It’s almost two weeks since the Trail Gods smiled on yet another Mont 24, the legendary pioneering 24hr race, held amongst the pines of Kowen Forest. Our afterglow has lingered ever since.
With a mixed team of six (there are only teams of six and four at the Mont – part of the reason the traffic flows so well), we didn’t have our ambitions set too high, touting out that old chestnut: “we’ll see how we’re travelling once the night falls, and make the call then if we’re racing or beering.” Turns out you can kinda do both when there’s half a dozen of you to share the load.
Our number one tip for the Mont is to arrive on the Friday, get your campsite sorted early and then sit back and watch the people roll in. And roll in, and roll in, and roll in…. This is a mountain bike event on a scale rarely seen, and with over 3000 riders plus their retinue in attendance, the tent city is a sight to behold.
Friday night’s a good chance to get everything prepared too; it’s amazing how time simply evaporates once racing commences, and next thing you know you’re battling to fit your lights or adjusting your headset when you should be in transition. Oh, and there’s Roller Racing on the Friday as well, just in case you’re worried you won’t do enough pedalling during the race!
The rain earlier in the week had politely buggered off, leaving the dirt with the moisture content ‘just-so’, and beneath a clear sky pricked by thousands of stars, we settled down with an ale, a BBQ and a happy heart knowing that tomorrow we’d be racing on some of Australia’s finest trails.
As the familiar babble of MCs Ben and Stu poured out into the morning air, we rose to a classic Canberra dew, and the nervous movement of thousands of riders, registering, lubing chains, affixing number plates and making excuses. Despite the mass of riders, things always feel fun at the Mont. It’s hard to put your finger on the vibe, but the efforts to retain the Woodstock-esque sense of freedom and frivolity hit a chord with us.
The usual running start and its associated madness had been abandoned this year (have you ever tried running in carbon-soled shoes?) with riders instead lead out, Presidential motorcade style, by a pair of motor bikes before peeling off into the 20.3km lap.
The smiles when riders began returning from lap one told the story: over 20km of simply superb trail, singletrack in almost its entirety, free-flowing and in perfect condition. If the local trail building crew, the Kowalski Brothers, were to start a political party, we’d vote for them.
The dedication that the Kowalskis have dug, with shovel and pick, into the hard, flinty earth of Kowen is staggering. It’s a thankless task: most riders wouldn’t have known they were rubbing shoulders with the trail builders themselves, as they clustered in transition. Paul Cole, one of Canberra’s most revered trail-fairies, kept up his regular stream (no, torrent) of warm banter, clearly happy with the feedback he was receiving from riders about his handiwork.
With the trails heading out to the ‘Far East’ , there was a figure-of-eight in the course map, meaning riders heading out would be intersecting with riders returning. The solution came in the form of some large-scale engineering, with a gigantic scaffold overpass/underpass erected. It added its own kind of industrial charm…
Day becomes night, and we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves sitting in fourth place in the Mixed Sixes category. With a podium in striking distance, it looked like we’d be racing through the dark! A quick debate about whether or not we’d ride double laps at night was settled with the decision that single laps were the way forward – with average lap times for the team likely to be around an hour at night, singles would still afford a few hours kip in between laps. A quick bit of mental arithmetic drew swear words from Chris, who realised he’d be starting his deepest night lap at about 3:30am.
Strange things happen at night in the forest at the Mont. Strange things like stumbling across two duelling banjo players, plucking up a storm, surrounded by smoke machines and disco lights. Or wildly flailing drummers, jamming away between the gum trees, pumping your sapped legs up with their energy. It’s these kind of gems that make the Mont even more memorable. I don’t think we’ll ever forget the deadpan look on those banjo players’ faces! Another highlight was coming across young Charlie Todd, 11 years old, out on course at about 4:00am. What were you doing at 11 years of age?
Swirling fog masked the pointy tops of the towering pines as dawn broke. The smell of bacon sizzling, coffee brewing and chamois stewing filled the morning air. Overnight we’d crept into third place, there’d be no cruisy morning laps for our last two riders, Kath and Craig! With just 15 minutes of racing left till midday, we sent Craig on his way, his drivetrain skipping in neglected protest. A seasoned campaigner, he didn’t buckle under the pressure and we hung on for third – the glory lasts forever!
But in all seriousness, there’s not too much seriousness about racing at the Mont. We left this event on a massive high: over the 24 hours of racing we didn’t encounter one grunt of aggro on course, hear one whinge about the track, feel a single speck of rain or even stop grinning.That might sound a little too flowers and moon-beams, but it’s the truth.
Best Mont yet? We think so.
Next year’s event will undoubtedly sell out with the same kind of frenzied enthusiasm as in years past, so keep your eyes peeled and watch the Flow Calendar for an entries opening date.
Full results are available here, and if you want to get a better idea of the kind of on-course musical talent, check out the vid above. See you next year!