Ed McDonald is a mountain biker from Canberra who is known for the long miles he racks up in training, as well as being fast racing over long distances, particularly 100 mile and 24 Hour events. He has recently become a Trek Ambassador and rode a Superfly Elite test bike to 2nd in Solo at the Scott 24Hour, and his Superfly SS to 2nd at the Sydney 24Hour. Last week he got his own Superfly Elite, and proceeded to tackle two races on the weekend! First up was the Rocky Trail Entertainment MTB Cruise 100 Mile at Stromlo Forest Park on Saturday, and then a CORC 3 Hour at Kowen on Sunday. Below you can read how he went in his own words. If you would like to read more about his cycling adventures, you can check out his own blog here. (Sorry there's no photos for this one!)
Most mountain bike race reports begin with a heinously early wake up call. This one is no exception. Despite being only 20 minutes from the race start, this race start was scheduled at 5am – meaning a 3-30am wake-up call and a severely addled brain.
The race was put on by Rocky Trail Entertainment at Stromlo, with 33, 66, 100 and 160km (nominal) distances. The 160km was scheduled to start early to provide the extra dimension of night racing – dodging errant kangaroos, guessing the surface composition through the tacky dew, and peering over your shoulder at a string of bright lights winding their way around the exposed waste lands and rocky outcrops of Stromlo.
I entered the 100 mile race along with a few of Canberra’s more established endurance riders – most notably, Andrew Hall of Team Radical Lights, and singlespeed legend Brett Bellchambers. For the past few years, the 100 mile category has become something of a form guide and test run for the Solo 24 Hour National Championships. I had bailed on the singlespeed category to try out the gears on my new Trek Superfly Elite, but it was still an excellent singlespeed course, with lots of climbing, and probably the highest singletrack proportion of any “marathon” distance race in Australia. Tricky rockgardens dominated the course – with the treacherous Slick Rock descent combined with the Deep Creek rockgardens and the appropriately titled “Heart Breaker” climb. The loop featured over 500vm ascent each lap, and took around 1:25 to navigate.
With a loop this long, one of the most important aspects was hydration. Possibly my favourite aspect of my medium-sized Superfly is the ability to fit two bottles in – thus avoiding the inconvenience of carrying and refilling hydration bladders and allowing slick transitions. There are a lot of things to like about 29er hardtails as endurance race bikes – the Superfly was very comfortable over the distance, with no back pain, and the blistering climbing response of a genuinely high-performance carbon frame. Combined with a comfy Evoke RL saddle and the superb Race XXX Lite foam grips, I couldn’t have asked for anything better in the bike for a 7 hour singletrack stint.
Appropriately, I tried to put the bike’s climbing pedigree to good use right from the start, and was able to run just a single light with my K-Lite lighting the way into the pre-dawn gloom. With over 20 minutes of continued climbing near the start of the lap, it wasn’t long until Andrew was the only rider holding the wheel. We edged cautiously down the descent, and nearly cleaned up about 4 separate kangaroos.
On the Deep Creek rockgardens, the 29er hardtail showed its prowess. It’s nice to be able to stomp out of the saddle through the steep pitches, and G2 means you can easily loft your front wheel through tricky uphill rock step-ups. I opened some small gaps here to Andrew, but he shut me down in other areas, and we concentrated on opening a big advantage over Brett.
Late in the first lap, Andrew got a puncture which allowed me to get about a minute off the front – he fixed it quickly! I quickly swapped bottles and helmets in the pits, and tried to establish a strong rhythm. With the rising sun and the kangaroos mostly off the track now, I was able to push a higher tempo and began to open a steady gap. Adrenaline was pumping and I was loving the rocky gardens, nasty climbs and swooping berms.
Endurance racing is about controlling your adrenaline though, and making sure you plan ahead. I focussed obsessively on appropriate nutrition and – most importantly – hydration – to ensure that I could maintain the pace.
The last few hours of the race became very hot – Stromlo is exposed and the white surface radiates the intensity of a burning summer sun straight back at you. The trails were littered with cramping bodies and exhausted riders pushing their own limits in the challenging conditions on the tough course. Between the comfortable bike setup and a solid hydration strategy, I was happy to remain consistent, and my final lap was my second fastest. I crossed the line after 7 hours and 13 minutes, stoked to defend my title and hold off a consistently fast Andrew, who put in another characteristically strong performance for second.
The following day saw a 3 hour race at Kowen held by Canberra Off-Road Cyclists. Where a few of us use the Stromlo 100 miler as a test run for 24 Hour Nationals, everyone in Canberra uses this 3 hour as a test run for the Mont or Capital Punishment, and there were over 280 riders in attendance! On the Rivet in Phillip sponsored this event and everyone enjoyed a great day’s racing in perfect conditions.
This course was the opposite of the Stromlo course in many ways – fast and flowing, with a steady climb through pine forests and native bush followed by the swooping, rollicking flow of the “Rolling Thunder” descent. Riding 11 laps of this was fantastic fun, and it was no surprise to see 29ers in abundance on this fast and flowing course.
I wasn’t sure how well I’d back up from the heat and distance of the previous day, but after the chaos of a self-seeded start, found myself in a reasonable position heading into the singletrack. The previous day’s 100km winner – Dylan Cooper – soon moved to the front and belted out a very solid pace and was flying down the descents at a remarkable pace. I hung on the wheel for a few laps before feeling the elastic stretch and eventually got popped off. I managed to keep the gap down for a few laps before the inevitable “flatness” from the previous day’s racing caught up with me, and while I chugged some caffeine in an attempt to fire up some adrenaline, it was clear that I was going backwards. In the meantime, the trails were far too much fun not to enjoy, and I started chatting to a few riders to roll out the distance and round off a fun weekend.
It was a great start to racing on the new Superfly – the same bike which, in the hands of super XC riders Dan McConnell and Bec Henderson – took two national titles on the same weekend. I can’t wait for Mountains to Beach, and then the big goal, 24 Hour Nationals.