During taper week I left the MTB tyres on the bike & headed off-road for all my training sessions & aimed to ride some rocky terrain that I knew most of the track was littered with at the Armidale Sport UNE MTB Trails.
My support crew for the weekend was my family & with school & work not finishing till after 3pm of Friday afternoon I knew I was going to be arriving in Armidale just before dark to complete my pre race practice lap of the technical XCO course.
I competed in the State Champs at an earlier date but knew some harder parts added in for the National Champs were going to need riding beforehand to work out the fastest & safest way to negotiate.
I tried to take my mind of things by attempting to watch the live streaming dropping in & out with phone service of the XCE racing that was going on through the university campus as we drove to Armidale.
Driving through the mountains I didn't feel that well & was starting to become concerned about the following days racing & arriving at the UNE track just before sunset I was also becoming a bit stressed about being able to get in a full practice lap.
Quickly just changing a shirt & wearing my MTB shoes I jumped on the bike for a quick lap of the course. I was feeling OK but seemed to be struggling for breath a little on the climbs. Getting to see the Ducats Way rock garden for the first time was a little surprising as I attempted to ride it & found a bad line spitting me off the rocks & into the course marking tape. I had a quick look at this section on foot thinking that it would not pose to much of a problem during the race & continued to ride around to the next hard section as the light was fading & making it extremely hard to see. By the time I got around to ride Mars Attack I could barely see & decided to leave looking at this section & rode back to the car-park the shortest way possible before grabbing some takeaway dinner, heading to the caravan park & erecting our tent in the dark.
The hilly terrain of the university with all its paths & roads make it ideal for a race warm-up by using the short hills to get the heart rate up & recover by an easy pedal back down.
The weather forecast was expecting rain mid race so with my rear tyre not having grip I swapped it for the front & fitted a more aggressive tread tyre on the front with the anticipation that it would rain, giving me the advantage over the field of riders.
Called to the start line seeded in 6th position I was feeling confident that I would get a great start & hoped my fitness would keep me near the pointy end throughout the race.
As the gun went I found myself moving up in the field into 4th spot as we rode around the first turn. I was happy with my start & thought that maybe I was going to have a great race. Not long after I was struggling to breath on the first climb & being overtaken by a lot of riders & knew I was in for a world of hurt for the next four laps of racing around the 6.35 km lap circuit.
On the first technical climb I was struggling to get over step-ups that I rode with ease during the state champs & by the time I got to ride the Ducats Way rock garden I was exhausted. With concentration already lapsing I found it extremely hard to find my way through the rock garden safely & midway saved myself from going over the handlebars & continued the rest of the rocks running while dragging my bike to the bottom. At this stage I had been passed by many riders & got back on the bike to give chase down through the flow trail & back up through the pines to Mars Attack. Riding once again blind through the A line I ended off the bike loosing my nerve thinking about another guy that I was told broke his back here the day before.
Continuing on around the track I was not riding like I should be & was struggling to breath. I could hear the commentary as the first rider completed his first lap & I still had maybe 800m to go.
Completing my first lap I was praying for a miracle & wanting it to rain so the riders in front would slow down & not be able to hit the corners as fast in the wet. Also with me now running through the technical rock gardens like a gumby it would hopefully force them to do the same with the wet & slippery rocks.
As a level 1 MTB coach I was a little ashamed in not riding the rocks, but it showed just how hard the track was unless you had ridden it all before. If I was to prepare myself properly for the race I would have adjusted to suspension with more dampening so that I was not bouncing on the rocks & got my race line down pat through the rocks before race day.
2nd lap around I nailed the first climb taking it a little easier & lined myself up for the Ducats Way rock garden for another attempt, but once again I picked the wrong line & was forced to run through the rocks with the bike. Now annoyed with myself in loosing time every lap not knowing what line to take I decided that from now on I was going to run through the rock garden to save some time & maybe come back up to Armidale for a weekend & find a line that I could ride.
Continuing on my 2nd lap at Mars Attack with the way I was riding, I decided to take the b line around the rock drop off & see how much longer time it would add to my lap. Finding that it may have added only a couple of seconds & I was in no position for a podium finish I opted for the B line every lap from lap 2.
As the race went on during lap 3 the rain clouds were finally starting to roll in, but it was to late to take any race advantage I may have had from the other riders with them now will out in front.
Lap 4 it finally started to rain, but only enough to settle the dust as I kept my position in the field of riders finishing 9th in Masters 4 in a time of 1hr 31min. Maybe 10 - 15 minutes down on the time I was expecting to finish.