18 April, 2011
I like Mont gear. I have a fair bit of it - in fact, you can read reviews of some of the Mont gear that I own here. Now I’ve tried the Mont race, and I have to say, I like that too! Twenty-four hours of mountain bike madness in it’s purest form.
The Mont is a team 24-hour endurance event. That is, teams of four to six riders have 24 hours in which to complete as many laps of the course as they can (in relay format). The race has earned a well-deserved good reputation over the years, and it a staple of the cycling circuit, this year attracting in the order of 2,400 riders.
Following from the Scott, I was umming and ahh-ing about entering the Mont. I wasn’t very successful at the Scott, unless of course you get judged on bike-mounted gymnastics, in which case I did very well. Further, I already had many events scheduled for this year. By the time I thought, “Oh, what the hell, I’ll give it a go,” it was already sold out - it’s a very popular race. Given my trepidation in undertaking another 24 hour event, I wasn’t particularly upset by this turn of events.
Missing out also meant I could take part in the inaugural Canberra Running Festival, doing a 5km and 10km course in one afternoon! I did, however, volunteer myself as a backup for a team - their captain’s wife was pregnant, and may have to drop out with little notice. And I was planning on coming out on the night to see what all the fuss was about.
The Globetrotter had put together a team for the Mont, largely unchanged from his original Scott Team, consisting of himself, Junior, Groucho and the Watchman (who dropped out of the Scott to give me a place). Groucho, being the studious, responsible type, started training by riding at the new Kowen tracks at every possible opportunity. So, I rode the course a few times. Well, twice. Well, one and a half times.
The course had been evolving over a number of weeks. It was nice, flowing single track carved through the forest at Kowen and while it wasn’t overly technical, there were some tight turns with a few lumps and bumps which finally opened my eyes to the benefits of a dually! (Unfortunately, when I opened my wallet, I was reminded of my means!)
I rode the course again two weeks prior to the Mont, which proved disastrous, though did result in an idea for an article on what to carry when mountain biking. About halfway through the course, after the majority of the climbing, and before the best of the singletrack, I had a flat. Then my pump didn’t work. When we found some riders with a pump that worked (there were a few whose didn’t!) we also discovered that the valve on my first spare was broken; so I rushed putting my second spare tube in, just to give it a pinch flat. Not wishing to waste the time of the generous rider who loaned us his pump, I gave up and elected to run the bike out, which, while great for cross-training, was not so good for my feelings for Kowen.
Groucho was also heading out during the week for some night laps and had invited me along. After my incredible failures riding at night at the Scott, I was eager to practice more - if only to determine that my Ayups still worked! Unfortunately, my dedication to other duties, and my foreboding of the dark Kowen tracks overruled my enthusiasm to train and learn, and I couldn’t get away for a night lap; though, this didn’t overly concern me, as I wasn’t actually going in the Mont.
So, nine days after not practicing a night ride with Groucho, and to my incredible surprise, the Globetrotter sent me an email. He was sick, and wouldn’t be able to ride and generously offered me his spot on the team. Which was a very tempting offer.
But I was double-booked: I had the Canberra Running Festival on that day. I wouldn’t be finished until around six! However, it was a 24 hour race, and a non-competitive team; so surely I would have an opportunity to make up for my absence. In no time at all, I found myself a member of Cordelta RTFM.
Cordelta are a bunch of Canberran mountain bike riders who fund their hobbies through an IT Company front. They put on a great spread: organise a great camping area, and bring along bike work stands, tools, and a feast to carry riders through the night. (And they bring some great riders along too!)
So it was that I arrived around 6:45 Saturday night, slightly tired and worn from the runs, but also excited. Junior informed me (after guiding me into a carpark close to the campsite) that Groucho should have almost finished his lap, and if I wanted to head out, it could be very soon. With my legs starting to cramp and ache again, I thought it be better to head out before they seized up, so I hurriedly put my gear together-with Junior’s assistance-and headed down to transition. Junior would ride after me, and head down to transition about an hour and a quarter after I left. Then I was off into the bush.
Well, I should say, dusty firetrail. The Ayups did a good job of showing up every dust particle heading towards me, which meant that not only was I riding uphill, but through a cloud of dust, which somehow made it seem even harder (and, if you think about it, it does actually make it harder, effectively I was gaining weight with every dust particle landing on me!) To make it that little bit more interesting, the starting legs of the course were my least favourite parts of the track - a longish-climb to single track, that itself climbed and wound it’s way over rocks and roots!
Knowing what I was in for, I changed down on the front cog, and the change felt a bit, well, odd. Nevertheless, I pushed my aching legs up the hill, and turned onto the firetail. As I rode this trail, this same trail where just a few weeks ago I’d suffered my first flat, I felt the back end sliding out beneath me. The tyre just felt flat. Ghosts of Kowen past were coming back to haunt me! At the first opportunity, I pulled to the side to check the tyre; it was low, but not flat, so I pushed on, climbing the single track.
The first section of single track gave way to another section of climbing single track, the very sections of track which only weeks ago had encouraged me to get a dually. The back end was still slopping about, and every time I hit a half-decent rock, I could feel it reverberate through the rim.
As I emerged to a downhill stretch approaching firetrail, I attempted to change up on the front cog only for nothing to happen. Riding uphill once more, I tried again, and it just felt slack.
So, for the second time of the night, I pulled over and stopped; my legs twitching as I did so. I played with the gear cable, pulling on it as I spun the wheels to get it to change up, only to discover the cable was loose. Fortunately, I had learned my lesson riding the Kow just a few weeks before and had, in addition to a leaking bladder, plentiful tools and bits in my pack. I loosened the screw off all the way and used my multitool pliers to pull the cable tight before tightening it up.
Now, I should make a special mention here of the kindness and courtesy of everyone on the track. The Mont is known as a race for the average punter, more a ride with a bit of friendly rivalry rather than an out and out race. Whenever I had to stop riding, at least one rider from the passing packs would call out to ask if I was okay. I have no doubt that should I have needed it, any number of riders would have stopped to render assistance.
With the front derailleur fixed, I put some more air in the back tyre and headed up the hill and into more single track. Despite my Ayup twins, I was having a lot of trouble riding through the single track at night; particularly this first rocky section. Fortunately, I was assisted by the array of red taillights lining the track; like landing lights guiding me along the track. I took my time going through it, pulling over whenever I could for riders behind me (who were very courteous, and didn’t rush me at all). And the rear end felt funny again.
So at the next firetrail, I pulled over again. With every stop, I could feel my legs tightening, and I realised that I had forgotten to bring along any Gu! Packs and packs of Gu sat in my tub back at the campsite! Sure enough, the tyre felt flatter than I, but I was tired, frustrated and just couldn’t be bothered changing tubes; so I pumped it up again, to a pressure much firmer than I’d normally ride, and set off. The bike felt much more stable at this pressure, and I actually started to get a bit of a groove on (though, certainly still not the fastest in the field, I wound up overtaking a few riders!)
The course led on to dusty downhill switchbacks, which I was getting though quite well (even the ones with right-turns!) until one point when, with a rider behind me, I rode straight through the bend. Thinking I’d pulled off for him, he called out “Thank you” as he flew past, but the reality was that I’d totally missed the turn. Once again, I slowed down to take it easy - there were many laps to be done.
This led out to the checkpoint, near where we started the track a few weeks ago, coming from Sparrow Hill; now we also had signs indicating how far out we were - starting around 8 kms! I was back on familiar ground, the bike was finally handling okay, and despite a bit of hunger, I was keen to get going.
And go I did, not a blazing speed, but a comfortable speed in the dark through much more comfortable, less dusty, single track. I was having so much fun, I began to fantasize doing about doing a double lap, until I emerged on to a firetrail climb and have my legs remind me that I’d actually started the afternoon with two running races! I had to take the walk of shame on the climb, before jumped back in the saddle for more single track.
So, after a much slower time than I care to admit, I returned to transition to see the friendly face of Junior waiting for me. We arranged the next transition then he was a red light fading into the distance, leaving me in the hub.
I returned to the Cordelta hub where I discovered that I’d lost my rear light. My faithful red rear light, which had been with me for years, was now just another of the landing lights guiding riders out on the course. The rules stated that all riders on night laps must have a red rear light; which handily ruled me out of contention for any more night laps.
No, no, I was out. I would just have to concentrate on pulling out a few good day laps the next morning!
So resigned, my stomach reminded me of the fact that I hadn’t eaten for a good 12 hours, and in that time had run 15km, and ridden 18! So I headed onto the generously appointed Cordelta marquee for some roast chicken and pasta salad. Then I found Groucho, who was debating whether or not to go out again, and informed him of Junior’s expected return time.
After setting up camp, I added a Shotz tab to my drink bottle and realised it was about time for Junior to hit transition. Groucho and I headed down to meet him. We stood and waited, and waited, and waited. Which wasn’t so bad really. Standing at transition at the Mont is kind of like a front-row seat at a fashion show for bike lovers; we saw many and varied bikes coming through, fitted out with interesting pieces of kit; not to mention some of the more amazing riders, who would come flying down the track, then jump off their bike at the dismount point and run through transition to their team!
A message from Junior came over the phone while we were standing around transition; he was back at the Cordelta tent, and preparing to head home! Groucho and I hastily returned to meet him and discuss team planning; which wasn’t much really. We’d all had enough for the day, and were going to get some sleep. Junior was heading home, and planned to be back around seven in the morning. Groucho and I would stay, and whoever felt like it, could go for a lap when we woke up. We’d take the baton if we were going out so the next rider would know someone was out. Seemed simple enough.
Then came glorious sleep. Well, what sleep you can get in a campground with a few thousand other riders, and generators running toilets and showers just up the path! Though I did get some sleep. I know because I woke up to a light rain. I let the quiet patting on the tent send me back into the land of nod, dreaming of a mildly damp, and much less dusty, track.
Then I woke again in the darkness. I tried for a while to get back to sleep, tossing and turning while the tent seemed to get lighter and lighter. Finally I checked the time - five to six - and headed out of the tent. I was eager to get out and do a lap; the weather was quite cool, but not cold, and that slight shower during the night would have settled down the dust. But there was no way I was going to head out without a coffee; so down to the hub I started; running into Groucho on the way.
We were greeted on our return by the tempting aroma of bacon cooking. I couldn’t resist and hoed into a bacon sandwich. After my experience on the coast ride, where I jumped on the bike a few minutes after wolfing down a hamburger with the lot only to suffer from cramps and stitches for the next 20km, I elected to wait a while for the sandwich to settle.
Then the rain started. Not too heavy, but it seemed pretty constant. Groucho decided to head out for a lap before it got too bad; I met Junior back at the camp after seeing Groucho off and contemplated the remainder of my day.
Junior informed me he wasn’t going to do any more riding; he was coming down with a bit of a cold and didn’t want to push it. I had to agree. After my disastrous ride the night before, I wasn’t keen to ride out into the sort of slop I expected the trail to be after rain. I’d had enough trouble staying on track the night before, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like coated with slippery mud! Quitting was actually a harder decision than I thought, but in the end I’m pretty sure it was the right thing to do.
And any doubts I had as to whether or not to quite were allayed when Groucho returned from his lap; his shiny new Anthem 29er was covered in mud - particularly around the chain and front derailleur. So, we grabbed another coffee, packed up and headed home.
All in all, the Mont was a tremendous experience; and it really is more an experience than a race.
As usual, there are plenty of people to thank! Firstly, Globetrotter, for letting me replace him; and the team at Cordelta for taking such great care of me (and all their other riders!)
And, of course, many thanks go to the organisers of the Mont who put in tremendous efforts to make the race and excellent adventure for everyone, and all the fantastic volunteers who helped out at the race, and those who helped build the course!
Finally, thanks to all the riders on the course, who were so friendly and helpful throughout!