanks to Finishline Events and Russ Baker for putting on this event. A lot of hard work goes into these races and these guys did a fantastic job.

Maybe I'll see you there next year!

Russ Bakers photos.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Skills and Bike Fit with Hendo

Skills and bike fit

This week saw the final week of build before I enter a taper week leading into the 700km Terra Australis - 7 day stage race in the Victorian Alps.

So, with a little extra time on my hands I thought I'd so a few sessions to brush up on my MTB skills with local Australian rep XC rider Ben Henderson. Ben has coached for over 5 years and offers various services including skills coaching, race prep, nutrition advice and bike fit and setup etc.

Monday was at Stromlo, starting with basic cornering drills in the car park. The dirt cark park is a nice loose sketchy service, so getting the right weight distribution and angles is important.

We then spent time out on track, exploring lines and Ben analyzing my riding style.

All up, a 2 hr session was really good and I gained some great advice and homework from Ben!

Rather then do another on-bike session, I took Ben's advice to do a bike fit session with him and his Portuguese partner Alina (a qualified Physiotherapist).

A bike fit is something that has been on my list-to-do for a while, and I was happy to give Ben a shot.

The session started with Ali doodling lines on my back and knees, and having a poke and prod into my back and shoulders.  It was then onto the mtb bike on the trainer and some video analysis later, some poking a prodding whilst riding, and the consensus was to bring my seat down a little.

It was pretty clear in the video that my right leg was over-reaching and my left leg was weaker. It was also clear that my arse looks fat in those pants and I should lose another few kgs :)

Then it was onto seat level, horizontal position, cleat position etc Another small change, a 5 minute effort and more video later it was feeling good.

The biggest change to be made was to lose 20 mm from my stem - so new stems are ordering and I can't wait to try them out.

It was also clear I could probably go a medium frame in the Scott mountain bikes!

The roadie followed with again a seat drop and slight horizontal position change, a cleat position change and the need to drop 40mm from my stem!!

All up I think the fitting was beneficial and I look forward to the new stems arriving and trying them out.

Today was a fast and hilly 200km roadie and it felt good. Certainly no new soreness!

Tomorrow is a 100km mtb ride ...

So, if you want to brush up on some skills or get your bike setup improved drop Ben a line via his website -

But get in quick, before he heads overseas to race this years World Cup MTB circuit!