The Roadie Project

Tour de Timor 2012: Peace begins with me

I have just returned from East Timor, where I spent a memorable week suffering racing the Tour de Timor, one of the world’s toughest MTB stage races. I am in equal parts (1) exhausted and (2) worried about this mysterious new rash that has just taken over my neck. This is not good news. As the experts say, don’t come back from a third world country with a rash.

To Twitterise the TdT in 140 characters or less:

  • 6 days
  • 6 stages
  • 600km
  • 40 degrees in the shade
  • No showers
  • Definitely no Facebook

I had agreed to do TdT in a weak moment in January, when September had seemed far enough away not to matter. Grover’s boundless enthusiasm for adventure and shitting in small shallow holes was infectious. Much like my new rash. Everyone I spoke to was positive:

‘Oh, you’ll love Timor!’

‘It’s such a great experience!’

‘I had so much fun!’

No one mentioned the inescapable heat, the 4:30am starts, or how, by day 3, you would probably be unable to stomach the food or warm Powerade. To be fair, Grover did mention the overflowing long-drops but by then we’d already paid our entry money.

Here is some advice for aspiring TdT-ers: Anyone who tells you that TdT is ‘BRILLIANT!’ and that they ‘LOVED it!’ is lying. They do not have your best interests at heart. They want you to go only so that you can suffer through it just like they did, so that you will appreciate how incredibly tough they were just to survive it. Next time someone tells you with shining eyes, ‘Do it! It’s AMAZING!’ you have my permission to smack them in the face. In fact, tell them it’s from me. This tour is so hard it made the AIS selection survival camp look like a stay at the Hilton.

Now that I’m home, I can appreciate how incredible the race is. 6 days of racing mountain bikes through a country that most white people don’t even see on television was culturally eye-opening. On its own, racing up to 5 and a half hours a day in 40deg+ heat on mountain bikes is a massive challenge. But that’s only half the challenge. Add to that not being able to cool down (EVER); being constantly dirty; trying not to get sick from the food, or the toilets, or the water; struggling to sleep on your crappy thermorest camping mat; struggling to eat in the heat… this is what makes the Tour de Timor EPIC.

The highlight, as anyone will tell you, was meeting the Timorese people. Every day as we passed through the villages they lined the race route, and as we rode the kids would cheer and clap and smile for us. I’ve never seen people so happy with so little. In a country that has been ravaged by war, where the average Timorese earns less than US$1 per day and where maternal mortality and child malnutrition rates are amongst the highest in the world, it was humbling and beautiful. Less humbling and beautiful were the soldiers with machine guns on stage 5, but it turned out they were only there to fend off the cannibal tribes who roamed the region and had developed a taste for tourists.

Team Apollo Bikes had assembled in Dili, each of us fresh-faced and with 7 pairs of clean knicks. Masterminded by John Groves, the only man I’ve seen cross a finish line doing the ‘Superman’, the crew was bolstered by MTB superstars Nick Morgan and Pete Kutchera who stayed at the pointy end of the race all tour. As the sole girl on the team, my job primarily was to remind the others how grotty boys were. Given the state of the men’s toilets though, they hardly needed reminding. The guys are all classy riders and together they got Pete into the yellow jersey at the best possible time. Pete would have taken out the tour had it not been for an unlucky mechanical, and in the end placed a close 2nd.

Personally, I struggled with the heat all tour and never really felt good. I won the first mountain stage on day 3 (with super domestique Grover), but Peta Mullens well and truly deserved the GC win. My tour ended in the back of a UN ambulance on stage 5 with heat exhaustion, and to be honest without the help of the awesome Laurent (a fellow rider who saw me in trouble) it could have been much worse. Laurent rode with me for the best part of an hour, sometimes walking, sometimes sitting, and eventually walking both his bike and mine as I could no longer push my bike. He fed me bananas and kept me talking, and then flagged down a motorbike to take me to the feed station where I could get medical assistance. Thank you Laurent! From there it was a 3.5hr trip bouncing down the mountain in the back of the ambulance to the next campsite, a quick trip to the race medical centre for a weigh in, some medication usually reserved for chemotherapy patients, and then a trip to Dili.

I’m glad to be home. I’ll need a few weeks to get back to normal. But Tour de Timor IS a once in a lifetime race. Go on, do it. You’ll love it.

Ride Happy.

May update - Getting dirty, then getting clean

May has been a big month. I'm a bit behind with Ride Happy posts, so here is a very brief snapshot of what's been going on. We started with Battle on the Border in Qld. I am still leading the National Road Series, although the amazing Ruth Corset is hot on my heels. My mum (NOT Lisa's Mum!) got very excited about this article by Cycling Australia because I talked about how I like having a career to balance out all the pedalling. Parents like to hear things like that.

I've been enjoying some time in Adelaide, training and with family. It really is the best city in Australia for cycling. I have a bike that I keep there now, which makes spur-of-the-moment trips very do-able. It's almost worth flying there just to experience the novelty of not travelling with a bike bag. Some quality secret training too, which as we all know is the best kind.

The following weekend, Ryan 'Diamonds' Moody and I teamed up for the Dirty Gran Fondo MTB in Wandong, VIC, put on by the good people at Big Hill Events. 90km of fire road through Mt Disappointment State Forest with >2000m vertical. That is a lot, particularly on a mountain bike. Diamonds could have dropped me about a million times, but luckily for me stuck around to watch me suffer.

The DGF was awesome, but ridiculously muddy. It was an important race for The Roadie Project, as I've entered Tour de Timor in Sept (a 5 day MTB stage race) and need to be somewhat competent in an international MTB field. Riders could opt to ride cyclocross bikes or MTBs, and there was some pretty compelling evidence to be seen of the growing popularity of CX in Australia. ANOTHER bike for the wish list!

Despite the fantastic atmosphere that is typical of MTB racing, the day was soured for me by the behaviour of one WALRUS, who took me out in the first 5km as we were all jostling for position. This guy decided that he was in 81st place and had to move to 80th pronto, which meant changing his line in a rocky creek bed and clean decking me. That's part and parcel of racing, but what was disappointing was that the guy knew he was in the wrong and didn't check that the person who had just eaten it was ok.  I saw him turn around as I was sprawled out elegantly over the rocks, then keep going (no doubt to chase down 79th place). Fair enough if you are racing for the win but this guy was no winner. I don't mind bleeding all over my nice race shoes, and spending a few days off the bike, and sticking to the bed sheets, but I take exception to spending my Sunday afternoon in a medical clinic and scrubbing out my knee in the shower with a toothbrush, just because some idiot doesn't know how to ride. ALSO, given that there were 120 starters and I finished 20th, I'm pretty sure I passed you, Walrus, at some stage, and I bet as you were chicked you made some stupid excuse to yourself about how this was a training race for you and you were just pacing yourself, etc etc. WALRUS!

Phew! That's my grumpy rant done.

The next exciting thing is that Apollo Bicycles have started a Facebook comp to choose the cover photo for the Apollo 2013 catalogue. They have very kindly put a photo of me bleeding from my eyeballs (below) as one of the entries. The winning photo is the one with the most 'Likes'. You can enter by visiting the Apollo Facebook page here. (Or try here for a link to the photo itself, if you're feeling lucky.)

Obviously, voting brings you extremely good luck and it's been proven that voters are better kissers.
Another cool thing that's happened lately is that I've started a new job as an in-house legal counsel in Melbourne. I've had a great year of exploring new opportunities and this is an exciting new chapter in my career. Again, this got my Mum very excited.
I've also started a board role with Lacrosse Victoria, which is a new and exciting challenge. And I had a great opportunity last month to sit on the Cycling Australia Selection Review Panel for a world champs selection appeal. I'm getting a lot of enjoyment from working with sports, and as I go I realise how much athletes can contribute positively to sports governance.
But... one of THE MOST exciting and newsworthy events lately has been that Lisa's Mum now has her own regular column in Bicycling Australia magazine! That's right, Lisa's Mum has sold out. She will still be appearing in Ride Happy, but this time if you send her a letter you may just see it in the next BA issue. Her first appearance is in the next issue (out in the next few weeks). You can also grab a copy of RIDE Magazine for something more serious - the current issue (#56) has the first of a four-chapter series I've written on corruption, match-fixing and cycling. Corruption in sport has the potential to be bigger than doping, and potentially more damaging.
OK, that's enough talking, and time to get back pedalling. Thanks to everyone who has kept me smiling over the last few months. You know who you are.
Ride Happy.

Crazy 6

A couple of weekends ago, my VIS teammate Chloe 'The Enforcer' McConville and I raced the Crazy 6, a 6-hr MTB enduro put on by the good people at Geelong Mountain Bike Club in the You Yangs. It was awesome; certainly one of most enjoyable races I've done.

We were talked into racing the Crazy 6 by VIS mechanic Ryan Moody (the voice behind the Platypus of Truth), who caught us at a vulnerable moment after the Tour of NZ and suggested we give it a crack. The words 'non-technical', 'good for roadies' and 'steak sandwich' were also used, which secured our commitment. And, if nothing else, knowing that our trusty mechanic would be racing there too filled us with confidence that if we broke something, help wouldn't be far away.

This was my first experience of racing a 6-hour in a team. We chose to ride lap on/lap off so as to stay fresh and to maximise the fun levels. Naturally, I made Chloe go first on the grounds that her biceps were of an appropriate size and strength to beat through the start line bustle. Ryan, meanwhile, had chosen to race the 6hrs solo (and still rode quicker than both of us combined).

The atmosphere at these events is just fantastic. With a mix of solo riders, pairs and threesomes - some taking it seriously, others there for the fun of it - there were loads of people in transition to play with. There is a great feeling of bonhomie at MTB races that you don't get at road races. If you like riding but get a bit intimidated by road racing, get thee to an MTB enduro, pronto.

For the first 4 hours, we trailed the leading women's pair (Trailmix's Jo Williams and Fitzroy Revolution's Amity McSwan) by around 4 minutes. You can read their take on the race here. We didn't talk much, The Enforcer and I, mostly because we spend so much time racing together that we can now communicate via a series of eye twitches. Also, I had told her that if I rode faster than her I would requisition her hot wheelset, which gave us both something to think about.

So anyway, back to us being smashed by Jo and Amity. These girls can ride! Our master strategist Julian (Mr Enforcer) was keeping tabs on the gap and issuing helpful instructions along these lines:

  • "Man, you guys are getting SMASHED!"
  • "You'd better ride faster. The gap is REALLY big."

After the 4 hour mark, we slowly started pegging back time. Roadies are nothing if not good at pedalling for extended periods. Gradually the gap closed from 4 minutes, to 2:30, to 1:30. At 5:59:20, McConville and Amity appeared together in transition, leaving Jo and I to duke it out over one final lap. Chloe had promised to greet me with a burger with the lot on the finish line if we won, and luckily that burger was not cooked in vain.

So in the end we had a ding-dong battle that made the day exciting, capped off with the legendary GMBC prize goodies and a couple of cool trophies made from carbon fibre. News of Chloe's MTB prowess spread as far as Martin Barras, who promptly offered her a guest spot on the AIS squad for a month of racing in Belgium. And I, in a giddy haze of dirt love, rashly signed up for Tour de Timor in September with the Apollo crew. The Roadie Project continues!

Ride happy.

2012 Marathon Challenge - or Why Adonis Should Be A Mountain Biker

This is a story of unrequited love. And coffee. And mountain biking. Last Sunday I took part in the Marathon Challenge in Avoca put on by Big Hill Events. The Marathon Challenge prides itself on being the toughest mtb marathon in Australia. The 90km 'full' marathon has 2800m of vertical climbing. (To put this in perspective, Mt Hotham is around 1300m vertical.) I opted for the soft option - 65km with 2500m of vertical.

In retrospect, this was perhaps not the sensible way to ease back into training after 3 weeks off. On the other hand, I was excellently tapered.

The plan to enter the marathon was hatched over coffee with a friend at a certain cafe in Kew. I really love this cafe because it serves excellent coffee that is made by the handsomest man in the kingdom of Melbourne. For brevity's sake, let's call him Adonis.

The problem with this cafe is that every time I go there I agree to half-baked plans for adventure purely because I'm so distracted by Adonis. I disappear into a giddy haze of delicious caffeine and unfathomable man-beauty. Don't get me wrong - I am not crazy for this guy. I'm sure in reality he has smelly feet and can't drive a manual and probably cuts his toenails in the bath. He is just a breathtakingly beautiful barista who should be on the catwalks of Milan or off being someone's muse or something. In the words of Derek Zoolander, he is really really ridiculously good-looking.

Anyway, I think it was Niki's idea that we did the MTB marathon. I'm not really sure, I was ordering a coffee at the time.

Niki can agree to half-baked plans like this because she is really really ridiculously good at mountain biking. I, on the other hand, need all the help I can get.

The race itself was well worthy of its reputation. Lots of climbing, some bowel-shaking singletrack descents and a few 'what am I doing?' moments. It was awesome. One thing that I love about MTB races is how friendly everyone is. From the fastest guys to the course marshals, everyone I saw was nice, encouraging and made you feel happy to be there. I think road racing could benefit from a bit of MTB vibe every so often. Special mention must be made of the food stops featuring super-lovely volunteers and Degani bakery goods. (Again, road cycling take note - why can't we have donuts mid-race too?) There was a coffee cart at race HQ too, which was a great touch, although sadly the barista manning it was no Adonis.

The weather was perfect - mid 20s and sunny - and we were lucky to camp at the winery the night before the race. This is the racing equivalent of living on campus when you're at uni - you can roll out of bed 5 mins before the pre-race briefing. Heaven. And although my own report card for the race would read 'room for improvement', I had a ball.

This weekend is the Crazy 6 at You Yangs put on by the good people at GMBC. Get on it.

Ride Happy.

The Roadie Project

Here's a little video I made for SCODY that I thought you might be interested in. I've mentioned The Roadie Project before, and now seems a good time to bring it up again. Basically, the Roadie Project attempts to answer the age-old question, Can a roadie race on the dirt... and survive? It's a question I'm attempting to answer this year. I am teaming up with Apollo Bicycles who are entrusting me with some of their sweetest MTBs (like this one and this one) which will certainly make me look a lot better than I am. SCODY have made some magnificent Ride Happy kit so that I will be easily identifiable when flying from my bike into the undergrowth. Both these companies need special mention for their continued support of women's cycling. We need more people like you.

I'll put some progress reports here and also on the SCODY blog. Also I've had a few people asking after the Ride Happy kit. At the moment it's a limited run but if there is enough interest I'll ask SCODY if we can make some more. Just put a comment below if you are interested.

Ride Happy.

The Roadie Project

I've got some exciting plans for October. We kick off with the Mt Gambier 100 mile handicap on Oct 8, then start the Honda Women's Tour (aka the Herald Sun Tour for lay-deez) four days later. The VIS ladies are pretty gee-d up for this one. This year, the Honda Tour will be 5 stages over 5 days, including a hilltop finish at Arthur's Seat (no chairlift allowed). THEN, the night Honda Tour finishes, I will be on a plane bound for Malaysia to do my first mountain bike stage race in Langkawi. The Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge 2011 is a 5-day, 5 stage UCI mtb stage race. Andy and I are heading over for our first holiday together in AGES. And probably there will be tears, and broken things, but aren't all good family holidays like that?

All in all, it will be 10 days of racing in 12 days, which will be just like the Giro Donne last year but with a nice rest in the middle on a plane.  I can't remember if the Giro last year had a 7 hour mtb stage in it but I remember being pretty tired so maybe it did. Hmm...

Clearly I need to recruit some serious firepower to survive Langkawi. Stay tuned to see what bike I'll be riding...