Scheduled for 18-21 August, the Reef to Reef is coming out of hibernation and is officially back on the racing calendar. Along with the stage race making its triumphant return, the Triple R is also back and will be commemorating its 30th year in 2022 — making it the longest running point to point MTB race in Australia. This kicks off what is going to be a busy couple of months in Tropical North Queensland, with Crankworx coming to Carins in October.
The Epic Series got off to a rough start. The Port to Port was scheduled for May, but the wet weather that has been socked in along the east coast of Australia stopped the race from going ahead.
Port to Port is not the only event that has fallen victim to the outrageously soggy weather of the last few months, with the Quad Crown being forced to delay its Sunshine Coast event.
With the Reef to Reef just around the corner, set to run from 18-21 of August, and the 30th anniversary of the Triple R, we wanted to preview the event and introduce the new face behind the race.
Meet your new Race Director
Sarah Pendergrass is taking over all three races in the Ironman portfolio going forward, so she will be the smiling face at Reef to Reef, Cape to Cape and Port to Port.
When you sign up for multi-day events like the Reef to Reef, you see a lot of the Race Director. They provide all the updates before the event, and are on the ground directing traffic, running rider briefings, helping with check-ins, and making sure everything goes smoothly.
The Race Director also sets the tone for the events and how they run. So given you’ll be seeing a lot of Pendergrass, especially if you’re signed up for Reef to Reef, we wanted to take a moment to introduce her to the Flow community.
Originally from Scotland and now based on the Sunshine Coast, Pendergrass is a trail runner and mountain biker and had her first experience with the Epic Series in 2019, when she raced the Cape to Cape in a pairs team, aptly named Sherazz (Ed’s note: get it, Sherazz, Shiraz, that is clever).
“I went across with a friend, and we raced — I say ‘raced,’ but we took part, as there was definitely not an impressive performance happening, but it was one of the best weeks of my life. Just the best holiday, the best experience when it came to spending time on my bike, with a friend, meeting lots of people and that whole stage racing experience,” she says.
That stage racing vibe is what Pendergrass loves and what she wants to continue to deliver. Before coming onboard with Ironman, she worked with the Noosa Ultra-Trail, a new trail running event and festival on the Sunny Coast. Before that, she was working for Atlas Events, which runs the Sunshine Coast Marathon, Brisbane Marathon, and Cairns Marathon.
Looking after all three races in Australia, Pendergrass hopes to bring some consistency and implement longer-term improvements to boost the experience across the board.
“The races have always been managed on the ground locally by different course teams, and they still will be, but I will be the one consistent factor. I’m excited to see all three executed and really looking at what we can do to elevate each of these events,” she says.
On a personal level, Pendergrass is also hoping to attract more women to the events.
“When I raced Cape to Cape, the female pairs were pretty much all elites. I like the fact that I can be a female face as a Race Director, in events that (still) have really male-dominated participation rates,” she says.
Pendergrass also wants to focus on keeping these events accessible.
“Although it’s a stage race, and you’re going out on your bike four days in a row, you can still do it, even if you’re a newer rider. And if you’re an elite or a stronger rider, you can really push yourself and have a great experience too,” she says.
“In each of these races, you get to see the area you are riding in and experience the diversity of the trails and landscapes on each stage. I love that, and I want to encourage people to get out there and challenge themselves,” she continues.
Reef to Reef 2022 preview
The Reef to Reef will run for the third time in 2022, and it will be the first since 2019. With that, the format will look pretty similar to the previous editions.
“We’ve only run Reef to Reef twice, and it hasn’t been run since 2019. So let’s bring it back; that format worked. There was some feedback on the course, but the 2022 event will run the same way, and after this edition, we can look to start making changes,” Pendergrass says.
The Reef to Reef holds its roots in the Triple R (also known as RRR), and 2022 marks 30 years of the ‘Rural, Rainforest, Reef’ event.
Still set to run on the final day of the Reef to Reef, Pendergrass tells us they’ll be incorporating some of the history, including the infamous Mud Cows. Pendergrass tells Flow that the course team on the ground has said salty ol’ locals are coming out of the woodwork keen to race.
But the beauty of Reef to Reef and the Triple R is the weather. August falls during the dry season in the tropics, and for the rest of us that are freezing our buns off down south, it means mid-20s, blue skies and good times.
2022 Reef to Reef course overview
Stage one | Smithfield
The event is using the 2019 format as its style guide, and stage one will once again take to Smithfield. Covering 17km with 600m of climbing, it’s the shortest day by a significant margin, but ripping around trails designed for World Cup racing seems like a pretty rad way to blow out the cobwebs.
The exact route is yet to be totally finalised, but expect to dive headfirst into the deep dark jungle with Redbelly, Blacksnake, and Pipeline on the agenda, and of course, a run down Jacob’s Ladder — no trip to Smithfield would be complete without it.
Stage two | Davies Creek
Trading the lush rainforest for dry scrub, Davies Creek is about 45min west of Cairns. The weather in this part of Queensland is already spec-freaking-tacular, but the temps drop slightly as you move from the coast up into the tablelands. With the sparse canopy overhead, the trails up here will be a bit drier and dustier than in Smithfield, so keep your wits about you and watch those wishy-washy corners.
Davies Creek is a labyrinth of purpose-built trails, and about 40-percent of stage two is on singletrack with big berms, fast flowy corners, massive termite nests and tricky creek crossings that claimed quite a few riders in 2019. Covering 51km and 600m of elevation, there are still some punchy climbs that will zap the power out of your legs, but the payoff at the end is a lovely watering hole near the finish, ideal for a refreshing post stage dip.
Stage three | Mount Molloy
Day three is the Queen Stage of the Reef to Reef, covering 66km, 1200m of elevation gain and encapsulating the contrasts of Tropical North Queensland. The start rolls through the main street of the historic mining and timber town of Mount Molloy, and hits Wetherby Road past sprawling cattle farms and cane fields on a collision course with the dense jungle.
Throughout the day you’re riding dry dusty gravel roads, sun-baked farm tracks, and into deep dark jungle bogs and back.
Stage four | The Triple R
While day three is the Queen Stage, the fourth and final stage is the most fun. The Triple R has taken up residence as the finale of the Reef to Reef. The race has a 30-year history for mountain bikers in Cairns and is a cannonball run down The Bump Track. Then it’s a drag race along Four Mile Beach to the finish line at Port Douglas Surf Club.
The Bump Track is an ancient descent that runs from the tablelands straight down the escarpment to the coast. The Traditional Owners once used this route to access the mountains, and over the years, it’s been utilised for mining and logging. Mind the water bars and the ‘wait a while’ vines as you hurtle down the fire road plunge at Mach-5.
Then it’s onto the white sand beach for a 4km spin to the finish — choose your line carefully, and watch out for games of beach cricket.
With the Triple R also being a one-day event, the size of the field swells and riders range from folks on enduro bikes wearing party shirts to salty old mountain bikers, all alongside the very tired lycra clad Reef to Reef field.
The folks on their fourth day will all ride the long course version of the Triple R, which takes in 51km and 730m of climbing, while the riders who’ve just signed up for the single day race also have the option of a 35km course that cuts out the lap around Wetherby Station.
Reef to Reef 2022 | The Atmosphere
Part of the draw card for the Epic Series events is the atmosphere and what happens outside of the race, and the Reef to Reef is no different.
“With people moving around a little bit more between the stages, there isn’t quite the same hanging around after compared to when the stages are closer together — until the last day because it’s on the beach. But we’ll still have food and beer at every stage,” says Pendergrass.
Quench your thirst and load up on calories at the finish, each day, the Reef to Reef will have athlete massage, a bike wash and mechanics ready to fix your blown up derailleur or spongy brakes.
What happens if the race is cancelled?
Nobody wants to call off events, but it’s been a tumultuous couple of years, going straight from the pandemic related cancellations into unprecedented wet weather.
When the Port to Port was called off at the last minute, folks did not hesitate to express their disappointment. Pendergrass says she regrets having to make the call on such short notice, but it was the right one because the trails were waaaayyyy too wet, and landsides were happening all over the place. Of course, it also bucketed down rain the weekend of the event too. It was an unfortunate turn of events, but this isn’t the norm, and as far as we’re aware, it’s the first time any of the Epic Series events in Australia have been cancelled for any reason other than Covid.
As with each of its races, the entry and cancellation policies are displayed all over the event website, make sure to give them a thorough read before you pull the trigger.
How to enter?
Entries for the 2022 Reef to Reef are open now, with late pricing running until 16 June.
Riders can enter solo or in pairs, and there are age groups for men’s and women’s riders from age 15 all the way to 60+. Entries to the 2022 Reef to Reef are open now, click here for more info or to enter.