Lead up to the Classic was terrible and training a disaster, with some days relegated to the gym, a spin bike, just to clock up a few hit-outs. The weather was the cause, probably on the for front of many a registered rider for the annual escarpment climbs which makes this event unique from the other 100km races. I could already see it, the sapping clay and laying water.
After considering the possible conditions we were about to face I set three goals with the first one being, finish the race. It sounds simple but the circumstances under which I had to complete my first goal included riding all the climbs, bar the couple of technical rocky step-ups between the 50km mark and the main decent to the canoe bridge. First of all and one of the most daunting obstacles is the initial climb up onto the escarpment. I remember speaking with a 50km rider last year as he was about to complete his first 50km Classic after two attempts, his first attempt finished at that initial climb and he rode back to St Albans along the road. But it is a major challenge, riders all around me peeled of to the sides, pushing their bikes up the hill in front of them, this was the first wave after the Elites. I can only imagine the torture it would have been for the back end of the 50kers as the hill was torn apart by studded MTB shoes. I reached the summit, elated and already exhausted, I rode the first climb, then I pushed the thoughts of the remainder from my mind.
Usually my other goal when it comes to MTBing is fun but this time it was the S word, safely. Due to the conditions safely had risen up the list. It only reminded me of things to come when I heard a helicopter some where between the 25 and 50km, along the wet and twisty sections, rounding pools of water, my eyes peeled for rocks and sodden branches. Keep it smooth, keep it safe. Passing the 50km mark I felt alright, I rode straight through, opting to swap bottles and replenish food from my camelbak on the wide dirt road climb out. Further along I came across a rider discussing the best way back to St Albans with RFS volunteers, he crashed a couple of times and wanted to calling it a day. Unfortunately we were near the convict trail and I wonder whether the RFS boys were able to convince the rider to continue down the spectacular descent to the canoe crossing or he went down the fire trail and back to the road. It was through this section I tried to curb my own enthusiasm as the fun of the rocky decline and drops took a hold of me. Small mistakes are made and I have to slow to find the most suitable line, don't take to many risks I remind myself. Then as I head down the final section before the road and canoe bridge the tree canopy closes in throwing me into near darkness, I'm off the line in an instant and over the bars, luckily landing softly. That was a bit close, but on the most technical part of the trail. I looked forward to the safety of the open trail of the final 30km.
When it comes to riding a set trail it is nice to achieve a better time when ever you get to ride it and the Classic is no different. My final goal was a PB. I was now riding with a small bunch of guys on 29ers we had passed the 80km mark, things were starting to feel pretty sweet with 20 odd kilometers to go. It was sweet on the down hills, then we would curse every twisted climb back up again. There was a brief time check and acknowledgment that we were working towards a five hour finish. I may have made a “last one to the bottom of the hill is a rotten egg” comment to spur us on as we finally made it to the top before the crazy water-bar littered fire trail decline. We jubilantly make it out onto the road in one piece and settled in for the final dirt road sections and small creek crossing. Sitting in behind my friendly 29er rider, I was preparing myself to put down 100% for the final section of road with that small climb which would be quashed in half a dozen pedal strokes. When I was handed an unexpected card, BAM! 29er offered assistance but I told him to ride on as I slowed the bike. Leaping off the bike I flipped it on the side of the road and in one smooth motion removed the rear wheel, pressed back the beads and separated the tyre from the rim. It sure was a strange place to have a flat or puncture, I agree wholeheartedly. It wasn’t going to be that simple, what I had in my hands was a blown sidewall and associated unfortunate tube. The hole was bigger than a simple Hammer gel packet repair, the alternative a proper tube patch repair on the tyre plus additional strengthening. After repairing the tyre, being handed a second card from fate and dealing with that problem I finally found myself squirreling on two wheels through the sand and across the creek many minutes after my previous PB.
The St Albans Classic, with the crew from MAX Adventure at the helm, the dedicated volunteers at their various stations, the RFS both in town and out on the trail, live music at the Pub, coffee and food, makes for a great atmosphere both prior and post race. It is quite easy to see why the event sells out in a couple of days and people travel the distances they do to camp down by the river and make a full weekend of it. Even though the conditions were testing, the morning mist cleared to a fine sunny day, the views from the escarpment are always stunning if you can manage to grab a glimpse. The Classic ensures to test riders and their bikes, but once over the finish line, a beer thrust into my hand the sapping clay and laying water was promptly forgotten.