I think Douglas Adams once summarised the evolution of human thought best with the following three-point description:
– What shall I eat?
– Why do I eat?
– What time is dinner?
This is a statement that all cyclists can empathise with – the phases of peckish, hungry, then finally (and perhaps most dangerously) : hangry.
However, to interrupt this extremely irrelevant introduction to a cycling blog, there are a few other philosophical (and deep. So deep) thoughts that one might encounter during a 7 hour mountain bike race that relate to something other than food.
1. First Thoughts on Waking Up
As a dedicated mountain biker, one would imagine my first thought on the morning of a mountain bike race is one of excitement and anticipation at the delectable trails to follow (oh, there’s that food theme again).
On average, I spend about five out of seven days waking up with an eternal monologue perhaps best described by Edvard Munch’s Scream….
Shortly followed by something to the effect of “oh no, not again”.
This thought is usually followed by an irrepressible desire for coffee. On weekends and at mountain bike races, the scream and the resignation are neatly supplanted by the desire for coffee. The relationship between caffeine and cycling has been explored ad libidium (more on that later) in other posts – suffice to say that, for now, it transformed me from some sort of sallow-eyed zombie into a “frothing” (so enduro!!) racerboy.
2. The Freudian Slipper
A concept that could only be invented at a party, the Freudian Slipper is a device with a remarkable logical tautology to it, in that its interpretation evokes the very form of battle between the ego and the id in the kind of disturbing, enlightening and paradigm-distorting way that Freud probably intended. Some would claim it’s a form of footware that can immediately satiate the inner desires of the wearer (what a WorkSafe way to write it!), others might claim it’s an extremely dark drinking game in which participants are forced to reveal their inner desires, and others yet might go red and deny the existence of the Slipper.
As you’ve probably guessed, Dear Reader, I will struggle to successfully link that first paragraph to my mountain biking experience. So, why do we race? Shall we be biological-reductionist, and claim it an attempt to seduce the opposite gender? Unlikely, given the male dominance of the sport, although its blatantly misogynistic twist is a smear on a fantastic sport. Or are the Marxists correct, and racing used as a way of reinforcing the inherent competition of capitalism (oh yes, Chocolate Foot, you oppressive fiends) to blind us from the socialist utopia of riding Dutch City bikes while suitably inebriated
Perhaps it is better to leave social theory behind, and return to the aforementioned Slipper. There is indeed an element of conflict between the raging, egotistical id and the socially construed ego inherent to a mountain bike race. A battle between one’s desire to go hard, and to control the exertion, eat and drink correctly, and pace appropriately for the distance of the race. A battle between mongrel and appearing pro, casual but deliberate, and possibly nice on track.
3. How Fast is Too Fast?
This incredibly long prelude has segued neatly to a description of the start of the race on a sunny and mild morning in the lovely forests of Taree, which somewhat incongruously abut a neighbouring tip. 20 sprawled wide across the start-line, composed of some fast riders, and, inevitably, some who really shouldn’t have been on the front row. With the eventually tooting of the horn (hello again, Freud), the riders sprung forward in an ungainly explosion of gangly limbs and garish lycra. As the pacelines on the fireroad played out, I soon found myself having rather too much fun and heading into the singletrack on the wheel of Trek Racing Australia team mate Jack Lavis.
This soon begged the question: how fast is too fast at the start of a 7 hour? This is indeed quite a conundrum. The rewards of starting hard are numerous. There’s a useful kick of adrenaline, the ability to enjoy the feeling of racing flat out, some Freudian satisfaction,whatever your theoretical bent, and the beauty of clean, traffic-free trails.
I would generally like to believe that anything below 90% exertion is possible to recover from without inducing too much carnage, although my approach to this statement has been wildly lacking in scientific or phenomenological rigour, but does abound in verbose pretentiousness (to quote a housemate). The trails were linking up nicely, and I soon found a decent rhythm and began to settle into the trails with the constant reminders buzzing in my head: eat, drink, and be merry.
Soon, I noticed the descending style behind me that only a former enduro motocross champion could boast, and Andy Lloyd bridged across. We soon formed an alliance of convenience to take turns to pull away from Jason English, whose speediness in races of any form is (rightly) the stuff of coffee-shop legend.
The Alliance of Convenience soon proved to have all the effectiveness of NATO postering against a Russian invasion, as a speedy Merida jersey soon invaded our precarious sovereign borders of race leadership.
4. How much wheel can you suck?
If there’s any phrase roadies throw around with particular disdain (yet simultaneously delight, hello again Mr Freud), it’s wheel-sucking. Ah yes, all riders from commuters to roadies to downhillers are familiar with the parasite who clings persistently to your hard-working wheel, refusing to take a turn, and generally being a terrible human being.
I love sucking wheel.
Sitting in with Lloydy and English, we picked our way through the traffic, and dreaded the moment Jason would hit the front and lift the pace. The move soon came with all the violence of an aforementioned Russian invasion. Desperately clinging on, I scrambled to make the junction to a surging English, and settled in for a very hard race.
5. How Buff is Too Buff?
With the necessity of restraining the id somewhat and focussing on a long term strategy of survival, I began to focus on things to enjoy around me. These could be found in abundance. The Taree trails are rightly famed for their fantastic flow, with tacky corners linking lush gullies, punching climbs, and sweet, flowing descents through the native bush. In addition to this, the Manning Valley riders club take enormous pride in their trails, and had prepared them to delectable perfection (ahh, there’s the food again). Hallowed mountain bike phrases like groomed and sick and buff were soon bandied around with abandon. Indeed, the trails had been buffed to a state rarely ever seen, and the stuff of a frothing blog-post on Flow. The inner rage was happily suppressed for pure enjoyment of the riding!
6. Is cheerful really facetious?
If there was ever a brutally effective dirty tactic present in mountain biking, it would be obnoxiously cheerful chitter-chat. I first discovered this strategy in my early 24 hour races, where my efforts to make friends among my riding compadres soon proved extremely (and accidentally) effective at breaking them emotionally. I haven’t tested this with any scientific rigour either, so it could potentially be my personality that’s actually to blame.
Either way, the chat between Jason and I soon took place, like the sparring moves of a slow and rather absurd game of chess. Laden with double meanings, seemingly innocuous phrase were like daggers through the heart. “That’s an interesting line” perhaps meant “you descend like a roadie”. “You’re not punching up here this lap” : “clearly you’re slowing down”. “I think my forks aren’t working…..” : “go on, attack me, I dare you….”. “We’re holding hands”: “I can’t drop him!!!”
We had soon passed the four hour leader and were chugging along, seemingly inseparable. After five hours of surging pace on the climbs, the pace jumped up a notch again. I desperately clung on, feeling the proverbial elastic becoming really rather plastic.
Of course, the least wise thing to do in this situation would be to counter-attack…
7. When is it wise to attack?
With 2 hours to go, jumping on a bit of adrenaline was a dangerous tactic. Punching down the first descent, I rallied off emotion and played dramatic, Phillipe Gilbert music in my head. I was pondering a finish-line salute rehearsal when I noticed Jason had bridged effortlessly to my wheel. The cheeky comment didn’t take long:
“I thought you were going to have a dig!”
Hmmm. Perhaps my raging attack had not been quite so speedy after all.
Jason soon calmly explained to me that I had transferred the adrenaline to him, I was definitely slowing the pace off, and proposed that, after this slow lap, we spend three laps destroying each other. I tried to respond with calm decorum, but I’m sure my inner sense of dread made it to the outside.