Bring it on at Buller

Words by Nic Learmonth | Images by Alistair Wilson (@alwilsonpics - instagram) & Nic Learmonth

The Bike Buller Festival’s three stages send riders up, down and all around the steep flanks of Mt Buller and it’s neighbour, Mt Stirling. The racing incorporates Mt Buller’s chairlifts as well as rugged fire trail and some of Australia’s most finely wrought singletrack.

Mt Buller – Bikes racing and magic vistas.

Built by Glen Jacobs and World Trail, Buller’s iconic tracks are designed to tempt riders out of their comfort zone and high up onto the berm – and there was plenty of that going on as the weekend unfolded. Alpine environments are known for their surprises, and this year Mt Buller really sprung one on us, serving up an unusually long warm spell in the festival’s lead-up this year, so the track surface was transformed into a dry, slippery dust that kept everyone’s eyes peeled and their faces grimey.

Mt Buller was dryer than normal and the greens had turned to brown and dust.

The gravity enduro is a relatively new format, and Bike Buller’s double-whammy Brakeburner and Super-D format presented a few timing hurdles. The results for that day were initially posted with rankings organised by total riding time, much to the delight of those backbenchers who completed just the Super-D. For one night, first-time racer Ninna West was ranked 6th overall, ahead of Pete Kutschera and Adrian Jackson, and well ahead of her nearest female rival, women’s overall winner (and rightful winner of both gravity stages) Jenni King. We toasted Ninna’s success and planned her imminent pro tour until late into the night. But by morning, the glitch had been corrected.

Despite all the white-knuckled descents and lung-busting climbs, the Bike Buller Festival had a relaxed atmosphere, and the racing was all about fronting up to the challenge at hand. With riders of all levels and areas of strength stepping up to the plate, the air was thick with dust and camaraderie, and the weekend was packed with highpoints, not all of them topographic.

Men’s overall winner Paul van der Ploeg was stoked with the weekend: ‘It’s such a chilled out event. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time and this year I finally made it. It’s been a lot of fun, really relaxing.’

Paul’s team mate Josh Carlson came from the cold of Canada to the heat of Buller.

Flow subeditor Nic Learmonth, who rode in the festival, was full of tales of warm-fuzzy moments, including this one, from late in the Cornhill Cranker:

The tank was running on empty and the switchbacks had the gradient and duration of a celestial overpass. Blank-faced with exhaustion but still upright, Nic came across a bloke sprawled across the tracks. She lifted his bike off him and set it down off the track while he staggered about, assuring her he was fine. Then the two guys behind Nic rounded the corner and took in the scene.

‘You look like you need a man-hug,’ the guy at the front called out.

Nic thought they were joking, but the fallen rider nodded: ‘I do, I do need a man-hug.’

And his friends pulled over and swept him up in a big hug.

‘You alright mate?’

‘You ready to get back on your bike? C’mon.’

And as easy as that, the three of them got back on their bikes and we continued our slow up-hill plod.

That camaraderie did not stop with the race clock. The cafés and bars at Mt Buller hosted plenty of post-race analyses between friends who’d met on the trails. And the gravity events of day two brought riders down the Delatite River Trail to a wine and food festival in Mirimbah, where a dip in the river and a cold bevvie or two was just the thing for post-race recovery.

The river was perfect for two things. Cooling off and cooling your beverage of choice.

Cheers to Rapid Ascent, Giant and Mt Buller for putting on such a fun event, big thumbs up to Glen Jacobs and his team for their artistry with pick and shovel and thanks to all who rode in one, two or three stages at the Bike Buller MTB Festival.

See you all next year!

Beautiful Mt Buller.

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