Taking to the Mars-like, and anything but flat landscape around Alice Springs, The Redback is once again headed for the Northern Territory August 18-21.
First running in the late 2000s as the Red Centre MTB Enduro, The Redback has come a long way. With a smaller, more intimate field, easy race logistics and a course like nowhere else in Australia, The Redback is a four-day stage race that should definitely be on your calendar this year.
We caught up with Adele Worner from Rapid Ascent to discover what’s new for the 2023 Redback MTB stage race.
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A and B-line options and the Central Australian Rough Riders
The basic format of The Redback remains unchanged, with the tried and true six stages in four days making a return for 2023. However, for this year, there are what Rapid Ascent are calling A and B-line options
“The A-line are the original distances we’ve always done, but they could be seen as quite challenging. So putting in a shorter B-line option opens the door to more riders, folks looking for a more social experience and also juniors,” says Worner.
Now every stage except for the ANZAC Hill Climb gets a B-Line option — that stage is only 300m long — with the longest being Stage 6, which is 25km (compared to the 52km A-line), and the shortest being Stages 4 and 5 which are 18km long (compared to 22km).
The idea to offer shorter stages came out of Rapid Ascent officially partnering with the Central Australian Rough Riders MTB club to facilitate the race. This means volunteers but also playing a role in the course design.
“They do a lot of upkeep out there and know the good bits and what’s running well. They are working with our directors John (Jacoby) and Sam (Maffett), to come up with the best combination of trails for each day,” she says.
The Redback Course Preview
The event will still follow the same format, with multiple stages on the first and third days. But along with the shorter options, Worner tells Flow they’ve aimed to incorporate fresh areas of the trails around Alice Springs.
“I guess it’s about people getting bang for their buck with big long stages — seeing more and experiencing all the different terrain Alice Springs offers. Including some of the newer areas,” she says.
The Redback kicks off on the Araluen trails west of town. Both the courses stay together for the first 12km taking in some of the highlights on this side of the network before they diverge. The A-Line will then hit The Hell Line in a clockwise direction, while the B-Line shortcuts up Tunnel Rats to rejoin the course on the lower half of Road Train. Then it’s onto the Larapinta track, running onto Arrwe into the Old Telegraph Station.
Don’t crack a beer yet because you’re not done for day one of The Redback. Kicking off at 4:30pm is the infamous ANZAC Hill climb. It may only be 300m and is often wrapped up in a little over one minute, this is arguably the most electric stage.
“It’s always a spectacle, like at the Tour de France when people cheer on both sides of the road. You have to sprint past them, and everyone gets into it — over the years, we’ve had people dress up. At the top, there is a popup bar, and that’s where the celebration is,” says Worner.
Stage 3 is a more traditional XCM race at Telegraph Station for the halfway mark of The Redback. Kicking off with some 4WD track, the race quickly jumps onto singletrack and stays there for more or less the remainder of the stage.
The A-Line course hits Stimsons, Perente, Carl’s, Sink Track, Eagle and many more. The B-Line takes a shortcut at 9km to cut out the big loop around the northern end of the network and the loop back through town to rejoin the course for the finale on Arrwe.
Stage 4 and 5
Day three sees riders hit more or less the same loop twice. Once during the day as an individual time trial and again after dark as a mass start race.
Starting and finishing at the Alice Springs Golf Club, the course follows a 4WD track that swaps from hard-packed and rocky to sandy in an instant before kitting Kim’s Track for rocky technical singletrack, so be on your toes. Then it’s Station Boundary Track before turning onto Emily’s Track for a descent. Try and recover on the way down because then it’s up Sunset Hill and a loooong descent back to the Golf Course, completing the 22km loop.
The B-Line course shortcuts straight to the 12 Hour track towards Sunset Hill for an 18km loop.
For the fifth stage, folks will hit the same loop, so the terrain will be familiar, but this time, you’ll need to bring your own illumination and ride with all your friends. Rapid Ascent makes it a party with tunes blasting as riders take off into the darkness.
According to Rapid Ascent, stage six is designed to end the race on a high note and hit only Alice Springs’s best trails.
And the route reads like an Alice Springs best hits album; Thunderbox, Stimsons, Horse/Eagle DH and more for a 52km masterpiece.
The B-line has two shortcuts that cut out the big loop around the northern end of the network and to the east, rejoining for the final 16 km of the loop course, totalling 24.9km.
What sets The Redback apart?
Alice Springs is like no other mountain biking destination in Australia, and it’s just about purpose-built for an event like The Redback.
With nearly 200km of singletrack surrounding the town on all sides, it makes the whole racing experience easy.
“With most of the other stage races, you have to move around. This one (The Redback), you’re in one spot, you can roll to the start lines from your accommodation, we take care of transfers for you, and there is a social program. You don’t need a car, and everything is within riding distance. Everything is easy,” says Worner.
On course, you’ll find fully stocked aid stations, and they’ll even do clothing drops to the finish so you can ditch the sweaty bibs for the presentation.
The Redback is also a smaller event than some other stage races, but that is by design.
“It’s a niche event, and you wouldn’t want to be out there with 1,000s of other people. Enjoying the trails is a big factor for us, and people come away from the event with lifelong friendships because it’s a smaller group and there is space on the trails,” she says.
Then there is the weather. Outside of the rainy season, the climate in Alice Springs is extraordinarily stable. And while the rest of us are freezing our buns off wrapped in layer after layer of blankets, the Red Centre is a balmy 20C with blue skies, every day.
Worner also stressed there is a major misconception that Alice Springs is flat and dull. This could not be any more wrong. There are hills, lots of ’em, and the trails take in everything from tight, rocky and tech to wide open, fast and flowy — with no mud to be seen anywhere.
Entries to the 2023 Redback are open now, head over the Rapid Ascent website for more info or to book your spot!