6 May 2014
In late 2013, Father Brendan announced he was taking a break from siring sons and was planning on entering a relatively local event - the Convict mountain bike race. With a number of TriHards busy with their burgeoning families, it came down to the Cyborg to join the Father in his endeavours. After all, he’d already received Capital Punishment, he may as well be convicted...
At 10 years, the Convict is one of the longer running mountain bike races in Australia and is headquartered in St Albans, a small village in the Hawkesbury Valley just north of Sydney. The name is derived from the fact that the course travels along the old Convict Trail, such that all riders may do a bit of not as hard time as their forefathers.
Father Brendan, who had been performing his fatherly duties more than riding of late, had elected to do the 50km version of the event. When the Cyborg looked at the profile for the 50km course he saw a sort of flattened normal distribution curve, reminding him of numerous classes on statistics. So, he too signed up for the 50, which was surprising, because he really, really hated stats.
Getting to the event hub proved to be a challenge for the TriHards, with the Cyborg trekking up from Canberra and Father Brendan approaching from Newcastle in the opposite direction. The Cyborg’s trip not only included a long drive, but a ferry trip as well. So, the motion-sickness susceptible Cyborg found himself a passenger in a car, whilst on a boat, crossing a river. Twice. Fortunately there were no pre-race ab-workouts.
On arriving at St Albans, the Cyborg booked two camping spots and took advantage of the dying light to set up camp, before heading back to the main road to wait for Father Brendan to arrive. With no mobile phone reception in St Albans, there was no other way to show him to the spot.
So he waited.
And noticed that there were in fact two entrances to St Albans village. So, he took a walk down the road, registered, and looked for Father Brendan’s name on the start list so he could at least ask if the Father had turned up yet. But it wasn’t there.
Then it was back to the road in the dying light to wait a bit more. Finally, with a grumbling belly and no light, the Cyborg went for some food, and was just tucking into the last of a chorizo roll when he spotted the familiar silver girly 4WD of Father Brendan - and waved him down to direct him to the campsite.
With camp set up, it was back to the pressing matter of getting Father Brendan registered for the race - they finally found his name hidden in the Cyclocross category, which kind of made sense given the Father enjoyed both road riding and mountain biking.
Formalities out of the way, it was on to the serious business of pre-race beers and catching up. Of course the beers were necessary: not only are they a vital source of carbohydrates before a race, they assist with pre-race nerves AND help nervous campers sleep through the sounds of restless camels.
The TriHards slept relatively well, through a cold night with a spot of rain to wake to a cold morning, with freezing winds. The 50km event started at around 9:30, so there was plenty of time to grab a coffee, some breakfast and watch the elites take off at a blistering pace before changing into their race gear and dressing their bikes up with the number plates.
Maximum Adventure had posted four informal start groups for the 50km racers in their event briefing, and the TriHards had elected to self-seed in the third group - which put their start time at 9:45 which, roughly translated for those not familiar with mountain bike racing lingo, means they had to wait 25 minutes after the briefing in the freezing wind for their start. Fortunately hundreds of other considerate riders surrounded them to provide a windbreak.
And before you could say “frostbite” they were off and racing. Or, in the case of the TriHards, off and riding. The first 10-or-so kilometres of the course was pretty straight road riding - albeit on dirt and gravel. This was much to the liking of part-roady Father Brendan, and the pair cruised along in a large group of riders which was slowly sorting itself out.
But then came the climb - you may remember the Cyborg comparing the course profile to a normalised distribution curve? Well, this climb was nothing near normal! They gained about 210m of altitude in one or 2km, over rutted, loose firetrail. But, this was the hardest climb of the race, and put them up on the ridge. Once they were there it would be smooth sailing (though the Cyborg, who had smoothed out the curve in his mind...)
A few minutes later a heaving, sweating pack was at the top of the climb, and ready to press on to enjoy the much flatter fire trail with impressive views. Well, undulating fire trail with some steeper undulations. Maybe saw-tooth firetrail with steep, pinchy climbs, and harsh descents littered by dangerous water bars.
Now, the Cyborg is a fairly keen diver. And cramps are pretty common in the diving world - and can be particularly debilitating when they strike, due to all the gear divers wear - so they are normally overcome with the assistance of your dive buddy underwater. Consequently, when Father Brendan began to suffer from some rather harsh calf cramps, the Cyborg thought nothing of dropping off his bike and massaging Brendan’s calf back to full functionality. The riders rounding the corner to spot the Cyborg kneeling in front of Father Brendan, slowly working his way up his lower leg may, however, have had a different point of view.
Sufficiently recovered, the TriHards rode another two kilometres or so to the feed station at the 28km mark. There they took advantage of the hospitality, taking on some Gu Brew, banana cake and bananas (because they were real riders now!) and set off on a fast downhill section before yet another climb.
Unfortunately, on the downhill run, the Cyborg was attached by a vicious, wooden snake, which managed to wedge itself in the rear derailleur, passing into the wheel. With a great deal of elbow grease, and even more swearing, the stick was finally extricated from the SuperFly, leaving behind a bent derailleur, hanger, and chain that wouldn’t move.
The SuperFly assumed the dreaded inverted position next to the trail, while the Cyborg swore more, and attempted to bend the derailleur back into shape. Fortunately, he managed to get it mostly working, spreading well across the centre six cogs, which was a good thing because he just didn’t have the facial hair to pull off singlespeeding.
And he was off once more, to catch Father Brendan, which would undoubtedly be a big ask, as there were much more downhill than uphill runs in the second part of the course, and the Cyborg wasn’t keen to put too much pressure down on the pedals for fear his jockeys may just quit. Nevertheless, he managed to catch the Father before too long (a task greatly assisted by the fact that he’d stopped and waited for the Cyborg) and they were off once more to enjoy the mainly-downhill component of the course.
The mainly downhill component which was marked by one long, steep, downhill stretch, almost equalling the gnarly uphill climb at the 12km mark. Father Brendan, in his own style, set his hair on fire and took off at pace down the mountain, leaving the Cyborg to smell his brakes burning as he nursed the wounded SuperFly to the bottom.
In his research about the Convict, the Cyborg found that people never talked about that brutish, never-ending climb at the start. They only ever talked about the steep descent at the end, and to watch for the water bars. Indeed, even at the briefing, the course directors glossed over any leg-tearing climbs, to warn riders about taking it easy on the descents, and to watch out for water bars. Sure enough, the TriHards saw a casualty on their way down, a bloke in a bad way, who already had people looking after him. Naturally, the TriHards alerted the next marshal they saw who it seemed, had already been told by the last 50 or so riders.
After that descent, it was all gravel road back to the hub, with the TriHards dodging the occasional ambulance, and the cars (and bikes) of one or two riders who had already completed the event and were making a quick getaway. The Cyborg made his best efforts at roady-style riding, putting Father Brendan on his wheel, only to drop him moments later in a fit of excitement at looking like an actual riding team for a moment.
After 3:26 (no, no, three hours, twenty-six minutes) the TriHards rolled over the line, and almost into the marshal responsible for handing out the free beer tokens! They weren’t the fastest, and they weren’t the slowest, which meant they had achieved all the Junior goals for the event (1. Get to the start, 2. Get to the finish and 3. Don’t come last - it’s the new benchmark for TriHards events), and they did have a great time, which involved a lot of catching up.
If you’re looking for a fun, fast course, to really test out your legs, the 50km version of the race is ideal. There’s nothing overly technical in there, all the descents can be easily handled, provided you ride with a bit of caution. There’s only one long climb, with plenty of time to recover prior to some of the shorter, pinchy climbs.
While we didn’t do the 100km version, we spoke to some who did, and it sounded like a much more serious mountain bike event. There is a second nasty climb, and technical riding through long rock gardens, which took out quite a few riders and bikes. Then there’s the kayak bridge - check out the MaxAdventure site, you’ll see. That was the Cyborg’s major disappointment for the event: not being able to mix his favourite sports of kayaking and riding together.
Many thanks go to Maximum Adventure for putting on a fantastic event. It was very well organised, with easy directions to St Albans on their site, as well as plenty of details about the actual race. Also to the Rural Fire Service, who put in a lot of marshals, and ably assisted with camping and organising the event hub, which was also very well resourced and organised.