Wagga Wagga would again host the XCM titles, a large regional city with one main hill featuring the MTB park we would be using.
Racing there last year, I finished 2nd to Brendon Johnston with a hard to swallow sprint finish to decide the win, with myself making a judgement error and missing the final corner.
Coming into the race I was in good form and ready to right previous years’ wrongs and finally get a XCM title after 2x bridesmaids and 1 x third placings. The course itself didn’t change much from the previous year, besides completing an extra lap making the total length close to 110km. The course itself isn’t anything crazy, it features lots of tight twisty single track and gradual climbing with only one major steep climb featuring right at the beginning of the loop.
Basically every man and his dog was at the race from the elite men side of things with a fully stacked field. Coming into it Trekky (Brendan Johnston) was favourite having won so many times before and with both of us just about to depart for the USA (myself the next day) and in good shape.
The race itself unfolded very gradually with a course not difficult enough to physically break apart riders and for the first 50km mainly rolled around in a group of 10 or so riders. There was lots of elbows out and sprinting into single track as track positioning was key, no one wanting to get held up by others mistakes or dropped wheels. I took the first 50km as conservative as possible keeping in the top 5 wheels position.
At the start of the 3rd lap, I went to the front and applied pressure on the only significant climb on course, a steep sub 5min climb wanting to use my strengths. Over the crest there was just three of us left being Brendan Johnston and Brent Rees. I thought we’d push on from here but the other two weren’t interested in pressing on with the move and the others regained on our wheels once more. Post this main climb was all the fire road for the day, 5km roughly of fast fire road. This fire road post the hard climb, certainly didn’t lend itself to getting away which was frustrating and the nature of the course, where pushing the front wasn’t often advantageous as you could easily be towing around others in a draft.
The last lap rolled around and I was feeling good, no signs of cramps and ready to lift the pace. On the hard climb I again went to the front and again reduced it to Brendan, Brent and I. This time I got some turns post and we established a gap which was comfortable enough to know we were the top three to battle it out. This is where I got stuck on the front and ran through the scenarios of how to win this race. A growing frustration crawled in as I knew there wasn’t much of a chance that this race wouldn’t come down to a sprint. I threw a few attacks on the short climbs but there was nothing significant to really break us apart and felt as though I was dragging around the others.
We did the final decent at warp speed and then it was all about the velodrome (yes we finish on a velodrome, which is what it is but not a fan of particularly the technical nature leading in). I came into the velodrome (making the turn correctly this year) in second wheel behind Brendan, what I thought was perfect. I knew holding the inside line would be advantageous as I took up Brendan’s draft around the back straight. I attacked on the final bend on the inside and instantly started to come around on the inside and with 20m to go I was in the lead looking at the line and the elusive title. Buuuut then came Brent in the inside of both of us and there wasn’t much I could do as I watch him itch in front in the dying meters.
I was honestly guttered rolling around the velodrome, thinking why can’t I win one of these. I’ve won one National title as an U/23 and since have podiumed or top 5 placed in every cross country discipline since.
These feelings started to go away pretty quickly once I was talking to others and got a laughable stirr up form Russ about finishing 2nd again. I know now more than ever that it’s just a bike race and that winning or podium really doesn’t change a thing. Also that no one actually cares about your results it’s just the personal pressure you put on yourself. Then at the end of day you could have all the titles in the world and still be a dickhead and I’d rather not be the later.
There was no time to ponder anyway as I had more fish to fry heading to to the USA in the morning. Straight after the race I drove the 4.5hrs back to Bendigo, packed the mtb in the box and the drove to Melb staying the night before flying.
I had Mon, Russ and Fi all helping pack the bike and managed to get fully ready by 1:30am and awake to head to the airport at 6am!
I’m now flying to Kansas City as I write this and will start the mighty Gravel Unbound on Saturday competing in the 320km event.
Wish me luck and thanks for reading.