Ben Henderson and Imogen Smith have been crowned champions of The Redback Mountain Bike Stage Race in Alice Springs after four days of close racing on the famed Alice Springs trails.
Over 180 mountain bikers from across Australia tested themselves on the technical trails and rocky single-track over the six stages which included 40-50 kilometre cross country racing, the ANZAC Hill Climb, an individual time trial and the 22km Night Race.
After maintaining a stranglehold on the competition, it was down to the final stage today between Canberra’s Henderson and local rival Chris Hanson, but a puncture with 10kms to go causing Hanson to lose valuable time meant Stage 6 and the winners jersey went to Henderson in a total racing time of seven hours, 42 minutes and 26 seconds. Alice Springs’ Ben Gooley was overall runner-up in a time of 7:58:14 and Hanson took third (8:02:14).
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“It’s a big relief actually, anything can happen out there in the sand, and the rocks, as it just showed. I was just trying to find that balance between keeping the pressure on and not taking too many risks; you’ve really got to concentrate 100 percent out here,” Henderson said.
“In a good way, Chris has stopped me from enjoying it too much, I’ve felt under pressure the whole time, I’ve had to make sure I’ve stuck with him. I was a bit nervous after the second days’ time trial, I lost a bit of time, and the legs were starting to hurt, but I made a bit of time back on the night stage, and that helped the confidence, and from then on I was just making sure I was glued to Chris’ wheel.
“These four days here were testing from start to finish. It was so well-organised and the tracks were amazing, I think the locals have done an awesome job. It’s a unique race this one, it’s got a really good vibe, and obviously coming out of the Canberra weather, is definitely a bonus, it’s perfect, I really love this race.”
In the women’s competition it was a race between Brisbane’s Imogen Smith who is only recently back racing after a serious injury, Victorian Kim Willocks and up-and-coming junior Zoe Cuthbert from Canberra.
Despite losing today’s Stage 6 to Cuthbert, Smith was happy to walk away with the overall win in a total racing time of nine hours, 1 minute and 59 seconds. Willocks settled for second in 9:10:18 and Cuthbert took third in 9:17:59.
“It’s been a really special four days. I really didn’t expect to win, but after the first day, I thought maybe this will go my way. I really focussed on just trying to enjoy things, and not put pressure on myself; coming back from injury it’s a bit more about rediscovering your love for the sport, and the people in it,” Smith said.
“After the night stage when I lost a lot of time but still had the lead, that’s when I thought I’ve really got to knuckle down now and just try and put the jandle down a bit on Stage 5, and just try get into the lead, get some confidence, and then sort of ride the wave from there. I didn’t put pressure on myself, and I think the results kind of flow from that.
“Kim’s a really classy athlete, and Zoe is a huge, huge talent, and so you can never relax, and the other thing out here is that it’s so rough and so rocky and everything is sharp, so you’re never far away from a mechanical, or a flat tyre so you never quite relax, until you cross the finish line at the very end.”
Race Director Sam Maffett from Rapid Ascent congratulated all riders on their participation and for helping make it such a successful week of racing.
“It’s great to see the riders get to know one another over the week and the camaraderie that builds between them. I think everyone’s realised that Alice Springs is a superb and spectacular riding destination and we encourage them to come back and ride again.”
First held in 2008 – the race formerly known as the Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017, taking place from 17th-20th of August in and around Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory.
For more information about The Redback head to theredback.com.au