I must confess I always look forward to the Convict; I love its fast fire trail style, with lung busting climbs, technical high speed descents and the water crossing which is such a unique challenge that can put off the most competent of riders. To be fair, there is not as much single track on offer, but as long as you know that in advance you aren’t disappointed.
Up at the crack of dawn again for another endurance race, the first stage entails successfully making it from your warm bed to the start line before 7am and negotiating the ferry queue if you are coming from the south.
Pulling up to the attractive St Alban’s pub in the chilly dark, the silly ones like me are hurriedly stuffing down bananas, muesli bars and other stuff while we affix number plates, load up drink bottles and throw on race kit. The smart people who camped were in cruise mode, warming up their legs on the streets around the pub.
I am never quite sure what to wear when these events start in the freezing cold, when you know that it is probably going to heat up. Do you tough it out in bib and nicks or add the arm warmers or even a vest? I went with my favourite merino wool arm warmers which can easily be ripped off and stuffed in a pocket. Others who had mates / loved ones in support had jackets at the start line, ripped off before the gun while the rest of us toughed it out.
A beautiful sunrise greeted the 600+ competitors lining up for 100km. The elite category were well represented with over 30 guys and girls sent off in the first wave. Successive waves were released in 10min intervals down Settlers Rd for the 10km road section. I was off in the first lot, post the elite riders, and the pace at the start was pretty pedestrian and mighty chilly, thank you arm warmers. After some jockeying for positions on the road section, we all turned left onto the track and ready for the first ‘get stuffed’ climb. A quick chug of the water bottle and then it was game on up the hill.
Every year I remember that this hill is quite steep in sections and every year, surprising as it may seem, it is confirmed. It’s a real handle bar chewer, especially the little kicks as you go up. For those that can ride it, you were rewarded with a sizeable lead over the rest of the group, your breakfast at the bottom of your wind pipe, and legs full of lactic acid.
Spinning out over the top, natural groups had already formed and I found myself in a group of about 10 carrying good pace as we travelled along the ridge top towards the first feed station. It was at about this point that I picked up my first stick, luckily not one I had to stop for as I would have dropped the group but as annoying as if you had a footy card on your old BMX. Brrrrr for the next 10km and then it stopped, phew. Turns out ‘phew’ was right as after the race I found that my lower jockey wheel was missing some teeth; wasn’t I lucky it didn’t shatter!
We turned past the first feed station into the singletrack section all in file. This was where I had my second race incident. I carry two bottles for events like this, one behind the seat and one in the front triangle and try to only stop once during the race. I had finished the first bottle at the 30km mark and deciding to swap it out with the other, I found the other had departed the vehicle. Mmm, no water for 20km, awesome! The third ‘awesome’ moment was that I was at the tail end of the group and the group had split in the middle. It was sometime before I realised this and the front dudes were nowhere to be seen. Head down then to start the reeling in the bolters.
Brief glances around the smoother sections of the track revealed fantastic vistas of the plunging wooded valleys that we were riding besides and surprisingly, the sun really didn’t kick in until about 11am so the arm warmers although pulled down to the wrists, they never came off.
The 50km feed station – relief, aqua plus bananas and treats if you were running out of power! Gulping and filling my bottle, I raced off to chase the guys who had escaped up that long grinding hill. It is one of the few sections of the course where you could see a long way ahead.
At the top, the fun was about to begin, many kays of technical predominately downhill sections where the 29er full suspension rig that I was on really came out to play. Other riders on hard tails were doing it tougher through this section, but I was loving it, point and shoot. There were also some reasonably technical ascents requiring a mono and some weight transfer. One section was probably rideable but I decided it was quicker to jump off and run.
The final descent to the gate, back just before you get back on the road, was great fun; the baby head rocks didn’t seem as bad as last time, although I still had some heart-in-the-mouth moments.
Back to the road and a short trip to the river crossing. I really like this crossing, but funnily enough it really gets some people spooked. A steady pace and riding looking a couple of metres ahead is the key. Don’t look at your tyres and you’ll be across in no time, into a sand pit on the far side.
Time for the second section of the course; the lonely road out and back, another decent climb and some scary brake burning / water bar air time descents. This part of the course can be tough, not just because it is towards the end but the many (seems like 20) pinch climbs along the ridge top really put your legs in the hurt locker.
The final river crossing was not rideable this year and my chain decided to get stuck between my frame and chain ring as I dismounted – fantastic. We were also starting to mix it up with the 50km riders at this point, so until you could see their number plates, you couldn’t work out if you were chasing or being chased by someone also doing the 100km.
The final 5km along the road goes relatively quickly and then you are back to St Albans to cross the finish line welcomed by the cheers of spectators and a beer and water – all the suffering is worth it and everyone I saw had a big smile from ear to ear.