I’ve never been the guy who can just do the same thing over and over when it comes to bike racing — I love to mix up disciplines. When it became apparent that international travel and racing wasn’t in the cards, I directed my focus on domestic cross-country racing. It’s been a minute since my last national champs XCO dig. I’ve done some national rounds here and there, but with COVID, it felt like it was an opportunity to do something a bit different. With full support from Yeti and Polar Bear (Factory Team Mechanic, Shaun Hughes) in my corner, it was off to Maydena, Tasmania for the Australian XCO National Championships.
Upon arrival, we learned the course was going to be much more daunting than expected. We were faced with approximately 305 meters (1000 vertical feet) of climbing per 4.9km (3 mile) lap (yes, you read that right). To put that into context, that is about twice what you would expect to see on a modern-day World Cup. Needless to say, there were quite a few unhappy racers, and many complaints. Can’t keep everyone happy I suppose...
The descent was a mix of tech and fast flow. Purely because of the amount of climbing per lap, I chose the ARC — the modern geometry pushes its descending capability to a whole new level over the previous generation. Put a dropper on and she’s ready for anything!
“The ARC with a dropper was going to be the perfect choice and plenty of bike for the track, especially with someone like Jared that has skills to pay the bills. We put ARC in full weight weenie mode and it was dialed for the track, which had some 30% incline climbs”Polar Bear "Shaun Huges"
The weather forecast caused a bit of trepidation, it had been dry all week but they predicted an eight-hour window of rain to start just as the women's race was to begin. And that's EXACTLY what happened. The rain eased slightly while we were warming up, but lap one was like super snotty peanut butter.
From the get-go, I was stuck behind guys who couldn’t get traction on the steep pitches and shouldering their bike as that was their only option. I found myself trying a bit too hard to get right to the front and I stalled out. No cause for concern though, it was going to be a long race. I got through 95% of the descent on the first lap, when I hit a slick patch of clay, and before I knew it, I was face checking the ground. I got up as fast as I could — my seat was crooked, bars twisted, dropper lever bent, but the bike was still rideable, I slipped back to 5th before the first lap was over.
That was a pretty low moment. Lap one had gone just about as badly as it could have. I mentally checked out on the second lap momentarily, but in those times, you just have to talk to yourself, and try to find your groove again. I was super sore, and my bike felt second hand, but with each passing minute things got better. I found some creative lines to find grip on the climbs and adapted to the different feeling on my bike and things were coming back.
I started reeling in three guys ahead of me on the third lap, but at this point, Dan McConnell was comfortably in first and out of sight. I knew I was climbing stronger than the three I was chasing, and with each lap I would pick another guy off. Unfortunately, I kept catching them as we got to sections of the climb where passing was momentarily impossible in the tight single track. I would eventually find a way past, and then put a bit more of a gap on them in the descent.
As we started lap four, Cam Ivory was well within sight. That dangling carrot just what I needed. I needed to get by fast if I had any chance to catch McConnell. I put in a bit of a sneaky sprint where it opened up for a brief moment — I don’t think Ivory expected a stunt like that. From then I knew it was going to be flat out to see what I could do in the last lap and a half.
I was told I was 2 minutes back, which is a bit much to pull back in 25 minutes… but you gotta try right? I’d trained well leading up, my legs were good, and I was feeling confident. Anything could happen in these conditions...
By the end of this lap the heaves opened big time and we were back to just trying to make it up the climbing sections. I ran more of the climb on the last lap than I rode. I knew I had just the last long descent left, and I was taking some big risks to make up time. Then big crash number two! I glanced a sharp rock with my front wheel resulting in a slow leak. It became a full-blown — making it to the finish line was an effort. Riding with a front tire flat was almost impossible with the track flowing a river. I crashed three more times, but I had just enough air left in my tire to make it to the finish
“Jared was pretty hungry to salvage whatever he could from the race, so to be able to pull back to 2nd place at the finish of the race was pretty amazing”Polar Bear "Shaun Huges"
It definitely was not the race I had envisioned, but it could have been a whole lot worse. Of course, McConnell took a pretty comfy win in the end with all the shenanigans going on behind. Credit where credit is due, his years of wet World Cup experience showed.
For now, back on the Enduro rigs, get some runs in, and get ready (fingers crossed) for some good international races.
Words by Jared Graves
Next year, we will be back, and that National Champs Jersey is not getting away from him again.Polar Bear "Shaun Huges"