Earlier this month MWCC members and club sponsor John Miller and Mark Hardy (weatherzone) went down to do the Mountains to the Sea stage mountain bike race. This happened to coincide with some record rainfalls so the report is pretty much about toughness and less about beautiful scenery in crisp sunshine. John and Mark are now in South Africa doing the Cape Epic so they will need all the toughness they can muster for the equivalent of 6 or 7 back to back Highland Flings.

The day dawned this morning bright and sunny in stark contrast to the previous several days. The racing was due to kick off at 830am with a time trial from the top of the kozzie chair. Elevation 1940m. It consisted of a 6km descent then 6km around the Thredbo XC circuit. Needless to say, the slopes still looked very wet as we ascended the chairlift with our bikes on our laps.

Stage 1
Johnny started 30sec ahead of myself and bolted out of the start chute. I followed a little more cautiously and the trail went immediately sharply down. It was very steep and loose for the first km or so and the speed had to be firmly held in check. As I started to build confidence I let the bike go a little more but shortly after took a wrong turn which cost me about a minute to climb back and rejoin the track. Very wet and slippery in some areas then the XC track down the bottom was very muddy for much of it. Struggled for traction on the steep pinches but eventually made it to the finish about 3 minutes behind Miller. He was 1st in pairs and myself 5th giving us the stage win by about 40 seconds.

Stage 2
The next stage was a non-racing stage down to Crackenback resort. A 16km cruise down the road. Lunch by the lake down there then a 21km XC race around the trails around the resort.

Stage 3
Most of the trails were over a metre under water just 24hours earlier so they were a little wet to say the least and there were several mods away from the original intended route. The pace was very hot at the start and I could not stay with the lead bunch. Miller pushed on as we did not need to stay together for this stage and we decided the threats in our category needed to be marked. It was very wet and slippery and in several places the bikes were underwater beyond the axles. I started to come good in the 2nd lap and started pulling back places. Miller finished 1st in our category again and I was about 50seconds behind in 3rd. So another stage win and we extended our lead to just over 2 minutes.

Tomorrow we have a 75km stage from Perisher to the shores of Lake Eucenbeme. This stage probably suits us better. There will be a lot of climbing and even more fast descents.

Tuesday dawned foggy and we were up early for a quick breakfast then a 16km warm up ride down to Lake Crackenback resort for a trip on the Ski Tube to Perisher where the stage was to start. Apparently in previous years this was 2 stages hence it being called 5/6. This year it was a 68km stage to Buckenderra Park on the shores of Lake Eucumbene. Originally was planned to be 85km but the wet weather forced some course changes.

Stage 5/6
Started at 9:30am from Perisher down the road to Guthega where we hooked off on a long descent down a 4WD track. Descended forever before turning up the 1st climb of the day. It was a very overgrown 4WD trail and I found it tough on the hard tail. Miller shot away from me but waited at the top but the descent was similarly difficult on my bike. The pairs currently placed 2nd, riding Cannondales were a short distance in from of us on the climb and Johnny was keen to keep them in sight. But it was pushing me too hard too early. Besides I could see one of them was clearly weaker than the other and would crack eventually.

They got further away on the descents as we took it conservatively. At the bottom of one hill Johnny came a cropper in a big pool of mud at high speed. But he bounced up instantly – the benefits of extra padding I guess. That brief stop allowed one of the elite riders (who broke his chain earlier) to catch us and the 3 of us worked together through undulating terrain and we made good pace.

We then hit the biggest climb of the day. Our elite friend disappeared and we slogged up it by ourselves. After about 20minutes we spotted our opponents walking up the hill. So we were slowly gaining on them. But once they saw us they ramped it up a bit and we stayed 2min behind for the next 30 to 40 minutes. We finally caught the Cannondales by working together on a lengthy flat section and just before another massive climb. We sat behind them for a while then it became apparent the weaker one was struggling. So I edged up the pace on the climb. The stronger guy sat on my wheel but his partner was quickly dropped and vanished backwards rapidly. Johnny sat at the back of the group till the stronger Cannondale realised his partner had gone and had to wait. Mission accomplished. We backed off for the rest of the climb. We were only 35km into the stage and the remainder consisted of rolling hills with seemingly endless climbs. We worked together well on the flats to keep up a good pace

Just when we thought it was over with only 1km to go, we were diverted up a completely sodden boggy grassy hill at about 12% which was gruelling in granny gear. Bloody Huw Kingston always finds a way to make the pain last just a little bit longer. But shortly we were over the other side and through the finishing chute in about 3hr10min. It was a tough hilly course registering 1700m of climbing in the 68km and averaged 19km/h. The next pair rolled in 12min later but it was the 4th placed pair. The Cannondales were 21min back and clearly completely blew up in the 2nd half. Individually we finished 16 and 17 overall for the stage.

So another stage win and this puts us about 16min in front. We are both very well matched on the trails which puts us at a big advantage over the other pairs who seem to be mismatched resulting in the weaker rider blowing up in most cases.

Tomorrow morning we have a pre-dawn night stage. Then a non-racing stage into Cooma.

No photos today as our photographer and tireless support crew decided to go for a ride herself. Beside, the connection here is so slow I’d struggle to send a pic.

Stage 7, a night stage starting at 5am in the Buckenderra holiday park. A brutal hour to start a race, up at 4am for breakfast. Even more brutal was the weather, driving drizzle and 4 degrees. We piled on as much clothing as we could lay our hands on. I, like many people, did not pack for this.

The course was very wet, the tracks very damaged from the recent weather and visibility tough with the mud and drizzle. I actually did not want to be out there and rode quote conservatively as the prospect of injury in these conditions was pretty high. Johnny jumped away from me pretty quickly after the start and I didn’t see him again. I slipped and slid my way around the 2 laps

Stage 9 was planned to be the biggest day of the event. From Cooma to Cobargo over the coastal range up some huge climbs. But a developing ECL off the coast forced the organisers hand and it was decided to change the course to finish instead near the top of the range then a cruise stage to Nimmitabel. A much safer option.

So we gathered on the outskirts of Cooma under drizzly skies and a lashing breeze. Started on country rolling dirt roads. It was essentially a road race, but there had been so much rain overnight that every low point of the road had a creek crossing of varying depths and quality and every descent had surprise washouts or holes. We settled into a group and road pretty steadily for the first hour till we reached a place called Numarella. There we were told the race had been shortened by 10km due to extreme weather on the top of the range.

So Miller decided we needed to ditch this group and up the pace as the 2nd placed pair was in our small bunch. We absolutely hammered it for about 15 minutes, swapping out turns and got the group down to just four of us and we had dropped the pair we were concerned about. But we could not drop these other two. We gave one last effort but it was one too many for me and I completely blew up. From then on it was a grovel-fest, I had absolutely nothing and all the guys we had just dropped disappeared up the road. John was still feeling pretty good and vanished up the road most of the time and then waited for me to arrive.

We then hit the main climb of the day and it was extremely steep. I couldn’t tell you how steep because a soaked Garmin reports rubbish elevation, but I walked the whole thing – all 40minutes of it! And everybody else did as well as far as I could see.

At the top we hit a steep grassy descent that was soggy and filled with huge puddles. It was actually the funnest part of the day. It was fast and slidey and you knew if you did crash it probably wouldn’t hurt too much. Some of the puddles were massive and I came off in one and was standing in hip deep water.

After that it was a slog over completely soaked muddy paddocks into a raging headwind and driving rain. It was amazing how heavy it was and there was water flowing everywhere. We both had a few bike troubles, especially me, which cost us some time. I ended up running the last 500m to the finish line. By this stage we were on a high exposed ridge and the temperature was 5 degrees (off the Garmin). Pretty shortly we both had hyperthermic symptoms and the organisers rushed Miller into a farmhouse to sit by a fire for a while. I can’t remember what I did then but I was pretty out of it.

Eventually we rode down the hill to Numarella again for a change of clothes and hot pies. It took us a long time to warm up and we were both pretty dopey for the rest of the day – yes, even more dopey.

Due to the weather enforced course change, the whole event then had to be bussed to the coast. We drove, but because the Snowy Mtns highway is closed due to a landslide it meant a 4hr trip via Bombala. It was a long day.

We ended up 2nd in the stage today and lost 10min time. So we are still 30 minutes up going into a 15km time trial tomorrow. If our bikes hold together we should be able to hold on.

Signing off from a very wet Cobargo.

STAGES 11 & 12
The final day.

And finally the sun returned. Awoke in Cobargo to a gorgeous morning but it
was a little hard to get moving. I stumbled bleary eyed out to breakfast and
Miller was already there in his bike kit chomping down anything that was
available.

I on the other hand was not so good. I’d hardly slept all night and awoke to
a twinge in my groin that went into a full spasm when I went to put my shoes
on, not good. I probably tweaked it with all the walking uphill yesterday.

We arrived at the race start for the briefing to see a very went XC course.
They had changed the format again overnight from a time trial to a mass
start XC race. Well, whatever, we are getting used to on-the-fly changes
now. 2 laps of the XC then a finish down near the beach.

I got on the bike and found I really could not sit on it and definitely
could not pedal. But I did find I could pedal OK standing. So rather than
pull out I decided to see how I could go standing. So after the briefing we
had the mass start and Miller jumped away with the leaders. I bolted off in
a big gear but was soon going backwards pretty rapidly through the field as
I went lactic pretty much right away. Just before the track narrowed into
the tight race course section, one of the pair riders who beat us yesterday
skipped past me. I figured if Miller is up with the leaders then all I need
to do is stay with this guy. The track was very muddy and slippery with lots
of shorts climbs and descents – a typical XC course really. But I kept my
target in sight the whole time. Hit my highest heart rates of the week in
the process though. Doing a whole XC race out of the saddle is not easy. It
really hurt. Had a couple of offs including one head first dive into a huge
pool of soupy mud. I also heard a familiar voice scream FAAAAARRKKK, through
the forest at one point so I figured Johnny wasn’t having it all his own way
either.

My target got away from me a bit but on the last open road section I put it
in the biggest gear and pumped like crazy for a few minutes till I got on
his wheel and finished just behind him. Johnny was already finished and got
into the top 10. A great result at the end of the week. I’m pretty sure we
won the stage today and therefore the event as well.

Special thanks to our support crew, Penny, without whom I think we would
have been a disorganised rabble.