Mt Baw Baw Classic - a Sunday in Hell

I am SHAGGED after the Baw Baw Classic today. (I also have no photos just yet, sorry, although I'm pretty sure I can track some down soon.)

The Baw Baw Classic is a hill-climber's dream, and can be their nightmare too. It's 104km from Warragul to the top of Mt Baw Baw in Victoria. The last 6km (the climb up Baw Baw) hits 20% at times and is by far the hardest hill climb I've ever done... probably because it comes at the end of 100km of (sometimes hilly, sometimes technical) racing. And once you're on the climb, there's no going back - it's just hard yakka the whole way.

My favourite part of the Baw Baw Classic is the atmosphere before and after the race. Everyone knows that it's a bastard of a climb and the real race is between you and the mountain, not the other riders. So there's a great sense of communal accomplishment at the end.

Last time I raced Baw Baw was in 2008 and I hadn't been back since, so I was a bit hazy on the details but I remembered the climb was tough. Over coffee after riding last week the gentlemen of TE convinced me that I needed compact cranks - and boy, were they right. DC @ Fitzroy Revolution sorted me out with compacts and race wheels. I've said it time and time again but wow, Fitzroy are awesome. I had to skip town for James Williamson's funeral in the southern NSW highlands on Friday (more on that later), so I pretty much just dumped the bike with DC on Thursday and it came back all ready to go and waiting for me last night when I flew back in.

The race was tough - so bloody tough. It started off raining, then we had some wicked gusty cross and head winds that almost picked up the bike from under me a couple of times... then hail, and finally snow. I'm really glad it snowed because now I can casually drop into conversation that it hailed AND snowed on us during the race and I can sound especially hardcore, even if it only hailed a little bit and the snow was actually quite cool. The rain and wind was much worse, but how boring does that sound?

The women's competition included Jo 'Top 10 at Nationals' Hogan, Stef 'VIS's pocket rocket' Hansen and Bec 'MTB superstar' Henderson. Jo in particular was in great form and coming fresh off a 2nd at Mersey Tour in Tassie the other week. She had a great nationals in Jan and then broke her wrist in a crit shortly afterward, which took her out of contention for Tour of New Zealand. Jo is a demon in the hills and I expect to see her featuring strongly in the national road series this year. She and I were neck and neck until the ticket box (around 6km to go) and I just edged her out to claim the win. It's a huge honour - it was a tough, tough battle. The race doubled as Vic Hill Climbing Champs so it's nice to get that honour as well.

Mostly, though, the whole way up when things were getting tough, I thought of Jimi Williamson, who died a couple of weeks ago in Sth Africa and whose funeral we went to on Friday. Jimi was an amazing bloke and to think of all he accomplished in just 26 years, and the kind of guy he was, was pretty inspiring. His funeral had around 700ppl attending and was so big that we couldn't all fit into the chapel, so there were giant projector screens set up in the school hall next door, broadcasting it all. There were 7 or 8 eulogies and each of them was heartfelt and emotional, but uplifting too. Jimi's legacy is to remind us to live life to the full, smile and follow every opportunity with energy and positivity. A few weeks ago, before I went to do Tour of New Zealand, Jimi came out on a training ride with TE in the Dandenongs. Niki had convinced him to come along and I'm glad she did. Sharon and I were there to climb our guts out for our upcoming races and Jimi wanted to fit in some hill training before the Otway Odyssey which was coming up. Jimi outclassed us all on the climbs but had nothing but positive encouragement for us chicks and it really meant a lot to me. One of his comments later on was about how when you're hurting, you just kep digging. Most people stop when they get to a point, but the good people just keep digging. It was an analogy that stuck with me and I've used it a lot during races. Today on Baw Baw I really dug, and I hope it's made Jimi proud.