The course could not be any more perfect for me or my bike. It's like someone had asked me to fill in a questionnaire about my ideal 24 hour race course and plonked the results at Mt Stromlo.
We rode it twice today, just because we could, whooping all the way!
I was quite envious of Matt Page (the UK champion) who we bumped into after our second lap. Not because he had seen kangaroos less than 10 minutes after he saw us on the trail, but because he was going out on a night lap too!
Mt Stromlo is barely 20 minutes dive from our cottage in northern Canberra. A strange little mountain which because of the forrest fires 7 years ago is only covered with young vegetation with the occasional charred tree. The trail surface is a fine grit or coarse sand dusted over hard packed earth - which makes it fast and loose. The trails are also littered with enough sharp rocks to make the climbs interesting but not too many to make the descents a death trap. I was so glad we had taken time out to train in Luchon with Ian Potter at AQR - not only because he gave me soooo many tips about how to ride rocks and loose, tight corners but also because he had ridden here before. It was Ian who put us onto Maxxis Crossmark tyres - which not only ride fast, but also have nobbles right round the profile allowing grip no matter how tight the corner. Having ridden the trail I now know why he recommended them and we spotted many of the locals with the same ones - thank you Ian!
The course starts from the bottom of the mountain at the main arena, from here, the trail winds like a beige ribbon up the front of the mountain into a long, technical "singletrack" climb. Plenty of tight hairpins, rocks and the odd root make this climb interesting if taken steadily - a lung buster if taken at speed. Massive views of the solo pits (where Simon and Carole will be based) and the region towards Canberra and beyond grow and grow as you gain height. At the top you pop out next to a large white observatory glistening in the sunshine - tempting to stop at the visitor centre but from here the trail drops off the edge of the world down the back side of the mountain forming a technical, rocky descent. Fun as it was in a scary kind of way I can imagine this will become many racers downfall as their concentration fades and limbs weaken through the race. Line choice, optimum momentum and balls of ...531 are crucial to be able to ride with conviction.
The climb back up gives the adrenaline levels a chance to recover with a loose fire road slog with a couple of small kicks up. Back at the top you cross over the previous line - images of strip the willow come to mind...! There is a pile of wood at the top where we spotted a massive light brown headed snake who, less than a foot away, stared at us before slithering away. . I'm glad that it was later I found out that this snake with the brown head is the most aggressive and poisonous type. I'm sure the night laps are going to keep me on my toes as I hallucinate that every root/shadow and stick is a snake ready to strike!
From here on down is the best bit of the whole course - a sweeping bermed descent back into the pits. A few rocks , lots and lots of hairpins, and a few jumps drop you quickly down the front of Mt Stromlo with a grin so wide that you might find it too large to fit though the narrow gate back into the pit area.
As much as I fell in love with the course, I fell in love with my bike more. It was purpose designed and built for this type of race and I love it. It's the best of all worlds. Super light for the climbs, it is also nimble and deft like it's stable mate the COTIC Soul for cornering. The full suspension makes it comfortably iron out the terrain and help my body cope with so long in the saddle. 24 hours on this course would be brutal on a hard tail, but I am now absolutely confident that the Cotic KP24 will just do what it was designed for. The limiting factor is definitely going to be me!