Getting to races
Albury is inland on the Victoria/NSW border & seems to have a large cycling community with all the cycle-ways in the area as well as some great mountain biking. Even the cycle shop "Cycle Station" in the middle of town is huge with over 1500 bikes on the floor.
It was either a 9 hour drive or a few hours connecting flight via Sydney. So I booked flights & organised to stay in Albury with a friend that I grew up with in Cootamundra & had not seen for years. Unfortunately Brett, his wife Trish & there kids had to travel to Cootamundra with a family emergency days before our departure & this meant I would not have the opportunity to catch up with him & his family & that also made travelling with a bike in a box & a bag full of gear a little more interesting.
I flew to Sydney from Port Macquarie & then Sydney to Albury on the way down before catching a Taxi to Brett's house where I assembled my bike & headed out to the local track at Nail Can Hill to look at the track before dark & racing the next day. It was only 10 km to the track from Brett's & the weather was sunny, so I grabbed some arm warmers & short sleeve thermal top just encase cooled down toward the evening.
It took me just under half an hour to ride to Nail Can Hill & when I arrived I was told a lap would take me just under an hour & I will be coming back in the dark.
They where right. I ended up riding the last few km of the race loop that was just over 12 km in near complete darkness, trying to save my emergency to be seen light for the trip back through town where I was going to try and meet up with Jason English while he did a talk at the bike shop. The temperature was dropping fast & I had no idea on where I was other than following my Garmin Edge 1000 GPS directions through the back streets of Albury to the shop, where I arrived at 6pm in the freezing temperatures. There was no body at the shop other than the staff & my mobile was showing only 3% battery so I could not make a call. I wasn't hanging around in the cold, so I decided to head back to Brett's warm house heater. Once again relying on the GPS to find my way I could not feel my fingers of toes from the cold & rode most of the way with my light on flash mode to save battery while folding my hands to try & keep warm. Eventually I made it back & met up with Jason English, Ian Buttler & Jason Moxham a short time latter before heading to dinner where I was still trying to thaw out.
A test of the legs
On the start line I managed to get near the front line where I was greeted by Jason Archer who I had not raced against since the 2013 World 24 hr in Canberra where he passed me on the last lap to take 3rd place. Because Albury is on the border of NSW & Victoria the race also incorporated the Victorian Enduro Series where Jason Archer had been competing.
On the first climb I had already started to get left behind as I watched other riders grind big gears up the hill while I opted to try & spin more than grind my way up the hill in an attempt to save my legs for the final hours of the six hour race. Because of the hard climbing start to the race there was not to many riders in the front of the field that were not meant to be there & it made the progress in the single track smooth & flowy with no riders slowing down the pace. Toward the top of the second lap climb I managed to catch David Speering who is sitting in 3rd place behind me in the series points but was watching Jason Morgan who is positioned first in the series slowly moving away as I looked up the steep fire road climb.
The first few hours went by quickly & I was still feeling strong in the legs although I think I was loosing a lot of fluid through a runny nose from the cold weather in Albury & I had to keep reminding myself to keep drinking or other wise I would risk cramping on the steep climbs latter in the race.
The down hill part of the track was so much fun that I forgot about the exhaustion of the uphill sections & with a few hours of riding I had all my race lines dialed at high speeds praying that I did not have a blowout over the sharp rocks that would have ended with broken bones for sure.
Just past the half way at 4 hrs my legs were still feeling great & my nutrition plan was on track but my fitness was starting to take toll from the tough climbs that kept my heart rate high & now had me just under 2000 vm of climbing. The first of the leaders lapped me & then English at around 4 hours 15 min. It was now or never if I was to catch Jason Morgan or Jason Archer but I did not have enough will power to push any harder & was hoping to see either of them tiring in front of me to give me the motivation to chase them down, but in the mean time the plan was to keep pacing myself as I was expecting to get tired legs some time soon with all the climbing. The race was a hard balance knowing you could push yourself a little harder than normal on the climbs because there was the second half of the track to recover, but there was also something in the back of my mind that was telling me if I push to hard then my legs may start to cramp.
The last few hours of the race felt like the track was deserted with all the riders pulling out early & I had to find motivation to keep chasing, I was also not sure on what position I was riding.
I rolled around the last lap feeling to fresh in the legs for a six hour race & was having so much fun that it was a little sad that it was all over.
As soon as I finished I started packing my bike into a box for the flight that was to leave in around 2 hours time.
I managed to finish in 3rd behind Jason Morgan in 2nd & Jason Archer in 1st in my category.
The overall placings were 1st Brendon Johnston, 2nd Tobias Lestrell, 3rd Jason English in the males.
1st Brooke Rowlands, 2nd Liz Smith, 3rd Kate Penglase in the Females.
After round 4 with only 3 rounds to go I am still sitting in second place in the series points.
The trip home consisted of a triathlon with a plane to Sydney, a train to Newcastle & a car to Port Macquarie other wise I would have had to stay in Sydney overnight for a connecting flight back home.
All made possible with help
Thanks team Mac Designs for passing bottles & food in the feed zone all day long, as well as carting me & my gear around in Albury.
A huge thanks to Brett & Trish for letting us stay in there house while they were not around, it was great to catch up for a short visit at the airport before leaving for home & I look forward to catching up again soon.
Thanks Graham Seers Cyclery for helping me out with a box to travel with my bike & keeping my bike running smoothly on such a brutal course.
Thanks Jason Morgan from Shimano for giving me & my bike a lift to the airport.
Thanks Jenny English & family for the lift back home & the hospitality overnight in Newcastle.