For years I've heard stories of people racing on the dirt but I've never ventured off the tarmac. Not on purpose. Another bike, another license, another chain to clean, another 'scene' to learn about. All too hard. It takes years to properly get into the road scene, where one does not simply show up and race. There is a massive knowledge initiation process that is now rarely passed on via clubs or coaches, it is unspoken, until you break the rules... then you'll know all about it. I have many stories about getting into road racing. I'll save those for another day. This report is about getting into the dirt!
The idea was thrown out there at a dinner over in Adelaide at the Tour Down Under with the guys from Thule. All credit goes to the National Marketing Manager, Scott, for coming out with, "Let's get the team together and do the Mont!". The other Thule Team Australia athletes are adventure racers, mtb'ers, or at least own a mountain bike, so they were keen. I'm a dirt-dodging clean-chain roadie, surely they didn't want me to join them? "Shane, you too.... and Von. Are you both in?". NEKMINNIT we were in. Just eight weeks for us to find bikes, off-road skills, and to get to a forest just outside of Canberra. Oh shit!
What is the Mont? A team 24hr bike race, the summary below is from their website:
The MONT is a classic weekend of mountain biking and the largest event of its type in Australia. It is a must-do event for first timers and hard core mountain bikers alike. We invite you to enter a team of four or six riders and experience one of Canberra’s most popular ride locations. While there’s plenty of racing to be had, the MONT is also a pretty laid back event, so if you don’t take your performances too seriously, rest assured you won’t be alone.
With a lot of behind the scenes work by Scott from Thule, we had a mixed team of six registered and ready to go. We were the "Thule OutRiders". Through our 'roadie' networks Von and I had loaner bikes in no time at all. I have to give a big shout-out to Paul from Bike'n'Bean for the loan of his own bike for six weeks, legend! Our practice rides around the Yarra trails were nothing like what we were faced with up in Kowan Forest on Friday when we did our recon lap with two of our team mates. 18km of singletrack with a few fire roads, bridges, jumps, and a billion other things to dodge!
|Team recon lap on Friday. I am not doing a wee... promise.|
|Team hoodies! Essential sleepwear.|
|Decked out! Team jerseys. Slick!|
I now understand the answer when asking, "How the hell do you not get lost on 18km of winding track through a forest?". The answer, "You just know where to go", makes complete sense. There are little arrows and alternate routes are taped off. If you're ever unsure, just keep going, you'll know where to go.
Everything about the event was impressive. They converted a paddock next to a forest into a city for the weekend. Food, coffee, entertainment, shops, everything! A festival focused around a bike race. It was like nothing I've seen before, not in person anyway.
We had a premium camp site so we were 'glamping' not 'camping'. Spoiled with our own coffee machine, tons of food, heaters, spare parts, team jerseys, team hoodies, and most important of all - support people. Even the Thule Australia GM was in attendance to support his troops. Scott who made this event happen for us was knocked down with a virus all weekend, doing what he could behind a camera and preparation wise. When it came to the race, Stevie G was our kingpin. He was standing out at every transition ready to grab our bikes, getting the next rider on their way, and making sure were on track. He'd ridden the course himself before the race started so knew exactly what we were getting up to out on course through day and the dark, dark night. His coffee making wasn't too shabby either.
|Von and her 1kg of nachos!|
|I personalised my personalised number plate.|
|Umm..errrr...buddy.... no he's not.|
Team plan, to have fun. Actual plan, go nuts! Experienced off-road adventurer Kahill did the stressful mass start and 2nd lap for the team. This put us in a good position for the rest of the race, right where we needed to be with the 1000s on course. Ansie was out next, then Von.... who arrived back at transition buzzing with excitement after completing her first lap still in one piece. At around 5pm I was rolling out..... show time!
|Busy busy busy. First few kms under way.|
Nothing prepared me for the next 18kms. Nothing. It was not being able to look at your Garmin for a split second. It was not being able to grab more than a sip of drink for the whole hour. It was sprinting out of every corner. It was snapping through so many gears your hands went numb. Having your bike by the throat, feeling like it was going to break at any second. It was being all alone one minute then passing 10 riders the next. A clear track turned into a rock garden in a split second. There was no rest. Passing one rider meant having to flick around the next tree that jumped out at you. Twists and turns at threshold heart rate, sometimes at walking pace, sometimes at speeds where trees all blurred into one forest wall. Following a wheel, jumping at the first chance to overtake. Overcooking corners as both tyres slid into worn ruts. Everything was turned up to 100%. Every lap was full noise, start to finish.
And at night - times that by 10.
|I say old chap..... TRACK!|
|Happy just to be alive. First lap done and dusty!|
After hearing the times being posed before I went out, I wanted to crack the 1 hour benchmark.... or die trying all weekend. First Lap, 56:09. Excellent. My night laps finishing at 11pm and 4am were 59:48 and 1:01:28. Back up to speed at 9am with a 57:14 in the most beautiful conditions of the whole weekend. A cool morning, sunny, with a track that had become more of a battlefield freeway than the singletrack it started out as the day before.
|Night transition watch. That isn't a beer, it is energy juice.|
That isn't a heater, it is a location beacon. Honest.
At 4kms into my last lap I was passed by Marco from Canberra. He railed the downhills like a roller-coaster. I kept him in sight and was back on his wheel on the next climb. I introduced myself, we had a chat, then I called "track" to pass. I was either gaining a few seconds on him, or losing them when having to overtake or through my lack of experience on the downhill twists. I joked in the switchbacks that I'd start paying people to block him as we came past. I was out of sight up the next climb..... so started yelling out for him. Someone was soon on my wheel. With no time to look behind me, I had to ask if it was him. "Yeah mate!". Awesome! I'd finally found someone to battle with! 13km in I was well out classed on the most technical section, Marco called 'track' and zipped past, "See you on the next uphill" was my call.... and he was gone. 2km later I was back on his wheel as we both weaved through riders together. Popping out onto the final trail climb we went head to head towards the next turn onto the singletrack. I had the upper hand by 30m with 2km of downhill to go. It was enough to keep clear of Marco right into transition, where I met him, shook his hand and thanked him for the battle. "Highlight of the day" were his words. Agreed. What a blast! The Thule team waiting in transition saw us laughing about our battle, and Stevie G even handed him a Thule tshirt!
While we never set out to be competitive, we exceeded our own expectations. 8th out of 70 teams in the "Six Packs - OPEN - Mixed" category! And we really were a truly mixed team in a lot of ways. From Von and myself being our first off-road races, to the experienced pocket rocket Enderby duo, and Kahill & Ansie who had squeezed in a mtb riding trip to New Zealand prior to the Mont.
|My favourite shot from the weekend. Our crew. All smiles!|
Someone just point me at the next one and tell me to ride! I will ride for food, coffee, and a bike.... I had to hand back the loaner. :(
Thule OutRiders Lap Stats
My Strava Links: Laps 1,2,3. Lap 4.
Thule Australia Facebook Mont24 Pics
Von's Facebook Mont24 Pics
Self Propelled Enterprises - Mont24 grand masters!
Tony Reeckman and Mac the dog for their hospitality and local tornado entertainment!
Tim and Jess - The engaged couple from Canberra who saved us from having to glamp out for two nights.
Thule Australia - For the opportunity to race this event and all their support.
Bike'n'Bean - Paul for the loaner bike I've been riding for the last few weeks. Rock solid equipment!
Rhys Lyster - For the car and bike wash in Wangaratta on the way back to Melbourne. Shiny stuff!
|My other team van.|
|Rutherglen, aka 'Tornado Alley'|
|View from the best hotel in Norong.|