After a kickoff for the ages, the Quad Crown set sail in search of warmer weather, docking in South East Queensland with the promise of sunshine and rad trails. Lovingly named The Sunny 80, the Quad Crown team lined up three days of racing on the Sunshine Coast.
With a stacked field of elites and some very excited folks in the masters and e-MTB categories, folks came from long and far looking to escape the first few weeks of winter.
“We gave it the nickname The Sunny 80, with the Sunshine Coast and what we were hoping for in terms of weather — we certainly had our fingers crossed. Everybody was commenting they’d left their hometowns freezing and raining. We probably had the most beautiful weather in Australia that weekend I reckon,” says Race Director Jason Dover.
What is the Quad Crown?
From the same crew that brought us the Cape to Cape and Port to Port back in the late 2000s, the Quad Crown is new series of mini-stage races.
Taking riders to places that they have never raced, and many never have ridden at all, each stop consists of a prelude and two XCM stages. The first stop was in Devonport, and this race on the Sunshine Coast was the second. Eden and Omeo still on the agenda.
It is a series, points are up for grabs at each event, and there will be an overall winner, both in the overall standings and for the Warrior Crown at the end.
Want to know more about the Quad Crown and the other events in the series? Check out our full explainer article here.
Prelude | Sugarbag | Sweeter than honey
Friday afternoon saw folks take to Sugarbag Road, a small feature rich trail network initially constructed by a local firefighter on a disused piece of land. This little pocket park is home to handbuilt flow trails and plenty of man-made wooden features.
The 7.5km course allowed folks to get their legs ticking over, set the seeding for the rest of the race, and the baseline for the Warrior Crown.
“We had to make a last-minute change and take out one track that had deteriorated a bit,” says Dover. “The trail we replaced it with was more challenging and had a couple of pinchy climbs, but the riders were loving it. It was an absolute blast for the top end of the field and a good challenge for everyone in the middle and towards the back.”
In the Elite category, Cameron Ivory set the fastest pace, but Dan McConnell and Cameron Wright were in hot pursuit, with only 17 seconds separating the top three.
For Peta Mullens, winner of The Wild Penguin, pre-riding the trails at Sugar Bag paid off as she finished the prelude 45 seconds quicker than Katherine Hosking, Holly Lubke and Jessica Manchester.
Then it was off to Moffat Brewing Co, for the welcome event and some rehydration.
Stage 1 | Parklands | 30km that felt like 50km
Kicking off the first official stage, the course team had laid out a challenge at Parklands; set to host the 2023 Brisbane Olympics, the riders were in for 32km with over 1,100m of climbing. While on paper this may not sound out of hand, Course Designer Liam Dover told us it would feel like a 50km stage.
“It probably lived up to that, and because it was stage one, it probably created the hype for everyone to chew down on the handlebars and get into it,” he says.
“The technical singletrack and the flowing sections rode really, really well, and it just made it a cracking stage,” he continues.
Parklands is known for its narrow trails and chunky tech that will zap your speed and energy, with a bit of flowing fast singletrack sprinkled in for good measure. Even with the difficulty of the stage, they had almost a 100% finishing rate in the field.
The pace off the front of the race was blistering, with McConnell, Ivory and Wright breaking away from the start. McConnell was putting in some serious watts trying to make up time and finished the course in just under two hours. He ended up four seconds ahead of Ivory — not enough to take the overall lead. Wright would ride in 26 seconds back for third.
Peta Mullens continued her winning streak with a 2-minute gap back to second-placed Hosking. Manchester would round out the podium, riding in about 9-minutes back.
The social event was at Black Flag Brewing, which is only a short distance from the beach. We hear there weren’t any waves left on the beach, because Paul van der Ploeg caught them all.
Stage 2 | Ferny Forest | The short one
The Quad Crown Team had a last-minute curveball. An approval issue in the week leading up to the event meant the final stage had to be split into two.
“It came through last minute, and the team were able to put our heads together to come up with a really good solution. After the race, heaps of people were really happy about the format, which was really positive. It wasn’t how we set out to do it, but it turned out to work really well,” he says.
The morning took riders on a 10km romp through Ferny Forest on the southern end of Ewen Maddock Dam. The new shortened course started with a 750m fire road drag race into the singletrack.
“There was real racing into the start of the singletrack, and not just in the Elite waves. There was a lot of good racing in the waves further down the field, which was fun,” he says.
With fresh temps in the forest and not all that much elevation to conquer, the motors were running hot, and the riders were absolutely flying through the lush green surrounds.
Racing on familiar trails, Brisbane local Wright made a big move early in the stage and gap race leader Ivory by five seconds, and McConnell by a minute. The top four in the Women’s Elite, Mullens, Hosking, Lubcke and Manchester, were unable to create any gaps and sprinted into the finish as a group. With that, Mullens would retain her lead in the General Classification.
Stage 2.5 | Mooloolah Valley | Extra credit racing that changed everything
With a short break to refuel between stages, riders then made their way to the Mooloolah Valley to start stage 2.5. Riding the remaining 20km of what had been initially planned out, the race blazed along the old rail easement through the tunnel Dularcha Railway Tunnel and into the National Park, which is known for its steep climbs. Then it was back to Ewen Maddock for a lap around the Dam.
“We thought the Railway tunnel would be the highlight, but we put it in so early, everybody sort of forgot about it. A lot of the comments were around Dularcha (National Park) and how hard the start was in terms of technical climbing,” he says.
Dover says the tough start was intended to string out the field so that when they got over to Ewen Maddock, they had a clean run through and could enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Wright and McConnell were putting in attack after attack to try and break Ivory, but he had the legs and maintained his overall lead. Wright leapfrogged McConnell into second place, with the Olympian rounding out the podium.
With a comfortable lead coming into the final stage, a missed turn by Mullens would shake up the race. Hosking would put three minutes into the Bendigo local, taking the overall win, with Manchester riding into third place in the GC.
In the Masters Race, Jacqui Allen and Gary Purtell would take their respective categories, and Matthew Lineham-Blair won the e-MTB race.
The Sunny 80 also saw new faces coronated King and Queen. The Warrior Crown is awarded to riders who perform the handicap set during the prelude, based on average speed. The new royalty coordinated on the Sunshine Coast are King Rusty Mark, and Queen Jayne Rutter.
“The weather was amazing, and so was the attitude of everyone that came, it was just fun,” Dover says. Even the elite racing had just a nice vibe to it, they were all having a laugh.
Dover told us the story of an e-MTBer who was in the top 20 after the prelude. “He was quick to say I’d love to ride up there with those guys, but I’m going to make sure I’m not in the way so I don’t stuff up the race”.
“On stage two, he was sitting on the back of the second group chasing the leaders, I’ve never seen a smile on a punter’s face quite like it. He came through a point and was like, “This is unreal, these blokes are machines.” He was having the best time,” says Dover.
Taking a short break for winter, The Quad Crown headed south to Eden to race the soon-to-open trails in Nullica State Forest. The Orca, named for the Killer Whales known to frequent this region of the NSW Sapphire Coast, will run from 8-10 September 2023. Head to the Quad Crown website for more info or to register.