Paluma Push 2009 Race Report

It is finally over. The race that I have been most anxious about for the last 5 weeks - Paluma Push. A gruelling 65km cross-country mountain bike starting in the rainforest at Paluma, North of Townsville and finishing in the dry tablelands of Hidden Valley.

The race is a one-way ticket to the pain locker. A race so tough, that you don't have to go home and lie about how hard it was. It is fast, technical and has absolutely no forgiving terrain. A perfect way to round out the Cairns Show Day long weekend.

This is the third consecutive year that I have raced at Paluma, and each year it has progressively increased in distance. Strangely enough it has also increased in numbers. A testament to the growth in mountain biking.

The first year I stayed with friends in Port Hinchinbrook, the 2nd year (last year) the boys from Pump 'n Pedals organised accommodation at Rollingstone, which is a truck stop close to the bottom of the Paluma Range, and this year the same crew gravitated to swags and tents under the stars at the Paluma Dam. We couldn't legally have been closer to the start of the race, unless (as is always a point of discussion every year), someone books at the Paluma chalets a year in advance. It somehow never actually happens and we are generally clutching at straws with only weeks to go.134755_lores

We loaded the P 'n P truck on Saturday arvo after work and headed down to Paluma. A quick hour blown at Ingham for a supply stop and shop, as well as watching Tris eat two subway footlong's chased with some fluid. Unreal. We finally unloaded and set up camp at around 6:45pm. Literally in single digits with a wind chill factor, we didn't spend much time hanging around. A social beer, pasta for some, water for other's and we were in bed by 9:30pm.

We woke to the sound of bush turkeys and cat birds. It was about 6:30am and we were back in the van and driving the 15km's back to the race start, where we then set up shop for brekky and race preparation.

The race briefing seemed to take forever. As is tradition at Paluma, the race start is always a Le mans start. Riders place their bikes in a line up and then walk back about 30m. Once the gun goes each rider runs like a cut snake and mounts their bike in the hope of securing a good spot behind the pace vehicle, which governs the pace for the first 4km along National Park road, until the turn off for the dam, at which point the peleton of 400 plus riders goes from 20kph to about 35kph in a matter of seconds.

This year was no different although had a slight variation in that due to the large numbers of riders, the running to the bikes was omitted. We just stood next to our bikes and then jumped on at the gun.

I managed to maintain a good spot behind the vehicle which allowed me a great position to get into the lead bunch once we hit the gravel road. From there the pace picked up and we were anaerobic. It wasn't long before we all pretty much got into a rhythm and soon enough we had covered the 15km section to the dam. By now the bunch had split and we were all pretty much in our zone. A couple of riders were off the front and gone, while the few remaining, hung on through a fairly technical section around the dam. After the dam it was fast again and I managed to break free and ride on my own for most of the race.

In past years I have just used a single bidon in my bottle cage, but it is virtually impossible to get a decent drink or hydrate properly as one needs both hands on the bars at all times. This year I used a Camelback which allowed me to drink freely while still holding on. I had a back up of Endura Optimizer in my bottle cage for times when I was climbing and could safely get a mouth full.

This year the organiser's added another loop to the course for the competitive class. It was technical, flowing, had plenty of climbing and in some parts as rough as guts.134756_loresThis took the sting out of my legs and by the time I reached the sheep paddocks I was pretty much hanging on by a thread. About 10km to go and things were getting tough. I was dreaming about the snag on roll waiting at the finish line, and an ice-cold coke. During this daydream, I was passed by a fellow competitor like I was looking for parking. This was my wake up call and I decided that because pain is inevitable and that suffering is optional, I need to get back in the fastest possible time. I had had enough of being out there and didn't want to drag it on for too long.

I crossed the line in 7th position overall in a time of 3hrs 8min. 3rd in my category. It was undoubtedly my best result at Paluma so far. Although slightly higher up in the overall rankings last year, the class of field this year was far superior.

On that note, I would like to thank Brad and the guys at Pump 'n Pedals for the opportunity to let me ride on the new Specialized Epic S-Works. Miracuously they had an XL demo bike in the shop which was free for the weekend. It is an awesome machine. It is responsive and light, and the brain compensates for lack of rider technical ability.

I was totally rapt with the way it went - it begs the question, "how comfortable does one really need to be before the start of a race?". The answer is not to overthink the situation, go with the flow, and make the best of the situation. In hindsight I probably wouldn't have wanted it any other way.135345_lores



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