Knights In Shining Lycra

Words by Claire McDonnell | Images by Damian Breach

As I darted out of work one Friday afternoon in a rush to get on the road, I began to mentally check off the things I would needed for my first 100km mountain bike race. Without noticing at the time, my biggest concern was about whether or not to don the typical cross country race attire or to ditch the lycra for my more recent, stealthy amateur female mountain biker getup. I had been teetering between the downhill and cross country look, finding myself more comfortable with loose fitting clothing, and happy to look like a punter so expectations weren’t built around the image I portrayed. I admired the men who comfortably strutted their lycra-clad stuff with blatant disregard for those anti-lycra fundamentalists who liked to eat meat pies and watch sport on TV whilst making fun of cyclists. I tossed in my brand new Jindabyne Cycling Club Jersey and decided to make my mind up on the day.

It’s an interesting experience being a female in the cycling world. As a teenager, I often tramped around the country with my family to watch my big brother race on the track and road, and I became increasingly aware of the ratio of men to women at these events. My brother often had fit, good looking friends and I slowly came to enjoy this as a spectator sport. I gave road cycling a go during this time, but the social butterfly in me did not enjoy the lonely hours training in the cold, wet Cootamundra winters, taking refuge instead in the camaraderie of team sports such as netball, soccer and touch football.

Almost three years ago I moved to Jindabyne for work and play. I began mountain biking with the Jindy crew on sweet single track and scenic fire trails in the Snowy Mountains not long after I arrived. My introduction to single track riding had taken place only 6 months earlier when I was roped into riding an eight hour enduro at Beechworth. The competitive spirit within me went hell for leather right from the start, with no regard for tight switchbacks and technical descending on a course I was unfamiliar with. I returned to my team after that first lap, slightly embarrassed as the blood and bruises gave away my rookie status. That didn’t stop the passion, and coming first in our category only added fuel to the fire that had begun deep within.

As I geared up for the Capital Punishment, a little wiser and even more excited than that first race, I wondered if I really should have signed up for the 100km. My brother- mentor, bike mechanic and voice of reason- wasn’t convinced that I was up to it, with my ad-hoc race preparation that I had tried to fit in around a busy month of outdoor guiding and my soccer, netball, touch and rugby commitments.

Lining up for the race with my friends Matt and Ed, I scanned the crowd for other females. We were few and far between and I had a flashback to the days of my brothers cycling career. I always felt a strange connection with other girls who were racing, and the nods and smiles exchanged gave me the impression that they felt the same way. I felt a rush of pride standing there in my club jersey. All of the fears I had about being seen in lycra had been washed away by pre-race excitement. It also seemed like the most appropriate way to maintain a low profile where I was already in the minority. The odds were looking pretty good for a single girl, but I was too nervous to be checking out potential man-friends, and I was more interested in perving on hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of sexy high tech machinery that hovered between their legs; two years ago I didn’t know what a dualy was.

When the start horn sounded, I drifted off into what would become five hours of solitary daydreaming, interrupted only by a phone call to request an ambulance for rider who had an unscheduled dismount, and brief encounters with encouraging marshals and empathising fellow competitors. One rider who sat on my tail through a long section of single track, commented “how ‘bout this view?? I could do this all day!” and as I agreed, I wondered if he was being a smart ass and referring to my lycra adorned rear end. I decided to take it as a compliment.

At the end of the untimed section I stopped to join a number of others who were using their last few minutes of rest to stretch. I became acutely aware that I was the only girl around and I tried to blend into my surroundings. I smiled politely and quietly ate another gel as a fellow racer noticed me and loudly verbalised his approval of my skills on the single track. Another man turned and asked if I was single, announced that his friend was looking for a girlfriend, and wanted to know if I was going to the after party. As heads turned to see my reaction, I got back on my bike and in an instant I was gone.

I was shocked at my sudden lack of confidence and inability to act cool. I shook off the embarrassment as I rode along on my own, and in my daydreaming I began to ponder the idea of the after party. I didn’t know about it until just before the race and so I hadn’t planned to go. But now my mind was ticking over. A room full of men that can ride 100km on a mountain bike? Wow. This is what my dreams are made of, and an opportunity that doesn’t present itself very often.

As I crossed the finish line, there was no cheering and clapping. In fact there was no one waiting to congratulate me except my friend Matty who crossed the line in front of me and understood how far I had just come. It didn’t matter. I felt amazing. I was ready to call my brother to let him know that I had not only survived, but did it in a timely fashion and enjoyed it immensely.

Packing up to go home, I asked my friend Ed if he wanted to go to the after party. With a ratio of roughly 1:7, he didn’t seem interested in being my wingman, and despite my usual healthy self-confidence, there was no way I was entering the lion’s den without some backup.

On the drive back to Jindabyne, I thought about all of the brilliant aspects of mountain bike racing: sweet flowing single track; pushing the physical and mental limits; checking out all of the different bike rigs; and the feeling of exhaustion after completing a personal challenge, alongside a thousand other like-minded people. If I had missed an opportunity to meet a lovely gentleman that shared my love of mountain biking, it didn’t matter.

The next day, back in the comfort of our local coffee hangout, I found myself surrounded by friends who were eager to hear about the race. When I told them about the after party that I didn’t attend, and hamming it up with talk of fit, athletic men and favourable ratios, they quickly offered to come along to the next one and wanted to know when it was. Well, there’s the Tathra enduro, the Kowalski Classic, the Wicked Wombat….

Looks like I’ll have a support crew on and off the bike from now on. Hopefully it will entice a few more of my friends to try mountain biking and add to the numbers of girls on the start line. Who knows, I might even meet my knight in shining lycra.

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