The Croc takes it’s last mouthful (Crocodile Trophy Wrap-up)

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One of my brother’s many sculptures. He called this one something like… “Crocodile Consumes the Diesel in the Croc Trophy 2017” – Timbo had a point.

What a bunch of different emotions I have felt throughout this past demanding week. The Crocodile Trophy has been the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done in my life. The only things that have come even remotely close are a couple of treks Karen and I have done where the physical demands of the experience combine with the mental and logistical demands of our situations and goals.

I remember a time when Karen and I were bush-walking well inside the most remote area of Victoria around the top end of the Wonangatta Valley. We were navigating off track, it was pouring rain and we knew that we had at least three full days of walking to get out to our car. That was around 1996.

On New Year’s Eve in 1997, we trekked from Jomsom to Muktinath at the foot of the Thorong La Mountain Pass in Mustang, Nepal. What is a well-trodden track in most circumstances, was covered in deep snow and it was technically very dangerous. We arrived in Muktinath late in the evening thanking God we had made it through, and I spent the whole night worrying about how we were going to make it out the next day without the correct gear (snow-shoes and/or crampons). The next morning we did in-fact experience snow-slips and land-slides on our descent.

The combination of demands during these past experiences came somewhat close to the those required to get through this past week in the iconic 8 stage mountain bike race. It may seem silly that I talk of emotions… it’s just a bike race isn’t it? I think those who have attempted such challenges themselves will understand why I make such a point of it. The effort required both physically and mentally, draws on every element of your being so that in order to complete your goals, you can’t help experiencing all of the feelings and emotions that go along with it.

Goal setting and sacrificing

“When it’s no longer possible to complete all of your goals, you sacrifice lower priority goals in order to perform and fulfill higher priority goals.” – Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, Miracle on the Hudson.

(I happened to be reading this book throughout the week and took comfort from Sully’s words. He was talking of things a little more significant than a mountain bike race – like saving 150 lives versus a relatively insignificant 60 million dollar airplane but hey… it was presently relevant to me.)

It’s extremely hard to set realistic goals for a race such as this. I found that task hard on the Port to Port earlier this year where you have no idea of the standard of rider competing. As that turned out, my position of third with a podium finish overall was what resulted from me doing my very best.

The Croc has been my ‘A’-race for the year so I wanted to do well – my very best. Again, I had no idea of the competition the race would provide. I knew Gary James (AUS-Canberra) would be there and he’s won the last three; I was confident I would bring him good competition and reasonably confident I could beat him but the rest was completely unknown.

Goal – Hmmmmm… not really sure what I can do (that’s hardly S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely!)

Stage 1 at Smithfield Mountain Bike Park provided me with an early opportunity to use my strengths and find out a little about my opposition. A technical single-track stage of 35 kilometers without a lot of climbing was perfect for me and I had prepared well. Had I not snapped my chain on the steep switch-back climb of the third lap, I’m certain I would have walked away the winner of the stage – my lap times were consistently the fastest to the end. That was my first emotional challenge of The Croc; get over it and move on.

Goal – okay… to win (getting S.M.A.R.T.er)!

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Yes absolutely… I was thinking that boomerang could have been mine but for the weak link.

Stage 2 to Lake Tinaroo smacked me in the face again when a sharp rock pierced my rear tire on the first steep climb and that puncture continued to cause me problems right to the finish line. The issue cost me many minutes but more importantly, the huge amount of climbing on this stage (2100m) and the next day on Stage 3 (3000m), exposed the real competitors in the category. Three mountain-goats came to the fore; Michael (AUS-Tas), Graeme (NZ) and Peter (Austria). My God… these blokes could climb and climbing fast in stage races mean huge gains in General Classification time. This is where my first goal flexibility came in to play… ‘Okay, maybe a win is going to be hard. A podium is still a possibility but let’s just see where my best effort can get me.’

Goal – best effort.

Stages 4 and 5 offered flatter terrain which played much more to my strengths. I enjoyed riding many of these kilometers with another main contender in the category, Jean Luc (Belgium). He was not quite the mountain goat but was all muscle and he ground away outback kilometers for miles on the front of our bunch as we took hot turns on dusty corrugated roads.

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I was happy to get to the end of Stage 5 and find myself three minutes off third position with Jean Luc just holding that last step on the pod (Pete and Michael held the top two positions). Going into Stage 6, I felt I really had a chance at the overall podium with more grinding kilometers to come in Stage 7, less climbing and a Stage 8 time-trial which suited me well for the final stage.

Goal – back to the podium again… why not I say?!

I pause with the progression of this story to give you some context around how bloody hard this thing was; stages 3 to 6 were four days in excess of 100 kilometers each (specifically – Stage 3/100km, 4/122km, 5/125km, 6/102km). For many weeks leading into the race I had been dreading these four days in a row and was trying to prepare my mind for the pain of many grinding kilometers on the mountain bike.

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This is an example – my Garmin file of Stage 5 – 125 kilometres

You now have some idea of how everyone felt going into Stage 6; hot day, tired legs, 102km with over 1000 meters of climbing.

It started like a frantic road race (only on dirt!). It was a big bunch and everyone wanted to be near the front to take advantage when attacks started to go down. Touchy brakes, high heart-rates, loud tyres, nervous tension. The race strung out pretty quickly and after a few kays Rod and I were happy to find ourselves settled into the fastest bunch a short distance behind the main break containing Erick Dekker (NED-former pro) and a couple of other elite riders. Phew… now to settle and consolidate.

The benefits of this bunch were tremendous for me. All four of my main rivals were there; Michael (AUS), Peter (Belgium), Graeme (NZ) and Jean-Luc (Belgium). All I needed to do now was stay with them for as long as I could, particularly Jean-Luc who was holding third position overall and was clearly my best target to take opportunities to immediately improve my standing. We settled into a nice pace-line a couple of times but the consistency was absent.

At the 23 kay mark, a rider directly in front of me touched a wheel and went down. Before I knew it there was a mountain bike and rider high-siding then sliding directly in front of me. I could not avoid it and rode straight up onto his rear wheel, cassette and derailleur before riding up and over his left thigh as he groaned with pain beneath me. I ended up completely off my bike sliding along the road but managed not to go down to skin on bitumen myself. A commissaire attended to the accident and Rod and I (he had been on my wheel – that is, right behind me) put in our best effort to get back onto the bunch. We managed it but soon after I realised I had double-flatted (front and rear), smashed a bottle cage, lost a bottle and caused some kind of damage to my rear derailleur. I pulled over to fix things, the bunch was gone and there went any chance I had of a good finish and a General Classification (GC) podium.

Here lay my most significant emotional challenge for the race. I rolled (or clattered) into the first feed-station and further inflated my front wheel which wasn’t sealing properly. By the time I got to the second feed-station I had mentally pulled the pin on the race. If John our support had been there with my car, I would likely have thrown my bike straight up onto the rack never to roll a pedal in the Croc Trophy again.

For better or worse, John couldn’t make it that deep into the bush and I rolled on… just rolled… slowly, not even steadily. I was mentally checked out and exhausted until I snapped it all back together again at the third feed-station and came up with a new goal and a brand-new focus. I had to literally shake my head and yell at myself repeatedly to snap myself out of my miserable pathetic attitude in order to re-focus.

Focus – accept the destruction of my GC time and ignore overall position from now – soft pedal for the remainder of today – ride Stage 7 tomorrow as much like a rest-day as I could – smash out Stage 8 as strong as I can.
Goal – win Stage 8.

Job done. The end (but read my little epilogue).

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Stage 8 win – 30km individual time-trial – finishing with 4km along Port Douglas 4 Mile Beach

Epilogue

There were a couple of other important things which occurred through this week-long journey which I can’t ignore. Three of us set out to do this thing, not together but together – if you know what I mean.

Good friends don’t let you do stupid things alone so the three of us decided to do this stupid thing together. Rod and Mick were there for me, Mick and I were there for Rod and Rod and I were there for Mick. John was there for all of us.

My dramas of Stage 5 paled into insignificance when I crossed the line to find that Rod had crashed a few kay before the finish line. We spent the next half hour first-aiding and getting him off to Mareeba Hospital from where he was later discharged looking like a dressed up crash-test dummy. His current prognosis four days after is bark off, a bit of a sore knee and a more seriously sore shoulder. As I type, he is off at the doctor then the specialist on the Sunshine Coast to ensure his shoulder is not going to present more permanent problems. Rod couldn’t ride Stages 7 and 8 and has “unfinished business” he says – clearly our #copsatthecroc page will need to exist for another year.

Mick rode his typical consistent race every stage; no issues, no complaints… just sure and steady to firm up good mid-field positions in every stage and overall every day. My circumstances also provided a highlight for me in that they gave me the opportunity to ride nearly the whole of Stage 7 with Mick. It was lovely to bitch, moan and celebrate through the varying terrain of the stage together as we wound our way through the 78 kilometers of the Mareeba district and Wetherby Station.

Will we be back? Hmmmm… hard question. Rod will apparently – and he might need a little help and a mate or two to do stupid things with him.

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And all of a sudden, there are 11 days to go!

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I knew it would come quickly but even when you think you’re ready for it, a day like 16 September manages to sneak up on you very quickly.  It’s only 11 days ’til the kick-off of the Crocodile Trophy with Stage 1 running laps of the Smithfield Mountain Bike Park just north of Cairns. At only 33 kilometres it will be an intense race and everyone will be super-hyped and elbows out. Nearly all this stage is single track so gaining a good position will be a priority… FOR EVERYONE. My heart rate is increasing just thinking and writing about it.

I’m so ready for it now; as are Rod and Mick. We’ve been thinking about it for so long that we just want to get it done.

The last couple of weeks have been busy gaining further support and planning the big road-trip as well as the race. All three of us have Queensland holidays planned straight after the finish so that has all had to come into the planning as well. Lots to think about and lots to take!

Since I last updated here, Rod has been lucky to sign up a good sponsor partnership with Giant Brunswick East. He collected his 2018 XTC Advanced 29er hard-tail last week; it’s the top of the range Giant hard-tail and fast. Really fast. It’s the perfect bike for Rod to be riding in this race and he’s a lucky man to have Trav’s support and this new rocket-ship.

Maxxis tyres have come on board to supply us with a full compliment of tyres for the race. We’ll be riding on a mix of Ardent Race, Crossmark II and Ikons depending on our preferences and conditions. They have also supplied us with a heap of Rock ‘N’ Roll Gold Lube and Orange Seal Endurance Tyre Sealant.

We are lucky ducks.

Meanwhile, my little final-check service visit to the bike shop resulted in the identification of… shall I say?… a number of issues.  So 11 days out from the race (and 4 days out from the Bendigo 6hr this Saturday) my bike is still in a gazillion bits at Cycle Works Box Hill just waiting for Dan, Vlad and Jazz to work their magic. I started off a little stressed about this – to say the least – but I now feel very comfortable that they will have it running like new by end of tomorrow. Phew.

11 days to Croc (or “11 DTC” as is my Strava nomenclature)… my God – it’ll be with us in a flash.

Please follow and share our Cops at the Croc Facebook page where we’ll post daily updates of our travels and racing. We’ll need the encouragement to be sure.

Journey to the Croc – motivation and support

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Concentrating on Stage 3 of the Port to Port

I thought tonight was a good time for me to reflect and update on my Journey to the Croc.  As is usually the case with such things, I all of a sudden find myself with only 32 days to go and I know it’s going to be upon me before I realise.

 The prompt for my current reflection came from my reluctance to get on the bike today. Since the start of my training for this beast, today was the hardest day yet to find motivation to ride. I ditched my early morning plans (6am-er Hurtbox) with a view to jumping on an ergo tonight. I got home from work and nearly ditched the ergo plans in a cloud of can’t-be-bothered-ness.

Also as is often the case with such things, I finally forced myself onto the bike and had quite a good session, feeling strong and motivated to go hard despite being in the garage. Such is the power of the mind… and it’s often a tricky guide.

945784_369298276532183_1442552579_nFrom the physical and training perspective, I couldn’t be happier with my journey so far. I commenced training with Adz (of Hero Dirt Coaching) on 1st February and what a very good decision that was! My improvement since then has amazed me as Adz has taught me to make every session count, to treat my recovery as a good training session, to learn what it feels like to hurt and to visualise achieving my goals. The accountability has also helped me trim down a little and it gets me on the bike on nights such as tonight when I’m feeling flat.

The things that keep me awake at night have not been related to the racing but the logistics of this big race. What do we need to take? Do we have enough spares? Have I prepared the car and the bike as needed? What support do we need and have we got it sorted? What can I do about more support?

I’m keen to give a shout-out to those who have signed up to help us so far:

  • Cycle Works Box Hill – My main support over many years and the best LBS going around. If you’re in the east of Melbourne and looking for good service and advice, do yourself a favour and get in there.
  • Enduro Magazine – Travel edition out soon with my story on the Port 2 Port and a feature Croc story to appear later in the year.
  • Crocodile Trophy – Partnered with Enduro Magazine with daily social media updates from us throughout the race and a feature article in Enduro later in the year.
  • Curve Cycling – seriously fast mountain bike wheels… these ones specifically are on my bike and just looking at them makes me go faster, although I try not to look at them whilst going fast (no more helicopters for me!).
  • And I can’t forget JOHN (he doesn’t have a website I can link).  Rod’s father-in-law who will be coming with us, driving my car from stage-to-stage and generally keeping us comfortable and healthy with everything we need to keep us rolling.

More to follow on the detail of our sponsors and supporters.  Oh my God, the logistics.  Bring on this beast of a race.

Port to Port – Stage 4 review

When I sit and think about stage 4 two days on (because I’ve been too tired to write anything before now), my thoughts are nearly all positive.  I just watched this little vid again to reminisce on the course and the day – it’s worth a quick one minute watch if you have time. The feat of organising such a day is pretty bloody phenomenal because when I first looked at the route for this stage, I wondered how the organisers could have a course which apparently went through of golf course, a few public parks, a large amount of Newcastle suburbery and across a beach… then still call it the crazy single-track stage.

Well kudo to them because they did it in style.  Here’s the course; Blacksmiths to Merewether Beach; two hours, six minutes with an average speed of 18.5kph.


It was a really fun and enjoyable stage of racing and all-the-more pleasing to finish since it was the fourth stage in a four stage race. I can’t say all of my feelings have been positive though. From the early stages of the race, most noticibly in the single-track where quick gear changes were required with consequent high wattage applications on the drive-train, I noticed immediate problems with my shifting. It was then that I was reminded that I needed to tweek the shifting after the previous days racing, having had a couple of little issues then.

This was a lesson for me in stage racing preparation because I simply forgot about it and didn’t address a fairly significant mechanical issue. My shifting became worse and worse and resulted in a number of chain drops in the first half, with the chain stuck between spokes and gears and cut and bleeding fingers. What a serious duffer. Substantial positive thinking was required in the stress of it all.

As I emerged from the first long section of single-track to the beach, following a rider who was holding me up slightly on a technical downhill section, I realised it was the one man I’d been looking for and not seen for four days. It was Tim O’Leary, the number 2 in category, always just a few minutes ahead of me. Prior to this I had completely abandoned any chance of catching him or the number 1; they were just too far ahead of me. But it appeared that was on the big climbs not the single… so I got a little excited.

Then we hit the beach.  As it happens, riding on soft sand (and it was REALLY soft) is not too flash when you and your bike weigh in excess of 110kg. The next 500 metres of riding was something I’d prefer not to think about… I actually think racing across that beach was someone’s idea of a really bad joke. It was seriously horrible. Yes I know… everyone has to deal with the same thing – it’s hard for everyone – it’s part of the race – suck it up and enjoy… but no. I don’t want to. It was absolutely fucking horrible and I never want to do it again.  😉

Here’s Rohin Adams (and others) on the beach showing us how it should be done. These photos by the Flow boys.

Tim disappeared in front of me on the beach on foot and I never saw him again. As it turns out, he and Pete O’Sullivan who came first, beat me by four minutes on this stage and without my mechanical issues (which effected my shifting technique for the whole ride) I reckon I could have given them both a decent nudge in the stage placings. However, mechanicals and beaches are a part of racing and you need to be able to deal with it all in a positive mental and physical fashion in order to win. It was really good practice for me.

The next section of single-track through the Glenrock Park was really beautiful. If you watch that video, it’s the stuff with the gorgeous ocean views on the side of the cliffs. The run down into Merewether to the finish was so SOOOOOOOOooooo relieving. There ended four days of really hard and mostly good fun racing.

I was pleased to come in third for the fourth day in a row in a strong field of 96. That confirmed my third place in the general classification and awarded me with this position on a big-race podium.


This result is close to, if not my best race result ever considering the prestige of the race and the standard of the field. I went in hoping for a position in the top ten and couldn’t be happier achieving what I did.

I learnt many lessons with regard to how hard I can push myself, how much I need to prepare, how to recover and how important it is to concentrate on every detail of body and bike.

I’m really looking forward to continued improvement throughout the rest of this year with the help of my coach Adam Kelsall (#herodirtcoaching) and the boys at Cycle Works Box Hill (#cycleworks), both of whom have been such important links in the chain so far. That bloody chain!

Thanks Adz and Vlad.

Now onwards to more prep, some serious starvation (so I can look like these blokes!), and the journey to the Crocodile Trophy.

Port to Port is a mountain bike race. Hooray Stage 3

They say stage 3 of the Port to Port Mountain Bike race is the Queen Stage (i.e. the hardest, most demanding and most prestigious stage of a stage race).

Yep… it was.

It was also reallly REALLY good fun and my faith in this race as a mountain bike race rather than a road race on mountain bikes has returned. I didn’t share my race report from yesterday widely because it was a little negative and I don’t like being too gloomy. You can read it here if you so desire. I wasn’t very complimentary on the course.

Today was awesome, starting with this little warm-up ride as the sun rose across the gorgeous Hunter Valley.


And cold.  Despite a really thorough warm-up of 15 kays over 40 minutes, I was still shivering uncontrollably on the start line. Due to the numbers on this race (hundreds), you need to be sitting on the start line a good 20 minutes before start in order to get a reasonable position.

The first 5 kilometres was under control and, like Stage 1, the cycling adrenalin was pumping and there were plenty of wheel-touching and skidding moments along the way as people jostled to maintain their good position. One guy to my right ended up side-ways and skidding and I have no idea how on earth he managed to keep it upright – but he did.  You can get a glimpse of me in the controlled bunch in this little vid which gives you an excellent picture of what today’s race was like.

Once the lead-car rolled away and the race was on, we popped almost immediately into the single-track of the Awaba Mountain Bike Park. This trail made up the first 12 kilometres of the 62 kilometre race and was an absolute pleasure to ride. Unfortunately it was a bit of a procession ride with no opportunity for passing. There were 505 racing today so that makes it pretty hard to get a clear track at the best of times for anyone apart from the first and last few riders. My effort therefore, over this first section of the race, was not what I would normally have applied but probably a good thing considering the climbing and group-riding to come.

There was about 1300 metres of vertical today (about the same yesterday) and the pace up the climb and along the ridge (both days) was high-load! It was interesting to end up with almost the identical group of riders today as yesterday; the climbs definitely place you into the correct racing position. We finished with some really nice (not blown-out) moto-single-track, some lovely rain-forest gullys and 3 kay sealed smash to home.

The race venue was beautiful (Cooranbong, NSW) and the racing itself was magnificent. I’d come back to do this stage any day.

I was really happy with how I felt considering it’s the third hard day of racing. Recovery has consisted of a leg-rub straight after the race, lots of food and drink straight up, then when we get back to our accommodation, a light roll on the bikes down to the beach and a wade in the sea-pool at Merewether.  So far so good.


Three down and one to go. Now I just need to keep it upright and stay consistent for a fourth stage podium and then the big one for third position in the general classification.

I feel like I shouldn’t even say that out loud but that is my goal.

 

Port to Port… um… Mountain Bike Road Stage Race – Stage 2

It was an early start for Mick and me this morning in order to get to the Hunter Valley winery region for stage 2 of the Port to Port. There is no doubt the region is beautiful; a lovely place to ride a bike.


Both of us have become very aware lately of how important it is for us to warm-up very thoroughly… especially as we get older. The start really doesn’t go well if you’re not sweating on the line. And despite our early planning, we were still left a little short on time mostly due to my want for ‘No. 2s’ and a severe lack of sufficient toilets!

Anyway… that’s about it.

Nah, okay – there was a little more to it.

I was very happy with my start then we climbed a big mountain, rode across a long undulating ridge on a dirt road, struggled around some blown-out motocross single-track, went down a long descent with a creek crossing at the bottom, smashed out a few kay of bitumen rolling turns in a fast group, struggled over another couple of climbs and finished at a winery. Job done.

I seem to have a thing with the numbers 3 and 69. For the second day in a row I was 3rd in category (out of 85) and 69th overall (out of 500+ / they say 700 but I don’t believe them). I’m very happy again although I would have been stoked to make up some time on 2nd and/or 1st but they are clearly strong guys, dragging some more time out of me to establish their leads. Full results are here.

I shouldn’t be too negative; we had a really good day in a beautiful area and the race atmosphere is brilliant with very friendly and happy people everywhere. It really is a testament to the positive nature of mountain bike racing. But I’m not overly impressed with the course so far. Hopefully the next two days will fill us with single-track thrills and go some way to get the flo-jo happening.

A highlight was our post-race recovery roll along Merewether Beach and cooling off the legs in the clear water. Newcastle really is a gorgeous place.  Tomorrow will be interesting – the racing is hard and the legs are tired. Backing it up is the key.