The Definitive Chugger’s Guide to a National XC Round stands alone and distinct in the myriad world of cycling guideline publications. Refreshingly free of dense acronyms and meaningless jargon intended purely to confound, it provides a holistic and synergistic approach to the cycling experience delivered mostly by counterexample – the splendid model most spectacularly demonstrated by incompetent project managers teaching project management – and is delivered from the snobbish moral high ground held exclusively by cyclists.
To begin with, dear Cyclist, know that you can take the moral high ground. There is no propellant in the world more potent than the smug sense of self-satisfaction attained when you cruise merrily pass a jammed queue of traffic, replete with a facial expression cogently expressing the transcendent tranquillity of motion by bicycle. You will then proceed to yell at an innocent pedestrian to get out of your way. You are simultaneously saving the environment and the public health system.
Lesson 1: Preparation
The most important consideration for a national XCO round is preparation. With the promise of very high intensity, physical health and well-being and sharp legs are an absolute priority.
Inappropriate preparation activities include any of the following:
- Going cycling touring – at least your bum will be used to hours in the saddle
- Going drinking the night before. While in certain sports this may elevate you to a certain form of status, as a cyclist, your body weight will render you completely incapable of handling even the lightest of beers, and you may indeed get high off the fumes. While under the influence of alcohol, shining examples from popular sports express optimal conduct:
- Getting in a pointless fight, because after all, you’re kind of a big deal
- Posting your uninformed opinions on social media
- If you are a footballer, stay away from sexual relations with anything, but most particularly, animals. A special research branch of the Australian Federal Police has been set-up to investigate the correlation between overpaid footballers and truly grotesque deviances
Starting the Race
One major problem with the men’s XCO races at National Rounds is that they are held in the middle of summer at 2.30pm in the afternoon. While there is, of course, a very practical reason for this to do with scheduling all the day’s racing throughout the day, being a post on the internet, we are more concerned here with anti-fact than common sense and fact.
It means the racing is rather hot in the literal sense as well as the metaphorical, and held during the long dark tea-time of the soul . The long dark tea time of the soul is that desolate period around 2.30pm when, crushed somewhere between a lunchtime food coma and the dazzling mediocrity promised by the afternoon. During the working week, it’s the time spent fighting off the insatiable desire to gnap with a strong afternoon coffee, followed by a willingness to procrastinate and to drag coworkers into desultory banter.
Suffice to say, it’s best to plan your day around this, and not go into the race thinking that a very nice use of your afternoon would be napping in some shade by the river.
This blog will also thoroughly recommend being seeded dead last. Sitting up, you can guarantee that you’ll be free from the startline carnage that invariably results when 20 mountain bikers try to spend on uneven terrain, mashing gears, 700mm bars swinging wildly, and all looking for the same line. When seeded last, you can pause for a nice stretch, and then head off, with a view of where the holes are opening up in the pacelines, before being swallowed by an immense cloud of dust.
Going into the Red
Your first racing strategy should be to go as hard as physically possible on the first hill. On the plus side, your position then will be as good as it could possibly be. On the negative, you are tempting all sorts of violent and painful forms of come-uppance in the subsequent minutes of racing.
Looking up after the first climb, I was horrified to see another climb. And then another. They kept coming, and red transforms into the Lactic Acid Bath of Cross-Eyed Dreams. Stumbling like an addict across the top of the climbs, descending becomes a much harder proposition in the glorious froth of the acid bath. Arms don’t work, legs flail, and judgment is poor. Trees miraculously jump out at you, and soft edges on the trail unpredictably give way.
This is an unusual issue at Orange because the descents are spectacularly good. Berms link up roots and chutes in a smorgasboard of IMBA-violating perfection. Hitting with lactic though meant that jumps I was clearing in 7 hours were now a daunting task, and I was skidding wide in berms everywhere.
The most useful advice for almost any situation in life would be “don’t panic”. In cycling terms, this can be equated to “don’t blow up”. Somehow, wading through the bath, one must remember to eat, drink, and attempt to settle into something vaguely resembling a rhythm. This might allow you to recover a few positions late in the race while others descend into smouldering pits, provided, of course, you don’t descend into smouldering pits yourself.
The Camping Experience
As bike racing is an outdoors pursuit, there is no better way to spend the night than camping under a warm Australian summer sky, with balmy stars twinkling above, and the sounds of screeching rubber from a chorus of V8 utes echoing across the valley for true, Castle-esque serenity. You’ll even have millions of blood-sucking mosquitoes to keep you company.
Drifting off to sleep, the sounds of a clapped-out ute then could be heard through the race venue. Profanities in accents so broad they make Kath and Kim positively regal. Burnouts galore. Eventually, the ute disappeared, then 30 minutes later, re-emerged down the small fire-road adjacent the forest I was camping in.
Engine growling with obvious cogitation, the headlamps slowly rolled up. Right up to my tent. A few anxious minutes passed while I pondered what would happen next. Realising my best form of self-defense would probably be my portable bicycle pump, I began to think of the inglorious obituaries:
“Mountain biker found run over in forest. NSW Government calls for tougher and more punitive restrictions on cyclists to reduce fatalities in NSW forests”
“Vehicular terrorism in Kinross State Forest as ute plows through race venue. Sonja Kruger calls for all Muslims to be deported”
“Cycle blogger found brutally murdered in remote forest. Readership of two devastated”
In the midst of these thoughts, the ute – probably looking for unlocked bikes it could hoist away – eventually moved on. Suffice to say, unexpected glimpses of mortality did not lead to a comforting night of sleep.
Messing around with my bike set-up, I’d decided that, despite a decent result on Saturday, I should tweak my position further in search of more power. It’s a rule universally recognised that you should never change anything just before a race. A quick spin suggested a slightly better cadence, and I was sold.
With a higher starting position, I was looking forward to a good ride. Unfortunately, on the start, I soon became “that” guy. I missed my cleat and completely dabbed the pedal stroke. In a second I was swamped and the attitudes of the riders behind me turned justifiably murderous. In a familiar position at the tail end of the field, I decided to try to race conservatively on a course with some punishing pinch climbs.
These strategy might well have been prudent had I not been an idiot and messed with my position. Within half a lap my back was locking up and descending ability was in the unholy domain of the triathlete. Within 3 laps my back had locked up and crippled my poor, as I contemplated my life ahead as a balding geriatric cripple and wondered whether the ute of doom the night before would have been merciful in finishing the job.
In such situations, even with morose thoughts, it’s time to look for the fun factor. Cowbells on the track. Wheelies popped on the climb. Endless heckles that results when a 24 hour race displays a noteable absence of endurance and fades abysmally. The sheer ludicrousness of riding around in circles in garishly coloured lycra. Most importantly, kilometres of brilliant descends in the afternoon sun.
The List of Definitive Items
- toilet paper
- Tiger skin suit (and what a brilliant ride that was by Anna Beck)
- bucket loads of water
- Bucket loads of suncream
- A backpack with a pump, you never know when you might need it for self-defense.
A huge thank you to Team Davy Sprocket (Bre, Jay and Adam) for letting me tag along for a weekend of fun, and to Mike Dunlop for slinging bottles in transition!