Vino and singletrack: A rider’s perspective of the Rocky Trail Shimano GP at James Estate

Words by Stephen Billington | Images by Outer Image Collective

The Rocky Trail pitch for this race was pretty enticing “Round 2 promises to be not only the inaugural race at James Estate Winery but also a culinary highlight. James Estate is located in the Upper Hunter Valley, about 2 hours West of Newcastle. The race track will be just under 10 km long and feature awesome single track through the bushland surrounding the vineyards and offer spectacular views of the Upper Hunter Valley wine country as you make your way back to the event centre, right in front of the cellar door.”

Wow, new trails, racing in a vineyard and Rocky Trail races are always well run friendly events.  Sign me up!  The only kicker, it was located in the Upper Hunter Valley, about 2 hours West of Newcastle.   For me being Sydney based, that’s 3+ hours of driving.  Do I a) leave late Friday, camp and eat dodgy take out or b) sleep in my bed and get up uber early Sat?

Option b was the preferred choice for a mate and I who with young families frequent those hours all too regularly.

Up at 4:30am the weather on the coast of NSW was atrocious, heavy sideways rain and I had inherited a head cold to boot.  Vainly training to convince my mate we should pull the pin, we were off at 5am up the F3.  It rained all the way, only stopping about 5 mins from the vineyard.  Amazingly as we arrived, the ground was as dry as a bone and we were greeted with a well organised event centre with a free bottle of wine for every entrant.

Martin Wisata of Rocky Trail Entertainment gave us all the prep talk prior to rolling off down to the start line. “Slow down on the first lap” he stressed showing his recently acquired leg grazes to prove a point, shaved as well to accent his calves….

Gazing around the field at the start line, it was clearly a well-attended event, 250+ starters with at least 20% girls which is awesome to see.  The most popular categories between the 7hr and 4hr formats was for 4hr in solo, 7hr in teams.  Some large teams were present, Quantum Racing, Cogheads and Cogettes, Blackmans and Deubel had representatives in the various categories.

The start line was positioned in the picturesque vineyards with the track commencing with a 2km fire trail section in order to sort us all out before we were all fed into the single track.  When we launched there was a cracking pace off the front, with some killer lap times being posted by the guys at the pointy end of the field.  I was nowhere near this pace with my head cold and quickly had to rein it in and cool off before there was an internal explosion.  Thinking I was in for a dreary afternoon, after a couple of laps I started to reel guys in who were cracking after the hypersonic pace at the start.  It just goes to show with endurance racing that you need to race your own race and to keep going, you never know what will happen.

The layout of the track comprised two main sections, fire trails mazing their way through the vineyard and wine vats and single track through the surrounding bushland.  It is amazing that Graeme Scott, General Manager of James Estate has been building these trails in the bushland next to the winery for the past four years with his bike, shovel, trail dog Raz and with the help of a few friends.  You could find little to fault with the course layout, there was something on offer for everyone.  Probably the only issue was that the extensive sections of single track meant over taking could be challenging, however on the whole everyone coped pretty well.

The trail surface through the single track though was something else entirely.  It has clearly not rained in that area for some time.  The very dry dirt quickly became pulverised powder after the passage of a few thousand bike tyres, the corners in particular were very chopped up after a couple of hours.  Those who were coping with the conditions were flying through the single track.

I was unfortunately in the not coping very well category.  After losing the front wheel a couple of times and ending up in the scrub or on my side as I was trying to push it, I was thinking % racing was the key, smashing it on the straight sections and easing off for the corners.  A few seconds lost through the single track could be easily outdone by a crash and hopefully not so much that I couldn’t regain time on the fire trail section through the vineyard.

Everyone on track seemed to be having a great time, with the few exceptions being those unfortunates who were walking back to the start with double flats or sidewall tears.  With the large number of campers, there were lots of people on hand to cheer as you passed through transition or the entrance to the camping area.

At the end of the race there was wine tasting, olive oil tasting and cheese packs on offer.  Mmm, I could easily get used to this at mtb events.  The only issue is that wine tasting after necking 5 gels and drink supplement can be challenging.  Judging by the number of cases purchased, it appeared that most people were coping.

4hr results

Stu Adams, racing in 4hr solo Masters, also won the 4hr solo event by 4mins.  An outstanding effort.

James Lamb, MC at the presentation finished 1st in Elite 4hr solo and proceeded to interview himself.

Susanna Fasold won the solo female 4hr elite with 7 laps.

In the team’s; Boys: Crank Addicts took out the team category from Quantum Racing.  Girls: Team Fun and Giggle logged 6 laps to take that category.

At the 7hr podium, Andrew Lloyd won male solo comfortably from Grant Webster. Sarah Neumann took out first in the girls with Meredith Quinlan in 2nd.  In the teams, Shimano Racing threes took out first place by a full lap from the Newy Cogheads threes.

Well done by everyone.

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