I had only been back on the MTB for three weeks, but mentally I felt like I’d been preparing for this race for months. Despite being the defending champion I felt no pressure to back-up my title- it was no secret that Olympian and U23 World Cup Champion Rebecca Henderson was the favourite and even I myself was in agreeance with that. The hardest thing for me was having belief in myself that I could not only beat her, but that I could do so on a course that suited her to a tee. Where would I trump her? Where was she weaker? No-where. I would have to have the perfect day just to make a race of it but I felt that I was ready for that.
|Seeking rare shade in sunny Bright|
Photo courtesy Russ Baker
I wanted no excuses. I don’t look for them and I feel that there is no reason to have them. So three weeks out Jarrod built me the best possible bike with top-of-the-line specs- a Bianchi Methanol 29er with Sram XX1, Rock Shox World Cup Sid forks, with an Easton EC90 wheel-set and Hutchinson Black Mamba tyres. It was beautiful, weighing in at 8.59kg. We road-tripped to Bright three times to check out the course in different conditions and I even did a few ergo sessions! The week of the Championships I bought out the new Sidi shoes and Giro helmet, and felt that I was in the best possible form I could be for race day.
The course was a dream and I loved every bit of it. Maybe it was because I’d seen the work that had gone into designing it, cutting in, and manicuring it. Day in, day out- Peter Mack and his team put in countless hours of labour to bring it up to standard and they were proud of it, rightly so. The course was physically tough, and although void of man-made obstacles it was technical in its natural habitat. To avoid an even lengthier blog I’ll go as far to say the track went up to a dam, and straight back down for a predicted 21minute lap. Single-track was braided with tree roots, dark forrest with steep pinches, open fire-road sections with passing opportunities and a fast winding descent that lived up to it’s name ‘tree-hugger’.
The field was hot with five current and previous National XCO Champions taking to the line in the first of six selection races for the Commonwealth Games:
61. Me –2013’ XCO Champ, 2012’ XCM Champ
62. Jenni King – 2013 XCM Champ, 2012 XCO Champ
63. Rebecca Henderson – 2013 U23 World Cup Champ, 2013 XCO U23 Champ, 2012 Olympian
64. Rowena Fry – 2011 XCO Champ, 2010 XCO Champ
65. Tory Thomas – 2009 XCM Champ, 2008 XCO Champ
Despite losing out to Jenni and Tory in Adelaide, I felt like the battle between Bec and I would headline the race as it had in Moama. The build up had been minimal, but in my head she was the one to beat. The gun fired. I clipped in fine for the tarmac start loop and moved myself up on-to second wheel behind Row, then nearly forgot to turn onto the fire trail! ‘Calm down Peta’. I sat pretty for a while before pushing hard up on Row to edge out Tory into the first bit of single-track. A little brake check in-front and I was off and running up the pinch. ‘F—k’. I took the lead for a while to keep myself in check. I knew the race would take its toll and am always nervous to go out too hard. In opposing fashion, Bec loves to hit out early so I let her pass along the double track half way up the climb. ‘Keep her in sight’.
|Bec Henderson leading the way|
Photo courtesy Tim-Bardsley Smith
I pushed a little harder than I would have liked to reach the dam a few seconds in arrears, and on reflection am surprised at how quickly the gap opened up to the rest of the field. At the time I had no interest in them, just the one trying to get away. ‘Play it safe’. I didn’t take any risks on the descent and held Bec to trail by 5secs headed into lap 2. It was already 20secs back to Tory and Jenni. I put in a little effort to catch Bec on the single-track pinch, but paid for it when she returned the favour and rode away from me on the fire-road. ‘Don’t panic’ I tried to remain calm but as we headed up the climb the gap started to open. I was already riding in my red-zone (+185bpm) and lost her up the final few pinches to the dam.
|Suffering in the dense forrest in Bright|
Photo courtesy theroostmag.com.au
Although she was out of sight on the descent, the time gap was still achievable at 15sec as we headed into lap 3 of 5. ‘HARDER PETA!!’. I held her again through the flatter technical trails, but as she had done so before, she out climbed me. This time I lost hope, I new I had lost the bike race. My heart broke as I pedaled up to the dam and all the fight I had in me was gone. Physically I was still working hard but mentally I was somewhere else, drowning my sorrows mid-race… In the end I finished 59sec behind Bec after kicking back into gear to hold off Jenni at +1:48min. Meanwhile Tory, Row and Jodie Willett were putting on a real show in their bid for a podium position, going through bell lap with just seconds separating them. They finished in that order 4minutes in arrears.
I tried to put on a happy face for the rest of the day, but I wanted to win so badly that it was nearly painful to come second. The good news is that the following day I backed up to win the Australian Eliminator Championships! The eliminator is the ‘sprint’ in the MTB world, held on an 800m circuit with a bit of single-track and a few obstacles thrown in. Every rider completes a seeded run and then it’s a round robin format until the final four dual it out for the win. It was a surprise win for me as it wasn’t a focus race, but the course suited me well being a tarmac finish sprint, and the main contenders tactics played right into my hands. I took the win ahead of Row Fry, U23 sensation Emily Parkes, Jenny Fay and Holly Harris (also U23). Green & gold bands for 2014, yay :)
|Me and my Aussie MTB idol Jared Graves: XCE Champions|
Photo courtesy Cycling Australia
I normally have many people to thank but this time the list is short. I need to thank my partner Jarrod, who every day encourages me to be a better person and do more with my life. I need to thank his Dad, Peter- without the support of Moronis Bikes and co. I would lead a very stressed and money-poor life. And to my fans- the #TASR bunch who have adopted me, the Bright locals who welcomed Jarrod and I into their circle, and of course my family who continue to forgive me for my lack of love and communication. Note to family: In case I forgot to mention it I’m off to Europe for 7 months, so download Skype…
Results: Via castech