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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

How I won the Masters Mountain Bike World Championships

"Failure is the best teacher"

"Fuck you, fuck you!" she screamed repeatedly as she picked herself up and continued on her way. Her grasp of English profanities was impressive given what had just happened. Moments earlier I was calling, "passing on your right, on your right, right!". Instead of keeping a straight line, she veered to the right and, "BAM!", both of us bit the dust.

What happens when body hits an immovable barrier.  No real damage here, by the way: it just looks good.
What happens when body hits an immovable barrier. No real damage here, by the way: it just looks good.

I was tangled in the netting of the feed zone barriers which had I hit hard. The Boa ties on my right shoe torn off such that my shoe was threatening to fall off my foot and the front brake lever and gear levers were bent down and almost inoperable. I extricated myself and tried in vain to bend the levers back into position:"Oh dear", my race might be over!" I thought. But it wasn't.

I can not describe the thrill and the honour of standing on the Victory Dias while the New Zealand flag is raised and our National Anthem is played.

What I am also finding difficult is describing the effort that went into winning this contest for the second time in a row. I'll give it a go, starting with my summary of how the race panned out on the day.

I barely slept a wink the night before. Most of the night was spent doing my best to relax, otherwise my heart was pounding in excess of 100 beats per minute. I did not worry about this because it is normal to be excited to the point of anxiety in the hours leading up to these events. To not be lying in bed trying to calm my nerves would have been more of a worry!

I reassured myself by repeating a famous, amusing and very helpful quote from my four-time Olympian and bronze medallist sister, Lorraine:

"nobody ever fell asleep during a race!"

The race was at 1 pm, so I had plenty of time to eat, nap, check my equipment, go to the loo many times and to warm up, so tossing and turning all night was not a problem.

Having won last year by a healthy margin of two and a half minutes, I knew I was a marked man. Everyone in the race was after my scalp and they would pounce if I gave them the slightest of chances. My plan was to give them no chance at all.

Olympic-Style Masters Mountain Bike Racing

These races are "Olympic-Style". The courses are designed to a strict format of steep and technical climbs and descents, rock gardens and off-camber corners to test the very limits of a cyclist's strength, stamina, power and skills - and equipment. To win, none of these qualities can be weak. To win requires a cool head, lightning reactions and nerves of steel. The courses are designed to be multiple short laps taking 15-20 minutes per lap, with plenty of vantage points to thrill the spectators. The race is done and dusted by about one hour and twenty minutes at the most.

One of the biggest challenges with these Masters competitions is there are multiple waves in a race made up of various age groups, including male and female. Being in the older category (65-69), we are placed at the rear of the 60-64 and, starting three minutes in front of the field are all of the women from 30 through to 44 years! What this amounts to for a fast 66 year old like me is a continuous train of congestion for the duration of the race. With this congestion comes the risk of crashing while trying to pass slower and often less skilled riders on this technical and challenging course.

My plan was to pass as many riders as I could on the "Start Loop" which is an addition to the first lap. This consists of an 800 meter climb up a steep gravel road followed by a broad, sweeping, grassy descent that leads to a rocky jump then into the narrow single track of the course proper. The start loop is intended to spread and sort out the large field before entering the narrow and gnarly sections of the course where passing is tricky.

The general rule of thumb is you must be in the first 4-5 riders to enter the narrows if you are to have any chance of winning. So, these races always start with a desperate sprint to the death!