It didn’t seem fair, in the last two years the Urban Downhill in Albany, WA, has been hounded by poor weather, so it was moved a couple of weeks back into Spring which is normally glorious in the South West of Western Australia with flowers blooming everywhere and mild days. Instead there was terrible weather nationwide.
Southern MTB is a unique mountain bike event in an amazing part of the world. From 23-25 September 2016, Southern MTB took over the West Australian town of Albany with a diverse range of events, including Australia’s only urban downhill race. Along with a jump comp, this year the event saw the introduction of the Southern Peaks endurance race too (with 30km or 50km course options), so there’s really something for every mountain biker in the mix.
Rolling into town on the Friday night professional downhiller Tracey Hannah fresh from her 3rd placing at the worlds was the guest speaker at that night’s movie festival in the beautiful town hall.
I remember my first feelings of empathy as a child seeing the Polar Bear at the Adelaide Zoo in 40-degree heat. “It was 35 degrees when I left home at Cairns” Tracey mumbled as she jammed her hands into her jacket pockets trying to conserve some heat. I was back at Adelaide Zoo.
But Tracey had been doing a great job with the local media even a surprise to a local primary school where student Abby had written to Tracey declaring she was her number one fan. Tracey spent time with the star struck class and Abby ended up a with a signed Australian Champ jersey. We guess after nine Aussie champ’s victories Tracey might have a couple spare.
Southern Peaks Endurance Race
With driving rain overnight Albany awoke to blue skies. From being just a downhill race utilising the bush on the granite covered hills and suburbs above the town to an event this year that was a downhill race, a kids race, a jump comp, oh and an cross country race. No wait, two cross country races, we were learning that the local motto was ‘go big or go home’! Saturday morning’s 50km Southern Peaks cross country race was a point to point affair starting east of town on private property. Nav Coole the local XC whippet was the favourite, but the problem was the state xc round was the next day four hours away. But Nav is of that age where the natural conclusion is ‘I’ll just race both’ although he admitted having limited local advantage with most of the first section on private property and national park.
While the field milled around the MC tried to rev up the crowd into facing an unknown 50km race. As they got into the starting grid he turned to Tracey citing her knowledge of racing, offering her the microphone he asked for her suggestion. “IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO PULL OUT!” was Tracey’s sage advice, so off they went before Tracey’s words could be acted upon.
Nav put his nose out front and never looked back. Pristine coastline with perfect surf with empty barrels greeted the riders as the descending into Gull Rock National Park. A boat waited to take them over a river where the 30km race joined them as they rode along a beach, through the centre of town via back alleys and then a couple of steep climbs to take them to the finish at Orange Tractor organic winery that was visited by Prince Charlie back in 2015. Today though the visitors were 51 50km riders and 16 30km riders and all were a bit knackered from the brutal climbs up Mt Adelaide and Mt Melville.
The winery was launching a new wine that day the – Sweaty Saddle Shiraz. “The local MTB community picks the grapes and we make a wine out of it. When we sell a bottle a portion of the sale goes back to the club.” Proprietor Murray Gomm explained.
Nav Coole had surprised no one by taking the win. “I rode at my own pace while keeping a very solid pace with nothing in the tank at the end” he told Flow. Perhaps he could have tried someone else’s pace for a while as he was 26 minutes clear of the 2nd place Keiron Benson. Nav was missing from presentations as he was already on the road driving to take the win in the state round the next day.
That afternoon saw the kids race, we wish all races were like kids races, everyone was ‘poop ya pants’ excited and the ice cream van pulled up next to hundreds of kids expecting a brisk trade. A dual slalom format was devised over a couple of ramps, some fake mini sea containers before a sea saw to the finish line. We hope the lack of interest in the gear and just charge attitude catches on in the wider MTB community.
Your sisters hand me down pink bike was all you needed, the ice cream van sat there forgotten as wave after wave of kids charged the course.
Not even rain could slow them down, Abby was resplendent in her Aussie Champ jersey and took no prisoners as she charges hard exiting the first sea container with too much speed landing heavy on the front before exiting into the competitor lane. She binned it again charging hard in the finals, a downhiller in the making.
The jump comp was just starting on the main street at the same time. With only one sea container last year the locals looked up their moto ‘Go Big or Go Home’ and decided six sea containers was needed on the big jump, oh and another two for elsewhere on the course.
So at over 5 metres (17 feet) off the ground the riders charged down the main street only to boost the kicker and maybe land the jump. As the sun went down the crowd swelled to approximately 3000, kids screamed themselves horse from the barricades.
In this year’s Christmas Pageant Santa had better come up with something bloody special because Christmas has already come for a lot of local kids. Bobby of Bob’s bike shop was a local favourite but in the end it was Aaron Leagas with a corked 360 who won.
The Urban Downhill
Sunday was all about the event that started it all – The Urban Downhill. The top half of the course was through bush above the town before sneaking down a dead end street a lane or two, through a backyard and then an alley before exploding down the main street of York with piles of structures to keep the riders on their toes. Tracey Hannah’s first practice runs weren’t particularly happy ones, the big structures on the hill landed relatively flat on granite making the track a bruising affair and there was no alternate lines. Remember “Go Big or Go Home”?
Off the big kicker a gust of wind caught her and threaten to bin her straight to the bitumen before she wrestled the bike to a safe landing.
A ‘fully hydrated’ punter returned from the pub and parked his car in the middle of the race line in the alley during qualifying. Were told the discussion went something like this:
Marshall: “You can’t park there is a race going on and guys are coming off this shipping container landing right where you parked your car”.
Punter: “Get f*#ked, I always park here”.
It seems the Marshall discovered that the secret phase was “I’m calling the tow truck”… Ah the joys of urban racing, although we’d take drunk local punters over astray Chilean street dogs running across the track any day. Closing the street in one of the state’s largest towns was always going to be the subject of local talkback radio but as the street filled up and businesses were busy.
The small field of downhillers prepared for their final runs, with the track being physical most had limited there runs to conserve their energy and it was WA local and Giant sponsored rider Jordan Prochyra who took the win at 3:13. He told Flow “I didn’t have anything left the forearms were all jelly and the middle section with the climb thrashed you aerobically, it is a sick track and I’m stocked with the result”.
Certainly for the local having racers ride past the front of the pub, through backyards and past the chooks it made for arguably the best event in Australia to watch. For the racers though turnout was down on previous years but hope is in sight with 20kms of trail being publicly advertised for comment, this includes a DH trail that could be used in this event.
Considering the whole weekend was a success and happened without sanctioned MTB trails the news of trail planning coming to Albany must be music to the organisers ears, some riders drew parallels of the xc race to the Cape to Cape MTB, Australia’s largest multi day MTB event held a month after in WA and you can see the comparisons, only 9 years ago that event also started with no sanctioned MTB trails, a beach stage and barely 100 riders and look where it is now.
There were calls that this is one of Australia’s most exciting MTB events. Bombing through a neighbourhood at full speed past cloth lines and chooks is pretty exciting and we are sure that the hens will be laying scrambled eggs for weeks to come.