Marathon reflections and XCM dreams

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The National XCM Champs in Townsville, held last weekend on 29 April, was a race that had started out a huge goal for me when I planned my season months and months ago but which, as the event approached, ended up being something I was quite relaxed about on the day.

MarathonMTB Townsville XCM Champs Course check

I was pretty relaxed by the time the XCM National Champs rolled around

The last few months I’ve been focused on a new, fantastic, full-time job, but that’s not really interrupted training or anything. It’s made recovery a little harder, but more than anything, it’s sliced off a chunk of my competitive drive, the drive that I’ve otherwise always dedicated to bike racing, and channelled it into a new set of goals.

So I’ve suddenly found myself feeling a lot more relaxed about bike racing. I’d been training for the Pallarenda trails, which were flatter and faster than the Douglas MTB park we ended up racing on when the venue was changed due to heavy rain, but when the venue changed to one that suited me less, I didn’t really mind. I didn’t put much thought into the start list, and really enjoyed the few days in tropical Townsville in the lead-up to the event, rather than worrying about the race itself.

XCM Champs MarathonMTB bike

Rolling up to the startline

Mike and I did a really fun bit of course recon a few days before the event and wrote it up for MarathonMTB.com. I was a bit disappointed to see that we’d be racing yet another lap-based, extended XCO race for our XCM champs. I was lucky enough to participate in the tail-end of the heyday of XCM racing in Australia, with events like the Convict, the Fling, the Epic, Capital Punishment and more giving people a taste of what, in fact, XCM should be. Sadly, our national champs, since I first competed in them in 2013, has always been laps of some bike park or other. Laps of Atherton, Mt Joyce, Derby, and now, Townsville trails seems the limit of what MTBA and local clubs can dare to mount.

Compare this to XCM championship races in Europe and UCI races around the world and you’ll see a very, very stark difference. Basically, Australian XCMs feature none of the tactical side of international XCM racing and are extremely poor preparation or benchmarking events for international competition. Instead of a large loop or two, or even three, they rely on short laps of pure singletrack with few opportunities to pass, eat, or drink. They’re a disappointment to ride and race and a challenge to report in media work. Worst of all, I get the feeling that Australian racers who haven’t had the benefit of international travel barely understand what an XCM should be and how exhilarating real XCM racing can be. It’s a shame.

la clusaz, roc des alpes

It’s not always glamorous, but big European XCM races are always an adventure.

The club did their best and did a fantastic job, and we were all racing the same course, so it was just a matter of getting ready and preparing for limited drinking opportunities and one functional feed/tech zone per lap. I opted to run a combination of bottles and a 1.5 litre Camelbak Hydropak, and was really happy with my strategy.

I was happy racing in a Camelbak, especially given how limited drinking opportunities would be

My race plan was just to ignore what everyone else was doing and ride to my own rhythm. I knew that my injured shoulder probably wouldn’t cope for more than two or three hours on the technical course, so I just had to work with what I had. I thought there was a high likelihood that competitors would go too hard and blow up, so I wanted to make damn sure I wasn’t one of those.

MarathonMTB Imogen Smith Dave Acree

I knew I’d be limited by how much my shoulder could take – or how much shoulder pain I could take – during the race. Photo: Dave Acree.

In the end I didn’t blow up. I lost significant time on the second lap with an ongoing mechanical issue with my dropper (it kept getting stuck in the ‘down’ position and really, really wouldn’t come back up again). Then a young rider fell down a ravine beside me and I had to stop to yell for a while to find out if he was okay. (He was.) Otherwise things went to plan and my race was lonely, hot, frustrating, and well, a little dull. I barely saw another female competitor after the first lap, and felt absolutely nothing when I finished in fourth behind Anna Beck in first, Tory Thomas in second, and Holly Harris in third, wiht Kim Willocks in fifth. I couldn’t have expected better, but I didn’t feel happy or sad, or even relieved. I think this means it’s time for a break!

Read our event coverage right here.

Maybe a bit relieved. Relaxing post-race.

Something that really struck me last Sunday is the incredible grace of one of Australia’s finest young MTBers, Holly Harris. Having been (I think) unfairly overlooked for Commonwealth Games selection and suffering a few mechanicals at importune times in big races this season, she succumbed to another flat that cost her the race last Sunday, in spite of an incredible chase at the end. She bore this disappointment with her usual cheerfulness and excellent humour. She’s exactly the kind of person we want representing Australia and I’ve got no doubt that there’s an incredibly bright future in front of her, and it will come really, really soon.

The women’s XCM National Champs podium

For me, it’s time for a little break and a slightly tenser than usual wait to see if I’ve done enough to gain qualification for the European races, including XCM Worlds, that I’ve been planning to do for over a year!

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