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.



Port to Port Mountain Bike Stage Race – Stage 1

Oh…

My…

God.

That was like nothing else I’ve ever done before.

Stage one of the Port to Port mountain bike stage race was a 35 kilometre jaunt through the bush adjacent to Port Nelson, just north of Newcastle in New South Wales.   Some steep pinchy climbs, high speeds, heaps of riders and sand.  Deep sand.  And that was all after the completely mad start with what they say is 700 competitors.


The race rolled out of Port Nelson marina and along the bitumen under control for about three kay.  It was reminiscent – for me –  of Melbourne to Warrnambool races where the controlled start of 200 riders was just a massive fight for position.  This race wasn’t much different and you wanted a good spot by the time the lead car rolled off at Shoal Bay and the race went BOOM.  Not far after the BOOM, we hit the semi-single track where the seeding certainly still wasn’t set.  Lots of shuffling, elbows and red-lining.

For the first half of the race, I felt like I was in a road race.  I was part of a bunch of fast riders along some road through Fingal Bay and then some fairly wide sections of gravel.  I knew I was pushing hard and the temptation to either stay with the group or chase down gaps was far too great for me and easily out-weighed any sensible decision to back off to any lower than super-threshold level.  I still believe it was worth it as it established a very good position for me and I couldn’t have been happier with how the first half unfolded.

Soon after all the madness, the sand and climbs started to smack me in the face every couple of minute… actually, every thirty seconds or so.  There were many wobbly moments in deep sand either for me or those around me and it presented a whole new element of mountain bike racing for me.  This is why it’s so bloody interesting this sport!

The remainder of the race I stayed at a high level of intensity, knowing it was a short race, and I was confident I was going pretty well.  As it turned out I was, albeit I still can’t believe I was back at 69th overall – but out of 700 with a ship-load of pros, that’s not too bad.

I managed 3rd position in my category of 50+ and am pretty happy with that.  My time was 1:26:07 and I’m only a minute and a half behind 2nd and three and a bit minutes behind 1st.  Knowing my strength is not short and steep, I’m hoping the long hard stages of the next two days allow me to drag back some time on these two… and stay away from 4th.

And one little tip; if you’re going to upgrade to a bigger ring on the rear cassette, deal with the bloody ‘B’ screw or risk numerous chain drops on important climbs… ‘you idiot’ (I say to myself).  If only I had the #cycleworks boys here.

The following three photos are by the Flow boys.  Check out their full album – awesome shots of a great little race stage.


Journey to the Croc

I mentioned in my last post that I would explain a little more about what the Crocodile Trophy is.  You could just go here and have a look at the website but I’ll offer a little more perspective on what it means to me.  The numbers alone give you some idea of the challenge; 8 stages over 8 days, 650 kilometers, 13000 meters of vertical climbing.

I know!  How do you fit 13000 meters of climbing into 650 kay?  I guess I’ll find out.  And all of that takes place well out of my climate-comfort-zone in the humidity of Far North Queensland.

When I first started mountain biking over ten years ago, the Croc was a legendary event for the pros and way out of my reach – I thought.  As I got fitter and stronger on a bike, my good mate Duncan Murray – who now lives in Cairns in the home of the Croc – encouraged me over a few years to enter in a team with him.  That never eventuated but for Duncan and I, the style of racing really suited us at the time.  It was hundreds of grinding kays over a couple of weeks on long corrugated dusty outback roads with a little single-track riding thrown in for good measure. Every year, the pros come from Europe to race this legendary race and Australian professional riders such as Adam Hansen used it to make them stronger in the European off-season – he won it twice.  Jess Douglas won the 2011 version and – for those who know the toughness of Jess – that alone illustrates how strong you need to be to compete in this race.

Bloody hell, I’m scaring the shit out of myself as a write this.

The last few years of the Croc have changed in style but not intensity or reputation.  It has become more of a mountain bikers race with a number of technical single-track stages.  There is a little less grinding the outback and a little more narrow rocky trail technique.  That now suits me too and it’s time to tick this one off the bucket-list.

So since last putting pen to paper in early May, I’ve raced three weekends in a row at Forrest 6 hour, the Duael 5 hour and the 2nd round of the Victorian Enduro Series at Lysterfield… another 6 hour. This photo (above by Pete Henkel) is me yesterday heading through the rock-garden on the Lysty course.  I like that I look focused… I am.

For the first time ever, I’ve engaged a coach to help me along the way.  I’m not confident in structuring my own program and am very happy to simply be told what I need to do.  So far, Adam Kelsall of #herodirtcyclecoaching is moving me along at an amazing pace.  I feel stronger and fitter than ever before and now I just need that to continue to a peak in September.

This week coming marks a significant milestone in my training and preparation.  On Thursday, my good mate Mick and I will compete in the Port to Port in Newcastle with a four day stage race covering 200 kilometers and a fair whack of vert.  The packing, the preparation, accommodation-other-than-home and backing it up four days in a row will all be great prep for the body and mind leading to the big one in September.

Wish me well… and I know – ‘keep the rubber side down’.

(I wouldn’t be doing it without Adz #herodirtcyclecoaching and the boys at Cycle Works Box Hill #cycleworks – the support is a real key.  So many things need to align.  And thanks to Peter Henkel for the pic above).