After a brief week at home in Nelson sorting out the wet, muddy and generally abused gear from EWS Rotorua we made our way to the next EWS stop, Tassie. Straight to the rural North-East from Launceston, twisting roads, towering Eucalyptus and large amounts of road kill.
Track walking is customary in the days leading up to official training and team mates Ed Kerly, Lauren Gregg and I took the opportunity to get into the forest and check out the terrain and wildlife.
This is an exciting part of the week particularly when racing a new destination and we were impressed with the trail builders’ efforts. Fast benched trail with berms and gaps at lower elevations gave way to raw hand cut trail with masses of the natural features higher on the rolling hills.
Does track walking make me faster? I’m currently undecided. I find Judging bike speed through a gnarly section of trail really difficult when walking up on foot. Clearly there are gains to be made from pre-walking and I hope to convert the trepidation which it currently generates into useful observations as the season progresses.
Track 6 looked fun, wishing I had my bike to get back down!
I was glad to get on the bike for day 1 of official training. With 2 days allocated to practice and a big loop to be pedalled my plan was to cover as many stages as possible on day 1, and then revisit as few as possible the following day with the aim of conserving energy.
Most of the field opted for the same programme and so were on stage at the same time. The crux sections of stages 2 and 4 in particular were packed with bikes and bodies. People lining the sides trying to push back up and session different lines and then crashing all over the show.
Eyes on the line, practice in the dust!
The day was eventful. On stage 1 my back wheel took a hit and popped a spoke. I decided to crack on.On stage 4, which was a mass of boulders I had an impressive OTB landing a huck to flat. My bike took the brunt of it and came away with broken bars and I felt lucky to get away with granite grazes. I pushed to the stage finish and met Ed also pushing his bike with his own blown rear wheel.
A quick exchange of bar and stem put my Fuji back in the game but unfortunately Ed’s on the back of a pick up truck. I had just enough time to get in 2 more stages before 5pm. A testing day of 50km and 6 stages ridden left me in a good position for training day 2.
Climbing up to the top again whilst media crews shuttle on up!
Having Fuji Australasia set up in the pits was awesome. Thanks so much to these guys for the rear wheel and bar I borrowed from their fleet of Aurics to get me back out for day 2 of training. I kept it low key and rode only the final stage I had yet to practice.
Just like Rotorua the rain clouds rolled in overnight. As we arrived at the top of stage 1 the drizzle turned to downpour. Thunder echoed around the valley and we grabbed what little shelter we could at the highest point in the forest. Goggles were discarded and we dropped into the river /trail.
Raining in the jungle…again! Riding stage 1 mid down pour.
Stage 2 had a gnarly upper section that attracted the hecklers. I got well out of shape in one particular huck to hole to huck sequence which must have looked bad because it momentarily silenced the onlookers!
Stage 3 was a respite from the rock gardens with benched track, berms and big speed. My otherwise good run was spoiled by missing a junction and having to stop and push back up. The tape had been blown by an earlier rider and no-one standing near-by gave me a shout to tell me I had gone the wrong way. I felt pretty aggrieved to push back to the junction and find the following rider being directed in the correct direction. I lost time that would be critical to the overall at the end of the day but I put it in the ‘out of my hands’ box and moved on.
A pass through the race village gave us a chance for re-lube, change clothing and grab some nutrition. The transition time for stage 4 was tight and I found myself using more watts than I’d like. I was feeling it on the flat chunder peddle at the top of the stage. Once into the long rock garden I tried to trust the grippy granite and managed to hang on as the bike worked over the array of boulders and big holes that had formed in between them.
Mmm mud slathered rocks
By stage 5 a few of the women had not made their start as bikes and riders had gone down hard on the rocks. Lauren had crashed and her seatpost was stuck in the air with the seconds ticking by to her start time. Luckily top bloke Yoann Barelli stepped up with a zip tie repair, you did not want to ride that stage saddle up! I placed 5th on the stage which was awesome. I kept it clean and moving forward.
Stage 6 again started with full gas and then into more rowdy rocks lined by spectators. I enjoyed it and banked an 8th place. Stage 7 was super short but easy enough to make mistakes in the slick conditions and I had some dynamic dabbing as I just about maintained rubber side down.
I came away with 9th overall and a time that was in touch with 7th and 8th. I am really happy with my progression through these early rounds of the season and am excited to visit 2 more fresh destinations in Madeira and Millau.
My bike was completely faultless on race-day when around me so many people were suffering technical problems, thank you Fuji, Fox, Shimano, Crankbrothers and mechanic Ed for making that happen.
More smiles! Lauren and I with Jason from Fuji Australia