The opening stage is fast, but not beyond my fittess level. It is a mixture of fire and farm access roads. First big climb of the day and I move forward. Starting to pick off a few riders that went out too hard from the gun. Over the top and straight back down. The bunch reforms and starts working together again. Someone comes around the outside and sits on the front. Guess we weren't going fast enough. He doesn't want any help, and after a couple of kilometres he falls off the front and straight out the back. The bunch is now around 20 when the there is the sound off skidding tyres and the air filling quickly with dust. The lead caught sight of the arrow late and reacted to get around the corner, and so did everybody else. No damage done and rhythm is hastily re-established once back onto access roads. Not regretting the new bike. The Giant XTC Composite 29er 0 so easy to ride fast over the terrain at the moment. It is my marathon bike of choice.
Throughout the day are several creek crossings, with the temperature rising come as a relief and a chance to cool down the legs. The first way though has me worried. The water level was up to my knicks. Turned I had nothing to worry about. That was as deep as it got all day. The second last one called out to me. It was so inviting for a sit down. Normally it wouldn't be cause it was the colour of tea.
Into some single track and still feeling strong and working out the finer points of the bike and it's wider bars. One thing that is standing out is the XTC takes a little more effort to get it back up to speed. A lighter wheel set and tubeless tyres will help with that.
Oh, narrow gap between a couple of trees coming up. Try to ride the gap dead centre. All I do though is clip the one on the right at 25km/h. Get thrown off the side of the trail and land on rocks and back under the bike. The bike hasn't it the ground so I know it is Okay, but me?
First, second and third breath hard to get in. My ribs hurt. Losing time now, and the bunch I was with. Plenty of people ask if I need help. Scramble back up the slope and wait for a gap to appear.
Breathing, and just below my shoulder blade is painful but soon I get a reprieve. The single track opens up and becomes a farmer's paddock. I can ride with a fairly constant effort and control my breathing. Still manage to average 26km/h over the grass. Loving the bike.
Tim soon passes me and I am able to stay with him awhile. Settled in again, now able to breathe normally and good, a climb. Into an element that am comfortable with. It isn't overly steep. It just keeps going up for 3km.
Stage 1 done and into transition in a time of 01:02. That is so far under a six hour finish my mind goes into overdrive trying to do the mental arithmetic. I think I am now under sub 5 hour pace. Doubt myself at 30km/h and just get on with the job of downing fluids and food. Focus and push out some decent pace.
Over the course of the day there a signs posted on trees to indicate where you are. The one for me that stuck out was "The Wall" and it was, 38% gradient. I contemplate riding it for a second, then another second. After that, the sound of my feet can be heard unclipping from my bike. More food down and push the bike.
Tim catches me again and spend the next 20km within sight of each other. That was until "Halfway Hill". As I was climbing I felt a twinge of cramp. Stop, stretch out the leg and start sucking on an Enervit tablet.
More single track and getting a lot of pressure on the outside of my palms. Some adjusting still to be done. Starting to suffer let my attitude dip. Onto the KOM climb and just focus on getting to the top so I can have a breather. Not to be, 400m down the road I try and change back into the big ring. "What the 'ell?" It won't change and now I can't turn the pedals at all and why is my leg bleeding? Crap, the chain snapped and it whipped around catching the front derailleur and me. After 25 minutes I am mobile again. My focus is renewed and I press on. It isn't long that I am passing people, and them bam, cramp! Still 40 odd kilometres to go.
There is no one me that I can form bunches with, so all I can do is ride on my own. Sometimes into the wind through the denuded pine plantations. More climbing and I have settled into a decent rhythm. Feeling good and producing a speed that I am happy with. The kilometres just tick over and soon I am into transition ready to tackle stage 3. Fill the Camelbak with an extra litre, wash my sunglasses and head off for the final 30km. I am still on course for a sub 6 hour time. Still ahead of my original goal and other than the hand discomfort I am in good shape.
Three kilometres down the road and pop! No drive, there goes the chain again. The repair with the pin failed. In the future I need to keep an eye on the chain when it breaks, cause when I came to a rolling stop 300m down the road, it had decided the bike was no longer part of its well being. Turn around and start the search. As I find my chain, my luck comes in again. Josie and Courtenay come by and Josie tosses me her toolkit. Awesome, I am still not a DNF yet. Back away Sag Wagon!
Another 29 minutes lost. There are less than 30km to go and I am motivated to get as close as I can to the 6 hour mark. The legs are driving the bike, however, the small chain ring has limited me to a top speed of around 30km/h.
First major climb after stopping, cramp, right on cue. That makes me realise how much I hurt. My upper arms are like jelly, legs are tired, and I keep needing to adjust my grip to reduce the pressure on the palms. Twenty kilometres to go and 40 minutes to do it in.
Just entered single track and have lost the ability to absorb the bumps with my arms. The rest of the body is bearing the brunt. Ride smooth where I can, and limit the losses over the technical sections. At least my climbing hasn't deserted me.
I am surrounded by other riders, but I am riding on my own and able to race at my pace. At this stage of the race, people are more than happy to move across.
Pre-event I was warned about a paddock climb up grass and "Your Call". I had now arrived at the base of the paddock and knew that I was nearing the end of the day. Pull the arms in and down. Start the climb, aiming to keep the pedals turning over. Not overly fast or bad as I thought it would be, but now there was only one major climb between me and the finish.
As I leave the single track I am roughly at the 100km mark and the time clicks over to 6 hours. Don't know where the energy comes from but I am determined to finish as soon as I can. Without realising it I had arrived at "Your Call" and chose the shorter, steeper, more technical route. The immediate goal is not to unclip through the rocky step ups cause I knew there was no place to get back on until the top. No one else was riding so I call early and I call loud. Riders pay attention and move to the opposite side of the trail for me. Set the gears and move up and over each step with purpose choosing my line for the next couple. Push, drive the legs, keep the arms loose and remember after this, no more hills. One last push, hurt and done.
Onto a gravel road and my legs are spinning like I am on a wind trainer. Smile to myself, cause from the outside I must look like an idiot or a hamster in a wheel. The Fling is nearly over, left turn off the road and into a farm land track. I can now hear the MC and catch glimpse of the finish. No time to back off, 200m to go. 06:17:06
Rule 1. Don't do anything new in a race. Normally I won't recommend it, but using a brand new XTC that I hadn't ridden outweighed the negatives from using the 29er for The Highland Fling. It is such an easy bike to ride at speed.
I am close to ecstatic with the time I rode, without the mechanical issues, 55 minutes lost directly, plus whatever time I lost not being able to use the big ring. There is still room for improvement can't wait to see it at the Otway Odyssey. There will be a day when everything falls into place.
My goals are continually being re-accessed. When I started searching for a coach 5 months ago, I wrote a list for short, medium and long term goals. After a slow start coming back from injury, most of them have now been surpassed. Looking forward to see how far I can go with my riding with the help of PCS: Progressive Coaching Systems.