The main drawcards of the Briars Highland Fling, the Half (59km), Full (112km) and 100 mile (165km) events, are assembled from three distinct loops of fire trail and singletrack. The halfers skip the 53km middle loop, while the milers do it twice.
Flow caught up with three of last year’s winning riders, Trenton Day (Drift Bikes), Dylan Cooper (Rockstar Racing) and Jenny Fay (Rockstar’s Rockette) for their insights into what to expect. [private]
Stage one – The Ground Effect Stage – 27km
‘The first section is met with enthusiastic riders vying for hole shots and clear lines at the front,’ says Jenny, revealing the fast and furious feel of the opening straights for riders up the front of the pack. ‘So find somewhere within your comfort zone that doesn’t have you constantly screeching brakes and finding yourself behind average lines!’
‘It’s a good place to warm up,’ adds Cooper, whose experience at many of these events counts for as much as his laser cut legs. ‘Eat and drink early and suss the competition out. If you can ride in a group and share the work you’ll save a lot of energy later on when it gets rougher and hillier.’
While Trenton won the Half Fling last year in a super quick 2:07:47, he is quick to point out that, ‘the average ride time for the men’s 2011 59km event was 3:48:15. The women’s was 4:29:58. This is a pretty demanding day for any rider.’
It’s also a very fun way to spend a day, so pace yourself comfortably early so the event is more enjoyable later on.
If slow and steady is your preference, rest assured that even those who start fast settle down eventually. ‘With hundreds of riders around you, a fun atmosphere is created as riders settle into their own rhythms and the nervous energy that was present at the beginning starts to ease,’ assures Trenton.
The ‘Free Bike Wash’ creek crossing is also a talking point of stage one. Will you ride it, or will you run it? Or will you nervously watch the weather in the days leading up to the race and hope that the water levels out there are low?
Stage Two – The Shimano Stage – 53km
The Shimano Stage is reserved for riders doing the Full Fling and 100-mile. Riders in these categories (and these categories only) are given five minutes at either end of the stage to move between check points, restock and refuel, and, in the event of a train crossing past, have a bit of a chat.
The five minute feed stop brings with it some extra tactics. ‘Use all the allowed time allocated in the feed zones to take a breather. Replenish your pockets with food on offer,’ Jenny advises. ‘And don’t take on water alone in your bidons, include an electrolyte with glucose, vitamins and minerals.’ All three riders recommend taking food and/or fluids every 20-40 minutes on the bike.
Riders who started fast sometimes hit a reverse gear in stage two as constant climbing and time on the bike can start to take their toll. ‘Watch out for slower riders on the track, warn them in advance that you are approaching and be polite!’ Jenny cautions. She reminds us that the elite riders start behind the rest of the field and see a lot of other riders during the race.
There’s a lot of fun singletrack to enjoy in stage two, and clear communication is important to ensure ease of overtaking. For Coops, this is his favourite section of the race.
‘The single track flows nicely and you can make good time on it if you’re skilled. But don’t get overzealous in the techo bits, as you’ll use more energy than you think and wear yourself out for the last part of the race. It’s all about keeping fast but efficient.’
Stage Three – The GU Stage – 32km
Stage three brings the full, half and smiling miler categories together again. 32kms doesn’t seem too hard on paper, but it’s certainly no walk in the park so keep something in reserve. Even Cooper finds it hard: ‘This is where the pain hits, no matter how fit you are.’
‘It should be noted that this is both the longer and harder of the two stages that make up the half distance event,’ advises Trenton. ‘Firstly there are multiple undulations and decent climbs that lift the heart rate and burn the legs. The singletrack also becomes more technical and, with the addition of fatigue, could easily lead to a crash.’
Cooper agrees. ‘Topping up on gels and electrolytes is critical. It’s the most scenic part of the race, but hard to take in. Don’t let your body let go and don’t make mistakes because you’re not focussed. The last section is all about keeping it together when it counts.’
I think this is why it’s called the ‘Gu’ stage – if your legs are dead and your energy is fading, these life-saving carbohydrate gels keep you moving.
Jenny’s advice backs up that of the boys. ‘Be consistent with your riding efforts in the first half,’ she says, ‘and you will avoid going into the red or developing cramps over the last hilly sections.’ If you’re likely to overcook it early write yourself a note to eat, drink and pace yourself and stick it on the handlebars.
‘This is the most mentally demanding section on all riders, so be sure to encourage riders you pass or who pass you,’ Jenny’s final piece of advice as fellow Flingers are bringing it home.
While the focus and fitness of these elite riders separates them from the masses, the thought they’ve put into this event provides some useful insights for coming up with strategies of your own.
Whether you use this to tap into some extra energy, or just sit back and savour the day’s journey, crossing the finish line at the Fling is an achievement to be proud of. Soak it up, remember where you put your meal voucher, and catch up with your riding buddies back at the oval where it all began.