- Dean Clark and Ray Lacis
August 10, 2011, 6:01 BST,
August 10, 2011, 16:43 BST
Three entries from three of our respective national champions
As always it’s a busy schedule as competitive cyclists, but the ladies in the TORQ team have outdone them self this year in what can only be described as an awesome season. Katherine O’Shea won the cross country national title in what has been a difficult few years. Jenni King, who was runner up in the cross country national series, has had a super consistent season and took out the marathon national championships. Finally, Jo Wall who decided to ride more for fun this year rather than compete in the cross country national series, pretty much won most of the enduro races and stage races she entered, but to top her season off came first in the national solo 24-hour race in style, beating current world champ Jess Douglas in a discipline that certainly doesn’t favour a cross country rider.
Below are a few words from the riders themselves in what has made the year so good for them.
Winning two national titles, by Katherine O’Shea
Ever since I started riding and racing mountain bikes back in 2006, I had dreamed of winning a national title. I thought that it was to be mine in 2009 when I came into the national championships after winning the previous two national rounds. I had built up the confidence and believed that I was capable of taking out the title. However, it wasn’t to be after puncturing half a lap into the race. It was a devastating experience. But, not as devastating as losing my mum at the end of 2009 to an auto-immune disease. The 2010 season was a blur of disappointing results and lack of form.
The national title seemed like it was to be an elusive goal for me. The one thing that remained with me throughout this time was my love of riding my bike. It helped me to cope and as time went by the pain eased.
The form started to return and the national tiitle returned to my dreams. Soon everything I was doing become about winning nationals. I was determined to prove myself to the cycling community, my family and friends, but most of all to myself. My Mum was always a motivation with the strength that she had shown dealing with pain.
The race was a small part of the whole picture, but it was a day where everything fell into place for me and I was able to ride away from the field feeling strong without any pain of exertion. Once I had taken the lead I felt relaxed and comfortable being in that position, being able to enjoy the rest of the race and the celebration that come with becoming the cross country national champion! Taking out the short track championship the following day was bonus, but it was great to emphasise the point and prove myself once again.
Domestic season has been my most consistent to date, by Jenni King
The 2010-2011 domestic season has been my most consistent to date. In previous years, I have struggled with up and down performances. This year I have worked particularly hard on my weaknesses and have managed to podium at every race. Overall, I’m very satisfied with this result. The win at the marathon national champs was a bit of a surprise as I have been mainly focused on cross country distance racing. To win a national champ's jersey in any cycling discipline can be difficult and is certainly a great honour!
National solo 24-hour national titles, by Jo Wall
This year saw a bit of a shift in my training and racing. Having made a commitment to my job and not travelling to Europe chasing World Cups, I decided to try my hand at some longer events. I raced the Mount Buller weekend stage race and won and then followed it up with the Terra Australis (A seven day epic mountain bike stage race in the Victorian High Country) with my teammate Mark Fenner. We won the mixed pairs, and the seed was planted to have a go at a 24-hour solo race.
It just so happened that the national titles were a month away. My preparation and loading was perfect, and the race went perfectly. I went out sensibly as I didn’t know what to expect having never done one before. I made my move on Jess around 12 o'clock. I closed the gap in a few laps and passed her at 1:30 am and never looked back to what can only be described as a very rewarding win.
Upon reflection, 24-hour racing has provided me with a rich and unique experience in which I feel I have been stripped to my very being and learned so much about my constitution as person. I loved that it was an experience for my whole team of people and not just myself as a competitor. My pit crew lived through it with me, the highs, the lows, the lack of sleep and of course the elation of winning.
I’ve got so much thanks to my crew and TORQ as without them it wouldn’t have happened on that crazy weekend!
- Jo Wall
May 19, 2011, 16:03 BST,
May 19, 2011, 17:14 BST
First-ever 24-hour solo race ends in victory
We were all sitting round the dinner table on the second last night of the Terra Australis Stage Race when Fenz put it out there: "You should do the Australian 24-hour Solo Nationals!"
The seed was planted, I weighed the do-ability of it... the main positive was that it was during the school holidays, plenty of time to prepare and then also recover, but was I prepared to put myself through all that sustained pain and mental battering?
For some reason the answer was yes?!?! I embraced the opportunity to gain yet again another "experience" and have a crack at different discipline of mountain bike racing.
We travelled up the Hume to Canberra and upon arrival made ourselves comfortable in the Torq team pit area. We had an amazing set up. Dean had towed along the Caravan, which provides some real luxuries; microwave, couches, beds, stereo system, fridge and of course a toilet! Not that I would be spending much time in the caravan over the next 24 hours.
Throughout the last four years, Stromlo has been a constant in my mountain bike racing experience. In the past, I had raced numerous cross country nationals, a World Cup race and a memorable world championship.
It felt nice to be returning to familiar turf to attempt something altogether different!
I had two teammates who were also competing; Mark Fenner - the evil instigator- and newly signed Scotty Chancellor, who is well known for his talent and results within 24-hour racing.
We were the three crazy ones; Fenz, Me, Scotty.
I felt blessed to have an exceptionally dedicated and passionate support crew. They would be relied upon hugely during the course of the race. Dean is the owner of Torq Nutrition and the and manager of the team. Dan is my wonderful partner. Dave is Dan's enthusiastic and excitable Dad who kept my bikes ticking along perfectly with his attention to detail and skills with the tools. Kerry is Dan's proud Mum who provided continious encouragement great photographic talent and precise timing skills and Angus is one of Mark Fenner's good mates who helped get all my nutrition requirements just right.
My race strategy? I basically had no idea with it being my first 24hr race. The plan was to ride conservatively so that I could complete the monster. The longest time I had spent on the bike was a seven-hour training ride, so it was going to be interesting.
My main competition would be Jess Douglas. She is the current World Champion and had ridden a heaps of 24hr races, she has fierce determination and knows how to win in this discipline, so yes I was nervous and felt like a small fry.
Racing Jess Douglas, current world champion
The gun went off at 12:03, just after the men's category were sent off. Jess immediately assumed her position at the front of the race and dictated the pace. Being fresh, rested and feeling tip top, it was really hard to hold myself back and take it easy. Jess continued to pull away from me, keen to get a gap, I chose not to respond, it was going to be a very very long race and I needed to conserve everywhere I could.
The other girls behind me had dropped off, and I was left riding my own race with no one else around. I would get the time gaps given to me each time I came through the pits. Jess continued to increase her lead steadily by about 30seconds per lap. So this was how a world champion races a 24hr race. I just couldn't match it!
We got through to dusk and the lights went on to my bike, I felt a bit of a lift, simply with the change from light to dark and felt I was riding smoothly and consistently. I was conscious of maximising any positive sensations as from here on in it would become more about my mental state than my physical capabilities.
My race was tracking well, my lap times were super consistent, I was eating and hydrating well and I felt pretty good considering I was now in unknown territory. I was working in 6-hour blocks and the second block coming up to midnight I had planned a treat; a quick wash and a change of clothes.
I got to midnight and the gap between Jess and I gradually started to break down, I was now gaining 30 seconds a lap, so there no time for my planned treat. Things were really starting to happen.
I had now reduced what was once a nine-minute gap down to four minutes, I was pumped, but Jess remained illusive and was nowhere to be seen. Finally at 1:30 am after 13 and a half hours of racing, I came up behind her on the singletrack. I was blown away, I had actually caught the world champ!
I made my pass on the fireroad and instantly all my pain was forgotten. I felt like I was pedalling on air, it was the most amazing feeling. I made an effort to remain consistent and gave myself the goal of gradually opening up the gap in the next three laps, to give myself a buffer.
I got to 3:30 am and had my planned first hit of caffine, (It was about at this point that Dan told me Jess had gone to the showers to clean up and assess her situation). This carried me through for another two hours of feeling great both mentally and physically. I was so surprised and impressed that I was feeling so great at a point in the race where I should be feeling the worst.
From 1:00 am 'til dawn are known as the "witching hours". With the long slog through the dark and the coldest part of the night, I just kept telling myself that when I got to dawn I could expect another positive sensation with the growing light, being able to see the track again and the fact that there would only be six more hours of racing to knock off.
The coming of the new day
I did my "dawn lap" with a feeling of contentment, but started to crash and burn. My body ached everywhere from the repeated battering of the rocks and undulations.
Jess had since pulled out, opting to not complete the race which left me way out in front now with nearly three laps up on Anne, who was in second place. These were all massive positives and it was looking good to take out the title, but I now found myself experiencing my lowest point in the race.
It was decided that I would jump off the bike, have my planned wash and change of clothes and a hot meal of gnocchi with pasta sauce. Being off the bike was great, but I could hardly walk and was really hurting all over.
After a fresh change of clothes and hot food, I was not so motivated to get back on the bike.
After a lap, I said to Dean, " You need to figure out how much longer I need to stay on the bike in order to secure the win, because I am done!" I was thinking that because I was three laps up, perhaps I could stop at 10:30 am. I had so much time up that second place could not overtake me in the time remaining.
I was devastated to learn that in order to finish you had to cross the line after 12 noon. I couldn't pull up early even though I had a substantial lead. So the plan was to do another lap, then have a sit out for 40 minutes then get back on and complete two final laps in order to cross the line after the all important 12 o'clock.
Getting going again
The final two laps were the hardest both mentally and physically. I no longer had any strength to push the pedals and I was not even moving fast enough to keep warm. Although I knew it was only two laps and I was done, it was so hard mentally knowing that I was so close. I so badly wanted to curl into a little ball and let the earth swallow me up.
But eventually, I crossed the finish line, done and dusted.
Winning the national title gains you automatic selection to the world championships, and the question was asked of me: " So do you think you'll continue racing 24s and compete at the Worlds?"
I answered with a "It's not a good question to be asking me at this point in time!"
24-hour racing has provided me with a rich and unique experience, in which I feel like I have been stripped to my very being and learnt so much about my constitution as person.
I loved that it was an experience for our group of people and not just myself as a competitor. My pit crew lived through it with me - the highs, the lows, the lack of sleep and of course, the elation of winning. Many thanks to my crew!
- Mark Fenner
April 05, 2011, 16:51 BST,
April 05, 2011, 17:56 BST
Fenner and Wall successful in multi-day race
Woohoo, wow, what an amazing experience again! The Terra was yet again a highlight of my racing year and provided all the ingredients that add up to what real mountain bike riding is all about.
Some days were massive with huge climbs and stunning vistas, others were shorter singletrack dominated stages during which you could open up and get the motor purring.
This year I teamed up with Jo Wall, one of my Torq teammates, and we were up against the Giant duo of Jess Douglas and Brad Davies. The plan was simple - smash it on the climbs and try to open up small time gaps on each stage.
The plan was rudely shaken on day one with a snapped mech hanger and a big crash for Jo after suffering a front wheel puncture. We lost nearly 15 minutes on day one. We knew we had put the pressure on as the trail went up, so we regrouped and went onto day 2 with the intention of just trying to take a few minutes back on the trail up to Dinner Plain.
Straight out of the start, it was clear that Jess wasn't happy with the pace, so we hit it hard. It was one of those stages that simply goes on and on and the final 30km climb up to Dinner Plain after 5+ hours driving it was brutal. We hung tough and Jo, as was to become the norm for the week, rode like a champion. By the close of play we had taken back the 15 minutes and extended our lead out to about 15 minutes, all in all, a great day at the office.
Day 3 featured a slight change of course due to the massive rainfall this summer, but, heck, it was a change for the better. It was quite possibly the toughest stage so far with relentless super steep pinch climbs after the descent off Hotham. The day ended with a cracking bit of singletrack into Bright and a sprint finish with my Torq team mates, Jo, Becky and Katherine, awesome fun.
Day 4 was the TTT and the chance for some short but intense riding and a little rest before the Buff on day 5. Again Jo just smashed it, and we blitzed around the flowing singletrack in one hour and 10 minutes to maintain a healthy lead over the Giant pair.
Day 5 was the Buffalo stage with 115km and with 4,000 vertical meters, it was always going to be brutal, but the heavy rain made it even more so and for five hours we battled through savage conditions of epic proportions. This was truly a day to test the metal and after splitting a sidewall of the front wall of Jo's tire on the start of the descent off Buff it was looking like we would lose all our time. It took everything we had, all our CO2, all our tubes and gel wrappers to fix and by the time we did Jess and Brad had come and gone. It was damage limitation time and as soon as we hit the road I went into TT mode and smashed the tarmac. By the time we started the final climb I had managed to drag us back onto the wheel of Jess and Brad and as soon as we did Jo attacked and we made a gap. We held on to the finish and after nearly siven hour 30 minutes in the saddle a well deserved coke.
We were starting to really motor, and Jo was simply getting stronger and stronger each day, so, by day 6 with a 40+ minute first climb, it was time to go on the attack and try to win a stage overall. We smashed it and by the top of the first climb only the Yeti Gu boys could stay with us. We started easy and wound it up, I would just whisper let's attack when we get up to that group and bang - Jo would just smash it up the gutter. The look on the guys faces and the body language as she did so was enough to tell me they were all being dropped for good that day. We simply pinned it, but, couldn't shake the limpets attached to our wheels and coming into the finish after dragging the Gu boys around for most of the day they attached us on the gates and this meant I was the last to shut the last gate into the finish!
Needless to say we didn't get back on and came in 15 seconds behind them, not, happy. On the road, I would not have been so charitable, they would have been in the gutter, 'nough said!
The last day was awesome with all the singletrack Beechworth could offer and a chance to move up into the top three overall for Jo and me. We smacked it as hard as we could and ended up moving up one place over Team Brave into fifth just a couple of mins off the overall podium.
I was enthralled by the race this year, even more so that three years ago when I was doing battle with D-Mac and Fetch. Riding with Jo was just great and to be part of the Torq team this time around added the final dimension to the whole race.
Jo, you smashed it mate and I would ride with you any day of the week mate in any race, you rock. I look forward to seeing where this form and huge heart takes you mate. Maybe a very long race in a few weeks time, eh?
I would like to thank Dean and Gen from Torq for there continued support and everything they do for us and the sport of mountain biking in Australia. Thanks to Monza for the fastest Cubes and tricked out XX, love ya work. Thanks also to Aussie Butt Cream for looking after me and to Date, Oz Riders, Hid Tech and Skins for keeping me going.
- Jo Wall
October 23, 2010, 21:57 BST,
October 23, 2010, 23:17 BST
Jo Wall experiences the ruggedness of Timor
Flying over East Timor in the plane was a harsh wake-up call to what the following week was going to involve. I peered out the window and down to the spectacular and severe mountains below. It was beautiful and harsh, my legs began to ache in anticipation.
It was an early start each morning. We had to have bags packed and loaded on the gear trucks by 6:00 am. It was essential that the gear trucks start at least two hours before we did as they needed to get to the next night's camp before us, and due to the conditions of the roads, we could travel at a much faster speed.
The talk of the road conditions had everyone quite intimidated, mainly because the racing would be done in bunches and when in the bunch, you have a great view of the wheel in front of you and that is all. The frequency of massive potholes, animals, washouts and some huge landslides put everyone on edge. Some of the potholes we came across were deep enough to stand up in. I've never seen anything like it.
Day 1 took us from Dili to Balibo. It was the longest day at 123km but considered the easiest due to the profile, it was mainly flat, following the coast line and then climbing up to the Village of Balibo in the last 20km. I found day 1 really tough, mainly due to the heat and humidity. It was always going to be a day of adjustment, getting the legs going and sorting out hydration.
The energy gained form the locals was AMAZING! Every village we passed through the entire population would be lining the road, cheering, smiling and enjoying what must be a very strange and new spectacle for them. Each village that we stayed in for the night had declared a public holiday for the region as the road had to be completely closed to all traffic, and we were pretty much eating and sleeping in the schools' classrooms.
The president made an appearance at most villages we stopped at. It is "The President's race". He is passionate about rebuilding Timor, and the Tour is just one of many incentives aimed to harbor trust, promote peace by making connections and building relationships with other nations. He considers sport to be a great way promote these values.
Day 2 was said to be the toughest day of the Tour due to the hills. From memory it was 93km, but with some long and very steep climbs. The main climb went for 30km with two King of the Mountain sprints in the space of 10km. It was steep, open, exposed and so, so hot.
But the scenery was amazing When we got to Maliana we traveled along the most spectacular ridgeline through many remote little villages. Unfortunately I had substituted the space in my pockets for food in place of the camera, so I didn't capture any of it, but I was very happy to have the food that day. We had a beautiful descent down in to the town of Suia, which was just of the south coast. We had crossed East Timor in a day.
Unfortunately one of our teammates Gracie came down really hard on the descent and managed to dislocate her shoulder, so out team was down to three racers. On the up side, she got be chaperoned by the president himself in his private chopper back to Dili.
Day 3 was written up as a "rest" day, being only 67km, with 50km of it flat. I found day 3 the hardest. We were back on the coast, so the humidity was huge and the road conditions were the worst yet. At one stage, it had been sealed as there were the token patches of asphalt, but the rest of the road was a myriad of potholes.
As it was flat, the pace was constantly being driven and everyone was trying to ride as big bunch and get a good draft, but the potholes made the bunch really erratic. When the front guys were accelerating out of potholes, we were just hitting them, so it was like a huge elastic band trying to hold the wheel and not loose the bunch.
After 40km of this we then hit the "best" section of sealed road in the whole of East Timor, pretty much smooth hotmix asphalt, beautiful! From here, we climbed up to the beautiful village of Ainaro.
Day 4 was another spectacular hill climbing day. We started climbing immediately out of Ainaro for about 30km, then had a series of smooth fast descents down to the village of Aileu.
Finally the flags signalled the KOM and the oncoming descent. I actually had to zip my jersey up for the descent, we had gained quite a bit of altitude today, reaching the highest point on the tour at 1900m.
On day 5, we all had smiles, as we were mainly descending back down to the coast and finishing the tour in Dili. It was a little exciting as there was a small singletrack section and we were all keen to feel the dirt and rocks underneath or tires.
As we approached the Presedential Palace, we found the streets of Dili lined with people for many kilometers, as close to the Tour De France as I'll ever get!
What an amazing week it had been including some tough racing. I feel I have been very lucky to experience such a beautiful and unique country. I will definitely be putting Timor down in the calendar for next year!
- Mark Fenner
September 08, 2010, 20:55 BST,
September 08, 2010, 22:01 BST
Tupac and Fenz tackle Mawson Marathon
All systems were go when I finally got the all clear from the doctor - the dreaded Ross River virus had gone! I was free to start training again albeit easing into new program. The Mawson Marathon had come up on the radar as a new event, raced in pairs, travelling along the length of the Mawson Trail from Blinman to Melrose covering a total of 360km and it looked like a bit of fun.
I had chatted with Andrew Bell about the event when we competed in Wildside in the New Year and he seemed to think it would be pretty funky and that the terrain, although not technically testing, was beautiful to travel through. Last year the event was completed as a staged tour and was very successful. This year the event was going to be held as a point to point, pairs, non-stop race, as well as a stage race.
So, after getting a little bit of training done and starting to regain a little bit of fitness, the Torq team of Mark "Tupac" Tupalski and "Fenz" started the ball rolling in preparation for the point to point race. New considerations needed to be addressed which were very different to the usual circuit type 24 hour race. Nutrition, hydration, bike choice and general logistics were planned alongside Team Captain and all-round super star Dean Clark.
Everything started to take shape and before we knew it we were all in the small town of Blinman getting ready for the start. It was certainly cold and the weather conditions looked like a block headwind the entire way to Melrose. After a lengthy briefing most riders got a fidgety night's sleep in anticipation of the early start the next morning. So on Friday the 11th of June, we all lined up ready for the start. The film crews were busy interviewing riders and the race staff were busy checking we had all the essential items in our rucksacks or on the bikes. Then the gun went off!
Twenty four pairs of riders rolled out of Blinman on the first 10km of black top. There was a jovial spirit in the peloton before Chris Jongeward smacked it in the big dog and laid down his intentions for the day. Brett Anderson, his teammate, and South Australian 24-hour champion was going to be in for a long hard day at the office. Jason English and Andrew Bell quickly gave chase followed by Tupalski and Fenz along with Bellchambers and McAvoy. And this exact same scenario played out again as soon as we hit the dirt. Brett and Chris smacked it hard at cross country pace, Jason and Andrew tried to bridge the gap and the rest of us scrambled to follow.
Holding 400 plus watts, discretion was going to be the better part of valor and although Mark and I were pushing hard we decided to ease off the gas a little. Bellchambers punctured and we didn’t see these guys again for a fair few hours. Jason and Andrew also decided to sit up a little and the four of us rolled turns for a few hours in hot pursuit of the South Australian dynamic duo.
The race settled into a pattern. After the initial three hours, the usual feelings of being strong gave way to a little hunger knock, which gave way to feeling strong again. This can be a usual pattern in endurance racing and just knowing that you will come through a bad spell, eating and hydrating correctly, gives you the spirit to dig in and power on. Andrew and Jason pushed on during one of these bad spells and created a good gap but the race was far from over.
The terrain held big challenges, not in a technical sense, but in the long, never-ending false flats and headwinds that seemed to sap your strength and play havoc with your mind and motivation. It was a time to really dig into the suitcase of courage and summon your reserves of perseverance. Tupac rode superbly, and bit by bit, we began to claw back time on Jason and Andrew. By the time we pulled into Quorn in the darkness, there were only four minutes separating us. Behind us McAvoy and Bellchambers were also putting on a last charge and were only a few minutes behind us. The last stage from Quorn to Melrose was going to decide second, third and fourth place. The South Australian Team were just too far up the road and barring a major mechanical were not going to get caught.
Dean was frantically jumping up and down, gesticulating that Jason and Andrew's tail lights could be seen further up the trail, it was certainly time to hit time trial mode. As we pulled out of Quorn, Bellchambers and McAvoy passed us coming in to the feed stop. It was all systems go after 12 hours of racing. The average speed to this point was close to 27km/hr!
After pushing as hard as we could we just couldn't close the gap on Jason and Andrew and they ended up finishing just over five minutes ahead of us. Behind, however, we had broken the spirits of McAvoy and Bellchambers and they realized in this final leg that we were not going to roll over and give in. They came in a further 15 minutes behind us.
And so that was it! 360km in just over 14 hours. An incredibly fast race and one which I will not forget in a hurry as the pace was definitely on from the start to the finish and to be that close after that long is testament to a great race.
Having raced for the first time with Tupac, I was astonished by his resolve and his dogged determination. I was also astounded by the amount of times that he had to stop for a piss! He certainly must have a bladder the size of a pea and within his next training program I am definitely going to incorporate learning how to pee on the bike.
Cheers and see you on the trails,
- Cycling News
July 11, 2010, 22:10 BST,
July 11, 2010, 23:18 BST
Alice Springs MTB Enduro tests two of the team's racers
The 2010 Red Centre MTB Enduro was held in the sacred lands of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, where a great mass of riders descended on the small city. A two-hour flight saw myself and teammate Robbie Hucker land in the Alice where we were greeted by warm but dry conditions in which locals excelled.
It was my first ever multi-day stage race and for Robbie, his second. We were both very new to the stage racing scene but had accepted the challenge to compete in this harsh event of seven stages in five days. When we arrived on the Saturday before the event, we built our brand new Cube bikes, which look very nice!
With a fun trail ride on Sunday to explore the local trails, this provided a perfect opportunity for me to adapt to my brand new bike and for Robbie to refine his skills on a bike that was only a week older than mine. By the end of the day, we had had a fantastic time exploring some very exciting local singletrack and to top it off, the bike was awesome! After a good bike wash, registration at the event village and a good feed, it was time to prepare for the long week ahead.
Stage 1 of the 2010 Red Centre MTB Enduro saw a 40km race take place in the morning with a mass start and police escort through the heart of Alice Springs town centre. The first 10kms was all fireroad, and riders were spread out immediately from the gun.
At the front, Robbie held strong with the leaders and was comfortably placed in the top eight for the majority of the race. I was just behind the leaders in the top 10 still holding a solid tempo on the harsh fire trails which consisted of overgrown shrubs and head-sized rocks.
Despite a painful start to the race, the last 20kms brought some very fun singletrack and completed the course. Across the line, Robbie was seventh and I was ninth - a very good start to the week. After racing we headed back to our accommodation for what was to be our usual routine of lunch, pool recovery, bike wash and then rest which - the ultimate strategy after a hard day of racing.
Stage 2 was held in the afternoon and was a short 300m hill climb sprint up ANZAC Hill. Riders set off at 30-second intervals and took the average rider about one minutes and 20 seconds to complete, but the fast guys, only 44-50 seconds. I was the first to go off, recording a fast time of 48 seconds. Robbie then took off a few minutes later and posted an even faster time of 46 seconds, placing Robbie in second overall and me in fourth. This was a fantastic effort by both of us, and we were keen to see day two's racing get underway.
Stage 3 was a bit longer with a 50km course to be completed. In another mass start, racers flew down sandy fire trails to get a good position in the field. However the first 20km were very tough and positions alternated frequently. After running a lot of steep rocky trails and unrideable sandy river beds, both Robbie and I were well placed in the top 10 once again with less than 20km to race.
In similar fashion to stage 1, the last 20km of stage 3 also consisted of flowing singletrack with loose rocks causing tough racing conditions. Nearing the end of the race, my legs were like jelly and I was desperate to cross the line. I finished up in ninth place with Robbie right up in the mix of things in sixth. In the overall classification, Robbie held onto seventh while I held onto ninth.
Stage 4 was the longest and most exciting by far. Riders tackled a gruelling 95km from a remote location back to Alice Springs. To start things off, we were practically bush bashing through thick scrub and sandy rivers with a width of near 100m. In the first 20km, there were at least three to four kilometres on foot - not enjoyable at all. However, we were greeted with the odd refreshing creek to cool those tired legs.
The next 70km were all fire trails with a mix of hills, descents and sandy sections which all crushed our spirits when we encountered them. To make things worse, these sandy sections were totally unrideable and this meant more running! Despite all of this, the leaders were mainly spread out, and I was sitting around 15th for the majority of the race. Robbie was suffering from back problems and dropped off the pace early on. With the last 20k in sight, I hit the last feed zone, got a fresh bottle and had a 14km gravel road to overcome before we hit the final 6km of the race which was all singletrack. I had now moved up into 11th and I powered home to secure this 11th place and record another consistent result to keep myself positioned in ninth overall. Unfortunately for Robbie, a bad day and a sore back meant he finished back in 50th. He managed to drop back to 13th overall and not lose too much time.
Stage 5 was an individual time trial, which consisted of a 23km mostly singletrack loop which took the fast guys 53-55 minutes to complete. Robbie posted a 55 minute and 39 second hot lap, and I rode a 55:51 hot lap despite loosing 30 seconds. We were both very pleased. This put us into fifth and sixth respectively for the stage 5 race.
In stage 6, we undertook the same course, but at night. With a few hours recovery, we were both back on our bikes with some quality Light and Motion Lights which provided some seriously bright light. After a mass start, we headed off into the dark with some riders taking some unusual lines in the first 3kms to gain positions. I got a great start and led the big field of riders for about 1km until a few other riders jumped up the track to lift the tempo.
It was then that Robbie grabbed their wheel and bridged the gap. He then took over the pacemaking and led the field for the next 10km until a slight mistake cost him five places. I then caught up to Robbie and we worked together for the rest of the 23km. We then rode home together and finished up in fifth and sixth respectively again and were only 1:30 behind the winner. It was a great result and we were both pleased with our day 4 performances. Overall, this put Robbie into 11th and I moved up into eighth. It was time to get an early night sleep and prepare for our final day of pain.
Stage 7 kicked off with a mass start and riders undertook a 1.5km street circuit around the town of Alice Springs before heading onto the dirt for the last time. Robbie was up in the top six riding in the lead group, which opened up a small advantage on the rest of the field.
I was only a few seconds behind but was not able to hold onto their wheels. I seemed to hold a steady tempo and control my own pace early on in the race. It was after 10km that I caught Robbie, and we stayed together for 1km until Robbie dropped off the pace. I had to keep going as my closest rivals were just ahead and just behind me. I couldn't loose too much time to the riders ahead, but needed to gain time on the riders close behind. As the race unfolded, I held my position in seventh. Robbie took a top 20 finish, and in the overall classification I moved up to seventh position to cap off a great week of racing. Robbie held onto 13th overall.
Overall, it was a fantastic week of racing which saw some incredible highs and some incredible lows. My favourite quote for the week was on the final day.
"I'm never coming back here again," said Robbie Hucker. It will now be one event that we can look back on and say that we completed it.
Big thanks must go to Gen and Dean at Torq Nutrition Australia who support us so much, especially to Dean for driving a billion hours to get up to Alice Springs and support us throughout the week. Also thanks to our other various sponsors who contribute so much.
- Team TORQ
The only UCI-registered mountain bike team in Australia, the TORQ Performance Nutrition team features some of Australia's top racers and future stars, including current national and Oceania Champion Dan McConnell
For 2011-2012, TORQ racers are targeting the Australian Mountain Bike National Series, National Championships and Oceania Continental Championships. The team's top priority is racing Olympic distance cross country events, but it is also mixing things up with some short track, marathon and endurance events - and maybe even some road races.
Some members will head abroad for the World Cups - an important part of Australian national team selection process for the 2011 World Championships. In the past two years, the team has grown to include some new faces with some great results to back them up.
McConnell, who represented Australia at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, is perhaps the team's most well-known member. Mark Fenner, Brenton Jones, Mark Tupalski, Luke Fetch, Robbie Hucker, Jenni King, Katherine O'Shea, Joanna Wall and Becky Mates are also on the roster. Members take turns writing diary entries.