It’s no secret that John Jacoby from Rapid Ascent goes to great lengths to deliver the goods. But rumours about John’s possible involvement in securing the unusual weather conditions in Alice Springs during this year’s Ingkerreke Commercial Mountain Bike Enduro (ICME) have yet to be confirmed.
It never rains in Alice
The ICME is renowned being a staunch introduction to the demands of riding in Central Australian in winter: low humidity, significant temperature fluctuations, and Alice’s distinctive terrain – the sand, the rock, those tyre-puncturing thorns and that gritty but loose red dirt. John describes it as ‘rude, rocky and rough’.
‘The terrain is different,’ adds Michael Crosbie. ‘But once you get it, it’s fast.’
But the riding conditions changed dramatically this year when a sudden cold front brought the region’s relentless summer to an end just days before this five-day, seven-stage froth-fest began. ‘We’ve never had such wet and cold conditions,’ said Sam Maffet from Rapid Ascent.
While the locals were scratching their heads in wonder, the interstate visitors settled in for more of the kind of riding they thought they’d left at home – stable temperatures of 12–18°C, with morning mists and spells of rain.
It proved to be a win-win situation, however, especially for Andy Blair, who won the race this year, for the third time running. The rain packed down Alice’s infamous sand and gave steep climbs and uncambered corners unprecedented amounts of traction. Local riders and ICME regulars were easy to spot, particularly during stage one, as they yipped and yahoo-ed over the still damp tracks.
‘The tracks were in the best condition of all the years we have run the race,’ said Sam Maffet.
Ben Mather, who won the race in 2009, agreed: ‘The sand hardly slowed anyone down this year, and the singletrack rode really fast. There wasn’t as much sliding out on the corners to slow you down.’
‘The tracks were a lot grippier,’ said Andy. ‘And that made it easier. But I quite like the loose stuff – it makes it harder for everybody,’ he joked. ‘Lots of people had problems, with crashes and mechanicals ruling them out early in the race, but that’s just typical of the racing in Alice.’
The faster-riding track conditions, together with a high turnout of elites and a faster-rolling middle and back-end, made for a noticeably quicker field throughout the ranks.
Winner Rowena Fry came into the race with low expectations: ‘I just planned to see how I would go, but the tracks were so good, and the riding conditions really suited me, being from Tasmania, so I went for it.’
‘Having some close competition at the front end always pushes the pace up a bit, too,’ said Sam. ‘With Michael Crosbie nipping at Andy Blair’s heels the whole way, they probably rode a bit faster as a result!’
Ingkerreke (in-ger-uka) – ‘all together’
The ICME is one of Australia’s longest-running stage races, with a line-up that makes the most of the terrain and really puts riders through their paces, including a 300-metre climb up Anzac Hill, the long stage, and the individual time trial and the night race (both on the one course).
For this year’s long stage, Rapid Ascent and naming sponsor Ingkerreke Commercial (an Indigenous Corporation that trains and employs Aboriginal builders and tradies) created an entirely new course. The 86km course started in the Aboriginal community Santa Teresa and went through station and Aboriginal land – all usually closed to casual visitors – to finish on the southern side of The Gap, just out of Alice.
‘We are very happy with the new stage four,’ said Sam. ‘It gave riders a new experience, especially with the race start in a remote Indigenous community, which was out in force to support riders at the start.’
The long, flat fire road of damp sand and puddles presented its own challenges, causing a fair few nose-to-tail collisions and spontaneous dismounts. It also shook up the GC: ‘It became a race of attrition for many of us who were trying to hold on to selected groups, which makes for fast and hard racing,’ said stage winner Jenny Fay. Things got even more exciting for the leading two packs of elites when vandals removed a crucial route-marker, making the last few kays of the race of attrition into an orienteering event.
But our hero for this stage has to be first-time eventer Brett Springer, who had never ridden more than 40km in a go before the ICME. While the fast kids finished their scenic slog in just over three hours, Brett kept his pedals turning for five and still had a smile as he crossed the finish line with his riding mates.
Flow subeditor Nic Learmonth relished every stage but we noticed her enthusiasm hit new heights with the night stage, and she was not the only one. ‘I love the night stage. It is my favourite memory from previous years,’ says Shaun Lewis, who won this stage and came second overall. His Swell-Specialized team mate Andy Blair echoed Shaun’s words almost exactly.
For those who have yet to experience it, the night stage is on the same course as the ITT. As riders line up for the mass start, their lights cutting through the darkness, the tribal beat of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ blasts over the speakers. By the time that starter horn sounds the air is thick with adrenalin – perfect for riding your heart out.
Tips for next year
Choose a hardpack tread, and run tubeless or put sealant in your tubes. The rocks in Alice bite like Steven Spielberg’s favourite rubber shark – no sidewall is safe – and the bindis can punch straight through even the thickest section of your tyre.
Alice Springs tracks wreak havoc on tyres, tubes and derailleur hangers, saddles and seat posts, so if you flow over the trails like lumpy porridge or you run an unusual set-up, bring a few spare bits of kit.
3 Get acclimatized
Low humidity together with crisp mornings that heat up quickly are the norm, and the trail surfaces take a bit of getting used to, too, so give yourself a couple of days before the race to sort it out.
4 Local knowledge
Tap into it. The Central Australian Rough Riders (CARR) are a friendly bunch, so introduce yourself, stalk them on Facebook (Alice Springs Mountain Bike Trails), or tag along behind one out on the trails. Remember to contribute to your guide’s hydration program after the race.
5 Drink, drink, drink
Speaking of hydration, most of your fluid loss will be through sweat, and it will pour off you (unless you encounter a second year of aberrant weather). So find an electrolyte drink your stomach will be able to tolerate for a week, even in the heat.