Matt Page is out in Australia taking part in the Crocodile Trophy. How is he getting on?
Although one of the best things about stage racing is travelling to new places it was nice to be at the same place for 2 nights as there was less rushing about in the morning before riding. I was perhaps a bit too relaxed as I forgot 2 pretty important things. First my Oakley Radarlocks which are vital with all the dust and to put any sunscreen on! It’s very rare that I need to use it, but out here its a must.
After a cool night the temperature soon warmed up in the morning and by the start at 8am it’s was above 30 degrees. The format for today was 4 laps of a 26km circuit. With the chance of drinks after each lap I decided to use bottles instead of a Camelbak.
When we started I was relieved that the pace was not stupidly fast and I managed to stuck with the main group for a while. The first 16km were on dirt roads that were hilly and pretty busy with traffic. At least 5 trucks came by and the dust was horrible, especially without glasses.
Towards the end of the road, a small group of about 6 riders broke away but it didn’t contain the leader or any contenders so the pace didn’t ramp up too much. After the road the following 10km was all on double track, rough in places and loose in others. I was in the middle of the main group and frustrated by the lack of pace on the technical sections so moved to the front.
I was ahead for a while but on a steep climb towards the end of the lap, Ivan (the race leader) and Andrej Foitek (2nd position overall) came by.
By the end of lap 1 I was feeling OK but already really thirsty. One 750ml bottle per lap wasn’t going to be enough so I grabbed another to put in my back pocket. The road section was horrible and I’d drunk a bottle in no time and was still thirsty. By the time we hit the double track I was having to ration the fluids and was on the verge of dehydrating despite only being 2hrs into the race! I lost a few places on the steeper climbs again and finished the lap just outside the top 10.
At the feed I made sure I drank enough by drinking about 500ml right there and refilling both bottles. I was still playing catch up so I was still thirsty but was feeling quite a bit better. Others around me started to tire and I was picking riders off one at a time. The doubletrack section was a good bit for me, not all that technical but enough for some others to struggle and give me a gap.
Starting the final lap again I took on board lots of fluid and stuck my head under a tap to cool down. I was with 2 other riders and had Cory Wallace ahead in the distance. One rider dropped off straight away and the other stayed on my tail for about 12km of the lap before dropping back. I was slowly closing the gap on Cory but knew I wouldn’t catch him as he was just as fast on the doubletrack.
The last time through the doubletrack was pretty clean, although the steep climb at the end was quite painful! I crossed the line to find out I’d finished 8th on the stage. Pretty good considering my results on the first 3 stages. I’m still out to just finish it, I’ve no aims of a top finish. I just think the course today suited me a little better.
Lots of people seemed to suffer today and the lure of stopping a lap early was too much for some of the people towards the back. Tomorrow it’s back on the road as we travel to a farm which is even more remote than today. I don’t think they have anything there at all, which us a shame as I’ve been enjoying my ice creams post stage!
It’s a longer stage at 120km but less climbing. Extreme rough roads are the order of the day apparently.
After a good finish on Stage 4 I was feeling pretty excited and wondered if I should perhaps take the race a little more seriously. A top 10 finish with this standard of racing is good going for me and a few more like that would be good.
Stage 5 was the longest of the race so far, 115km but with less climbing. After a pretty poor night of sleep, I was feeling OK body wise but rather tired. The weather was looking a little better, though with temperatures of only 25 degrees at the start and a few drops of rain in the air. We were warned about the rough terrain up to 30km, which is only a good thing in my book!
At 8am the gun went and the fun began, the pace went mental straight away as usual and then settled down. A group of 5 riders made a break-away on the early kilometres but again it was no one that threatened the overall group, so the main bunch just rode along at a steady pace. The first 12km were fine, but I was starting to drift within the bunch and decided to try and move up the group. Then we hit a fair climb and the leaders pushed ahead. A small group going ahead and I had to work really hard just to stay within the top 30 or so. Soon it became much rougher, both uphill and down. On the downhills I made up places and almost always overtook a Belgian rider or passed one sprawled in a ditch at the bottom. You could swear that some of these riders had never been on a mountain bike before, they were all over the place! Couldn’t say the same for the climbs though as they flew past me, so long as they weren’t overly technical.
At the 32km mark we hit the smoother tracks and I managed to tag onto a group of 6 that started to work well together. A few more joined from behind and we caught up with a few lone riders along the way and soon we were a group of 12 and motoring along. 30-55km were all fast and easy roads and the group had worked well and we had a group ahead in sight. At that point I started to suffer and couldn’t stay on the front as long as I wanted to. Through the second feed station I had a nearly full bottle and plenty left in my Camelbak so I went straight through and caught the group ahead in the process. At this point there were only 5 riders further ahead, so there were some big positions to play for. The pace eased thankfully but only until the 70km marker when we hit some rougher tracks again which were constantly undulating. A few riders had pushed the pace and I just couldn’t hang on, dropping off the back. I knew I had a long and lonely ride ahead of me to the finish, there was no way I’d regain contact as I was starting to suffer. I took on board plenty of fluids and some food and after a quick stop at the third feed at 90km I was on my way.
The final 25km were all on dirt roads, starting off pretty good but the last 15km were pretty nasty with the worst corrugations of the race so far. The only way to describe the way the roads are is like riding breaking bumps constantly for kilometre at a time. The bike struggles to deal with them, everything shakes your vision blurs and your muscles hurt. The best way to ride them is to try and keep the power on, but that’s easier said than done. After 115km I finally crossed the finish line and was very glad to see it. It was a fast stage despite the length but I felt horrible and thats never nice. I haven’t checked the results, but would imagine I finished about 15-20th.
Hopefully I can sleep this afternoon and sleep well tonight and be back on good form tomorrow. It is set to be a shorter one at 90km. The countdown to the finish has really begun and I’ll be really glad to get there. Just 4 days and about 475km left!
Despite being pretty barren and desolate, Mt Mulligan (where we finished stage 5) was a really nice place to be. I enjoyed the evening there and managed a half decent night of sleep, which is rare for this race as the night temperatures barely drop and there are people and generators all around.
The riding was getting quite monotonous, you would go up one hill, down the other side, then up another. The scenery was all the same and it had been that way for at least 3 days now. Still feeling pretty good around 90km in I was pushing hard up a climb then my chain snapped. A quick look at the bike and I saw it was just the ‘quick link’ and since I always carry a spare taped to the back of my brake lever it was a relatively straight forward fix, but I did lose quite a few places. Having that problem seemed to stump my progress and I wasn’t climbing as well afterwards and getting rather frustrated with the riding. I thought this ended after 95km, but by then there was no sign of it ending any time soon. I started riding with an Aussie called Stu and we passed the time by moaning and chatting about home. It wasn’t until 117km that the horrible climbing in the bush stopped. Then we had a 10km ride to the finish, the first 7km on the roads, which was a nice break and then final 3km on faster dirt roads. After a long, hot and frustrating day on the bike, I was very glad to see the finish line. The campsite today is literally the middle of the bush. There is nothing here and everything has been shipped in. It’s also scorching hot, even in the shade. Apparently from now to the finish will all be super hot.
Another day ticked off, just 3 more to go. Roll on Cooktown!