It is difficult to attend a Marathon MTB race and not hear people whinge. As a collective, mountain bikers whinge quite a lot for individuals who would consider themselves fun-loving and care free. There are a variety of typical complaints:
“It was too hard”
“That was too technical for a marathon”
“It was too easy”
“There was some road in it”
“There was too much fire trail”
“There wasn’t enough single track”
“There was no road section”
“The distance markers were wrong”
“It needed more fire trail”
“It wasn’t technical enough”
“I didn’t like the flavour of gel in my bag”
“The starts are so bloody early!”
We seem to be able to find any feature of a mountain bike race to complain about, or contraindicate each other with our complaints. One of the prevalent aspects to scrutinise in Australian Marathon MTB races is the quantity and quality of singeltrack on offer. And then comes the Kowalski Classic. This race promised either 50km or 90km of racing on primarily singeltrack. Trails that have been crafted or maintained by the Kowalski Brothers. Some new, some old favourites. But lots of twisting and turning through the plantation pine forests and natural bush of Sparrow Hill and East Kowen Forest.
With 30mm of rain on Sunday, there were grumblings about a flooded course, and guesses that the race could be postponed. Thankfully, with a race being run by those who know every inch of the trail – it went ahead. And as it should have. Sunday 30th September was a blue sky day – although quite cold and windy at the start, with temperatures not quite far enough zero degrees for most people.
With starts in waves, the self seeding was done. On the gun, pedals clipped and soon enough a small group formed for the opening section of fire trail. With a start that would be familiar for those who have raced the Capital Punishment XCM round, we soon started a climb that started to set the groups for the day. Dylan Cooper and Brendan Johnston were clear. Justin Morris trailed with a small gap, and then another small gap back to Jarrod Moroni. Behind, Jon Odams, Ollie Klein, Paul Brodie and myself jostled around for the next 15km until I was well off the pace and lodged in no mans land.
There was a lot of single track. And personally, there was a lot of pain in legs that had been submitted to a ‘cross race the previous afternoon, and then hit with about 4.5 hours of driving. In part, this is the reality of racing a lot of single track. If you’re racing – it’s hard. It hurts. You need to continually concentrate, and find every opportunity to eat, drink, or recover. As soon as you lose your rhythm, you falter. A corner gets blown out, you overdo the speed to get back to your rhythm, and mess up another section…
When you’re on form, and thinking clearly, racing on a lot of single track must be a zen-like moment. I can think of a few times I have experienced this. The Shenandoah 100 in 2008, coming into Aid Station 3. The Val Mora, National Park Bike Marathon 2010. Hartman Rocks, the Luge trail – out training in 2012.
Those moments were few and far between for me today, and I never attained a smooth rhythm that took me along the course. Moreover, I struggled with the course markings. All credit to the course setters and markers – as setting and marking such a track is highly time intensive. With so many potential turns and familiar options or lines for racers to take, it is a big task to use bunting or arrows to lead racers along the set course. A few times I almost missed markers, before seeing my error.
Crucially, somewhere after Twin Track, I made a mistake that I’m still not sure about. Around 20 people are in the same boat. I had come across a section of course – except it was marked coming towards me. Retracing my steps, I was certain I had come the right way. Following the arrows to the trail I knew I was wrong, but preferred to keep riding instead of standing next to my bike in the middle of a forest of trails. Although the course marker I met was less than impressed that I had gone astray, I was ono joined by another rider, then another and another. We were lead back to where we should be, and soon enough ended up in the same place.
Somewhat deflated, but happy to just ride pacey not racey – we pushed on to the finish, supposedly 15km away.
And you know what? I’m ok with that. The trails today were amazing. The amount of traction on offer was amazing. The cool conditions rewarded hard effort, and the forested trails protected riders from the strong winds.
Coming in to the event centre with 63.5km on the odometer, I could have gone out for the second loop of 40km, seeing I had created a custom first loop. but I had had a good time already. The trails kept people happy, there was no aggro that I saw – and most of the people who had gone off course were in a similar mindset.
Dylan Cooper crossed the line shortly afterwards, with a winning time of 4:00:07, just shy of his “4hrs flat” start line prediction. Brendan Johnston trailed at 4:02:17, and Jarrod Moroni crossed in 4:11:33 for third place.
The Elite women’s race was one by Peta Mullens, clearly well recovered from her recent Tour de Timor win. Jenni King came in second. Full results can be seen online courtesy of RaceTec Results.
So was their much whinging? Not too much, from what I heard. The course was greeted well by those who were there for the challenge. It was an eye opener for some who forgot how tiring race on endless single track is. As a first year event the Kowalski Classic drew a good crowd. Whether such a heavy single track focus will work if the Elite fields deepen is another question. Fire trail serves a purpose when the racing has higher stakes and deeper fields.
All up the Kowalski Classic was a great day out on the mountain bike – well done to everyone who