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The last bike race I did was the Arabian Epic Series Jordan Stage Race. I flew in and flew out, nursing a few niggles from a silly crash before leaving, which made it all a little uncomfortable on long haul flights! It was probably in the following weeks that I truly realised what an amazing experience it was, and why I was so lucky to go overseas in 2020. The racing had a small field but it wasn’t easy, the terrain was challenging, and the experience of visiting somewhere new and truly foreign is always exciting.

That was also the only bike race I did this year, as soon after coming home in mid-February it was pretty obvious that the coming year would be unlike any other. Dubai was eerily empty as I flew to and from Jordan, and I had a whole row to myself on 3 out of 4 flights. Face masks were being used at many airport stores, and back home in Australia there didn’t seem to be too much concern. But that changed within days.

Imogen Smith Cape Town Cape Epic
Imogen in South Africa – that didn’t last long.

By the middle of March, my wife Imogen Smith was flying home from the cancelled Cape Epic, we were both working from home, further plans were being scuppered, and like so many, we were glued to 24 hour news channels, not unlike when bushfires were ravaging our country just two months earlier.

Lockdown has been hard for some, and excruciating for others. Social media showed pro riders stuck on their trainers in small apartments in France, Italy and Spain. In a lot of the world people couldn’t leave very confined spaces But here in the sub-tropical idyll where we live, it was ok. Sure travel was restricted, but even within our local area we have some nice places.

We started with a few beds.

We have a little bit of room at our place, and some gardening plans that finally saw the attention they needed. We started with a few basic raised beds, but now have about 11, with more on the way! We have a good harvest almost every day.

Our dog loved it that we were home more often, we made a bit of a mini home gym in the bike shed, although our dog Norbert wasn’t as much of a help as he thought he was.

Given we expected to be at home for a few months, we also traded some of our chicken eggs with a neighbour, for half a dozen fertilised eggs. Two hatched, and we have a young rooster growing up and a young hen as well. They were cute for 3-4 days.

And what about riding?

Through all of this, we still rode. Imogen needed to do 2 weeks of home quarantine and did that like a boss, doing time on Zwift, which I joined for a couple of times as well.

But the motivation does taper off. By late April we did wonder what the point of structured training was. Imogen persevered but the sessions I skipped really added up. I liked riding my bike, but I also felt like a proper break would be a good thing. Events were still being cancelled or postponed, and when The Convict 100 put their new date on August 1, I thought it might even be optimistic.

Still, we rode.

We rode to some new places in the range behind us, and once restrictions eased we got back into the swing of being social with a few group rides as well.

We have some new purpose built mountain bike trails near us, so we have been riding them. And of course, we bought new hardtails, while also selling our older ones and a whole lot of spare parts that had been piling up.

Pinning a number on

And now, there is racing on the horizon. Not in the distant future, but next weekend! I really like racing, and that shouldn’t be confused with being good. I can chance a respectable result from time to time, but in general I make up the numbers and enjoy racing wherever I am in the field.

And if you know me, you know I’ll certainly “be fitter for the next one”.

“Next time I’ll get fit!”

With no racing to use for motivation, and a fairly monumental fall in fitness, I am looking forward to my next few races. But I’m thinking for the greater good than for myself. My next race is the Fox Superflow in Nerang, on Queensland’s Gold Coast. It’s a reasonably friendly Enduro format, and Imogen and I are excited to check it out.

So while I certainly don’t expect to feature, I want the race organisers to be the big winners. And the groups of friends who will enjoy the event together. And the rider who has entered their first race and got hooked.

Mountain bike racing has been the biggest social facilitator for my life, and I can’t wait to get back to it. And with the next few races all within 90 minutes from home, I’m fine with that. I can still test my skills and fitness, catch up with friends, and support the race promoters who make this possible. So many event organisers have had a terrible start to 2020, and we’re not in clear water yet.

There is trepidation about signing up for big events if you don’t know whether they will happen. And that’s fair. Every race organiser has to take a big gamble when setting up an event, and accruing costs that they can never be sure they will recover.

For racers like us, we can just do what we’re comfortable with. I’m happy entering local events which don’t need extensive travel or time away from home. I’m more than happy to have my Dragon Trail stage race entry moved to the new 2021 dates.

Entering races in your local area is the smallest of gambles. But I’m just about certain that the winnings from my next race will be huge. There will be motivation to kick start structured training, some time spent with friends between stages, and a feeling of personal achievement – all wrapped up with a weekend on the Gold Coast with my wife.

Imogen Smith Nerang XCO
The race is at Nerang. I don’t even like Nerang. Photo: Lachlan Ryan/Element Photo Video

But there’s also the support given to the promoters and hopefully some exposure for the cycling brands who support me and my team mates with some great bike bits and pieces. And lets not forget the trail side banter, where we spur each other on about what event we are all going to next.

Social media has shown me one view of what has been going on in the past few months, and it can work to stay connected. But I’m looking forward to getting between the tape again next weekend, sharing riding experiences in person, and supporting the sport that has given me so much. Hopefully you’re able to do the same as well. It’s time to show the support to the industry that gives us so much – it’s time to support the race organisers.

Of course, if you have stay at home advice – do that instead! But if public health messaging supports sports events and you’re sure the right health and safety plans are in place – go get amongst it!

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