The sky was blue and the grass was green at 2012’s Rock Wallaby in Appin and we were all eagerly awaiting the race start. The Appin mtb trails are known well in the mountain bike community as being “rough as guts”, and it wasn’t any differed this year. Organisers had modified this year’s track on the north side of the forest and it was promised to be 99% pure single trail (mountain bikers heaven)
The Bernard Riders were prominent on the start line as usual with Marc de Geoffrey, Travis Moore and Ondrej Slezak competing in 22km race. While Ben Isaksen(Ashfield cycles affiliate) and Michal Kafka went for the full punishment category of 44km elite man.
The race day started as usual where we arrived at the Appin course two hours before the race and erected the Bernard Riders tent and flags in no time. I’m certain that we could build our tents with our closed eyes because it feels like were at an event every weekend!
We got ourselves registered and put our race numbers on our carbon handlebars of our Specialized bikes and then hopped on the Jet Black trainers to start warming up for the race. The JetBlack trainers are the best way how to get warm before race because they are easy to set up, quiet and really get the heart rates going. Rubena Australia had sent us a new type of tyre specifically for the Rock Wallaby – the Rubena Kratos which has a tackier compound perfectly suited for loose and rocky terrain. It’s always nice to have tyre you can trust.
At 9:25am the elite men lined up for the start at football field, and at 9:30am the horn sounded and the race was underway for the 44km riders. The first 200m on the wide open football field was the most important part for the race because if you get caught behind slower riders, there was no chance for overtaking. Thanks to the good pre-race warmup on the JetBlack Trainer I found myself at 7th position after the river crossing. The pace was high and my legs and my lungs were working at 110%, but it just wasn’t good enough. A group of six riders, including Ben Isaksen, started pulling away. At the 4km mark, I realised the possibility of catching those guys was lost and I went back to my “safe plan” of riding the race at my pace in the hope that some of the riders over shot the starting pace but after 30mins of racing, my situation was the same. Normally I like single trails and can ride them pretty fast, which left me questioning what was wrong!!! Then, just as I came out of a corner I saw Ed McDonald and one other rider picking up their bikes from the bushes on the side of the track. Apart from having filthy dirty jerseys, everything appeared ok, and like they could continue riding and as I road past to check they were ok I began to believe my “safe plan” was working.
A mere 10 minutes later my front wheel was buzzing Ben’s rear and I was back in a game again. I knew that Ben is not strong on rough single trails and that he had never ridden Appin before so from this point the “safe plan” was no more; there was just full racing mode and I was back at my 110% limit. Ben and I rode the rest of our first lap together and I knew that the only way to beat Ben was to make sure he couldn’t follow my lines through the single trail. I had previously spent some time riding the Appin trails and didn’t want to give away all of my secret lines, so at the 12 kilometres to go my home made gel that I drank at the start of the last lap began to kick in. Using all the energy left in my legs and coupled with Ben’s bad luck, (he missed his bottle entering second lap, so he rode without water for one hour) I managed to pull away from Ben. From this point I was only fighting myself and the rocky single trails of Appin.
With a sore back (even with the Specialized 29er) I arrived at the finish line after 2:18:16 in 4th position and missed 3rd position by only four and half minutes.
Congratulation to Trenton Day (Specialized) finishing 1st in fabulous time 2:08:44, Mark Tupalsky (Giant) for 2nd and Jon Odams (Whyte) in 3rd.
Big thanks to organisers for putting together such a nice race. Also thanks to Specialized Australia for your Epic bikes, TWE for rock solid wheels as well as Rubena for best tyres on the market.
I have to say Rock Wallaby is one of the hardest 50km race I done. Even now, when I close my eyes I still can see some of the rocks.
Written by: Michal Kafka