THE 25TH FIRE ROAD WORLD CHAMPS
The last week of October held the privilege of hosting the 2016 Fire Road World Championships aka The 25th Annual Mitta to Mount Beauty race. Traditionally held at the close of the month, this historic race has held a reputation as one for the hard men. A point to point race 55km long, the road riding folk were given a chance to beat the mountain bikers thanks to the no doubt welcoming sight of 18 odd kilometres of tarmac. Fresh from his holiday in New Zealand equaling limited bicycle practice in the lead up, Ben was trying his best to prepare for a day of suffering – the final piece of the Dirty Trilogy. He was still kind enough to offer us, and the world wide web an expansive race report on the unique event.
I: A DAY LONG RUDE AWAKENING
The 5.15am alarm couldn't have been any ruder. The early start was needed to drive to the finish in order to catch the bus to the start. I hope I haven't lost you already. The one hour drive was without incident, apart from the death of a million bugs on the front of the car and a mischievous black cat that darted across the road as I drove through the sleepy village of Yackandandah...I was sincerely hoping that this would not be an omen for the rest of my day.
The Falls Creek bus terminal in Tawonga South served as the meeting point for racers and marshals alike. I got there a little early as I planned to spend a little extra time going over my bike setup and food supplies. Number plates were collected, zip ties pinched and water bottles (bidons) filled. The deluge overnight and predictions of more precipitation had many questioning kit choice: Gilets? Arm warmers? Jackets? I called Jonesy to see what sartorial advice he could offer but I got nothing but his answering machine. A call to his personal assistant (Zeke) provided the same result. In the end I went with my trusty Soup Boys kit as it provided the perfect blend of warmth and aerodynamics, while my workmate went with a daggy old t-shirt (with wind tunnel test results that raised eyebrows). Bikes were loaded on shuttle trailers, buses boarded and banter began as we twisted and turned our way around to Mitta Mitta.
The Mitta Caravan Park served as our Grand Depart. Some riders had organised their own soigneurs to drop them off and were already getting sorted as we arrived. I took a ride into Mitta with National Enduro champ and all round good guy Chris Panozzo as a cheeky warm up. My legs were as reluctant to wake up as I was, but everything felt more or less in working order.
The race started Keirin style, with the peloton being escorted out of town by Joel Panozzo as sweep rider on his braapy KTM two stroke. The roadies dropped the hammer early on and the race was shot to pieces while still on the tarmac. Unfortunately I got boxed in and missed the crucial split. This sent me right into red as I had to go full gas to try and stay in touch with the leading group but as the first climb started proper, I started reeling in popped riders from the front group. Giving us an opening climb of 5km at 7% was certainly a nice wake up call. I managed to catch Chris in a group of 8 and we both agreed to sit on and manage our pace. A kilometer from the top Chris upped the pace and went on up as I was joined by Neil Van Der Ploeg as we went over the top together then briefly descended before the big second climb began.
Measuring 9km at an average of 6% this climb would top out at the half way point. Neil and I managed a nice strong pace in the first half. We were joined by two more locals before Neil took off on his own. At the halfway point the rain came down and added another dimension to the slippery gravel descent. This is were I was my most comfortable. Quickly dispatching my compadres, I let loose in a Marc Marquez display of trademarked corner drifting. Disaster struck as my bike ground to a halt at the bottom of the descent. The rear axle had unwound itself during my enthusiastic bordering on loose af descending style. It threaded when winding back in and snapped. After losing a minute sorting that out I had 15km of rolling wet tarmac to ride solo to the line. A combination of elbows on bars and top tube pedaling technique saw an average of 35km/h for the finish. Murray Spinks took the win in 1 hour 49 minutes, with Katherine McInerney winning the Womens race in 2 hours 7 minutes. The finish was conveniently located next to the famous Mount Beauty Bakery, a sight for sore eyes and the start and end point of many high country cycling adventures.
II: FFS X FML COLLAB
So it turns out the bike didn't quite fit into the back of the ute the same as the threaded axle, all because the rear wheel couldn't be removed. During the drive home I hit an unforeseen pothole which sent the bars into the back window of the canopy of my trusty Greenbox Race Engineering Field Vehicle. Splitsville. The back window now resembles that of a beautiful, frozen spider web. One that David Attenborough would rightfully froth over. That black cat from Yackandandah smirks to itself.
III: WINS & LOSSES
- Completing the race in a 2:18, which was under my target time of 2 and a half hours.
- Having MTB skills, makes blasting past people on the descents all the more satisfying. Also means that within the next few years I'm basically guaranteed a few green jerseys, a world champs and a European holiday with Oleg when he decides to return to the sport (call me!).
- Having a lack of self preservation (see above, kind of).
- The Kiewa Iced Coffee & Mars bar post race combo. You're racing into the Kiewa Valley as if you wouldn't.
- Steel frames, ride quality = truly top shelf.
- Where can you get a coffee? The question asked by many city dwellers in Mount Beauty at 7am on a Sunday morning.
- Racing caffeine free (see above). Mount Beauty rules, no caffeine free. I was even willing to smash a few Espresso Love gels beforehand if i could cop any.
- Rest in peace rear axle. Gone but not forgotten.
- Rest in peace rear window. FFS.
- The black cat, a loss for me. I officially acknowledge its role as "The Omen."
- Steel frames – the small, regular shaped tubes mean bulk mud action coming off the front tyre, making a solid b line straight for your kit, face, and hitting your retinas. Deep.