Despite not indulging in many movies, I’ve observed that there is a basic pre-meditated script to most Hollywood movies. Set in disturbingly upper-middle-class environments, with the air of optimism in the American Dream almost fragrant in the air – and real life problems like job security, or depression and despair in the dustbowl. Nor are there hard-hitting statements on the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma and a preacher from Atlanta…
Instead, the stories are set in a neat and principled America dawning to a sunny day with Hope in the air. Invariably, they follow largely the same plot.
In a crude sense, you could compare a bike race to a film in that it has a beginning, some stuff in the middle no-one really remembers, and then an ending. Or perhaps, that bike racing floats in a pleasant abstraction of real life where there is an air of optimism and dreams, and real life problems don’t matter, and the sun always shines perfectly on a beautiful day.
Setting the Scene
The Wagga 6 hour is a much-loved jaunt around the trails of Pomigalarna at Wagga, held by the MTB Wagga. Pomigalarna sets out a beautiful 13km course with good variation of terrain between smooth and rocky, steep and swoopy, and plenty of nice natural bushland scenery and views over town. It’s a happy hunting ground for a fun day on the trails.
In the past couple of years, the race has also formed part of the Evocities MTB series – a little mountain bike series pointing out why massive cities with no open spaces and cripplingly high cost of living may no longer be the ideal manifestation of the Australian Dream.
Fortunately, the slow and inevitable decline of the Australian dream is far too deep a topic for our fluffy Hollywood script. Your narrator (setting a resonant Everyman tone with a whiff of nostalgia) has enjoyed some success in recent years at the Wagga 6 hour, but was all too cogniscant that presence of the Evocities would bring some excellent competition.
A Dramatic Twist
In every Hollywood film, there is a dramatic twist that plunges the protagonists against the woes of the world, and requires at least one emotional epiphany and lots of courage to overcome. In this case, the weather happily obliged with a solid 40mm drenching of rain on the Friday night, transforming dry trails into a wetland, and the surrounding flood plains into, well, flooded-plains instead of the usual barren wastelands.
The call was made – the show must go on, due to the draining nature of the trails. However, late on Saturday night, another storm blew through with an additional 5mm or so of steady rain. This meant that not only would the ground be saturated, there’d be running water on the trails – a sure sign for some muddy carnage.
It was with this air of dramatic trepidation that a motley crew of 150 riders assembled on a grey and bleak morning at Pomigalarna. Swarming on the start line, the poor martial soon made the comment: “there’s an awful lot of testosterone here. I can smell it!”
Perhaps the air was truly redolent with ambition, or just with nerves about the trail conditions. Either way, when the whistle went and we catapulted up the hill, heart rates rapidly rose on the wet climb.
The Startling Epiphany
In every Hollywood film, there’s a moment of truly divine illumination about some inspiring and conveniently opaque moral truism. In my case, it was the realisation that, if I had any hope against Shaun, Jason, Stefan, Lloydy and Dan, I’d have to go beserk from the beginning.
There is no beginning to a race quite so conducive to adrenaline-filled epiphanies as a nice fire-road climb. It begs heart rates to be maxed out, eyes popping out of sockets, ragged breathing and legs fighting imminent incapacitance from a surging tide of lactic acid.
It’s a moment on a prayer – somehow hoping that a ridiculous intensity will click into a magic rhythm that can be magically and mysteriously maintained for 6 hours. It’s belief in something like a Hollywood tale – that with a bit of a self-belief and hefty stupidity, you can somehow leap of dazzling void of form and achieve the impossible.
Pushing hard through the slop and the mud, I was looking to see if I can find some magical inspiration and superhero legs. Looking over at the end of the first lap, I could see that Jason was being very attentive and rapidly coming across the gap.
I consoled myself that he looked like he was turning himself inside out, with numerous pain faces and a tense body. None of this was a consolation when, on the steep Col de Croix, he powered past me and dropped me like the proverbial stone.
Regaining composure and bridging back on down Wagga’s stunning final descent, I took a moment to stabilise my epiphany in the reality of being the weaker rider of the pair, and settled in for a very hard day.
The Emotional Collapse
Swinging around for the third lap, we swapped off for the muddy singletrack. Already, the course was a tale of two trails- while certain sections of the course were dry, tacky, and downright delicious, others were rapidly exploding under the weight of wheels and the surface moisture. Drivetrains were grinding in the slop, and brake pads were rapidly wearing thin.
While on the front and pushing hard, I had a momentary lapse and a big pedal strike. The net effect was a dropped chain. Even with a quick restoration, a brief implosion had occurred in my brain. The gap instantly blew out as I struggled to find rhythm through the mud and close the gap. The cadence of the first few laps was gone and my lines were poor and messy. A silly crash soon followed on a slow uphill switchback, which required re-alignment of the bars. It was at this point I also realised that the air seal in my forks had failed, and they had effectively jammed down at zero travel. Nursing the front end down the descents would be one issue, but the bigger challenge would be preventing pedal strikes with my bottom bracket even lower.
With my little Hollywood dream imploding in front of me, it was time to look for some alternative inspiration.
The Requisite Bad Guy
Every Hollywood story needs a good old fashioned villain – one of such base mendacity that the only possible reaction is utter revulsion.
Bombing my around the back of the course, I soon encountered this villian. With a crescendo of angry squarks, a low flying forward pass soon followed. Spiralling away, a vicious dive-bomb followed, with the slap of claws on the helmet.
The Promise of Love
The theme of perfect romance is always lurking around the corner in any good Hollywood story. The heroic protagonist somehow meets the misunderstood, lovely, and conveniently beautiful love interest. Significant and meaningful glances are exchanged. Poetic silences lapse after said eye contacts, perhaps signified with a secret lingering smile after some exchange of whispered words.
The promise of eternal and undying happiness under a golden sunset across fields of flowers, hand in hand through the golden light.
Given the gender splits in mountain biking, the fact I was coated in mud and completely blown, the odds of actual romance were approaching the staggering depths of probability usually reserved for standing around awkwardly at the high school disco.
Instead, I fell back in love with mountain biking. The 0mm travel Anthem was bucking the “super slack” Enduro trend and was actually climbing rather well with its crazy steep head angle. The bits of the trail that were dry really were superbly good fun. The weather was rather pleasant for riding. The soft corners became tests of a good two wheel drift, and seeing how far the traction could go. The blown out sections became experiments in mud explosion. And somehow, miraculously, I was holding down second place.
Positive thought leads to positive thought, and even the hardest parts of the course were soon tempered by that wisest of motives: you could be at work right now, and remembering how much I love racing a bike.
Enjoying the things that were going well and bombing around the trails on a fun bike, I was forced to snap into reality hearing that, with a damaged course becoming increasingly more treacherous, the race was to be shortened to 4 hours. Realising with a jolt that Jason might not be too far up the road, it was time to find a little adrenaline and coming charging home hard – albeit still 5 minutes down the road.
A Moral Conclusion
Crossing the finish line, the paddock was teeming with very muddy, but very happy riders. Despite the difficulty of the weather, it was fairly safe to conclude that mountain biking had still won on the day, and everything was wonderful and happy with the world, and that they all lived happily ever after.
A big thank you to MTB Wagga for another great race and for making the best of the bad conditions – we’ll have a dry race soon! A huge thank you to Maree Beresford for slinging bottles for about 5 riders simultaneously, while local legend Dan powered to a 3rd overall.
Thanks also to Onya Bike for keeping the bikes running despite the tortures of a wet winter, and to Hammer Nutrition for keeping the fuels coming in.
Next up – a return to Back Yamma, and Redefining the Rules….