The Convict 100 (formerly Dirtworks 100) holds a very special place in my heart. I have fond personal memories of my first ride 4 years ago, resulting in a 5hr 35mins mid-pack result.
The next year, I went back, better prepared and rode to a 4hr41min (and about 17th place).
Last year was different. Something in my riding clicked last year, and I was starting to ride towards the front of the pack.
I pushed and hurt and bled, and cried, and rode a 4hr14min race resulting in 5th place.
This year, I had a plan. I was going with one thing in mind – a sub 4hr ride. I was pretty sure that would get me on the podium in what I consider to be my ‘home’ race.
Preparation had been good. I had practised the North Road section time and time and again, and it meant that I had a line to ride every technical step-up. No walking / running allowed this year.
I had recovered well from the Capital Punishment race the week previously, a couple of massages, and I was sure I was ready.
The alarm sounded at 4.30am on race day, and I was the first person out of the tents and into our ‘kitchen’. Kyle, Gavin and I had set up an excellent area, which was warm, well laid out and most of all well protected from wind and noise. A good breakfast and a couple of cups of tea, and I felt ready.
Onto the wind trainer, 20mins of increasing effort, and then a quick change of knicks and off to the start-line.
Everything going to plan – check.
Start-line. Looked around, everyone was here. Again. Blair, Jackson, Mather, Lewis, English, Downing, Fellows, Trenton Day, Fleming, plus a bunch of other local riders, all of whom could right in amongst it on race day. The Real Insurance Series has certainly brought the standard of racing up a notch. Its a serious business these days.
Still, the one thing it hasn’t done is made the course any longer, or tougher. I knew it better than anyone on the line, and I also knew that sub 4hrs was the benchmark.
The gun goes and we fly off. A couple of little attacks were neutralised, until Jenny Fay had a speculative effort off the front of the race. Good on her! There was no interest from the other women in chasing her, so it was left to the men of Marathon MTB to chase her down.
The race has been ‘selected’ on the big early climb for many years now. Positioning is key, as is pure grunt and determination. 500m out from the base of the climb the race covers a muddy field. I am on the front of the bunch, in the perfect position. Bang. I fall. God knows how. I couldn’t do it again if I tried. Fleming does his very best behind me, but smacks into the back of my head. He is able to carry on. I get up, get on my bike, realising the race is just going away from me. I am mounted, and pedalling in no time. My chain is off. I switch the front mech, it pulls it back, and I am pedalling.
I ride straight to the front bunch, through maybe 20 elite riders, and hit the climb in about 8th. I have spent some effort though, and I am breathing harder than normal, earlier than normal. My arm is bleeding, and my hip is stiff. Getting into the climb, I position myself just on the back wheel of Jason English, with a plan to move past him when I recover from my little effort.
Unbelievably, I have another ‘moment’ and my back wheel slips – which it has never done – and I have to unclip. At this stage, a group of 4 has formed (Blair, Jackson, Day and Mather). I knew I had to be in that group. I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t shut it down. As we went over the top, it was the lead 4, then English and Fellows, then myself, James Downing, Matt Fleming, Shaun Lewis, and couple of others guys.
I really wanted to push on, and James, Matt and I swapped turns to try and bring the leaders back. Shaun was clearly having a bad day, and soon dropped off the back. If I am really honest with you, it was at this stage that I started to consider my whole riding career. I just thought to myself “the best laid plans, yet something so dumb, so silly, can render it all useless, why do I bother?!”. I was in a very dark place.
I thought a lot, and rested at the back of my bunch for a while. I considered the time and effort I had put in. the sacrifices I had made, and most of all a promise I had made. I had promised that I would race this race to the best of my ability, regardless of what happens, because I deserve it, because it was such a personal race.
The first water stop at 28km came and went and we were still chasing. This marks the start of the technical riding, and my confidence was high. Hitting some of the rocky climbs, it was clear that Matty and I (both riding dual suspension bikes) were at a huge advantage, and dropped the others. Before long, we had caught Andy Fellows, and then a few kms later, we got Jason. Excellent. I had thought previously that I didn’t want to be on my own for the last half of the race (long road sections) so Matt and Jason were the perfect riding partners. We rode together, fast, for about 5km. PSSSSSSSTTTT.
Matt ripped a sidewall. Race over for him.
And then there were two.
Jason and I hit the 2nd feed zone at 50km and are told the leaders (4 of them) have 2mins on us. That’s ok. I know the next technical bits and can get close to bringing that back.
Jason rode so hard up the climb passed the Buddhist temple that I found myself in real difficulty. We went so fast that I was dropped. I couldn’t believe it. Its a rare day that I get dropped on a gradual climb on a fire-road. I just couldn’t hold on.
Ahead, I could see that Ben Mather had become detached from the front group, and Jason had joined him.
So, It was 3 in the lead (Blair, Day, Jackson) then 2 (English and Mather) and then myself. Alone. 55km into the race.
Hitting the technical sections I told myself to ride smooth, fast, but calm. I did that, and every now and again I caught sight of the two ahead, but then they were gone.
Behind me, I knew that James Downing, Andy Fellows, Matt Fleming would all be chasing hard. I was so isolated.
Dropping down Shepherds Gully, I was feeling good, eating and drinking well, and desperate to catch someone. No luck.
I entered the paddock to the canoe bridge, and my worst fears were realised. I would be riding the whole final 40km of the race alone, in a time-trial, being chased by others. Garry Millburn and Fiona cheered me as I crossed the bridge – careful not to fall in.
The road section went on forever, but in my mind I was thinking “Ok – imagine this was a training session. Imagine it was a 90min time trial on the road. How would you start? How would you pedal? What would your breathing be like?”
I relaxed into a high cadence time-trial mode that I had forgotten I had for many years.
Onto the Womerah range, alone still, and I was beginning to feel it. I used all my gears to get me up the hills without cramping. Drinking, eating, spinning.
Its very hard to describe the feeling of loneliness but also motivation that you feel when chasing and being chased.
I checked my watch – how was I for the a sub-4 ride? Pretty tight actually.
Going well, I resolved to keep pushing, finding every ounce of free speed I could.
Out of the blue, up ahead, Jason English. Joy of Joys. As I went past him, I could see his chain was playing up. I offered my multi-tool (god knows why – if I had gotten a chain problem later on, I’d have cursed) and he took me up. I threw it back out of my pocket as I pushed on.
In the end, Having descended Jacks track, I could check my shoulder, and see that there was no-one close. I rode through the stream, hit the 50km riders, and just pedalled. 4hrs, 4hrs, 4hrs, – that’s all I thought.
It was going to be so tight.
I rolled over the line, 4hrs 2mins (on my watch). 5th place. Again.
Incredibly, I was immensely disappointed. 5th place, in the strongest field ever assembled at the race, having beaten some all time legends. 4hrs 2mins – gutted.
I sat down, and just let it all sink in. Physically, but even more so mentally, exhausted.
As I sit here now, Sunday afternoon, with a large bottle of dark ale consumed, and a 2nd about to be started, I am still happy but a still a little disappointed.
One thing is for sure, I rode as well as I could have done. I handled some set-backs, and rode for pretty much 50km all alone in a pure time-trial, without seeing anyone or having any minute to rest on a wheel.
The other thing that was very clear to me was that my bike was the perfect weapon for the rocky race. Jason English said to me when we were riding together “I’m getting flogged by these 29ers”. I also saw how easily Matt and I dropped the hardtail riders. 29er Dual suspension – its the ticket. Maybe not for everyone, maybe not for every course, for this course, and most people, its perfect. My Epic – a hardtail climbing, and then lovely 4” travel when coming down – all at 9.8kg. Beautiful.
Can you ever have the perfect race? I doubt it. Something happens to all of us at some stage in 100km. Can you plan for perfection? Not really.
It turns out that 3hrs 59mins would still have me in 5th place, such was the standard of the racing this weekend.
It was an incredible honour to be racing with such exceptional company. To be even contesting a race of this calibre at the front is something I still am surprised I can do. 5th place.....No-one remembers that really. Andy, Trent and Ben Mather looked great on the podium and rode so well.
I have to say that the ride of the weekend goes to Jenny Fay. 4hrs 29mins, 20th Elite overall. I am overwhelmed to have been involved with her coaching, and planning that ride. It was very special, hugely deserved, and a completely peerless performance. I doubt we will see that time be beaten by a woman for a very, very long time. Maybe you can have the perfect race....
Kyle Ward – winning the 50km, Rob Booker 2nd – both team mates and friends – it was an immensely successful weekend for Jet Racing. Well done Kyle – a welcome return to the top step. Rob – fantastic – welcome back to the podium too.
Well done everyone, it was a great weekend. Highly emotional for me, and now its time for a rest. This 2nd bottle of ale is looking better by the minute...
Real Insurance XCM Series, Anthony Shippard, Mountain bike, CycleNation, convict100, Shaun Lewis, Jenny Fay, Rockstar Racing,