I KNEW WHAT WAS REQUIRED, but the trick was to seek out the right information and persuade myself to go with my final assessment. In clear or consistent conditions, the 50km between Apollo Bay and Forrest are a daunting proposition, but on this overcast February morning, the trail ahead was far from clear, and not for the first time, there was every chance that it would be decisive. Exceptionally dry weather in the past month have turned the trails ahead bone dry, and the real possibility of a decent down pour during the day would turn the powder dry dust into unrideable muck on the impossibly steep terrain that is the south face slope of the Otway mountains.THE BRAVE SOLUTION was to take Maxxis’s renowned, but rarely seen Maxxlite 310 dry racers. If they negotiated the loose gravel, the Taiwanese flair for mixing fast rubber onto super lightweight casing would pay off handsomely on the asphalt hill climb sections and bone-dry dirt tracks. But I am nothing if not cautious and, been warned by others who are all running regular XC tires, there was every chance that I would revert back to the conservative choice of general-purpose XC tires, or worse, wet weather spikes if heavens opened. In the end, it was left to Bureau of Meteorology, spurred on by knowledge that most of the 50km trails ahead were sealed, to convince myself these dry racers would work.
HAVING TAKEN THE 310s, I could scarcely believe my eyes when I saw how gravelly and rough the trails were. Loose gravel with sharp edges littered the trail, ready to tear apart the featherweight 310s. On the assumption that I can no more nurse these tires over rocks than nurse a baby, the idea of not getting a puncture throughout the race seemed as fanciful as a bull tiptoeing through a china shop. But the gamble worked like a charm. Semi-slick racers saw me through the impossibly steep Wild Dog Road asphalt climb, as both Andrew Nurse and I scythed our way through the field of fellow competitors and devoured the lead of others who’s had started the race ahead of us. With a stupendous run on loose gravel heading into the Mt Sabine Fire Tower, I left Andrew and others behind with each crest, but the race was far from over.
STRIPPED DOWN TO ABSOLUTE BARE ESSENTIALS, the titanium Xizang was about as feasibly light as possible without resorting to exotic carbon fiber and expensive parts. To my way of thinking, the Xizang still felt nervous and nowhere as surefooted as the Zaskar but it was no denying it was well suited to the task ahead. Never a fan of hill climbs, the lean bike allowed me the rare pleasure of overtaking other competitors on the ascend, instead of being overtaken. Where traction was available, the 310s amazed myself, and opened eyes of many others following closely behind, by staying resolutely glued to loose dirt & gravel over steep terrain and generally behaved it self, but the trade off for running such a specialized skinny tires was surefooted grip & traction. So the downhill run into Kaangalang Rd trail was an absolute shit my pants affair, as the bike pinballed between deep ruts down the insanely steep and badly eroded dirt track, as well as drifting at will in gravelly corners. Unflinching commitment was required going into each bend and it became 5 km of balancing act between wanting to go fast and not crashing out; the possibility of flipping over the bar onto my head a constant threat.
NONETHELESS, spirits revived the moment I reached the summit leading into Yaugher State Forest, as it meant the worst of the hill climb was well behind me, but the tension was still palpable, for the Keen’s Timed Descend down the fabled Red Carpet Hills was still ahead, where the tight single track offered no room to hide the slow and terrified. Fortunately, the dirt track was well packed and as I generally don’t fear technical single tracks, the timed run down the mountain became easy meat in the end. Of course, I had no hope in setting the time chart alight with my conservative run, but the satisfaction of finishing the toughest MTB race event in Victoria, without any major mishaps or injury was an award in itself.
Finally, congratulations to James and Sharon for being engagement at the finish line, in front of hundreds of event participants. Ballsy way to ask for someone’s hand, where rejection is not an option to be endured.
Category: Open Class Male 18-39
Overall Standing: 80th out of 425 in Open Class Males
50 km Race Standing: 47th /225 entered