Hard to believe that this was my 6th time racing the Convict, where does the time go!
Just prior to the original date of this race I spent 2 weeks in Europe, snowboarding and belatedly celebrating my 40th birthday. That 2 weeks, as enjoyable as it was, had set me back in terms of training and readiness for the original date and so I wasn’t unhappy when the event was cancelled due to the storms that we had at the time.
Fast forward a few months and training had been going well despite very limited time on the MTB due to the run of wet weather.
A practice ride the weekend prior to the race established just how steep and tough the climb of Jacks Track was going to be and how the rocky steps would sting the legs when raced hard. It also made me realise how unconfident I was in riding the technical aspects of the route. I’ve never been the most confident rider and it takes me time to build up to riding certain features. Given this limitation I knew that there were sections that I was going to be off the bike but hoped that positioning would mean that I wouldn’t lose much time when I did.
The morning of the race was uneventful, early start is the norm and the drive to St Albans was easy. I was grateful to the organisers for putting the start back 1 hour to 8am as a brief warm up didn’t really achieve anything except to realise just how cold it was as my fingers were already numb. Hanging around the start chute with Sxc Racing Teammates Wayne and Dave, I was pretty sure that Wayne would be going strong having spent recent weeks knocking up the kms at altitude in Europe at the TransAlp. Luke Beuchat was also there and going strong following a great ride in the Cape Epic a few months ago. Aside from that i wasn’t really aware of who was actually riding as entries were open on the day. We funnelled through and pretty soon after we were off. There were no heroic launches off the line, just a bit of a cruise as the pace picked up. I wanted to be in a good position turning into the water crossing knowing it was sandy and the double track meant that a hold up was likely. I entered in about 4th wheel and hopped off the bike to be met with stinging cold water – I knew this was coming but still didn’t realise quite how cold it would be. The race was all together at this point and apart from Stephen nipping off the front on his singlespeed there was no other action.
We turned right onto Jacks and I was sitting 3rd wheel. Stephen on the SS got 200m into the climb then shouted ‘walking’ so I pushed on with Luke on the first few pinches. As we neared the top I dropped off the pace trying to save the legs a little for what was to come. Ultimately Luke, Stef Merriman and Jindra Knot got away in a group of 3 and I joined Ondrej Slezak in a group behind. I was conscious of trying to eat and drink early as I knew that opportunities to take on energy were going to be limited on the techie stuff. This was my first mistake as I reached for food I slipped off the wheel and was soon 5m back, chewing food and unable to keep up on a pinch. It was here that I ended up riding solo, when there was benefit to be found in a group. I passed a few of the Elite starters and was then reeled in by Wayne, Tristan, Hugh Stodart and 1 other after about 20 minutes of solo riding. We basically rode together to the bridge where Craig offered drinks, thanks Craig and apologies for not saying hello! I wasn’t feeling great here, my feet were seriously cold as were my hands and I was already getting a sore back and not feeling like eating.
Starting up Shepherds we realised the gate was closed. I realised from the previous week that it forced you towards the drop on the right around the gate, Wayne got a surprise by this and took a tumble onto his left side before the gate but all was good. I was behind Hugh up Shepherds where there was only really one line and Wayne thankfully made it back on. I was on the front hitting the first technical sections, I unclipped and walked some momentum sapping rocks but was able to not lose the group. Further up the trail our +1 in the group had a slip and he was off the back, with Wayne a little further back playing catch up. I was thankful at this point for being on Tristan’s wheel as he knew a lot of the easier lines and I was simply following. On the larger drop off both he and I got off our bikes whilst Wayne caught up to me. Wayne and I were gapped for a while but rejoined at the base of Ten Mile Hollow where we rode on.
There had been a fair bit of erosion on the trail and Wayne took the wrong line in one of the rough sections and went down hard OTB. I was right behind Wayne at this point so unclipped and made sure he was ok but he was more worried about holding me up..I guess that shows our priorities as teammates, looking out for the other instead of focusing on ourselves. So that was me solo again, I was worried about Wayne going down as hard as he did and tried to catch up but couldn’t make it, both Tristan and Hugh were riding away from me over the rougher sections where I don’t have the power to push through.
It was at this point I realised I’d lost one of my gel flasks with the x2 caffeine gels which I save for the last part of the race. I was getting a stitch too, something that I’d not really experienced before on the bike and feeling generally uncomfortable. The final 35kms was a slog and the pinches were simply a lesson in getting it in the easiest gear and not overpushing. Stef who had punctured earlier came past on one of them, he was out of the saddle and going hard and made me look like I was going backwards. I knew that around 85kms the trail would start pointing down and was relieved when I hit the descent to the farm road. I was solo for all this and it made it really hard to keep going. When I was on the road to St Albans I got a shout from Wayne who was part of a group of 3 and they were hammering along, I would have loved to have got on to the group and been able to hold pace but I couldn’t so rode to the finish solo. I was happy at least that Wayne was able to continue riding so strongly following his fall.
I stopped the clock in 4:20 and not really feeling anything about the race, I wasn’t exhausted or collapsing over the line but neither could I push very hard on that final section, it was an odd sensation. I did make it just in time to see Dave O’Connell outsprint Garry James for the win in Super-Masters, amazing strength at the end Dave and richly deserved. Luke managed to make 3rd having bonked in a big way coming off the final descent and Wayne 4th in category.
Looking at the times now the Elites were some 7 minutes slower on the reversed course than they were last year. So I am thinking that in riding pretty much the same time as I did last year I am a little fitter than what I was then. I didn’t mind the course being run this way, the only aspect that I didn’t like was the early water crossing making for cold feet for 4+ hours. If it was run in May with extra warmth in the air then it would be less an issue.
Congratulations to all that took part. It’s a tough race and will always be a challenge no matter how frequently you take part. Hopefully Minter, Ian and Brian will all be back on the start line next year.. unless of course Minter has set himself a new challenge of racing shorter distances..?
See you all again next year!