The Highland Fling is one of my favorite races in the MTB calendar year. It is a great way to finish off the main race season, and can usually be counted on to be a nice hot day in the office. But just not this year ...
Standing on the start line the Garmin was reading 5.5C, and the light rain began to fall. I'd just been on a little warm up rid to the farm, and there was no shortage of dark clouds looming. This was going to be one of those days.
With the Fling falling about 4 weeks after the Scott (or Wembo) 24hr, I opted to have another shot at the miler title this year. I'd done the miler in 2010 and took a 30 minute wrong turn detour, and then in 2011 both Jase English and I set cracking times, with a 2nd place for me. In 2012, I took on the 100km race as the Fling was part of the XCM series - that hurt. Post solo, you don't have your full top end back within 4 weeks - and trying to match the 100km elite race pace was really tough.
In having another shot at the miler, it was also a good chance to go another round against UK's Matt Page and of course Ed McDonald. With both Ed and Matt pulling out of the Wembo 24hr solo early, I was not sure how their legs would be matched against mine. Certainly, 4-6 weeks after a solo you have excellent chugger / diesel form. But little top end. What would these boys bring ...
|Matt, myself and Ed - solo chugger reunion|
Ed was already at the start line, eager as ever to get going. Matt rolled up with a nice little rain jacket on. I guess he has raced in the rain before ... A few sledges later about this is Australia and we don't wear rain jackets in 5C rain it was put sheepishly back into his jersey pocket.
The race started with Panther's "B Dog" going straight to the front and driving the pace. He says he was cold and was just trying to warm up, but I think he was secretly trying to smash us all :)
|Across the grassy paddocks of the first stage|
Either way, it was good having someone up the front driving the pace. After we hit the 2nd water crossing, the lead group already culled down to maybe 6 or 7 riders. Matt Page had not made the selection, and so it was just Ed, B-Dog, myself and some 100km riders.
As we raced through the undulating fireroad of the culled pine forest, I took a right hand corner and noticed a kangaroo out of the corner of my eye ... I hit the brakes just in time as the dumb roo bolted straight in front on me - almost brushing my front tire! #sketchy
I wanted to make sure Matt Page did not get back across, so I kept heading up the front and lifting the pace. As we hit the little hill just outside the xmas tree plantation, I'd had enough of hanging with the 100km riders - it was time to go. I punched it over the top when I heard Ed say "lets get out of here before anyone else gets over the top". It was like he read my mind ... #spooky ... so we hit the gas for the last kms into transition.
Under 56 minutes for this first section - not bad!
Ed and I hung out in transition for about 3.5 minutes, and were surprised to see two of the 100km guys head straight out. Especially in the 100km race, you really want to use up that full transition time so you have it up your sleeve in case it comes down to a sprint finish.
Ed and I caught them before the first of the damp Wingello singletrack. At the last minute I'd gone for the Conti Race Kings on the front - save a big of weight and rolling resistance over the X-Kings, but hitting the wet, slimy and loomy trails the Race Kings were all over the place. Luckily Ed too was on silly race tires, so it was a comical display of each of us trying to keep the bike going vaguely in the right direction!
The Wingello fireroads were a mixture of damp and wet, and I had a few "Tinker" moments of the old mud in the eye. Nothing like descending a fireroad at full speed with one eye closed ...
|A little damp in the forest|
Soon enough we came to the infamous "Wall" ... I was confident I would be able to muscle my 34T XX1 over the climb. As we rounded the left hander, I hit the brakes, clicked through the gears and hit the wall ready to climb. Whereas, Ed attacked it full on and tried to dump the gears a few pedal strokes in ... BANG!!
Ed's chain exploded and he found himself extremely intimate with his top tube and stem. I checked that he had a chain link, and his reply (a few octaves higher then normal) confirmed he did.
So now it was just me and the one 100km rider left. We worked out way through the remainder of the Wingello singletrack, and had a good chat. Turned out he is the brand manager for Magellan, so I got a one on one brief on all their new cool products and features. Sold!
He dropped off at the feed station, and from there it was a solo ride for me until around the 145km mark!
In my last miler attempt, I'd lost a drink bottle on this inner loop and suffered in the heat - having only one bottle in over 2 hrs. This year I was determined not to let that happen, so I mounted to fricken tightest cages I could find. They are a complete pain in the #$@* to get bottles in and out of - but bottles won't fall out. So, past the feed zone I confidently reached for my 2nd bottle ... empty. WTF? A rock has pierced the bottom of the bottle and there is just a big hole there. grrrrrrrrr Guess I'll just have to open my mouth and suck in the rain drops.
|Have I mentioned it was wet and slimy?|
Moving through the undulating climbs at the end of the inner loop it was not too bad. Most of the area's were protected from the rain and wind. But hitting the fireroad back to the transition it was nasty. Super strong head wind and horizontal freezing rain into the face. I was really wishing I had a Grant Johnston in front to draft off ...
Luckily for Ed, because he was a few minutes back he got in with some of the faster 100km riders, and was able to work with these guys across these open sections - #jealous
|It was a little cold for Robyn in transition|
The last 20km stage is just plain nasty. You know all the bad bits which are coming ... multiple creek crossings, pinchy singletrack climbs, grassy hill climbs and slow (crap) singletrack right at the end. And all you are thinking of is getting to the finish.
I was really feeling it now ... tired and cold. I kept looking back waiting to see Ed. It was on the first grassy climb I saw him ... ahhh crap, he looks fast. And we are still about 15km out.
He caught me up BrokeBack, and in typical Ed style stomped by. Dilemma time - do I let him go and keep chugging along, and be content with 2nd - or do I delve into the suitcase and fight for this. A quick gel to help the decision making process, and I was on it.
|Fight mode to get back onto Ed's wheel|
Ed has used a few matches showing off over the climb, so I was able to get back across to him and we came out of the singletrack together. We hit the fireroad, and I was very happy to sit in behind him - my first draft opportunity in over 100km!
He punched it up the "You choose" section, and got a little gap - but I was back on him as we got back onto the fireroad. It was about then I played the little mind game of saying to him "I bet you are wondering how long I spent in transition ...". I'd played this game before, and knew to take as much of the 5 minutes in transition as possible. I was betting that Ed had been impatient and had gone through early. So all I had to do was sit on him.
We hit the final pinch over the grass paddocks and Ed attacked, he looked around to see if he had got a gap ... nope .... there was a little disappointment in his eyes.
It must have been funny watching two baked riders trying to sprint ... slowest sprint ever!
We hit the final corner, he punched it and crossed the line a few seconds before me.
The waiting game begins ... it would not be until nearly 2 hours later that we found how the exact transition timings, and knew how we each placed.
|I'm just going to sit here for a while ...|
Overall, I'm stoked to take the miler win - especially in such tough conditions.
A big thanks to Robyn for being support crew today. In transition she was wearing every piece of clothing we had in the car plus a rug and was still cold. Not bad for a 9 month pregnant wife!
As this rounds out my main race year, a big thanks to all our Cannondale-Sugoi team sponsors;
- Cannondale Sports Unlimited - the F29er was flawless and the perfect bike for the Fling
- Sugoi - RS kit comfy in the most trying conditions
- SRAM - XX1 34T - not a single hint of chain suck or dropped chains!
- Avid - XX brakes brilliant in the wet - sintered pads lasted the wet conditions no problems
- Adidas Eyewear - kept the mud out of the eyes (once I remembered to put them on)
- The Cyclery - great support as always
- Enduro Bearings - after this race, some new ceramic bearers will be going in real soon
- Frameskin - keeping the rocks and gritty sand off the pretty frame