Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mt Buller AMC#1

photo by Tim Bardsley-Smith

In January, Mt Buller hosted the 1st round of the 2013 All Mountain Cup.  The 3 day stage race format was really designed to showcase the awesome trails at Buller and included an Eliminator, Olympic Cross Country and a Point to Point.

I qualified fastest in the Eliminator time trial, but was knocked out in the 2nd round of finals in what was a pretty physical and rough stage. I wasn’t too disappointed because my time losses were small and I could avoid any further risk and start to rest up for the next day.

The XCO was run on a new & improved course that started and finished in the village and went down Gang Gangs and back up and new single track climb. Chris Jongeward attacked early and Shaun and I were part of a chase group containing Sid Taberlay, Jack Haig, Adrian Jackson. On lap 3, Shaun and I found ourselves together in 3rd and 4th as Jack set off in pursuit of Chris and Sid and AJ faded slightly. Although totally unplanned, it was awesome to have the opportunity to ride side by side with my new team mate in our first race together. We really helped each other out and rode to each of our strengths, but despite the teamwork all we could do was limit our losses to around 2 minutes….still, it was a promising result for this point in my preparation with Shaun 3rd and me 5 seconds behind in 4th.

The XCP sent us out on one big loop to Mt Stirling and the amazing trailed called Stonefly. It was a pretty tough stage for my tired legs. I found myself in isolated in 3rd place, trying to chase Chris and Jack. As I climbed up Stirling I was really looking forward to the swoopy and flowy Stonefly that I had ridden and loved the last 2 years at Mt Buller. Unfortunately, being a year more rutted and overgrown the trail was quite different; far from the smooth and forgiving therapy I was longing for. It was still fun but just no good at all for recovery which made a hard stage even harder. In the end I finished with a smile on my face in 3rd and with a small time gap over Shaun it meant that I moved up to 3rd on the general classification.

All in all it was a great weekend of racing. I’m very happy with where my form was at considering I am still building up from quite a late break in in 2012, and having ridden neck and neck with Shaun in such a supportive and positive way on Saturday has me looking forward to the first marathon races even more. I can’t wait to attack the longer format as part of such a strong duo!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

< 2 days to go

The cliffs above Ornans

Loue river & Ornans town centre

I have had a fun week in Ornans so far.  The course is great and I can’t wait to race it on Sunday, plus it is such a nice village that I would not have known about had it not been for this race and now being on a taper, I have a bit more time to enjoy it.  The Village sits in the Loue valley, which features the beautifully clear river of the same name as well as dramatic limestone cliffs and some really nice old chateaux and buildings. I’ve been staying in in an old “moulin” (millhouse) on the river Loue, which as I recently discovered, came complete with a hidden trapdoor under the kitchen that accesses a ladder that goes down to and old turbine shaft that sits idle under the house.  

Hans discovering the secret trap door

I had an experience the other day that kind of sums up the way of life here. I was at the local epicerie (corner store), chatting to the owner (who incidentally knew where I was staying and what country my hire car was registered in) and I asked if he had any fresh milk. When he said no, I asked why not, and he preceded to explain that they just go directly to the local dairy farm to buy it and he then gave me directions out of town and down a dirt track to a little farm house where I could take an empty container to get filled with milk. At first I thought he was taking the piss out of a gullible tourist, but not having anything better to do I thought I’d try and find it. Sure enough, I found the “laiterie” and the friendly farmer filled my container with 1 litre of fresh, warm, unpasteurised milk, straight out of the udder….all for the bargain price of 60 cents!

Monsieur le fermier
The "laiterie"

Anyway, I didn’t come here to drink milk. The race is now less than 2 days away so needless to say, I have been giving it a bit of thought. The weather and track conditions have been the talk of the town, and despite 24hrs of rain yesterday, the final days leading up to the race are forecast to be dry.  However around here, at this time of year, things don’t dry very quickly so I am still going into the race knowing it will be a very slippery and tough day.  I have a few things that I will do to help me and my bike cope with the conditions that I thought I would share with you:
       - Tyres: I will race on 29 x 2.0” Maxxis Beaver tyres. These are a kind of semi-mud tyre that have a deeper tread without being as slow as a full mud tyre (e.g., a Medusa) which are spaced out enough to allow the mud a better chance of clearing.  Being 2.0” wide, compared to the 2.2” I usually prefer to run (at home), will give me more clearance between the tyre and my frame to reduce the clogging of mud, particularly around the bottom bracket. The narrower width comes at a cost of tyre pressure or risk of flatting; I have been running as low as 20psi (much lower than at home) this week to help let the tyres deform and grip to the slippery roots, but with the 2.0 I will have to up that a little to minimise the risk of bottoming out the rim on a rock or root.

Tyre choice

      - Studs: There are a number of hike-a-bike sections up steep and greasy climbs. Normally grip in MTB shoes isn’t a huge concern for the infrequent nature of the dismounts, but I have literally been struggling to walk up these climbs and after a bit of traffic this will only get worse. When I was packing for this trip I actually couldn’t find a set of studs in my garage so I reluctantly left home without them. Then during my first ride on the course I realised I would them need some….typical!  Annoyed at having to buy something I already have, I went into the bike shop and I explained in French (not knowing the word for studs) that I wanted the little things that go into the bottom of your shoes to help you avoid slipping, and the mechanic replied: “Vous avez besoins des Crampons?”  Then when he pulled them out I understood why the French word for stud is crampon, they were the gnarliest spikes I have ever seen.  He then smiled and said something like: “Vous pouvez grimper les mures avec ca” (you could climb walls with these things). Quality!

Les crampons....oui!

      - Extra water: Keeping the bike rolling and the vision clear is super important in muddy conditions. I will ask my feeder to pass up extra bidons of plain water that I can use to hose my drivetrain in an attempt to remove any accumulating mud before it becomes a problem. I will also use it to squirt my glasses to clean any mud off; I find it best to never try to clean or remove my glasses during a race, Adidas eyewear is anti-fog and spraying them with water is enough to remove any mud or sweat and restore good vision.

      - No mud guards: I don’t mind using a mud guard for really wet races but assuming it is not actually raining on Sunday, the mud will be very claggy so I will sacrifice a bit of spatter on the eyewear in return for the lower weight and better reliability of a bike that isn’t caked with mud and grass matted together. 

      - Fresh drivetrain: It seems a waste to put on a new drivetrain for a muddy race but for the best reliability I have put a new chain, chain rings, cassette, bottom bracket and brake pads for race day.  Having had to travel light I needed to sweet talk that local bike shop into letting me use their workshop.  I was there for a couple of hours and was chatting to the owner for ages. We eventually worked out that we raced each other as juniors in the World Cup finals in Annecy back in 1997. We both started laughing, which was broken only by us asking in unison: “what did you get?!?!” Turns out he was 19th and I was 25th…..small world.

Other than that, I am expecting this to be a very hard and potentially long race. Should be good.


Chateau Cleron on the Loue
The view from my balcony

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

From Chamonix to Annecy & then Ornans - 5 days to go!

After arriving in Chamonix full of excitement and with an eagerness to ride everything on the first day, I tried to settle down and focus on the job at hand. The first priority was to rid the legs and body of the fatigue inflicted by 30hrs of travel and the 8hr time difference. This meant trying to be patient, sleep well and take things a bit easy on the bike. It was also an excuse to do some touristy things like visit the Mer de Glace and sip coffees while looking up at the Aiguille du Midi and the Mont Blanc, but I knew all along that it was the calm before the storm because I wanted to do a big day on Friday, which I was actually starting to get a bit nervous about.

Col de Montets above Argentiere

Brew stop in Argentiere

Friday dawned and it was time to test how well I had recovered.  I wanted to do a big ride, to in some way, simulate the kind of punishment that I would put myself through during a marathon. The plan was to do 5 hours pretty solid with the last hour as hard as I could.  I started off by climbing up the valley along the Petit Balcon Sud to Argentiere, before doing a U-turn to follow the same trail all the way down the valley past Chamonix to Les Houches. I had heard good things about this trail and it didn’t disappoint! For the most part it is benched into the hillside, but there are still some steep ups and downs as it winds its way down the valley. There are no shortage of slippery polished rocks and teflon roots that are so typical of European mountain biking, as well as some super exposed sections that had me questioning the consequence of a fall as well as my choice not to dismount. By the time I got to Les Houches a couple of hours in to the ride, I was having so much fun that it seemed that any trepidation of how hard this ride was going to be was unwarranted. Plus the weather was the clearest I had seen on this trip and the constant views of the needle-like peaks in the soft Autumn sun across the valley were another welcome distraction. After crossing the valley things started to get tough with quite few long steep climbs. I gradually made my way back to Chamonix and then picked up the Petit Balcon Nord trail for another ascent of the valley and my final hour. I was happy with how I was feeling and motivated to empty the tank by imagining that every climb was the last, as I made my way up to Le Tour before turning again for the return to Chamonix. An awesome ride: 83km covered, 2600m of ascension and 5h15m in the bank.
Typical Chamonix skyline

Mer de Glace

In the grotto at the Mer de Glace

Les Drus
Content with a solid ride and some good sensations, I now had a fun weekend to look forward with a visit from my good mate Matty Z who flew over from London.  We spent Saturday trail riding around Chamonix with my newly found trail knowledge valuable in being able to put together a 2.5hr single track loop.  Matty & I had shared many ski mountaineering trips in this very mountain range and it was great fun to explore it together on mountain bikes.  We then said goodbye to Seth & Jaymie (who had lodged me all week) and made the short drive to Annecy (possibly the most beautiful town in the world – I’m not being funny; if you have been there you know what I mean) to visit another friend Yohann. Annecy is the first place I ever went to outside Australia when I raced the finals of the MTB world cup in 1997 (as a junior); it always feels pretty special to be back. Unfortunately Sunday was rainy, so instead of riding the trails on Le Semnoz (where that WC was held), we decided to do a tour of the lake on the road. It was still nice but I was quite cold and wet towards the end; this was good news for Alberto Contador though, because it meant that his time for the Lac d’Annecy ITT from the 2010 Tour de France still has the record on Strava.  Luckily the weather cleared up for a touristy afternoon which included a visit to the Gorge du Fier (a 30m slot cut through the rock with a boardwalk cantilevered off the side) followed by a leisurely walk around the old town of Annecy which included a meal of moule mariniere overlooking the canal.

Jaymie, Seth and I with the Bosson Galcier in the back

Matty at the Chateau de Montrottier

La vielle ville, Annecy
That evening I received the bad news that Chris Jongewaard had crashed in China and broken some ribs, which meant that he wouldn’t be able to come to Ornans for Marathon Worlds. What a bummer, I hope you heal quickly mate. In a second curious bit of news, a French friend who had looked up the start list for the Marathon Champs informed me that she could not find my name, or any mention of any Australians for that matter! Hmmm? That could be a bit of a show-stopper, so I wrote a quick email to MTBA to hopefully get it sorted out.

On Monday morning dropped Matty at Geneva airport and continued on to Ornans. I got pretty excited when I passed through Metabief as I remember seeing video of Nico Voulliez shredding that place in a World Cup (or champs maybe?) back in the day. Ornans is a small town in the Loue valley in the department of Doubs in the France Comte region.  It is really pretty with a typical French charm, a beautiful river (the Loue) and dramatic cliffs overlooking the town. I found my accommodation for the week which was an old Moulin (mill house), which sits right in the river Loue and used to use its power to turn the old mill but has since been converted into a guesthouse. 
Crossing the Loue on the Worlds course
In the afternoon I headed out for my first reconnaissance on the Worlds course. I rode the first 20km and it was a bit of an eye opener. The opening 5km is pretty flat but fairly narrow and a bit slippery in places. I found myself thinking about the reality of starting from the back (thanks to not having any UCI marathon points)…..this will be hard!  The course then headed up for a solid climb and wound its way up to the top of one of the limestone cliffs before a super steep, muddy and slippery descent that lost all the height I’d gained in a matter of minutes. The weather wasn’t even been that bad, yet it was super muddy and caked my bike in gunk. It might be a job for the 29x2.0” Maxxis Beavers, also some studs in the shoes and an extra bidon of water in the feedzone to clean the drivetrain….ahhh Europe! :)

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m off to ride some more of the course.