#84 stretching for the line like last drinks have been called!
I’m really not sure what the trigger was to clip in and slot it into the gate again at a national championships, though at the root of it, it was the opportunity to work towards a goal and execute a plan. Sounds very athletie (piss off Google spell check, it’s a legit word) and isn’t quite the reason why after a 4-year break, and a declaration that 2018 was the last national champs I would ride, that I entered the 2022 Launceston race.
2021 was a rough year for my family with my wife diagnosed with breast cancer. I know the exact day because it was the first day of BMX racing at the Olympics, and we found ourselves that afternoon sitting in Dr Turkiewicz’s room digesting the news of that diagnosis. Fast forward through chemo and an op, and in November we returned to the same room and hearing that my wife had had the best possible result that could be hoped for. That’s surgeon speak for high fives all round. These type of people aren’t ones for hyperbole.
Khalen Young passing on his knowledge and wisdom to Tahlia Marsh before she went on to win the U23 title
With still some radiation treatment scheduled early in the new year, we planned a Tassie holiday that April as R&R and once we hit Launceston and I clocked the track, low flat hill and nothing that looked like it was going to kill you if you screwed up, I decided that I’d come back and finish drinking the rest of the delicious beers that Tassie breweries knock out. Launceston is a great town, good coffee and by luck, one of my BMX traveling mates, Dave Potter, hit the group chat and said Jetstar just released $49 flights from Brisbane to Launceston. Booked there and then. I was coming back.
But I was in trouble, my phone buzzed and it was the club pres Matt asking what I thought of the track, the camera’s had alerted him and I strenuously denied it was me strolling around. “No, that’s not me on my Instagram account standing on the start hill….” A few council boys on lunch had let me through the gate after I gave them the “let me tell you who I am” so I could get a look at it. Matt is a great guy and we had a chat about the challenges the club had faced, and had yet to face to host a national championship. It is afterall, not the biggest club in the country, but boy did they deliver a ripper of an event. They were supposed to be hosting this event in 2020, but something happened that we’re all sick of talking about.
Tight fit in the KIA
We had checked out Cataract Gorge while in town and I booked a Airbnb for our group right at the edge of it for the week of the titles and I went back to LUX and declared that I was going to win a national title in November. Some people write their goals on the fridge, or on a list in the shower as a constant reminder, but this pales into insignificance when your BMX colleagues are there to keep you accountable. That my partner in crime from our podcast BMX, Beers & Bullshit, KY, was racing as well was just the icing on the cake, I was really looking forward to coming back and seeing all my BMX mates from around the country and given it a crack.
The planets further aligned when our prototype carbon Spectre frameset showed up at the shop and Ev had a set of wheels laced up for it and bolted the bike together before I had chance to remind the boys that I was still the #fastestmanintheshop. Up to that point I’d been playing around on a custom Woods CrMo frame, declaring the #cromolife was all I knew. Now it was all Spectre carbon F&F, Specte NME carbon rims and titanium spokes. There were even prototype Spectre cranks with a 30mm spindle. Like my 400 watts were going to trouble a 30mm crank! Complete with HT clips screwed into the ends of them.
Sweet Brew kept us fueled in caffeine and incredible breakfasts every morning. Check them out if you're Launceston
I’d gone from a 510 Datto to a BMW M3 Competition, and if anyone tries to tell you clip pedals don’t give you an advantage, they’re addicted to XXXX Gold, and even my old mate Dale Holmes made the swap this year after he sipped a Little Rivers Golden Ale and saw the light.
The Spectre set up was right on the money, right out of the box, and at close to 2kg lighter than the CrMo rig I’d been running, I can tell you the weight difference is apparent as you pull the bike out of the hole, especially on the flat. Was the all carbon, Ti spoke set up stiff? Yep. Was it stupidly stiff, with no feedback? Nope!
But we were having problems with the chain tensioner. We’d made the decision to go with a fixed rear axle and the spring on the tensioner couldn’t hold all my 400 watts and was “skipping” inducing a few sphincter puckering moments. I had decided that I was willing to sacrifice my face in the name of development and Ev kept tinkering with it until a week out from the titles, we had a solid set up.
Mila reppin' LUX and crushing it in Launceston. On the podium in 10 Girls - 3A
In those ensuing 12 weeks prior though I was eating, breathing and sleeping BMX. More so than usual as my full-time gig is looking after everything race at LUX. But when you love something this much, it ain’t work, it’s just a lifestyle. A healthy dose of ribbing from the crew every other day after my bold May prediction, and a thousand calf shots sent to the warehouse king, Kane, making sure that every session on the bike was documented. Accountability. He did mention once or twice “FFS, ease up on the calf shots bro”
My wife asked, why was I training so much during this period? Because a modern era BMX track can eat you up and spit you straight into A&E when you’re not looking, and I like to race at 90%, not 110% and risk ending up on my head. I like to drink beer after racing, not saline solution. And besides, I like the feeling of being healthy and fit. A BMX race might only be 350m long and under 40 seconds of effort, but if you’re a freestyle rider reading this and have tried to punch out a lap, you know all about leg burn, even after two straights! The training challenge is to keep adding “metres” into the leg bank so when you’re firing down the third straight and turning into the last corner, your legs aren’t about to collapse under you.
Khalen mixed it up in Superclass and gave the young guns a run for their money
Then there’s the challenge of being explosive out of the gate, and Launceston is a flat one. So using Sean Dwight’s Sprintblock, I spent a couple of sessions a week working on reaction, form and laying down power. Sure we sell these things, but I can 100% back their use in training and the philosophy of slowing down to go faster. Plus, if you’re over 40 you know what gate sessions do to your back, so I try to stay away from them, doing one session a week, and mostly at my local Redlands.
Drawing the elements together, balancing out the needs to train for power, speed endurance, and the skill that BMX racing requires is what I really enjoy doing. Making sure that elements like riding the pump track at Darra had its place in my program (Slipstream Brewing is between it and my joint), but seriously, you can do some really effective interval training on a pump track, combined with reactive work as those jumps and corners come up real fast! I’m surprised not more racers ride them. Get away from the “I got to be at the track to train my riding”
Nate Argent came out blazing and made the 14 Boys main
Not so fun stuff? The track interval sessions. Bayside is my closest track to home and has a unique layout with 4 corners and 5 straights, with nothing that will bite you when fatigued. So once a week I was there early banging out 2 and 3 straight efforts with minimal rest always thinking that this shit is mentally so hard, legs burning, heart rate hammering and wanting to stop. And I don’t think I really push myself that hard when I hear what the other older guys and girls do in sessions. I think, God I should be doing more! But I can’t, that’s me tapped out. Can they really be doing more? Maybe I oughta lay off the 6.5%ers a bit or I will be looking for a new sport. Yeah, and just to up the ante, I told the LUX crew that if I didn’t win, I’d quit and retire to the farm in Tenterfield.
Stoked to share the moment with my training partner
But then you turn the corner, figuratively speaking and you start to feel a little more pipey off the Sprintblock, Your 3x3 efforts become 4 and 5 and you haven’t got your finger poised over the third zero on the phone’s keypad after the last one. Anyone that’s trained for anything knows that feeling. Whether you’ve been training for a half marathon, or a long bike ride, there’s that moment when you all of a sudden realise you’re making progress. BMX racing is really hard to quantify improvements. Sure there’s hill times and squat rack #PBs, but we don’t race over a set distance and you can’t say that today I’ve shaved .05s off my lap time. There’s a lot of subjectivity. For me personally, it’s all about feeling good on the bike and trying to look like a 50+ sprocket rider.
I didn’t do any racing during this period, I was just going to hit these titles and rely on “race memory”, but maybe I should have after a rookie mistake I made in the final….
Bunch racing - last straight in the final
On the Saturday afternoon before the titles, our travel group hit the airport and the bar. Off to a good start and I vow not to drink any beer from today till after the race next Friday. Okay, that doesn’t quite go to plan, and I blame the St John bar in town for having so many tasty beers available, and Launceston having a pub on every corner. The Airbnb is awesome and we take advantage of the kitchen and cook up some big “family” meals during the week..
We make a conscious decision not to spend all week at the track and really check out Launceston and the beautiful landscape and distilleries of northern Tasmania. We drive up Ben-Lomond and see snow falling, and hit a winery. And it’s only Monday! A bit of scheduled practice late Tuesday afternoon in 100 miles per hour winds and Wednesday is spent cruising with the BMX fam in the Kia Carnival and lunch at surprise, surprise, a brewery in a tiny little town that has incredible local produce on the menu. This not drinking until after the race on Friday isn’t going so hot.
Juggling duties during the week. Racing and shooting. Editing in Sweet Brew
Thursday and the Elite and Sprockets race in the arvo and I shoot the Elite racing and get super pumped on Tahlia Marsh, who I coach, taking the Women’s U23 title. Pressure is on now she tells me! Yeah, righteo kid. Her family are stoked and this is really what makes BMX so special for me, the large extended “family” and mates I have all around the country coming together once a year to do battle, and at our age, hang out and talk about how fast we used to be.
Friday is race day for the three boys in the house, Brad, Dave and me. We all head down to Sweet Brew for breakfast, a cafe that hit on the very first morning we woke up in Launceston and ended up eating there every morning. Their coffee is up there with the best I’ve had and it took me till Wednesday to even clock that the menu was full vegetarian and vegan. No wonder Dave was happy with the joint. Food was awesome.
Last straight burn in the final
We get to the track and I throw on the headphones and not talk to anyone, with my podcast mate Khalen taking the piss out of me for being too intense, but with the prospect of retiring to the farm, I had placed a lot of pressure on myself. I had the luxury of two heats, meaning that I really only had to punch out one lap, the final, and took it super easy in the motos. So did my main comp, Trevor, Wayne and current title holder, Greg Vallis. All old foxes, all foxing and saving their energy. We’re all old and I’ve raced Trev before and he’s crafty and I was about to find out in the final.
Mila crossing the line in her 10-girls final. Unsure what emotion that is!
Brad went out in the motos, and we watch Dave in his semi as I secretly thank my creator that I didn’t have to punch out any hard laps other than the last one. But the racing is at a really high level as I get a chance to watch the age groups, and another youngster I coach, Mila, progress through her semi-final. I crank the music back up and do that thing that all BMXers have to do, balance the nervous energy so that you aren’t too anxious, but can harness it to be explosive out of the gate. Mila’s folks grab me to talk to her because she’s in a mess of tears. I calm her down and think, who’s going to calm me down? The thought of walking back into LUX with my tail between my legs isn’t something that I really wanted to face.
The finals are called up and I flip my bike up and something isn’t right, the rear tyre is soft, but not flat and I decide just to pump it back up and just top it up on the hill behind the start if need be. Brad who was moto’d does me a solid and wanders down with me with a pump just in case I need a top up, but while it drops a couple of PSI, it’ll do for the final and I wave him off when we’re staged to head up so he can watch the action. Our other racer in the Basin Road house is a couple of gates ahead of me.
Sharing the spoils with those I coach made the result even sweeter. #milly
It doesn’t matter how many of these finals you’ve been in, there’s still that mental pingpong going on inside your head. What lane to choose, are my gates and hill strong enough to take care of business and take control of the race from the start. I’m lined up on the hill and luckily it’s one of those set ups that you can watch the races ahead of you and I cheer on Dave who pulls a podium. Righteo, a little more pressure on me. I go over my game plan again, holeshot and stick to the white lines on the inside of the straights.
One of the most interesting places in time (for me at least, as a racer and student of the sport of BMX racing) are the moments between placing your wheel against the gate, and hearing the first horn go on the gate call. If you race, you know what I mean. If it’s a “long” hold, it can seem an eternity and controlling your emotions in this head space can make or break how you react to the start. Keeping your head completely clear of negative thoughts in these seconds is super tough. Everyone has their own process and I fall back on what I teach the kids I coach. Breath out and get ready to fucking go!
Yeah, tourist stuff. Cradle Mountain and the wombats.
The gate drops and I holeshot and lead into the first corner and I pat myself on the back, but… I take it super conservative down the second straight after seeing so many screw up this relatively simple section AND leave a one foot gap on the inside and Trevor slides right up into it and bumps me as we go around the turn, but as I told him after, not hard enough. Enough though to let the two others through as and I quickly gather my thoughts. At our speed, you have time, and I swing wide down the tricky third straight letting these three duke it out being super aware that there could be an explosion of bodies and limbs at any moment as they fight it out, And I don’t want to be collateral damage. I want to be at the bar tonight, not the ER.
Finally got to share a beer with my podcast partner KY
Last corner and I know that these three are going to be going hammer and tongs at each other for the glory of winning the oldest sprocket class and I turn down early in the berm and pedal like I just stole this carbon rig. I can hear the crowd on the last straight and I’m thinking of that walk of shame back into LUX if I don’t pull this off.. I think of my folks cheering on if they were still around, and I think of that training I’ve been doing and I my legs feel good. All 4 of us hit the line together, but I as on the inside and out my periphery I knew I’d got it and kept rolling through and out the gate to let my heart rate subside and find a soft patch of grass to fall on if I cramp up and can’t unclip.
But I wasn’t sure! I roll around and then after 5 minutes someone comes up to me and confirms it. I’m pumped, not just on the win, but that the plan worked and this is the satisfying moment. Then I head back to camp to the crew and what’s really nice is that so many said that that was a cracking final, and I call bullshit on it, we are just a bunch of old guys denying and defying our age. Four wide at the line! Race of the event so far I hear. I see Khalen and fam and he says that I had him worried, I said mate, all part of the plan.
Wine tasting in the Tamar Valley, a step a away from wearing lycra and mobbing cafes on Park Road Milton
I miss Mila’s race, but then hear she finished 3rd and I’m probably more stoked on that. From a mess an hour before, to an Australian title podium, she makes me proud. We are all going to have a couple of beers tonight.
It doesn’t matter your age, winning one of these is sweet, but it’s also a relief, and truly it’s the time spent with my extended BMX family, and seeing mates, that makes the event. Massive props to the Launceston club for the way the track and facility scrubbed up. Props to the fellas that I lined up with and really everyone is a winner that is still slotting it on the gate and going elbow to elbow around a BMX track at an age when we should be elbow to elbow at the bowls club bar.