This race report has been provided by bearded endurance rider and racer Liam O’Dea. A fan of all things singlspeed, especially with a fine ale.
A couple of weeks ago I caught up with Mike Blewitt of MarathonMTB in the pub after the Australian Marathon Championships held at Mt Stromlo. I’d just had a bad day, I was not equal to the course and had emptied the tank by the 2/3 mark; DNF. Mike was in good spirits, after a strong 16th in the Elite event, and was talking about coming back to Canberra for the Singletrack Mind 7 hour at Kowen. The folk from STM always put on a great event and I’ve enjoyed every one that I’ve entered in the past. One beer lead to another and he asked if I’d like to join him in a team entry…
Mike and I go back a few years and have raced together in a few 12 and 24 hour events, with some decent results to show. But more than being a good racer Mike is one of those blokes who has a knack for turning a ride into something a little more epic and/or frenetic than it really should have been, as a result he often appears in my best riding memories. But we haven’t raced together since 2006 so Mike’s question came as a bit of a shock, it felt like a scene out of a movie. While Mike’s largely been riding endless summers since, I’ve pretty much stopped racing at a competitive level and enjoy the racing for the social catchups as much as for the action on the track. While the entry was presented as a casual “friendly, then fast if appropriate” I knew that, with 6+ hours driving to do the race, he wasn’t going to the race so he could work on his tan. That was OK with me, I was looking forward to racing with a level of focus that I haven’t really tried to use for years.
So the day starts with me picking up a mate who was volunteering at the event, then I realised that I forgot my helmet. So much for focus. After trying a few he had in the garage I stole his son’s helmet for the day and drove to the event centre. When I realised I left my helmet behind while trying helmets on… Meeting up with Mike it’s clear he’s not keen on the start lap, so I suit up and see that the start is pointed uphill. Sweet, I chose my Superfly singlespeed for the race and dreaded starting on a flat or, worse, downhill fireroad to string the riders out before hitting the singletrack as the SS hits top speed before a geared bike even changes up to the big ring.
The start is flat out but I was sitting somewhere around 15th when the fireroad turned right, and then right again. And we’re now flying down the fireroad and I’m getting passed like crazy. I’m probably down to 50th by the start of the singletrack. After a couple of minutes I’m not that stressed by my placing; the pace at the start was above my redline and working through the field was a much better warm up.
The track was spectacular, the Kowalski Brothers put in a few linking sections just for this race so that the course would include the best that Kowen has to offer. It was almost entirely singletrack with a handful of very short fireroad sections thrown in to provide plenty of passing opportunities. Without any steep climbs or technical singletrack it should have been a fairly easy course to ride, on paper at least… The trails were so good that it was impossible to ride them slowly, it was just so much more fun to push it that little bit more. It became surprisingly taxing as you got sucked into the riding and forgot about petty things like the fact that there’s another 6 hours to pace yourself at, that you never seemed to find the time to take a drink, or to recover on the descents after pushing yourself up the hill faster than was sensible. Hit up the Kowalski Classic at the end of September for a whole lot more singletrack than is sensible.
We swapped off for the first few laps without any dramas then Mike comes through transition with a big grin and says he’s keen to do a double and starts riding off before I get the chance to respond. It was all good so I spent most of the extra time catching up with folk from out of state that I rarely catch up with unless at these races. I’m back out there pretty quickly though and, just as I hit the first singletrack of the lap I hear the voice of my work colleague Jamie Bailey behind me. As one of the Anytime Fitness Trek riders I know he’s got some speed and was surprised that he wasn’t asking for track. As we start the second climb my legs shut down and within a few hundred metres he’s passed me and is out of sight; uh oh..
I finally creep in to transition and Mike asks me I want to keep going for a double. I don’t remember my exact response but he was on his bike an out for another lap in short order. I shovel food and drink into me, he’s back far too quickly and I’m out for my 4th lap. Conservation of energy is now the order of the day so I’m focused on breathing, being smooth in the singletrack and pedalling efficiently. While out there I realise there is enough time for 3 more laps after I come in, I can’t get Mike to do all three so I’m backing the pace down knowing that I’ll need to do another lap. I come through transition and Mike must have been doing the same sums; “I’ll do a double and you can do the last lap” he says. Legend.
More food, more drink and I check the results; we were in 4th only 1 minute or so behind my good friend Jamie. Hmm.. Now there’s a sniff of a podium and bragging rights at work, gotta love an incentive. Mike comes in from his first of the 2 laps and he’s had a flyer, we’re in 3rd now. While he was out (hopefully) building that lead I know that I’ll need to push it to hold the position, Jamie’s teammate Shane Taylor is another enduro stalwart who is a very handy rider. We chat in transition about how we’re both starting to suffer so it’s clear that it’ll be whoever cracks first will be handing over the fight for 3rd place.
Mike has another screaming lap and I’m off. Feeling very much like a hare with the greyhound on my tail I just keep on pushing through the fatigue and concentrate on staying smooth. The track is now pretty familiar and I’m getting a good rhythm. I cross the finish line without getting passed so we managed to get a podium. Unexpected and very exciting! Jamie mentioned that I crossed the finish line looking too relaxed, it was all smoke and mirrors. My legs had started to cramp up and I had lost almost all power in the last few km. Thankfully for me the lap finished with a 2km continuous downhill, I don’t remember turning the pedals at all for the 5 minutes before rolling into the finish.
Thanks to MarathonMTB for getting me all excited about racing again, thanks to Mike for doing the hard yards and the fast laps and thanks to the Chocolate foot event crew for running such a smooth event; no hassles, many smiles, great people.