Regardless of my celebration of 2009 as a year to try out some different events and have a good time getting out of the box a bit, the World Champs is still the World Champs. You know it’s coming, take whatever time is available to respectfully prepare, bring your game face and have a good go. I kind of like it, good capstone to the season.
In this particular summer’s schedule of events, a block of racing week in and week out for six in a row gave way to ten days at home in Oregon to get said game face on. Not a whole lot, but enough if the cards are played well. I’m no gambler, but I do know how to sleep and eat well while absolutely maximizing available training time. In the ten days at home I got in well over thirty hours of training on the road bike and singlespeed, complemented by a glorious hundred-odd hours of sleeping, this seemed to be just the fitness revitalization that I needed on top of the recent slew of racing. I guess we’d find out, seems like most people who race bikes are aware of the worlds and try to go ahead and be ready.
An easy flight across the Date Line and Equator dropped us in Sydney, Australia for the short drive down to Canberra. I knew about the whole opposite hemisphere and seasons thing but the cool crisp air that greeted us as we walked to the Carpark in Sydney was welcome confirmation of where we were. Down Under, for the Worlds. Nice.
Initial excitement about the cold didn’t last that long, cold is great for ski season, but bike riding with jackets on isn’t that awesome. Fortunately, Felice had a little plan to get us used to the chill. We’d be staying at the Australian Institute of Sport in the Athlete Halls of Residence. They call ‘em “The Ressi’s” around here. Sparse accommodations with brick walls and no central heat but delicious food in the dining hall and a nice place to relax and not be bothered with much other than reading and sleeping. Which we did in earnest once some heaters for the rooms were implemented.
The racing was to take place at Stromlo Forest Park about 10k outside of town. Cleared by a forest fire in 2003 the landscape was a bit barren but the trails were anything but. Well built over the years and littered with rocks, they made for a super fun lap with a few twists. Steep rocky shortcuts on the climbs were complemented by small drop-offs and gap jump options placed around the track, giving riders with an ounce of skill (or bravado) a chance to overtake their competitors in an entertaining fashion. Of course, there was still the chance to overtake in the usual manner, by riding faster into the wind up the two main road climbs. Good thing I’d been out on the tenspeed lots lately…
Things in the XC race started eerily easily. The front row felt the wind and the rest of us nervously sat in for the first kilometer. We all knew that moving too aggressively would take everyone out, but also that being toward the front as the singletrack approached was absolutely imperative. I though I was in the top twenty or so and happy to be safe with that. Turns out it was more like 35th. Shoot. At least I knew Carl was back there somewhere rolling operation neutral start. Faced with a back row start position, he figured rather than getting into the inevitable backmarker crashes, just cruising along 100m behind the bunch and riding back into the impending bottleneck would be the go, keeping the legs fresh for passing when things opened up. I’d like to try that sometime…
Todd Wells, Sam Schultz and I linked up on the first lap to test out Sam’s theory that you only need a one to one ratio to prep for the next block of racing. That being one week at home before another month on the road. Seems ambitious. Our task of riding back into a position that we’d be proud of was a reasonable ambition though. Todd was the star of the gringos on the day, immediately leaving us in a solid ride up to 8th place. I kept ‘er a bit steadier, hoping that a bunch of guys would come apart after the first lap of charging. Sam must have been a bit off on the ratio as he seemed to settle in around 30th. I eventually got into the top 20 and went into the last lap 18th, where I finished, feeling like I had a bit left but just couldn’t get it. The track was an interesting challenge, lots of the tech sections could only be ridden so fast, leaving the open road sections as only places to really do damage each lap. I wasn’t gaining much time on these bits and was being continually balled up on the tech climbs by folks just sort of falling over in front of me. Each blunder would happen so awkwardly and quickly that the victim would have to pick themselves up from the narrow track before anyone else could continue. My initial call that anyone at the worlds could ride all that stuff easily was a bit off the mark. Fortunately Canadian (code for “knows how to ride”) Max Plaxton was my riding buddy for most of the race, so in addition to sharing the pulling duties on the roads and laughing at each other’s sweet jumps, we each had someone to commiserate with about the level of incompetence. Pretty much nobody is as rad as us. Except for the 17 who beat us. And some other guys I’m sure. Ouch…
Carl moved solidly forward and picked off 24 guys to end up 54th, all seven laps completed. He had a good time and didn’t worry too much about the meowing directed his way while riding the chicken (or kitten?) route around THE HAMMERHEAD drop. Way to stick to your guns, Carl. Maybe he’ll be doing the meowing at SSWC09 in Durango coming right up…
Oh, and someone did win. It was Nino Schurter in fact, the young swiss rolled his U23 World Title streak straight into the Elites with a one second victory over the previously unstoppable, and apparently on-form Julien Absalon. Well played, Nino.
Like last year at the Canberra World Cup, the local crew, Canberra Off Road Cyclists, organized a demonstration Short Track race on Sunday for those of us still in town. A similar track was used. That being a rad one. A handful of jumps and berms connected the dots around the park’s infield area. 30 or so World caliber chaps lined up under sunny skies (unlike last year) to race for $5000. One of those chaps was a German on a 4X bike. He sprinted off the line like it was a BMX race and had enough of a gap in the first turn to slide out and still be winning for the rest of the lap. I’m used to racing short track but this little stunt (or someone using their skills, depending on your point of view) caught me out and set up another day of people lying on the floor in front of me for no reason. Awesome. By the time folks stopped crashing in the on camber to off camber (basic terrain reading here, people) transition at the end of the start straight, there were only three laps left for me to get back in the money. I got up to fourth as Kabush rolled off the front in his customary style to take yet another short win. Oh well, at least Meirhaege didn’t win. Although for some reason I didn’t stuff him for third… I must have been worried about some kind of ‘roid rage beat down… Carl got chopped on one of the rock gaps and flatted. We totally would have used super clever tactics to win if he hadn’t, then we could’ve bought the whole bar later that night.
Our former teammate Amiel Cavalier lives nearby in Wollongong and came over to do some spectating for the first time in his life. He’s been racing off-road on Dirt Bikes, winning everything in the Expert class on his KTM supported 250. So basically he’s Carl and I’s hero. We all hooked up after the ST and hiked up Mount Stromlo to catch up and watch some DH action up-close. Those guys are fast. And clever. It was a short but super interesting track, linking up the flow of each section was imperative to a clean, fast, momentum filled run. Steve Peat came down with the fastest time, 0.05 sec faster than his Syndicate Teammate Greg Minnar. It’s about time, Peaty. Good to see.
That’s about it from Oz, it’s a rainy Monday morning and we’re lounging around, trying to decide between Go-Karting and packing for the flight to Switzerland tomorrow. Yup, there’s two more World Cups after the Worlds. I hope Sam’s 1:1 ratio is right.
I’ve left my camera cable at home so we’re at the disposal of Gary Perkins. He’s good. Here are a few shots of people actually riding bikes.
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