Originally the Willo wasn’t on my radar, mainly because I didn’t have a way to get to Wingello Forest. On Tuesday afternoon I got an invitation to travel down with Dana and her family and I couldn’t say no! My last race at Wingello was the 3 Ring Circus. This was an amazing event but I really remember struggling through my section, so you can imagine I was slightly uncertain approaching the start line.
After a quick tune up and service from Ride 365 last week the bike was running perfectly! So clean and I knew the shifting was spot-on. My legs and lungs had also been well tuned, the new training plan from super coach James Downing is going great. James had me doing a few small sprints in the morning, just to make sure my legs were awake!
We left early at 6am, leaving us plenty of time for the customary stop at Trappers Bakery. After a hot chocolate we were back on the road and had arrived at the forest before I knew it! Parking was difficult but once we found a spot it was time to rego and sign on. Then for the long wait in line for the toilet (always leave time to queue for the toilet folks).
After the obligatory rider briefing, we made our way down the hill to the start line. I was racing the 25km, the shortest distance so had to start in the last of four groups. Your heart rate picks up as riders in the first groups get their gun. The elite men went off, followed by the rest of the 75km field, then the 50km riders, then us. I was keen to get a good start so made sure I put myself on the front line.
The dirt was soft and there was so much moisture in the air. Suddenly the gun went off and I managed to clip in straight away, but was geared all wrong and just fell onto my handlebars, I hit the trigger shifter a few times to hit a sensible gear, and started chasing to get back onto the lead rider.
It turns out the lead rider was a CORC Junior by the name of Jack, who I raced last weekend at the AMB, he beat me by less then a second so I was keen to see if I could get ahead of him today.
The first kilometre was fire road, before a sharp right into singletrack. I mentioned earlier that I had mixed experience on the Wingello singletrack last time, but right from the start today it felt amazing. The tracks were super grippy and flowed really well.
After the first singletrack section we’d formed a group of five riders, with Jack leading, me second and then three guys behind us. Pretty soon we hit the back of the 50km field, and a glance up the winding tracks showed we had a long train of riders to overtake.
We slowly started making our way through the train, trying to be polite and not inconvenience riders. After 10km we hit a small fire road climb, Jack decided that this was the spot to attack and he went hard! I couldn’t hold his wheel, and just tried to minimize the gap.
Entering the next single-track section with 2 other riders, we knew we had to catch Jack soon, otherwise, that would be it. We flowed through the next section, overtaking riders but without catching sign of him. We rolled onto another fire road and I knew this was time to throw it all down Putting my head down I channelled my inner roadie. I was hoping to roll turns with the other two, and just bring Jack back slowly, but after about a minute I looked back and they were both gone.
I turned a corner and could just spot Jack’s jersey. I knew I was close. A few more minutes of effort and I caught up with him and yelled something along the lines of “The other two aren’t far behind, we’re stronger on the fire road but they’re quicker in the single-track, lets push it hard now and extend this gap” (quite an achievement to get that out when you’re short of air, note for next time, think of shorter sentences…). Jack agreed and we started rolling turns into the next bit of single-track.
What followed was a steep and technical descent, which had unfortunately caught out a rider in front of us who’d crashed. We slowed to make sure he was okay, and getting the all good from him looked back to see another 25km rider closing fast. We pushed on until through the winding single-track, now three of us sticking together like peas in a pod. With about 5km to go we rolled onto another fire road and Jack ramped up the pace. Our third friend briefly dropped off, and then was back on.
Earlier on in the race, Jack warned me there was a bit of a climb leading up the finish, I said something along the lines of “Awesome, that’s where I’ll attack” and we had a bit of a laugh.
We came out of the final single-track section with my Garmin saying we’d ridden 24.5km. With a small hill in sight I attacked hard, trying to get Jack off my wheel. I managed to get in front but couldn’t shake him. Suddenly I looked up to see a sign that nearly made me cry, “KOM in 500m”…
We turned right and the next few hundred metres were a steep climb up a dead straight fire road. This is where Jack pressed hard. He managed to drop me off his wheel with about 100m to go, I was shattered but determined to keep pushing. We turned another right hander and I could see Jack crossing the finish line in 1st place. 13 seconds later I rolled across for 2nd.
Dana got 5th in her category, PNX rider Matt Dunstall and Ride 365 Crit team rider got 19th and 23rd respectively!
Sitting in the car heading back to Canberra, I’m happy with today, all the training has paid off and I can start to see results. It’s great to feel form coming on with the National Championships in Bright less then a month away. Most importantly, I had fun today, and as long as you enjoy riding your bike, that’s what matters the most!