There comes a time in every cyclist’s life where a crash will abruptly end ones race. The AMB 100 was the race that ended with me separated from Kate, beloved Giant XTC, laying in a heap on the jagged rocks of Mt Stromlo’s Slick Rock trail.
To fully explain what this race meant to me I have to write about some events via a short linear narrative.
In the weeks leading up to this race I was undecided which distance I wanted to ride. On offer were 33km, 66km, 100km and 100miles (160km). I knew I wasn’t going to settle at 33km as that distance and most of the race track was my favourite training loop of Mt Stromlo, put simply; why pay to race a loop I already ride quite comfortably? There was simply no challenge in riding it, combine this with 200+ other riders and I would be slower than when I ride solo at a controlled pace.
Ultimately I chose to race in the 66km category. My decision was based on my training program for the upcoming National MTB Easter 24 Hour Solo. It just wasn’t conducive for my end goal to smash a 100km or 160km ride out in the early stages of a program that was designed to build my endurance for a ride that would see me clock up anywhere between 350-400km in a 24 hour period. Combine this with the difficulty of Mt Stromlo’s trails and the usual February heatwave that hits Canberra; racing the longer distances would require a 3-4 day recovery period that would impede my training.
Luckily for me a few issues arose prior to this race including a bite from a Red Belly Black Snake and a persistent knee injury flare-up that cemented my choice of racing 66km was the best option. So in the days leading up to the race I monitored the weather with keen interest. Temperatures were expected in the high 30’s and a severe fire danger was expected to be announced on the Saturday. (Un)luckily for us riders, Mt Stromlo, doesn’t close when the fire danger reaches severe, it has to tick over to extreme; which is what riding in these projected temperatures was going to be – EXTREME!
I have a lot of faith in the race organisers Martin and Juliane Wistana from Rocky Trail Entertainment. While they are running a business, they have shown before that competitor safety and wellbeing is the most important concern for them on race days. So on Saturday evening an email was sent out telling us the next days race was going ahead as planned; albeit with an earlier start time and slightly shorter distance.
I prepared my bike and packed my car the night before as usual, went to bed early and headed out to Mt Stromlo before the sun had risen. I made it out there just as the first 100 mile riders were transitioning for their second lap of the course. Ed McDonald was the first rider to come down the mountain in the early morning light and regaled his story of cleaning up a kangaroo before heading off to ride up the mountain again. Bermers Jamie Ingram and Adam ‘Rocket’ Rolls soon followed and quickly ditched their lights, loaded up on food and fresh bidons and promptly left to tackle their second laps.
Soon after I registered for my race and changed into my riding kit. I was fairly confident before this race as I intended to just go out and enjoy the first lap and once the field spread out attack my first lap split time on the second. For me there was no other rider I was racing against; my only competitor was first lap Chad who I wanted to beat by at least 10 minutes.
We lined up for the mass start at 08:00 and headed down the tarmac and onto Fenceline for the first bit of singletrack. As expected the 200+ strong field bottlenecked almost instantly and a snails pace followed for the next 2-3km. A lesson learned for the organisers before next years race maybe? I hope so because riders promptly started having very low speed wash-outs and cleaning each other up. I witnessed two such crashes in front of me caused by an impatient younger rider who felt he needed to pass the conga line at the worst possible moment.
As I crested the top of the mountain and headed towards the start of Western Wedgetail I glanced down at my Garmin GPS and saw that my racing time was almost 12 minutes slower than my usual training loop on the same tracks; that is how congested the rider traffic had become. I sped down Wedgetail narrowly missing another rider running up the wrong directing looking for a pair of glasses and onto the Pork Barrel. In the first few metres of one of Mt Stomlo’s more technical trails I was dodging unbalanced riders who were unprepared for the rock gardens and drop offs that they were about to tackle.
Pork Barrel felt good under my tyres, I wasn’t fighting my bike and more often than not, I was taking the more technical A-line to pass the slower riders. For the first time in the race I was starting to feel my Flow. As I turned into Slick Rock a few riders had lost their nerve at the drop offs and sharp rocks that followed and were quickly pulling off to the side of the track to let a few of us pass unobstructed.
As I dropped of the back of my saddle and positioned myself for a rather large rock ledge to ride off I caught movement out of the corner of my right eye. The junior rider who had been so overconfident on the climbs had appeared from off the regular trail and was attempting to cut me off in what was to become and incredibly dangerous moment of stupidity.
He baulked at the drop and washed out onto the flat rocks below. Not wanting to crash into a barely 13 year old kid, I locked up my brakes and attempted to avoid him by hopping my bike to the right and off the track into the bushes. This did not work as I was still behind my saddle and hit a tree at full speed with my hip at the same time my front end lurched over the drop off and sent my bike tumbling forward. The sudden change of direction sent me over my bars and onto the rocks in front of the kid.
My elbow met the rocks with my entire body weight behind it. I rolled a small distance before the track levelled out and I was able to scramble onto my feet and recover my bike from the middle of the track. I crawled over to a piece of real estate that wasn’t an A, B or impromptu C-line and tried to work out if the immense pain shooting up my arm was due to a fracture in one of the bones. The kid got to his feet and continued riding while I gave his Father some advice on course etiquette and made him aware of his legal obligations as the guardian of a junior rider regarding any costs involved in repairing my body and/or bike.
It was at this point with a gaping hole in my elbow, a painful yet somehow numb arm that my race was over. I limped across to race director Martin and Bermer Andy S and made my way to the medic station a few hundred metres away. A quick review, patch up and arm sling later I was driven back to the event centre and called my wife on her birthday to come and take me to the hospital.
Before she arrived I packed my car with the help of Ben ‘Hollywood’ Hudson, handed over my car keys and soon departed for the Calvary Hospital Emergency Department; the second time in a month. It took a little over two hours to get seen by the medical staff and a fracture was quickly ruled out. With the aid of some local anaesthetic my elbow hole was scrubbed free of debris stitched up and I was sent home. A bruised bone, six stitches, a numb arm and a left hand unable to grasp properly is what I am left with 24 hours later. A reminder that even when my riding feels spot on someone else’s inattention/stupidity can quickly turn a good day into a very bad day.
To the little fella that caused me to crash I sincerely hope you have learnt a lesson, if not I hope that the only injuries you inflict in the future are to yourself you selfish little turd!
Thank you to the Rocky Trail team, especially Juliane and Martin for a great event and for helping me post-crash. Di and Ben for helping me out and driving my car home. Jason, Bel, Sarah and Kirsty for supporting me after the race and my Wife Carly – I’m sorry for ruining your birthday by riding, crashing and spending a few hours back in the ED!