Easter in the Alice is the best way to explore one of Australia’s most unique and frankly under-rated mountain bike destinations; hundreds of kilometres of single track is accessible literally a few minute’s ride from the centre of town, the landscape is one of the most stunning you’ll ever see, you’re practically guaranteed blue skies, and the riding is fast and furious.
We’ve visited Alice Springs numerous times now, exploring the endless trails, soaking in the serenity of being in one of the most amazing places in Australia. Take a look below!
What is the Easter in the Alice?
Easter in the Alice is a three-day cross-country stage race, 31 March – 2 April 2018, taking in the best trails that Alice Springs has to offer. The event is an official stop for the MTBA National XCM Series too. You can race just one stage, or do them all, or there’s the Easter Mini too, for those who don’t want to tackle the longer distances.
Interestingly, the Easter in the Alice has over 30% female entrants! That’s more than twice the average mountain bike event. We put it down to just home welcoming the race environment is – the Alice Springs crew know how to run an event with a friendly vibe.
The format is very family-friendly too. All the racing takes place in the cool of the morning, so you’ve got the rest of the day and evening to see what this beautiful part of Australia is all about.
Why enter now?
If you enter before the end of the year, you’ll save a full $50 off the regular entry price. Three days stage racing for $140, that’s a bit of a bargain. All the details are right here.
We love stage races; the adventure, the comradeship, the journey of it all – it’s bloody brilliant. Over the past few years we’ve been closely involved with Australia’s two leading multi-day stage races, the Port to Port MTB and Cape to Cape MTB, and so we’re pumped to hear that another event has been added to the mix, with the Reef to Reef MTB.
This brand new event will be held over four days in August, in Tropical North Queensland, a part of the world that needs little introduction to Australian mountain bikers. The region in and around Cairns is one of the birthplaces of Australian mountain biking, it’s rammed with amazing trails, and of course has hosted the World Champs and World Cup multiple times. We’ve spent a lot of time in the region too, exploring all it has to offer by bike, and it’s one of the most unique and diverse places you can imagine.
Read on for the official word from IRONMAN, the folk behind the event, for all the details!
The Australian mountain bike stage racing calendar just got even more exciting with the announcement of Reef to Reef, a multi-day Mountain Bike Stage race to be held annually in early August in Tropical North Queensland.
IRONMAN Oceania Managing Director Dave Beeche, said Reef to Reef will be a four day stage race for professional, elite, competitive and recreational mountain bikers and will complement the highly successful multi-day stage race events, Port to Port MTB (held in Newcastle in May) and Cape to Cape MTB (held in the south west of Western Australia in October).
“Reef to Reef completes a triple crown of outstanding Australian mountain bike stage races now available to riders and while it will be will be modelled on “sister” events in NSW and WA, there will be a truly distinctive Tropical North Queensland flavour to the four day event. The 25+ year tradition of the Triple-R Mountain Bike Challenge (formerly the RRR) lives on within Reef to Reef with the inclusion of the iconic one day event with its 70km and 35km course options in the event schedule.”
Mr Beeche said that Reef to Reef’s world class course will showcase the variety of Tropical North Queensland’s rainforest, tablelands, farm lands and MTB parks, providing riders with a stunning range of trails, riding surfaces, trail types and landscapes that will ensure it quickly becomes recognised as a must do event.
Want to read more about the kind of amazing terrain you’ll find in Tropical North Queensland? Check out some of our trips to the region below:
“While the course will be challenging it will still be achievable, with riders of varying abilities able to choose whether they race hard or simply come for the holiday and enjoy the journey with their mates while soaking in the region’s stunning hospitality.”
“Reef to Reef will be held over four stages across four days and participants will have the option of being able to ride as individuals or teams of two who must ride the whole race together and not more than two minutes apart. Teams are eligible for 10 qualifying spots for the world famous Cape Epic an eight-day adventure through the Western Cape region of South Africa,” Mr Beeche said.
Tourism and Events Queensland Chief Executive Officer, Leanne Coddington said it was a major coup to host the event in Tropical North Queensland.
“This event will not only bring benefits to the Tropical North Queensland tourism industry and economy, but it will be a spectacular showcase of this beautiful region which is sure to inspire participants to return again for future holidays,”
“Queensland has established itself as a major events destination and the stunning backdrops our regions offer make those events truly memorable. I welcome this new event for Tropical North Queensland and look forward to it being a huge success for IRONMAN, the participants and local tourism industry,” Ms Coddington said.
Cairns Mayor Bob Manning welcomed the addition to a bustling sports events calendar for the Cairns region.
“This event is ideal for Cairns, celebrating our tropical terrain and thirst for adventure sports action. It comes on the back of the successful Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns, and further builds on our partnership with IRONMAN through the ever-growing Cairns Airport Adventure Festival.”
“We look forward to welcoming athletes to our region next August for this exciting MTB event,” he said.
Key Event Detail
Reef to Reef – 9 – 12 August 2018, Solo or Teams options
Stage 1 – Smithfield MTB Park. Distance 30km
Stage 2 – Davies Creek MTB Park. Distance 50km
Stage 3 – Mount Molloy to Wetherby Station. Distance 60km
Stage 4 – Mount Molloy to Port Douglas. Distance 55km
The full event spans fours days, but for 2017 Port to Port MTB are offering a two-day Weekend Warrior package, which includes entry into the event’s two finest legs, stages 3 and 4, on Saturday and Sunday. It’s the ideal way to do Port to Port MTB if you can’t take weekday time off work or away from family, or if you’re less inclined to train than you are to talk about it! What’s more, in our opinion, stages 3 and 4 are the real picks of the bunch, especially with some new tweaks for this years’ event.
Stage 3 once again visits one of NSW’s best cross-country race tracks, the Awaba Mountain Bike Park. This lush singletrack is the perfect way to kick off the weekend, and for 2017 the race will dive straight into the trails from the gun – the long neutral section at the start of this stage has been removed, so it’s all action. Heading into the State Forest of the Watagans, a grunty climb leads you to some fast fireroad ridge running, before bombing back down on wild, raw singletrack to Cooranbong below.
After a mandatory post-race massage (you have just ridden 64km, after all), head back to Newcastle where you’ll receive a 25% discount at the Crowne Plaza, and get in a good sleep ahead of Sunday’s final fury.
Wondering where to stay? All Weekend Warriors receive a 25% discount at both the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley and in Newcastle, so you’re sorted for both Friday and Saturday nights.
Come up for Friday evening’s festivities! The sundown shootout gets underway at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, in Lovedale, on Friday afternoon from 4:00pm. All Weekend Warriors will score a free Port to Port Pilsener with any burger purchase too, just as a little bonus for getting off work early.
Sunday’s final stage has been given a big makeover for 2017, and it should be one hell of a way to cap off a couple of good day’s riding. An all-new start area at Swansea means more singletrack, less tarmac, and no more neutral zones. No longer does the race head up the Fernleigh Track, sticking to the dirt instead, before hooking into the singletrack of Glenrock, one of the event’s real highlights. It all wraps up on at Dixon Park, overlooking the ocean – crash out in the sun, enjoy the live music, and sink a couple of recovery ales, in true Weekend Warrior style.
The event will be here before you know it, so lock your entry in sharpish, whether you’re opting for the full four days, or if you’re more of the Weekend Warrior type. For all the details, visit porttoportmtb.com.
Racing, at its core, is all about pushing yourself, and suffering. The rider who is willing to put themselves deepest into the pain cave is the one who’ll triumph. It’s not always pretty, but holy hell is it good to watch. And today’s final stage gave us a display of gritty, honest mountain bike racing on a super fast 67km run from Colonial Brewery to Dunsborough.
We know that what happens at the elite end of this event doesn’t matter a damn to most participants – every participant has their own tale, all of them full of great highs and lows – but please indulge us for a few minutes, because what some of Australia’s best mountain bikers dished out this morning en route to Dunsborough was hard-out racing at its finest.
Mark Tupalski came into stage four with a 38 second lead over Kyle Ward. By rights, he should have been feeling pretty confident – while Ward had won two stages, Tupac had kept him within arms reach at all times. All he had to do was mark any attacks and avoid a mechanical. But that strategy didn’t factor in a very large man from Victoria, or a wily racer from WA, both of whom came out firing and determined to rattle the cage.
So often stage racing is often all about tactics: teams working together to control the pace, the result almost a forgone conclusion, as groups coordinate to quell any surprise attacks. But not this time around, no way.
Paul Van Der Ploeg arrived in WA “undercooked” and recovering from injury, but rather than fading throughout the event, he’s ridden into form. Today he fitted the biggest chain ring he could find to this bike, and dropped a Watt bomb that blew things apart. Getting on the front early, he and Craig Cook drove the pace so hard that the support staff and photographers struggled to leapfrog the lead bunch in their vehicles. “That’s the first Cape to Cape I’ve ridden where it has blown apart like that, it was just attack, then attack and attack,” said Tupalski.
Ward and Tupac quick to admit that Cookie was the strongest rider in the bunch today, not relenting for a second. “It’s the way stage racing goes,” said Cook, “some days you feel good, others you don’t. But I don’t think the Cape to Cape has had a brutal, hard day quite like that in previous years.”
As the lead four of Ward, PVDP, Cook and Tupalski flogged themselves trying to make an attack stick, the ever-present sand came into play once again. At 40km in, Ward and PVDP picked the better line in a soft sand stretch, while Cook and Tupac got bogged and floundered allowing a gap to grow. “When that happened, I turned to Kyle and said ‘If you want this race, we go now’.” He towed Ward away with him, leaving Tupalski and Cook dangling in the wake.
“I didn’t want to turn back and count seconds,” said Ward, “because that’s not what it’s about. Today was just about getting to the line first.” If he had turned around, he would have seen a charging Cook bearing down on him, with Tupac on his wheel. The four riders came together again with less than 10km to go, but once again the sand ruined the party for Tupac, and he lost contact. “Once it was the three of them against me, I knew that was it,” Tupalski admitted, “I just didn’t have enough left after three days of racing.”
But even then the drama didn’t end. On the final climb of the race in the singletrack of Meelup, Van Der Ploeg’s chain threw its hands up in defeat, exploding in the face of the big man’s torque. His day done, he still managed to scoot his way to fifth place, with the ridiculously strong Master’s rider, Jon Gregg (or the “freakshow” as Ward dubbed him), passing him for fourth.
As Kyle Ward hammered across the line for his third stage win, the silent count began – could Tupac limit his time losses to less than the crucial 38 seconds? When Craig Cook came into view and Tupalski was nowhere to be seen, Ward knew he’d pulled off a legendary come-from-behind victory in one of Australia’s most prestigious races.
Despite being quite clearly stuffed, Tupalski was philosophical. “If anyone was going to take the lead off me, I’m happy it was Kyle,” said Tupalski of his good friend. “We’ve both got a similar kind of style of racing. Go hard, and if you can hang on, good on you. Kyle deserves a big win – he’s a bit of a dark horse and doesn’t get the recognition he’s worthy of, so it’s really good to see.”
“I definitely wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Mark, he’s the one who invited me and encouraged me to come,” said a humble Ward. “Getting the win is one thing, but to be alongside with a friend on the podium together is a real bonus.”
Peta Mullens continued her unstoppable run again today and secured the win, but not without being stretched by a determined Imogen Smith. “I had full intentions of having an easier day today, but Imogen wasn’t going to let that happen,” said Mullens. “I managed to get in a tiny gap on a descent, about two seconds, but that was just enough to let me make the jump onto the back of a bunch when we hit the tarmac and she missed it. In the end I rode the last 10 kay on my own, so I’m pretty buckled!”
Smith’s gusty racing today cemented her second place overall. “It was an honour to race with Peta today,” said Smith, whose race finished on a bit of a high. “Yesterday was a tough one for me, but today I had the time of my life.”
With the West Australian sun hammering down, the rest of the huge field, variously limped, rolled or sprinted (and occasionally crashed) under the finish arch on a fairway at the Dunsborough Golf Course. The antics at the front end didn’t matter to them – the elites may as well have been riding a different race altogether. Chaffed, stiff, buckled and overwhelmingly happy, they’d made it, through over 200km of racing and now had a medal around their neck to prove it.
Unless you’re driving a taxi or going out dancing, we wouldn’t advise you to have anything to do with Redbull late in the arvo ordinarily. But we can make an exception for the Redbull Sundown Shootout, a cool event-within-an-event that has become a real highlight of Cape to Cape MTB.
The Shootout takes the fastest riders at Cape to Cape and throws them round a punchy two-minute course (including one massive huck thrown in for good measure), with big time bonuses up for grabs. It’s serious on one level because the time bonuses can have a real effect on the overall standings, but one the other hand it’s a chance for riders to have a razz and put on a show for the huge crowds that come out to the pines to spectate.
This year the Shootout was bigger than ever, and rowdier too. After Peta Mullens and Paul Van Der Ploeg took out the racing (and a cool $1000 each in the process), the jump was thrown open for a freestyle contest. After a local Dunsborough lad upped the ante with a 360, chants of ‘backflip, backflip’ got freeride legend Ricky Compton sufficienly gee’d up to give a flip a crack, despite the jump being far from ideal. The end result wasn’t pretty, but the dislocated shoulder went back in smoothly and Ricky lived to ride another day.
“We had a gentlemen’s agreement,” confessed Kyle Ward, after narrowly beating Mark Tupalski for his second stage win of the 2015 Cape to Cape MTB, “that if it came to a sprint, we wouldn’t attack each other.” Their agreement may have been gentlemanly, but today’s stage was all about acting like a child.
They call day three the Margaret River Special Stage, and it’s the defining day of this event – it’s the pay-off for the blood and tears of stages one and two, it’s the day that everyone anticipates and remembers. For many riders, it’s the very reason they make the journey to Margs.
While days one and two are all about showing off the glorious fruits of this region, day three is all about the trails. And they’re really, really good. Good enough to be rated by many as the finest cross country singletrack in the state.
Wrapping in and around the township of Margaret River itself, a solid chunk of the course for day three is noodle bowl of knotted, berm-riddled singletrack. A cool misty rain had dampened the surface to a perfectly tacky texture too, meaning grip and dust were both a non-issue. Conditions were prime, and riders were stoked.
Much like it’s a waste drinking a glass of Grange when you’re already six wines deep, it’s almost a pity to be racing these trails! This is the kind of singletrack you want to ride again and again. “It was unreal out there,” frothed Tupalski, “the berms and jumps were so flowy.”
Today’s stage also put on show just what mountain biking, and this event in particular, has come to mean to Margaret River. The day commenced with a neutral rolling start out of Xanadu Winery and through the main street of town, where hundreds of people came out to witness the spectacle of 1100 colourful riders of all shapes and sizes embarking on a day of razzing through the trees. Just as we’re starting to see in regional towns all across the country, mountain biking is creating jobs and fuelling opportunities in Margaret River, and the locals are embracing and supporting it.
The enthusiastic local spirit extended into the trails too, at Heckler’s Corner, where a rowdy home-grown crew busted out the airhorn, a chainsaw and just about anything else that could clang or bang, to pump up riders. “The crowd was next level,” said Mark Tupalski. “It was almost like racing in the Czech Republic,” added Kyle Ward.
Without wanting to labour the point again, it’s super uplifting to see local riders opening their arms to out-of-town riders like this. Unlike in surfing, for which Margs has traditionally been known, territorialism doesn’t seem to be an issue for mountain bikers; we’re all one big tribe.
While the time bonuses from last night’s Redbull Sundown Shootout saw things tighten up a little in the top ranks, the stage finished without any change to the overall leaders. Mark Tupalski holds a fragile lead of less than thirty seconds over Kyle Ward, with Craig Cook, Jon Gregg and Russell Nankervis rounding out the top five. Peta Mullens had a tougher day in the office, telling us “I kept getting dagged on the climbs and ended up dropping back a couple of bunches.” Imogen Smith maintains second, though she too had a hard day of it with a couple of crashes taking their toll. For the riders whose main aim was survival today, Colonial Brewery proved just the ticket – recovery lagers all round, please!
And just like that, we’re into the final leg for another year, as riders push on north to the top of the Cape at Dunsborough. Come back tomorrow, same Flow place, same Flow channel – see you there.
“I think I’ll take my recovery a bit more seriously today… Less beers, more protein,” ruminated a groaning punter, lying in the grass at Xanadu. Good idea, mate, but let’s not take things too seriously here. After all, you’ve got plenty of excuses for letting your best intentions slip when the race finishes at a winery.
After a postcard perfect day one, the flawless porcelain skies didn’t make a return appearance for stage two – weather patterns shift and shuffle a lot on this deep southern coastline. The trails are just as variable too, as riders found out during today’s 57km run to Xanadu Winery, just outside Margaret River.
A spitting rain farewelled riders as they departed Hamelin Bay (each stage commences where the previous one finishes), the huge pack surging and splitting on a steady four kilometre climb.
The lead group quickly established their own race within a race, barrelling into the loamy Sam Hill downhill, with Mark Tupalski up front. Mid-pack, odours of cooked brakes filled the air, and creative overtaking manoeuvres caused some consternation, as 1100 riders threaded through damp bush, before a charge up the tarmac to Boranup.
At the head of the field, the magic loamy singletrack beneath the towering Karri trees was chewed up at frightening speed. “When I finally got a chance to look down, my computer said we were at over 35km an hour through the singletrack,” said Mike Blewitt. For those riding at a less frenetic pace, this was a chance to settle in and enjoy the perfect grip and mesmerising flow of the tunnel-like trails.
Friendly singletrack met hostile coastline in dramatic style soon enough, after a sandy, rocky doubletrack descent, and the onshore winds that flattened the surf put a welcome hand on the back of wearied legs on a seaside fireroad grind to Conto Springs. The view of churned surf hammering into this exposed coastline is a stunner, but we doubt Kyle Ward had much of a chance to take it in, as he opened up and attack with 25km to go, building a 45 second gap that he’d maintain till the end of the stage.
The promise of wine is a powerful lure, and row after row of vineyards served as an assurance of relief to come, as riders buried themselves on the final ten kilometres of the stage, passing through the vineyards that are one of Margaret River’s drawcards. A final hammer along the tarmac home undoubtedly had some exhausted riders questioning just why Xanadu Winery made their driveway so long (three kays!) and with so many curves. But the pay off wasn’t far off, in the form of beverages, massages, burgers and a nice soft lawn on which to cramp violently.
For the race leaders, there was no change in the overall standings. “I went out pretty hard, despite my coach Mark Fenner telling me to just do enough to hold onto my lead,” said Peta Mullens, who extended her lead by another couple of minutes over Imogen Smith. Kyle Ward’s attack chops the lead of Mark Tupalski significantly, and with the time bonuses on offer at the Red Bull Sundown Showdown this evening, we could see a shuffle at the top.
There’s plenty of racing left in this event yet, including tomorrow’s singletrack feast in the killer Margaret River pines trails. See you then!
The 3.5 tonne lens assembly housed within Cape Leeuwin’s lighthouse spins on a bed of liquid mercury – it’s what allows this massive beacon to keep on turning so frictionlessly, day and night, making sure the 28 wrecks off the Cape don’t become 29.
For 119 years, the lighthouse and its keepers have stood watch over this far-flung bit of Australian coastline. And for the past seven of these, they’ve also seen off thousands of mountain bikers, as they start their four-day journey of the Cape to Cape MTB stage race.
Liquid mercury might keep the lighthouse lens spinning effortlessly, but it’s willpower alone that keept the wheels turning for most riders on this very spectacular but also very tough introduction to Cape to Cape.
Stage one is the shortest of the event in terms of kilometres, but it packs a wallop, both physically and visually, that ensures it will stay with riders well after they’ve scraped the black dust out of crevices they didn’t even know existed. Sand, grit, loose climbs, hellishly fast fireroad descents and a stretch of beach (thankfully rideable, with the tide out!) define day one, which finishes up by the water in Hamelin Bay, after 39km of racing.
It was a dramatic day and beautiful beginning to the race; searing blue skies, a fighter jet fly-over right on the start, and even a proposal as Margaret River local legend Brooksy dropped to one knee for his gobsmacked partner Diane. What a way to kick things off!
The racing was dramatic too, the absence of any big teams of riders making the racing a much more solo, every-man-for-himself affair. Elite men’s defending champion Mark Tupalski dropped the hammer, hard, opening up a ninety second gap that couldn’t be shut down. “Tupac just went, up heartbreak hill, I was trying to chase him but my heart rate was up at 203 beats per minute,” explained a pretty shellshocked looking Rhys Tucknott.
“I’ve had a tough week leading up to the race,” said the ever-relaxed Tupalski, “I was in bed with a fever for five days, so hopefully I can recover ok and back up for the next three stages.” Without his Torq team around him, it’ll be a serious battle.
Masters hardman John Greg showed a few young lads what it’s all about today too, driving the pace of the chase to put himself into second place overall – bloody impressive stuff, especially considering he’s got at least 15 years on most of the crew he’s racing against. It’s his sixth Cape to Cape in a row: “It’s just a nice part of the world to come spend a few days, and the camaraderie is great.” WA’s Craig Scott, of the Giant Bootleg Brewery team, took out third.
The women’s elite race was all about Peta Mullens and Imogen Smith. And while Mullens took out the stage, her lead was only just over a minute, a gap that Smith knows can be closed down easily over such a long race. Mullens doesn’t plan on racing defensively though: “I should probably just mark Imogen the next few stages and make sure I stay with her, but I don’t like to race like that,” laughed Mullens, who admitted finding the sand of today tough, “I was born to ride, not run, so all the times the sand forced me off the bike weren’t fun.”
With a smaller than usual elite field, the vibe of the race today had an awesome laidback feel; rather than listening to whippets talk all about tactics or nutrition, we enjoyed wandering around the beautiful finish area by the sea, overhearing snatches of tall tales about near misses or busted bikes, conversations about cramps, witnessing people tackling personal demons or crushing personal bests, seeing smiles and grimaces, the air thick with satisfaction and cursing.
And that’s what Cape to Cape is really about – the ladies and fellas out there just having a crack. As race director Jason Dover remarked to us after pointing out a rider who’d run 20km after ripping off a derailleur, “those guys are the real legends.” Too true.
For stage 2, the race departs Hamelin Bay on a long, 57km stage to Xanadu Winery just outside Margaret River. Along the way, it’ll thread through the ancient Karri forests of Boranup and endless rows of the vineyards that makes this region so delicious. It’ll be another visual feast and an awesome day of racing no doubt, so swing on by tomorrow eve for more!
“I normally find the second day a lot easier,” Pete Hatton told us yesterday after bagging second place in Stage 1 of Port to Port MTB.. Well, sorry Hatto… in the case of Port to Port, day two is a whole lot harder!
One of the neat things about this stage race is the diversity of the places and terrain, that you take in over just a few days. No more keenly are these contrasts shown, than in the difference between stages 1 and 2. Leaving the beaches behind, stage 2 takes riders to the middle of the famous Hunter Valley. Vineyards, horse yards, towering sandstone escarpments and densely wooded forests, it’s all a far cry from the sand dunes and ice cream parlours of stage 1.
Today’s stage had seen some tweaks in response to feedback from year one, and while the final stinging climb had been tamed, it was still a tough, but rewarding, day in the office for most. Starting right outside the cellar door at Lindeman’s, riders had to dig deep straight out of the gate, with a 12km climb up onto the ridge lines overlooking Pokolbin. Unsurprisingly, the sharp end wasted no time in sounding each other out, with the Torq team using their numerical advantage to set the pace high and test the legs of the Pete Hatton and his Trek teammates and Andy Blair.
Before long, the incredible form of Mark Tupalski came to the fore, when he and teammate Tasman Nankervis established an early break and worked together perfectly, playing the chase group like a fish on the line. “We learnt last year that we can’t wait, we have to make a break early – it’s that old stereotype, you know, offense is the best defence,” said Torq’s Dean Clarke.
Recent grading of the fireroad climb might have filled in some of the most savage ruts, but it had left the top inch of soil a perfect energy-sapping consistency. Grimly set jaws, bobbing heads, grinding gears and just a bit of swearing characterised the appearance of a large chunk of the field. The pay off for the climb came with the Down the Rabbit Hole descent, a plummeting drop, churned up, wild and loose thanks to the recent rains, that had riders cooking brakes and eating fat chunks of flying mud, before hitting the valley floor.
Surprisingly, for such strong climbers, the Down the Rabbit Hole descent played a key part in team Torq’s strategy, with Nankervis and Tupalski using the downhill to back the intensity off. Dean Clarke explains: “They were just cruising down, knowing that Blairy would have to work hard and potentially make a mistake, while they could save energy and not take too many risks. The worst thing that can happen is to have the lead and throw it away.”
“We were flat out like a lizard drinking on the descent,” said Tristen Ward, one of the chase group, “Blairy was just trying to kill us!” Reece Tucknott was one of the chasers too, and thought the chase could have succeeded with a bit more cohesion. “We had a chase group of about six, and it was all working well together. Then when we started to close the gap and got close, it seemed that everyone started to attack each other, like they thought they could get across, and the chase kind of broke down. And of course the Torq guys in the chase weren’t going to do any work with their teammates out in front.”
“Our overall goal at the start of the day was get Tasman into second place, and managed to do that, by about 18 seconds over Hatto,” said Tupalski. “Even if the time bonuses after the shootout come into play, we should still have a few seconds, which puts the pressure on Blair and Hatto to make it happen. But Blairy’s a wiley bugger, and he’ll get stronger and stronger as the race goes on.”
“The difference between Blairy and these young guys, is that the youngsters can redline earlier and recover, whereas Blairy is a little older and it takes him longer to recover. But if he can get into a rhythm, then he’s very strong and that’s the risk,” said Dean Clarke.
4Shaw rider rider Rebecca Locke, in second overall, stated yesterday that the ability to back up day after day could be the deciding factor in a race like this, and by her own admission Stage 1 took a toll. “I struggled a lot today, so it was good to have Naomi, she really got me through,” said Rebecca. “I tried to nurse Bec as much as I could,” said Naomi Williams, “she’s got a bit of a diesel engine, so I hoped she might come back, but she had tired legs.”
For Jenny Blair, today was much more suited to her style. “It was my kind of course, that type of riding is my gravy,” said Jenny. “Because I knew the course and knew that the start in particular suited my style, I pushed as hard as I could to maximise the time gap.” The strategy worked, and Jenny Blair now holds a commanding lead of around eight minutes.
Two shots - both landscape
Three shots - Big on top
Four Shots - Big on Left
Two shots - landscape and square
Three shots - Big landscape, two small squares
Four Shots - All Same Size
Two shots - vertically stacked, both landscape
The day was capped off with the Crowne Plaza Shootout, an individual time trial around the golf course at Crowne Plaza, with big time bonuses up for grabs. Pete Hatton continued his out-of-nowhere form, taking the win, and scoring a minute time bonus that scooted him back into second place. Mark Tupalski further cemented his lead, with his third place giving him an additional 40 seconds. Meanwhile, Blair had the worst possible outcome, snapping his chain and having to scoot across the line with any hopes of scraping back a big chunk of time dashed.
Tomorrow’s stage is completely new, taking in the famed flow of the Awaba Mountain Bike park, and some unseen descents through the lower slopes of the Watagans. We’ve been promised by course-setter Rex Dubois that it’s a killer stage. Excellent stuff, come back tomorrow for all action.
Hello sunshine, hello dolphins, hello wine, hello sweat, dirt, blood and good times. Hello Port to Port MTB.
Back for the second year, this four-day stage race is roving affair, taking in some of the more stunning parts of NSW on a journey from the sea at Port Stephens, to the Hunter Valley and finally back to Newcastle. (Take a squiz at our 2014 coverage here.)
The usual flocks of whale watchers, seagulls and white haired holiday makers were ushered aside today, to make way for the 300+ racers who began their four day odyssey alongside the lapping blue waters of Nelson Bay. The course set for them on Stage 1 mixed in some of the trails utilised last year, plus a bunch of new sections, like the unconquerable Three Bears.
After last year’s epic battle between Andy Blair and Chris Hamilton, there was a plenty of anticipation this showdown might be emulated with an in-form Mark Tupalski a clear challenger to the experienced Blair. In the women’s field, the recently crowned XCM Champ Jenny Blair (yes, she and Andy tied the knot) was the clear favourite, but as we saw today, it mightn’t be plain sailing.
The rolling neutral start may have been too mellow for some (“I’ve had way too much caffeine for this, let’s get racing!” was yelled from somewhere in the bunch), but the pace didn’t stay low for long. The first scrappy climb proved to be incredibly decisive, with Blair facing what he called the “worst possible situation” after getting caught in a rut and watching the trio of Tupalski, young Liam Jefferies and Pete Hatton make a break. Without any team mates to work with him, it was entirely up to him to ride down the two Torq riders and Hatton.
Hatton, who has been absent from the scene for a while and whose dark horse performance caught plenty of people by surprise, tells the tale: “We were working well together, right up until the Three Bears (three super steep fireroad climbs in a row), when I really pushed it into the red. I could tell that Tupalski was super strong, and he made a break. I had to back it off consciously, and that’s when Andy bridged across to me. I basically sat on his wheel then, trying to recuperate, and then managed to gap him at the end on some of the short climbs.”
“I couldn’t see them behind me and when you have a gap you just have to bury yourself!”
“Blairy’s no fool – he wins plenty of races by being tactically smart, so I’m not taking anything for granted.”
History repeated itself in some respects today; last year, it was Andy Blair’s running up the impossibly steep Vertical Beach that gave him a gap, this year it was Tupalski who sprinted his way to a healthy gap, running hard over the top of the final of the Three Bears. “I didn’t think the gap I’d opened up was quite that big, but I couldn’t see them behind me and when you have a gap you just have to bury yourself!” Burying himself definitely worked, and Tupac will take a lead of just over a minute to Stage 2. “Blairy’s no fool – he wins plenty of races by being tactically smart, so I’m not taking anything for granted,” said Tupalski.
“I’ve had plenty of races that have turned out well, today just wasn’t one of them, so you’ve got to take the good with the bad!”
As the defending champ, Blair knows how Tupalski would have been feeling today. “It’s a real psychological game – when you’re on your own out the front, like Mark was, you just keep your head down and ride. But when you’re chasing, and especially in a situation like today where other riders aren’t going to work for you, you’ve just got to back yourself that you can ride as hard as Mark is. Really, the situation today was a reversal of last year where I had the break; I’ve had plenty of races that have turned out well, today just wasn’t one of them, so you’ve got to take the good with the bad!”
“Then I just hung on for dear life, as she kept hitting me.”
In the women’s field, Jenny Blair was given a real run for her money by Rebecca Locke. “I could see Jen just in front, and then I managed to ride a couple of the steep pinches where she lost traction, and that let me come across to her a little bit. Then I just hung on for dear life, as she kept hitting me,” said Locke. “I think it’ll be a really telling sign to see how we each back up from day to day.”
For Jenny Blair, the course today didn’t play to her strengths. “Today was too soft!,” she said. The whopping climbs of Stage 2 might be more to her liking, as the show rolls inland to the Hunter Valley tomorrow. Stage 2 was a savage affair last year – a tough climb and white knuckled descents, with eyes full of mud. Hopefully the rain stays away, as it’s a tough enough day on the bike without the extra challenge of a downpour.
Port to Port MTB, NSW’s stunning four-day stage race, is back again this May with some great course revisions. After racing the inaugural event last year, Flow headed north to take a look at what’s in store this time around.
Check out all the coverage from last year’s racing:
While the start and end point for 2015’s event are the same – beginning in Port Stephens and culminating in Newcastle – there have been a number of changes made in between which we’re feeling very positive about. Watch the vids below to get a better idea of what’s coming up in 2015.
Port Stephens, 38km.
Stage 1 is unchanged for 2015. Starting and finishing in Nelson Bay, right alongside the marina, it’s a spectacular setting. The course itself is predominantly fireroads, with a lot of sand, including the Vertical Beach, which proved decisive last year as it allowed eventual winner Andy Blair to gain valuable seconds on Chris Hamilton. While you mightn’t think of sandy riding as fun, it’s actually awesome to race on – line choice and momentum are vital. Our tip: Lower your tyre pressure. Last year Andy Blair burped his tyre early in the stage and the lower pressures ultimately provided him with an advantage.
Hunter Valley, 50km.
Stage 2 sees you leave the beaches behind and head to the vineyards of the Hunter Valley, just outside Pokolbin/Cessnock. This stage was a very tough affair last year, and there have been a few tweaks for 2015. The day begins at Lindeman’s winery before a long, steady climb over 12km, followed by some motor bike singletrack. Last year, consistent rain robbed this section of the fun it promised, so fingers it’s dry this time around. The pay off for the climb comes with the Down the Rabbit Hole Descent, which plummets back to valley floor. The last third of the stage has thankfully been somewhat tamed down, with the final climb chopped in half (phew!) before rolling into finish at Briar Ridge Winery for a glass of plonk. Our tip: Don’t get caught out on the tarmac section heading back towards Cessnock – if you’re on your own here, you’ll struggle over the final climb, so find some mates and work together.
An entirely new stage for 2015! Stage 3 is centred around the town of Cooranbong, at the foot of the Watagan National Park. The highlight of this stage is undoubtedly the Awaba Mountain Bike Park, which houses 12km of excellent singletrack. There’s another solid climb, up to the top of the Watagans. At this stage, we’re still awaiting confirmation as to the exact route of the descent, but it’ll be mammoth either way. Our tip: Enjoy Awaba! Make sure you leave enough in the tank so you’re not a ragged mess in the singletrack.
Cam’s Wharf to Newcastle, 50km.
Stage 4 starts and finishes in the same places as 2014, but the route in between has changed, taking in more dirt and less tarmac and sand! Few people will lament the fact the run/ride along Blacksmiths Beach has been chopped in more than half, and the run north now uses more fireroad and less of the Fernleigh Track on the way to Glenrock. The stage now makes the very most of Glenrock MTB Park too, hitting just about every single bit of trail in the reserve before finishing off in Newcastle by the beach once again. Our tip: Know where the singletrack of Glenrock starts – you’ll be riding in a bunch approaching Glenrock and you want to be at the front of it when you enter the trails.
Entries for Port to Port MTB are open now, and there’s loads more info on the event website, including course maps, so take a look. It was a great event last year and with the tweaks implemented for 2015, we think it’s going to be fantastic once again. See you there!
Mountain bikers are getting set for the biggest event on Mt Buller’s busy calendar, the Bike Buller MTB Festival Presented by Orbea on March 7-9.
Taking place over the Victorian Labour Day long weekend on Mt Buller’s world-class trails, the Bike Buller MTB Festival will see riders enjoy a jam-packed three days of mountain biking and festival fun at the popular Picnic in the Park food, wine and music festival at Mirimbah Park.
The festival is an ‘all mountain’ event, held across Mt Buller’s world-class cross-country, endurance and downhill trails, and suitable for riders of all abilities and disciplines. Run by event management company Rapid Ascent, the team behind the Giant Odyssey, Salomon Trail Running Series, Surf Coast Century and a number of other iconic adventure events, the 2015 Bike Buller MTB Festival presented by Orbea has a massive 14-event schedule with a diverse range of mountain bike races, kids’ events and even a trail running component.
General Manager of Rapid Ascent, Sam Maffett, is looking forward to the 2015 event. “This year’s Bike Buller MTB Festival is set to be the biggest yet – we’ve added a number of events designed to appeal to the whole spectrum of mountain bikers, from downhill and enduro to short and long-course cross-country. Plus, with kids’ events and the addition of trail running, as well as the sensational Picnic in the Park food and wine festival, there really is something for everyone to enjoy over the long weekend.
“Mt Buller’s trail network is ideal for a full weekend of events, and we can’t wait to get back there for this sensational celebration of all things mountain biking”, said Maffett.
Riders can choose to do one or more events over the weekend with a healthy mix of XC, downhill, gravity enduro and even some spectator-friendly pump track events included in the schedule:
Saturday 7th March
Race 1 – Schwalbe Stirling Circuit 50km
Race 2 – Fox Stonefly Circuit 35km
Race 3 – Fox Outlaw All Mountain Trophy
Race 4 – Fox Kids Village Ride
Race 5 – Fox 16” Dual Slalom
Race 6 – LEZYNE Kids Pump Track
Race 7 – Flow Pump Track Pursuit
Sunday 8th March
9.5km Trail Run
Race 8 – SRAM Guide Brake Burner Enduro
Race 9 – Fox Mt Buller Super D 12km
Race 10 – Fox Kids Picnic in the Park Ride
Monday 9th March
Race 11 – Adidas Eyewear Crankfest 22km
Race 12 – BELL Super 2R Gravity Enduro 20km
Race 13 – Fox Buller DH Cup
Race 14 – Fox ABOM Downhill
For further information, including event details, accommodation and more, visit bike.mtbuller.com.au.
Racers make their way out of the Kellevie race village.
STAGE 3: OVERVIEW
Stage 3 is the toughest day on offer at the Avantiplus Hellfire Cup – the Adidas Evil Eye Assault is a 48k loop that takes riders out of the race village and the onto the 4SHAW nutcracker. This climb gives racers a good opportunity to work hard on the pedals and question all their life choices that have brought them to this point, and, onto Jacobs Peak. The good news is that what goes up … must come down! Kingos tramline descent defies description – originally cut for sawmillers into the hills of Weilangta forest a century ago, the long abandoned tramlines now have a second life as a mountain bike trail.
The tramline descent is fast, flowing and goes forever. Next up riders hit the most technical descent of the race – Baby Head Alley which requires careful picking of a racing line. There is some respite for racers before heading onto Aub’s track – a great piece of lovingly handcrafted trail which leads onto the main road climb which we’ve titled the The Old Woolstore Head Cracker – this is the second major climb of the day and will really test tired legs. For the return descent, riders will return via Mill Road and Old Mill tramline which will take racers all the way back to Kellevie.
STAGE 3: RESULTS
The race village had a cool start for Day 2. The nearby hills were covered in an early morning mist and the mood in camp was jovial. Many racers starting the day with a well appreciated hot shower and a coffee before hopping back into racing gear. Cooler conditions met racers on the start line for stage 3 of the Avantiplus Hellfire Cup. A mixture of patchy showers which increased to rain showers meant that riders came in wet and working hard to cross the line of the 48K course.
In the Elite Male Category, Team 4SHAW (Scott Bowden & Tom Goddard – 2h 0m 30s) came in first in emphatic fashion and still had enough energy to do a little showboating with a manual across the line. Their local knowledge and supreme bike fitness came to the fore in a very competitive field. They were followed by Avantiplus Launceston who trailed the by 6 minutes 57 seconds.
For the Elite Female Category, Team Torq have continued to dominate with a 2h 32m 25s time over the 48K course. They were shadowed in a matter of seconds by Willy Locke (Rebecca Locke & Naomi Williams) who recorded a time of 2h 32m 31s.
Well in the lead for the Elite Mixed category at the end of Day 1, Trek Factory Racing (Bec Henderson & Dan McConnell have fallen out of contention due to a series of mechanicals. Jeffy & Pesta (Jarrod Moroni & Peta Mullens) sailed in with a time of 2h 20m 28s. Team My Mountain (Melissa Anset & David Ransom) followed with a time of 2h 35m 16s.
OVERALL RESULTS – END OF DAY 2
Over the course of stage 3, the Elite Male category has had a shakeup. A very strong performance in stage 3 by Team 4SHAW has put them in the overall lead with a combined time of 4h 25m 55s. They currently lead Avantiplus Launceston by 5m 20s. Team Torq also experienced mechanical issues on stage 3, and have fallen to third place overall with a combined time of 4h 35m 15s
Team Torq stay in the lead with a combined time of 5h 19m 15s across the 3 stages so far. They are closely followed by Willylocke with a time gap of just 1m 55s.
Jeffy & Pesta now move into the lead for the Elite Mixed category with an overall time of 4h 56m 16s. Avantiplus Launceston (Sam Calow & Rowena Fry) will now move into second place with a combined time of 5h 20m 19s.
The Avantiplus Hellfire Cup is back for a second year. The event, held in Kellevie in South Eastern Tasmania, is a 4 day multi-stage Mountain Bike Race. Attracting elite riders as well as weekend warriors, the event has attracted people from all over the country to 4 days of racing in the Tasmanian countryside. The event offers both pairs racing and a Lone Wolves category for solo racers.
The lead up to, and the actual 2013 Hellfire Cup event, was a gruelling experience for organisers. The Tasmanian Bushfire emergency struck days before it was originally slated to run in January 2013 (nearby Dunalley was devastated by the fires) and the event was rescheduled to run November 2013. Ironically, very different conditions met competitors in November, and torrential rain necessitated a reduced race format, and a race village evacuation that truly demonstrated the spirit of mountain biking.
So, after 3 long years of preparation work, the 2014 event is the first time the full course has been unveiled. On day 1, the race village is, buzzing and full of competitors keen to ride on some of the best trails Tasmania has to offer.
STAGE 1: DESCRIPTION
The trails are riding fast and fun, and on return from Stage 1 the nervous smiles of competitors were replaced by grins and war stories from the first hit-out for the event. The Mill Road loop is the 25km opening drumroll to the Hellfire Cup. It showcases a mix of riding experiences, departing from the Kellevie race village on vintage Tasmanian XC trails which lead into a firetrail ascent which literally takes a rider’s breath away. On the return journey, riders are rewarded with the Mountain Trails Serpent – a hard earned downhill section of flowing switchbacks that opens out into a extremely fast riding valley descent with a stunning views as riders emerge from the bush.
STAGE 1: RESULTS
Team Torq came out very strong and took out both the Elite Female (Em Parkes & Jenni King – 1h:25m:38s) category AND the Male Category (Chris Hamilton & Mark Tupalski 1h:12m:40s) with some blazing fast times. Trek Factory racing (Bec Henderson & Dan McConnell – 1h:20m:27s) took out the the Elite Mixed category.
STAGE 2: DESCRIPTION
The second stage is a fast-blast team relay, based on a 4 laps of the 6.5km Kellevie Onetonne rodeo XC Course. Pairs riders do a lap and alternate, but lone wolves find themselves doing all 4 laps. After leaving the race village the riders descend into the Kellevie rainforest. This section is a fast-riding, winding path that rewards riders willing to brave the encroaching trees for an opportunity to separate themselves from the pack. The course also features a short, sharp ascent up the Shimano Switchbacks across the crest of the hill. Following a quick paddock sprint, they riders meet the 4SHAW rock garden. The return leg is ideal for riders with big engines as pure power here will be the determining factor on the undulating blast back into the Race village and transition.
STAGE 2: RESULTS
A gentle spattering of rain fell on competitors as they gathered on the start line for Stage 2. This went some way towards keeping the dust down and providing a just-so slightly tacky racing surface that riders love so much. The race pack steamrolled out of the village and disappeared into the Kellevie rainforest in a matter of seconds. Dan McConnell put down a blistering first lap to take the early lead overall for stage 2 for the mixed pair elite team, Trek Factory Racing.
Team Torq continues to dominate, with both Elite Female (Em Parkes & Jenni King – 1h21m:11s) the Elite Male Category (Chris Hamilton & Mark Tupalski 1h:08m:07s) on a short sharp course. In the Elite mixed category. Trek Factory racing (Bec Henderson & Dan McConnell – 1h:12m:24s) is leading the Elite Mixed category.
OVERALL RESULTS – End of Day 1.
In the Elite Male category Team Torq will go into day 2 with a 3 minute 10 second advantage over AvantiPlus Launceston (Ben Mather & Alex Lack) who are followed followed by Team 4SHAW (Tom Goddard & Scott Bowden).
For the Elite Female category Team Torq leads WillyLocke (Rebecca Locke & Naomi Williams) by 2 minutes 6 seconds.
The Elite Mixed category is predicted to be extremely competitive with Trek Factory racing leading Jeffy & Pesta (Jarrod Moroni & Peta Mullens) by 2 minutes and 5 seconds.
Registrations have now opened for the 2015 Port to Port MTB, returning to the Newcastle region across the newly announced dates of Thursday 28 – Sunday 31 May, 2015.
Following on from the success of the inaugural event held earlier this year, which saw 300 recreational and professional riders participate, Port to Port MTB is quickly reaching the heights of sister event, Cape to Cape MTB in Western Australia, the largest event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
The new dates were announced this morning at the event’s official launch, attended by the Lord Mayor of Cessnock, and representatives of Newcastle City Council, Shimano Australia and other event partners. The launch was hosted by popular decorating duo Maxine and Karstan from Channel 9’s THE BLOCK: GLASSHOUSE who donned special riding gear for the day to celebrate.
Event Director Chris Heverin said he was thrilled to launch the 2015 Port to Port MTB. “We were delighted by the positive response from those who participated earlier this year in our inaugural event. With exciting new course alignments that will include a special stage at Awaba National Forest and a Sundown Shootout for the elite riders in the Hunter Valley on the Friday, an update to the timing system and an even better rider experience, we look forward to welcoming everyone back to Newcastle and the Hunter with your game face on, support team by your side and sporting your best game face,” he said. NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Tourism and Major Events Andrew Stoner said he looks forward to welcoming participants from around the country and the world to Newcastle and The Hunter in NSW for the second Port to Port MTB. “This year’s Port to Port MTB was very well received, delivering a significant economic benefit to the local community.
The NSW Government is proud to have secured the event from 2014 to 2016 through our tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW”. “The event showcases this magnificent region of NSW to an international audience, with competitors traversing idyllic beaches, picturesque wine country, and forest trails over four action-packed days of competition,” Mr Stoner said.
The Port to Port MTB begins at the tranquil Nelson Bay Marina, where riders are greeted by four days of exciting single track, fire trails, testing hill climbs and steep descents through Cessnock, the Hunter Valley, Lake Macquarie and Newcastle Region. One of the features of the 2015 event will be the Crowne Plaza Sundown Shootout in the picturesque Hunter Valley Property. This exclusive event will be a fast-paced mountain bike spectacular, consisting of a 2km time trial for the top one hundred riders that starts in the newly built Lovedale Brewery and winds around the iconic golf course.
For riders not competing in the Crowne Plaza Sundown Shootout, this will be the best chance to enjoy the hospitality and witness Australia’s best Mountain Bike riders up-close in action. Registrations for the 2015 Port to Port MTB are now open.
Day 1 of the Port to Port MTB 2014 – Four day stage race. Starting from the beautiful back drop of Nelson Bay, Port Stephens. Andrew Blair and Jenny Fay of Swell Specialized battle it out against Australias best marathon racers.
Drift Bikes provided comprehensive mechanical support to all riders bikes participating over the four days of racing.
Supporting cyclists in the Newcastle, Maitland, Port Stephens, Cessnock, Warners Bay, Lake Macquaire and Hunter Valley Areas.
Now in its 20th year, the Croc is an Australian endurance racing institution, so it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that the race’s founder is not a local; Gerhard Schönbacher is the Austrian masochist behind this most-brutal of stage races. Flow chatted with the Croc wrestler to learn a bit more about taming the beast.
The Croc turns twenty this year! Tell us about the very first edition of this legendary race.
The first Crocodile Trophy was held in 1994. We had 68 participants and they raced for 2,670km for 18 monster stages from Darwin to Cairns. It was all about surviving back then. We constantly ran out of water, food was scarce – replenishing our storage trucks with food and fresh water was the biggest challenge! During that first race, one of the trucks that was supposed to bring more supplies got lost and we had to stop in a small town and wait for it for a day or two. We didn’t dare continue the race without enough supplies. What an adventure that was!
I used to race in a pro-road team in Australia in the early eighties and have always been fascinated by the vast Outback of this country. I love the red sand, the rough landscapes and the lush rain forests that we now still race through. For the past decade or so the region of Cairns and Tropical Far North Queensland has been our home.
We were told that many roads and fields were still full of mines at the time and the risk was just too high.
Is it true that the Croc was almost going to be run in Vietnam? What would you have called it then?!
Yes, we tried very hard to put together a stage race from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City at the time. But the bureaucracy was just too hard to tackle. Plus, we were told that many roads and fields were still full of mines at the time and the risk was just too high. We were already toying with names – but I probably would have gone with Hanoi-Saigon Trophy.
The Croc Trophy is known as one of the toughest races on the planet; what is the single factor, in your mind, that makes it such a challenge?
The heat and the rough conditions in the Outback that challenge both rider and equipment – as well as us as organisers and my crew.
Why is the race so popular with Europeans? It’s a long way from home!
I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I am from Austria and used to race in Europe professionally for many years. I know a lot of the pro-road and mountain bike cyclists and have been able to promote the race also during my other event, the Alpentour Trophy, with is also a UCI S1 stage event. We race for four days through the Austrian Alps in and around Schladming and many riders come from Belgium, The Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany and Austria of course. Everyone wants to visit Australia once in their life – if you’re a cyclist it’s tempting to experience the magic of the Outback in the saddle of your bike. We do get a lot of pros racing the Croc, but even more hobby riders and groups of friends who take on this challenge together, take some time off from their day-to-day working lives and love the adventure they have with us.
Everyone wants to visit Australia once in their life – if you’re a cyclist it’s tempting to experience the magic of the Outback in the saddle of your bike.
For the last three or four years we’ve put a big focus also on attracting Australian racers with our local partner, Rocky Trail Entertainment from Sydney. Martin Wisata will race the Croc for the fifth time this year and is a true ambassador for our race. His wife Juliane is our media manager in Australia and New Zealand.
In the history of the race, what has been the toughest battle for the win that you’ve ever seen?
I think it was the first year that Urs Huber from Switzerland competed was very impressive – he was up against the big favourite Bart Brentjens from The Netherlands who is an icon, Croc Trophy winner and the first Olympic winner in a mountain bike discipline! You had the experienced old-hand and the young gun ride their hearts out every day. Urs took it out in the end.
And who has been the most impressive competitor in your mind?
I’ve seen a lot of great athletes compete at the Croc, they’re all so determined and we really grow together as a family in those almost two weeks we spend in Australia. You get the pro-cyclists, many of whom are Tour-de-France competitors, you get the hobby mountain bikers who love the adventure and we all sit together at the camp fire in the evening exchanging our daily experiences.
We always have women competing also – last year a Belgian rider had a fantastic result, riding into the top 20 overall. A few years ago there were two hand-bikers, two American ex-soldiers who were injured in the war. They decided to participate together with an able-bodied friend who rode with them. They had their own support car and spent many hours out there often coming into camp late at night. Both had to drop out a few days before the finish due to health concerns and their friend finished the race for them. But what an amazing effort! Some sections of the track are tough to conquer on a quad bike or 4WD, there are river crossings, steep ascents… and these guys did it all out of sheer will. So… it’s hard to pick one rider out, they all come with such an impressive desire to do this race, to challenge themselves and to do their best.
The temperature at the Croc is a huge factor – what is the hottest it has ever been for the race?
We’ve had temperatures soar into the mid- to high-forties. Juliane once recorded 46 degrees in her media tent one afternoon. Nowadays the stages start very early, at 8am and by 2 or 3pm all riders are at the finish, which is when it gets really hot. Every 30km or so we have food and water stations or “depots” as we call them and there the riders can fill up on water, electrolyte drinks as well as fruit and muesli bars.
Most riders arrive a few days early to get used to the warmer and more humid weather in Cairns and I’ve even heard of some European riders who trained on a stationary bike in a sauna back home. But generally, everyone copes well and we have medical and physiotherapy staff that assist with the daily recovery. It’s important that riders cool down quickly, drink and eat a lot and right away – often we camp at billabongs or rivers that we can swim in.
Have you ever had to cancel the race because of the elements (too hot, too wet etc)?
Not the entire race but we neutralised individual stages – I remember one year where we had a bush fire separate the racing field in to two groups and practically halted the race. We got everyone back to the safety of our camp and re-started the race the next day. Only three years ago there were huge floods and rainfalls in Cairns and it was impossible for us to mark the second stage – two or three 4WD vehicles got stuck in the mud and it got too dangerous for our riders as well. We had them divert onto sealed roads and also neutralised that day. So, yes, everything is possible in this country.
Just how much food gets eaten every year at the Croc?
Huge amounts – and we encourage our riders to eat a lot and replenish their bodies! We have a chef from Austria who travels with us and together with Martin and Juliane from Rocky Trail and our local pasta and sauce supplier Il Pastaio he puts together a menu, which is based on pasta and rice and various meat and vegetarian sauces and side dishes to provide a balanced diet throughout the race. The estimated value of the all-inclusive catering offer is around $1100 per rider.
We always serve breakfast with bacon and eggs, various muesli types, bread and spreads. After the stage the riders get pasta and they can also help themselves to sandwiches and fresh fruit. For dinner we often add seafood as well as the usual beef and poultry and if we get it sometimes also kangaroo. We have a mobile kitchen with about 10-12 staff that cook in two teams for our riders. In terms of numbers, for instance in 2013 we used DAILY:
40kg dry pasta
20 litres milk
12 dozen eggs
40kg fish (if on the menu)
How has the Croc changed from its first year till now?
We’ve gained a lot of experience especially in the logistics area – we now have around 70-90 staff and hire 12 trucks, 2 campervans and 14 four-wheel drive cars every year. We have also been able to build up great relationships with local clubs in the Cairns and Atherton regions and have a crew of local quad bike riders who accompany our riders, transporting camera crews and sometimes also medical and organisational staff when vehicles can’t pass through a track section.
For the first time and our 20th anniversary in 2014, we’ve secured the UCI S1 status for the Croc. This is the highest status for stage races within the UCI and the Crocodile Trophy is the event with the highest number of individual starters in any stage race world-wide. This UCI level comes with a lot more commitment in terms of price money – we pay out $30,000 this year. We will also have a crew of UCI Commissaires among our organisational committee and we’ll get even more media attention world-wide. Our race report is already shown in 25 countries via more than 40 TV stations and we get reports on numerous online portals around the world as well.
And how has it stayed the same?
What we have retained from the very first event back in 1994 is the adventure aspect and the mission to explore and ride through this beautiful country, providing a safe environment. It’s still a tough race, many call it the hottest and most adventurous one. It’s certainly still the adventure of a lifetime and if someone wants to take it on, they can be sure that they’ll find a lot of like-minded riders from all over the world at the start line.
How do you see the Croc evolving in the future?
We certainly want to become bigger – traditionally we’ve had 100-120 riders and we’d like to grow it to 150-200 over the next few years. We’ve been working very closely together with the federal and local tourism organisations and councils in Far North Queensland – Cairns and Port Douglas will be the start and finishing hosting towns in 2014 and the Atherton region will be showcasing their fantastic network of mountain bike trails as well. On most stages riders will be able to not only camp with us at the event centre but also have the possibility to sleep in nearby hotels and cabins. This is to open the event up to people who are not so keen on the camping aspect, but prefer the comforts of a bed. In our camp riders can hire tents and camping beds that are erected by our crew daily.
We hope to have many more Australians race at our event and continue to attract all those riders from overseas and to keep shoawcasing this beautiful country world-wide.
By May, when other parts of Oz are taking a right old beating, in the Red Centre smatterings of summer rain have damped down the dust, and clear blue skies are the general rule until next summer. By May the daytime temperatures in Alice are in the high 20s, and the locals are starting to complain about ‘the cold’. Winter conditions like that put the muddy grey days of winter riding in Melbourne and Sydney to shame. Suddenly flights to Alice for you and your bike start to feel as justifiable as post-ride beers and chips.
With seven stages over five days, the Ingkerreke (pronounced ‘in-gear-uh-kah’) is long enough to feel like a break, but not so long that you need more than week off work. Rapid Ascent has been running the Ingkerreke for years, so the event runs as smoothly as your bike does on that first post-drivetrain overhaul ride.
This year’s Ingkerreke attracted some fast elites, with Jo Bennett securing an overall win in the women’s division, ahead of Imogen Smith (second) and all-but-local Jess Douglas (third). In the men’s division, Taswegian past-winner Ben Mather took the honours after fighting off recently returned local Ryan Standish (second) and Veteran class winner James Downing (third – more results here). But one of the things we’ve always enjoyed about the Ingkerreke is that it’s not just a race for the sharp end. The Ingkerreke throws together elite riders, mid-fielders and keen mere mortals for a solid week of awesome riding in a beautiful place.
In contrast to 2013, which started with rain, this year’s first three days were dry – even us locals had to concede that the surface was a bit loose. As we slogged down the sand on Smith St at the start of stage one, we could practically hear the thoughts of the interstaters, who were trying hard not to dwell on all the suffering they were in for in the week ahead. But the groans transformed into grins at the 10km mark when we hit that Alice Springs singletrack.
Cloud cover kept the first day cool; on days two and three the sun came out, cranking up the heat and restoring the local advantage. On day four a very un-Centralian rain toned down the heat, prompting the locals to resume their complaints about ‘the cold’. But rain is always good news for mountain bikers in Alice – it packed down that otherwise loose, tyre-swallowing sand and rejuvenated the singletrack in time for the final stage, which rode fast.
It’s all Central-ised
When it comes to logistics, racing in Alice Springs is so easy. Alice is small enough that all seven stages of the Ingkerreke can start within a 10-minute ride of wherever you’re staying, and you’ll be finishing your stages in time to lunch at a café. But if the town is small, its trail network is massive, and growing – it can easily accommodate a week of riding without repeating sections. There’s plenty on the track menu, too, from fast and flowing zip-lines and loose, off-camber turns, to tight, rocky and technical switchbacks and step-ups. You can taste every dish within just a few corners and then find yourself back at the top of the menu again. The riding has a raw backcountry feel that Victoria-based Scotsman Gareth Syme described as ‘like real mountain biking’.
Singletrack and fire trail
Rapid Ascent used fire roads for early course sections to prevent singletrack congo lines. For the sharp-end, those fire roads were an opportunity to hustle; for the rest of us they were a chance to have a break and a yarn. Indeed, one-time-local Adam Nicholson said he was riding singlespeed because ‘there are more people to talk to in the mid-field’. (Adam spent his fire road time exchanging banter about gear ratios with his friend and fellow singlespeeder / bitter rival John.)
Alice Springs’s steadily growing tangle of trails can be confusing to the uninitiated, though some tracks are now officially mapped and sign-posted. With so many new tracks added in the last few years, Ingkerreke vet Ben Mather described this year’s event as ‘a totally different race’ to the year of his previous win, in 2009. But combining a mountain biking visit with an event like the Ingkerreke means you can follow the pink tape through some of Alice’s finest sections of track without worrying about geographic dis/orientation.
This year’s Ingkerreke covered some of the best trails, old and new, while retaining some iconic sections of fire trail from previous years. And on the nights we weren’t racing, there were things on at the Chifley Alice Springs Resort event base, showcasing some of Alice’s local music talent, including local rider Mick Cafe.
For the full results from the 2014 Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro, jump on in here.
Chris’s parting shot
So what is different about mountain biking in the Alice Springs? A lot has been written about that since Alice hit the radar a few years ago, but here’s my two cents: it’s cross-country riding at its purest. There are no big hills and no long technical descents, just endless undulations, pinches and flowing turns under a big sky. The riding surfaces vary, from hardpack to loose corners to short rockgardens to sand, and a bit of mud if you’re lucky. There’s nothing really nasty to spit you off, and the few serious obstacles have B-lines, but every corner promises something different, something to keep you on your toes.
You can almost envision the meeting at Pivot HQ, amongst the rocky mesas of Arizona:
“Guys, I really think we should make a hardtail.”
“Whaddaya mean a hardtail? We’re called Pivot – can you tell me where the pivot is on a hardtail? And what the hell would we call it anyhow, this pivot-less Pivot of yours? Hey…. wait a minute.” And so the Pivot Les was born. Well, at least that’s how we like to imagine it.
But one of the aspects that generally makes Pivot bikes so appealing is their rear suspension performance. And in case you hadn’t noticed, the Les ain’t got no rear suspension. We’ve seen many a brand come up short when they try to step outside their area of expertise; would the Les live up to our usual lofty Pivot expectations?
[tabgroup][tab title=”Rider details” ]Chris Southwood, 62kg, 172cm[/tab][tab title=”Changes made for testing” ]Fitted Maxxis Ardent Race tyres (tubeless), fitted 730mm Thomson bar, 80mm stem[/tab][/tabgroup]
Hardtails aren’t our bread and butter at Flow. The trails around our HQ are rocky and rough, and riding them on a hardtail is kind of like watching subtitled television – less fun and requiring too much concentration. But the perfect opportunity to give the Pivot a real test was on the horizon, with the four-day Port to Port MTB stage race coming up. Having already checked out much of the course, we knew that it was well suited to a hardtail, and within moments of clapping eyes on the Pivot it got the nod for the job.
The Pivot has a look about it that we loved from the very outset; it’s a carbon hardtail without fear, with pin-striping that wouldn’t be out of place on a souped-up Valiant. The front/centre measurement is long, the rear end is very short, the head angle a little slacker than most cross country hardtails, and it’s equipped with wheels that can take a beating. It’s a bike that eases the hardtail learning curve and doesn’t punish you too much when you forget you don’t have five-inches of travel. In sum, the Les is exactly the kind of hardtail you want if you usually ride a dual-suspension!
Power transfer and direct, confident handling are two hallmarks of Pivot bikes, and the Les frame reflects this: the head tube area is whopping, and it’s mirrored by a tremendously stiff 92mm press-fit bottom bracket junction. In comparison, the more flattened profiles of the top tube and seat stays look rather svelte, but it’s all about factoring a little bit of compliance into the ride.
While we weren’t masochistic enough to do so, the Les can be easily converted into a single speed too. The Swinger dropouts have a unique, indexed chain-tension adjustment system, allowing for single speed use without the need for a chain tensioner. Out of the box though, the frame is set up for geared use, and the single speed dropouts are available separately. One the topic of dropouts, the Les comes with a lovely DT-made 142x12mm rear axle, which is a nice touch.
Keeping the rear end short is absolutely key to good 29er handling, and at 434mm the Les is fairly compact in the chain stay department. Widely bowed seat stays and a slight curve to the seat tube (and the added fact that our bike had no front derailleur) ensure that there’s still plenty of tyre clearance, which would certainly become a boon during the incredible mud we encountered on Day 2 of the Port to Port MTB stage race.
Internal gear cable routing is kept hassle free with a large access port under the bottom bracket shell, while the rear brake is kept external for simplicity and ease-of-maintenance.
With a $7000+ price tag, it’s no surprise that the Les has components that leave very little room for upgrading. SRAM’s formidable XX1 groupset is a highlight, as are the Stan’s Arch EX wheels and FOX Float Factory fork. Still, we did make a few changes to the bike before race day – in a stage race environment, the reliability of your bike is so important and the last thing you want is to be carrying out undue maintenance each night when you’re shagged. Some of the tweaks we made were about confidence, some were about comfort.
The Magura MT-8 brakes were removed in favour of a well-loved set of Avid XO Trail brakes. While this change added weight to the bike, we didn’t have any spare parts for the Maguras available, and previous experience with some temperamental Magura stoppers left us wary. The tyres also had to go. While the Stan’s wheels are tubeless-ready, the Kenda tyres seal up about as well as flyscreen! We opted for the new Maxxis Ardent Race in a 2.2″, and they ended up being the perfect tyre for the job, with a robust casing and fantastic grip.
We also swapped out the cockpit. The Les has a long top tube and with the stock 100mm stem and 740mm bar, it was too much of a stretch for our test rider. It’s unlike us to go narrower on a handlebar, but in the end we settled on a 730mm Thomson bar combined with an 80mm stem. With the stem flipped and lowered as far as it would go, the riding position was perfect! With all these changes made, the Les weighed in at just over 10.3kg,
Back on the subject of the drivetrain, the Les came equipped with a 30-tooth chain ring. Our initial thought was to change it for something a little bigger, but we ultimately left it in place and we’re incredibly happy we did! We lost count of how many times riders asked if they could borrow the Pivot’s tiny chain ring as we spun by on the climbs – gear your bike for the climbs, not the descents, especially when there’s four days of racing to be done.
Looking back, we really cannot fault the Pivot’s performance during Port to Port. Aside from about 15 minutes during the lumpy third stage when our back lamented not having a full suspension bike, the Les truly was the ultimate tool for the job. Nothing reinforces this fact more than the complete lack of thought we gave to the bike during the actual racing – not a niggle, not a squeak, not one moment of uncertainty.
This is what a great bike achieves, it allows you to worry about your own performance, not the bike’s. But a truly excellent bike goes one step further, compensating for you when your brain and body is too rooted to ride properly. There were plenty of instances when the Pivot carried us through situations that could have ended up very badly on a more nervous bike; the insanely fast and muddy descent from the Pokolbin State Forest on stage 2, or blindly bombing into rocky Glenrock singletrack on stage 4 for instance. But in each case, the stability of the Pivot carried us through.
For a bike that still weighs so little and climbs so well, the Pivot’s frame stiffness and refusal to get thrown off line is pretty impressive. The wide Stans rims give plenty of stability to the tyres, but it’s the feeling of connectedness between the front wheel, your hands, your feet and the rear wheel that really makes this bike shine.
The XX1 drivetrain never missed a shift, even when the derailleur was literally a solid block of mud. At one stage during the race, the sheer amount of mud on the chain ring meant the chain just wouldn’t stay on, forcing an impromptu bike wash in the nearest puddle. The super-fine chain ring/chain tolerances just couldn’t cope with that much mud, but we’re talking about so much crud that the wheels wouldn’t even turn, so we’re not going to hold this against the Pivot!
The FOX Float 32 Factory fork was stellar. It exemplifies set-and-forget performance – we left the fork in the intermediate Trail mode for the entire four days of racing, from the roughest descents to the smoothest tarmac sections. Despite absolutely zero maintenance being administered, the fork’s performance didn’t deteriorate at all, and we couldn’t have asked for a better balance of sensitivity and support.
Pivot have nailed it. With their first carbon hardtail, they’ve managed to capture all the important aspects that have traditionally made Pivot bikes so great, just minus the rear suspension. The added versatility of simple single speed conversion will appeal to some, but for us it’s the way this bike blends the best of a high-performance race hardtail with the confidence of a much burlier bike that has won us over.
The Pacific Ocean has a lot going for it. It’s very beautiful, full of fish and it keeps our east coast beaches nice and wet. It doesn’t, however, make great chain lube!
Still, it wouldn’t be right to race in this part of the world without a bit of beach riding. And just like in the Cape to Cape MTB in WA, we’re sure the run through the sand (and sometimes the water) of Blacksmiths Beach will become a legendary, infamous part of the Port to Port. Even now, just hours after crossing the finish line, the grimacing, cussing and gasping is all starting to blur into one bizarrely pleasurable memory. Funny how that happens…
Today’s fourth and final stage of Port to Port wasn’t all about the sand and salt though. Less climbing and more tarmac was juxtaposed with the killer singletrack of Glenrock, and the pace was grimace-inducingly quick. Today was all about holding wheels, pulling turns and working with willing riders to chase down the next bunch and do it all again. Given that mountain biking is so often a solitary affair – just you versus the trail – the thrill, mania and speed of this kind of bunch riding is a rare joy.
With the weather defying all the forecasters’ predictions and delivering a dry, gorgeous morning, the final day got underway with right on the shores of beautiful Lake Macquarie at Cams Wharf. The first and last real climb of the day hit riders straight out of the gate, before the sound of up-shifting filled the air as the pace wound up for a massively fast run through the streets and paths of Swansea.
The beach loomed large in this stage. For most of the competitors it was a challenge to be survived, but for the Elite men’s race, it was an absolutely critical feature that could potentially see Chris Hamilton snatch the win from under Andy Blair’s nose.
Dean Clarke, the papa smurf of the Torq team, knew that the beach could blow the whole race apart, telling us: “After we recce’d the beach last night, I told the guys: ‘I don’t care if it means you have to become Olympic sprinters, you must leave the beach together with Chris (Hamilton)’.”
Swell/Specialized’s Shaun Lewis and Andy Blair had the same idea. “We knew the beach was going to be really decisive,” said Lewis. “We hit the beach together and had a really good ride along it, only having to stop once or twice, and at the run off the beach it was Chris and I together, with Andy about 30 metres back. I backed off and waited for Andy, then with the two of us together we were able to mow Chris down pretty easily.” For Lewis, who hasn’t had a race to remember, it was a satisfying feeling, being there for his teammate at the crux moment and ensuring the race didn’t become a one-on-one dogfight.
Isolated and outnumbered, Hamilton showed real grit, hanging on through Blair and Lewis’s one-two attacks and surviving until the Torq team reeled the trio back in just for the Glenrock singletrack. “Hamo really lit it up in singletrack, it was really exciting,” said Lewis, but with the only a few kay remaining and no real climbs for Hamilton to use his feathery frame to his advantage, the race ultimately came down to a sprint finish. “Unfortunately the day just wasn’t hard enough or long enough for me to do any damage,” said a content Hamilton, “with so much bike track, I just couldn’t get a gap.”
Andy Blair is a veteran of this kind of racing, and his experience and diligence once again proved crucial, ultimately securing him both the stage win and the overall Port to Port MTB title. “With so many tricky elements on the run-in to the finish, the recce I did last night really helped,” explained Blair. “The plan was to lead Shaun out, but it was so hectic and that’s not the way it panned out. I really owe the win to him, he rode so hard on the beach to ensure he was there when we left the sand so we could isolate Chris and put the Torq guys on the back foot.”
In the Elite women’s race it really was the Jenny Fay show once again. It’s no secret that Fay is the queen of marathon mountain biking in Australia at the moment. She benchmarks her performance against the Elite men as much as she does against her fellow female competitors, and even though the early parts of her stage today didn’t go as smoothly as planned, she still powered to the stage win and overall victory.
Torq’s Em Parkes displayed incredible consistency for a young rider, taking second position for the third time this event, and locking in the same position overall. After turning it on yesterday, MarathonMTB’s Imogen Smith couldn’t find the legs for silver, taking out third for the stage and the race.
For the riders counting the hours not the seconds, today’s stage was a great way to wrap up four amazing days; the blast through Glenrock’s buff trails was capped off by a run along the coast and right into the gateway to the port of Newcastle at Nobbys Beach. With the sun refusing to be masked by clouds that held off just long enough, riders stretched out on the grass while pelicans soared above. Countless times we saw riders shake their head and remark how long ago the race start felt; in just four days, a lot of ground was covered, a lot of limits were pushed, friendships (and rivalries) were formed, and all kinds of personal challenges were overcome.
Stage racing is a real adventure, it’s a completely different way to experience mountain biking, and that’s why we love it. As a first year event, Port to Port MTB was a huge success. Undoubtedly there’ll be some refinements next year, some new trails (maybe less beach), and certainly there’ll be more riders. Whatever happens, we’ll be on the start line again in 2015. See you at Port Stephens next year.
No matter how much you think you’re used to it, getting woken up by an alarm clock is always a bit horrible. The sudden shock as it bursts rudely into your slumber is never pleasant, reminding you that you’ve got somewhere to be, something to do. As much as we’d all love to sleep until our body has had its fill, it ain’t going to happen – that’s the reality of the world we live in.
Mountain bike stage racing can be a little bit similar; one minute, you’re in heaven, the next, you’re slapped in the face by the reality of the challenge ahead.
Stage 3 of the Port to Port MTB played that scenario out perfectly. The day got underway amongst the beautiful rolling slopes of Mt Bright, at Briar Ridge Vineyard. With morning mist clumped in the nooks of the gullies, it was an idyllic setting and we’re sure that many a rider would’ve been happy to park up until the cellar door opened. But the rude awakening was coming up fast, in the shape of a four kilometre-long, granny gear grind to the ridgeline high above. Good morning, it’s time to get to work!
The silver lining? With the shock of the initial climb out of the way, the rest of the stage trended downwards, including one section of the Great North Walk that was particularly cheese grater-esque. After yesterday’s roll in the mud, the course director had decided some reprieve was needed, and the call was made to chop 10km of particularly squishy jeep trail out of the stage.
What remained was 53km of rolling, sometimes rutted, super-fast single and double-track, with a trail surface that constantly morphed underneath your treads. One moment you were humming along on hardpack, the next you were surfing the bike as the wheels shimmied in a patch of greasy clay.
Much like stage one, where last-minute line choice in the sand was critical, today’s stage kept you second-guessing – do you risk riding through the puddle (some of which could swallow a 29” wheel whole), or skirt around it? Do you commit to railing that rut in the knowledge it might disappear into a gully, or try to ride the crown of the trail?
The Elite field didn’t seem to be troubled by those kinds of questions, maintaining an incredible average speed that saw the men hammer through the stage in well under two hours, before flying into the dramatic, eclectic and slightly eerie Richmondvale Rail Museum.
Once more, Jenny Fay rode away from the other Elite women and wasn’t to be seen again, leaving Em Parkes and Imogen Smith to duke it out in her wake. This time it was Imogen who had the upper hand, capitalising on her recent climbing form to turn the screws early in the stage and stay away from the young Parkes.
In the men’s field, a youthful train of Torq riders drove the pace, but race leader Andy Blair wasn’t about to be broken by their efforts. Still, as they say, it ain’t over until the heavily-set lady sings; within the final kilometre, the claggy clay got the better of Andy Blair’s drivetrain. With his derailleur locked up, Blair was forced to run, carry and scoot, in full-blown harm minimisation mode, after the Torq trio of Chris Hamilton, Tasman Nankervis and Benny Forbes and who painted all three podium spots bright orange.
For Blair, it was a very tough break. Andy has been racing mountain bikes for longer than many of the Torq riders have been alive (yes, literally), but all that experience can count for nought when Lady Luck flips you the bird. But that’s racing, and now suddenly the whole game has shifted dramatically.
Blair’s lead has been savagely chopped to 28 seconds, an amount that would be a healthy buffer in most circumstances, but not when you’re short on teammates. With Shaun Lewis by his side as a fellow Swell/Specialized rider, Blair will need to rally some other riders to his corner to help him ward off combined firepower of the huge Torq contingent eager to deliver Chris Hamilton (or as Blair called him, “the motor bike with legs”) the win in the inaugural Port to Port MTB.
Stage 4, Super Sunday, will roll out from Cams Wharf at beautiful Lake Macquarie tomorrow, before threading through the singletrack of Glenrock and into Newcastle. See you at Nobbys Beach, where the first king and queen of Port to Port will be crowned.
No one remembers the easy days. The days when your legs feel fresh, the weather is beautiful and nothing hurts – those days are soon forgotten, merged into the blur of day-to-day rides.
But for the 200 or so riders who tackled stage two of Port to Port MTB, this was a day that will never, ever be forgotten.
This was the kind of day that hurt you, that clogged your eyes and nose with mud, that stopped your wheels from spinning through the frame, where you couldn’t clip in, or clip out, and your water bottle tasted like dirt.
You wanted more gears, you carried your bike, you tried to work out how to stretch without cramping and you swore. A lot.
Not one, but two, sapping, endless climbs, interspersed with singletrack so slick it was like a luge course. Two of the most amazing, high-speed fireroad descents, so long and teeth-rattlingly fast that you didn’t know whether to scream in joy or fear.
This was a day that you wanted to end, but when it did and you rolled underneath that finish arch at Lindemans winery, you felt like you’d conquered something.
Sure, for some riders today was a very big ask, but no matter if they finished the stage in three hours or six, today’s racing was the kind of affair that will leave them with a lot memories (and maybe a bill for a new set of brake pads). It was a day that may hurt right now, but that will be laughed about over a beer in a week or two, and definitely, definitely be remembered in years to come when all the dry, easy rides have been forgotten.
As predicted, the elite end of the field didn’t see any real shuffles. Torq’s Chris Hamilton outsprinted Andy Blair for the stage win, but with such a big lead from stage one, Blairy’s overall wasn’t in danger. And Jenny Fay, despite the mud wreaking havoc with her drivetrain, stayed away for another win (surely even she’s losing count by now).
Tomorrow, the racing stays in the Hunter, departing Briar Ridge winery before finishing just east of Cessnock. With more rain on the horizon, the stage will be shortened by a few kays, avoiding the worst of the mud, which will make most riders smile. There’s only so many ‘memorable’ stages your bike and body can take in one week!
Sapphire waters and sky so blue it looked painted on greeted riders today for day one of the Port to Port MTB stage race, kicking off at Port Stephens on the NSW mid-north coast. Pelicans, dolphins, retirees and over 200 nervous, pumped up riders – it was one hell of a scene, with the race beginning right on the beach at Nelson Bay marina.
“If you’ve spent much time in the area, you’ll be aware that most of NSW’s sand has been relocated to Port Stephens,” quipped course director Rohin Adams at the rider briefing. He was only exaggerating a little – despite being the race’s shortest stage at 38km, the sand made it a gritty affair, both in the metaphorical and literal sense.
The race start may have been a theoretically neutral affair, rolling through the streets of Port Stephens, but the pace was intense, with a healthy contingent of riders in Torq colours driving the pace. It didn’t take long to ascertain the flavour of what this course had in store, with loose, sandy pinches up over Tomaree headland quickly sorting out who had brushed up on their sand-skills.
At the pointy end, race favourite Andy Blair and Torq’s Chris Hamilton broke away, but when they hit the cripplingly steep ‘Vertical Beach’ section – a wall of sand that was un-rideably steep and loose – Blair made his move. “I just like running in sand dunes,” laughed Blair. “I’ve always done well when there’s been a hike a bike, for instance the beach at Cape to Cape. I’m a little bigger than Chris, so I thought I could get away, and when I got over the top with a decent gap, I was able to stay away.”
While a sandy course is always going to be contentious simply because it’s so hard to ride well, it made for awesome racing. The constant battle of trying to make passing moves when your wheels are choosing their own path, or trying to skip between the firmer patches of trail and avoid the ruts made what could have been a straightforward race into a real challenge. “This is not the kind of stuff you’d normally go out to ride, but that’s what mountain bike racing is about – putting yourself up against trails and situations that aren’t familiar,” said Brisbane’s Pat Campbell in his first stage race.
Elite women’s winner Jenny Fay summed up the excitement of today’s stage brilliantly: “It was all about making split second decisions today, trying to pick your line, trying to work out if you hold a wheel or jump out and grab a different line.”
The conditions and a bit of luck all worked in Blair’s favour today: “On a stage like today, when it’s sandy, groups don’t really form – it’s not like a hardpack stage – so the ability of teams of riders to work together is neutralised a bit,” explained Blair. What could have been a nightmare mechanical also turned out to be a blessing. “I was running bigger tyres, 2.3” Renegades, at lower pressures than usual for the sand, and I actually burped a lot of air on one of the water bars at the start of the stage, said Blair. Rather than stopping to inflate it, Blair decided to push on. “It turned out to be a bit of an advantage, the lower pressure definitely squirmed around when I hit the road at the end, but it floated on the sand and really helped.” When he checked the pressure at the end of the stage, it was on just 13psi!
With a three-minute lead after stage one, Blair’s job on tomorrow’s monstrously hilly 57km stage is to mark Chris Hamilton closely. Can the big Torq contingent work together to neutralise Blair? We’ll find out in the hills of Pokolbin!
AvantiPlus Hellfire CupIs back for 2014and entries are rolling in.
What: 4 day 7 stage mountain bike race consisting of relays , TT, hill climb, crit, and adventure stages
When: November 20th –23rd 2014.
Format: Pairs mountain bike racing with options for solo riders
Location: Kellevie in the Sorell Municipality in South East Tasmania.
25 minutes from Hobart airport 50 minutes from Hobart CBD
Race Director: Duncan Giblin
Company: Stormbay Promotions
Entries open: Entries Opened on March 1
Entries close: September 7th 2014.
Entrant capacity for 2014: 500 riders
Entry: $445 per rider
On-site child care options
Food and coffee vendors
After party concert
Iron House bar
Appliance charge station
In its second year the AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup is again based at Kellevie and rides into different areas of the Wielangta State Forest and surrounding areas each day, riding on private land and forestry land. The race course has myriad of tracks, forest trails, and awesome descents in beautiful landscapes. The event has 7 stages offering a good mix of single track and adventure riding. Our philosophy is that the course should not be too dumbed down and have should have lots organic single track and also require effort to conquer hills making it more rewarding. But we have designed it to still be achievable and enjoyable for someone new to stage races with a reasonable level of fitness.
The event is classified as a stage race but differs significantly from most other events of this type, having one base that competitors start and finish from each day to limit the logistic headaches for riders, support crews and families.
We have made vast improvements from the first event including a new timing system that is state of the art providing preliminary results online instantly. We have received funding from Events Tasmania enabling us to purchase this system. We have also improved rider comfort at the race village with new gas showers and more services on site so people can get comfortable and warm if we have a disagreement with the weather gods. Also upgraded is the food on offer with more substantial lunches and food vendors on site for evening meals.
The event has one of the largest prize pools for an event of its type in Australia
The 2014 Prize pool includes:
$26,000 cash for elite rider podiums divided equally between genders.
$52,000 in random spot prizes/ competitor giveaways (and growing) is on offer for competitors including two bikes from major sponsor Avanti plus.
The pointy end of the field.
From the word go the Hellfire Cup has attracted significant interest from elite riders. Titles attained by Elite riders who entered the inaugural event last year included: international Stage race title holders , national marathon title holders, world junior champions , Australian multisport champions, national xc title holders, XCO, Short course, enduro , world 24 solo hour champions, 6 Olympic representatives, Australian junior champions, national 24 hour solo champions. This year we already have current World XC Eliminator World champ Paul Vander Ploeg, Australian Women’s Marathon Champ Melisa Ansset , plus national stage race, marathon and xc enduro winners such as Rebecca Locke, Naomi Williams, National Female Masters Marathon champ Traci Lonergan , World number 2 world cup u23 Rebecca Henderson either signed up already or indicating they will be back for 2014.
The vibe of the thing
Equally as exciting for us as the elites attending is the interstate and overseas interest from your everyday riders in this years race, as bringing lots of new people together for 4 days of bike madness is what we love to see.
Last year the event culminated in presentations ceremony and after party with local bands Matt Bayes Blues, Guthrie, and MOFO curator and cycling advocate Brian Ritchie and friends. Elite rider trophies and awards were presented by Mike Tomalaris from SBS Cycling Central. This year we’ve got more entertainment lined up and for us the festival and race village environment is as important as the racing. Ride, relax ,eat and repeat.
Further enquiries: Storm Bay Promotions, Race Director – Duncan Giblin
Having lived in Alice Springs, in Central Australia, for three and a half years now, I’m widely considered a local, though I think of myself as ‘a Kiwi import’. Either way, I’ve been riding the red singletrack on the outskirts of town for long enough to feel quite at home on that techy Alice Springs singletrack, with its loose corners and sharp rocks.
I’ve also been riding seriously for about the same length of time that the Lasseters Easter in the Alice Mountain Bike Muster has been running. Formerly known as ‘the Easter Muster,’ this club-run three-day four-stage event has been growing steadily over the past four years. Put on by my local mountain bike club, the Central Australian Rough Riders (CARR), the Lasseters Easter in the Alice is a grassroots event that hit the big time this year, gathering momentum and support from the wider community in equal proportions.
This year’s Lasseters Easter in the Alice broke records left right and centre for CARR. It attracted the highest number of entries for a CARR club event (97, which ain’t bad for a town of 28,000), and over 40 of those were interstate entries – another record down the gurgler. For me, it was a buzz to see my local riding scene and our tracks afresh through our visitors’ eyes. Race director John Pyper was thrilled too: ‘I just wanted to make an event for that would cater for everyone, so everyone can come to Alice Springs and ride and have a good time.’
JP and his fellow event organisers at CARR are all about big vision, and they know what they’re about. Taking a ‘let’s make this event awesome for everyone!’ approach, they’ve created a locally-run club event with tonnes of slick, pro-like luxury details and a friendly, low-key vibe.
Though there was plenty of hard racing up at the sharp end this year, with a very healthy front pack keeping the competition close, the interstaters I talked to compared Lasseters Easter in the Alice to a hard but chilled outing with their local crew. So while the Lasseters Easter in the Alice event has grown, at heart it has stayed very much the same.
And that’s just the way we like it here in the Red Centre.
Meet your new crew
Sure, in a climate this dry, there’s always going to be plenty of trips to the little boys and girls rooms before a stage start, but there was very little talk of ‘going for a nervous’. The vibe at the Lasseters Easter in the Alice was so low-key most of us set our bike computers to ‘cruise control’ and left it at that.
The Alice Springs special
Did somebody order a huge helping of red singletrack under clear blue skies, with a side of rocks, sand and toasty temps, hold the thorns?
Rain the week before Easter bedded in the tracks and left the Red Centre greener than anyone could remember.
A family affair
Local lad Ben Gooley’s exuberant enthusiasm for riding is legendary. We had to call on Ben’s wife Anita and daughter Olivia to help keep Ben at the start line as we waited for the starter horn in the Stage One NT Government Individual Time Trial.
There were a fair number of younger riders sporting race plates too. Race director JP thoughtfully re-directed these budding Jason Englishes and Jessica Douglases to shorter ‘Junior’ courses, to save us regular folk the embarrassment of being passed by a young whippet.
The Red Centre at night
Night stages always seem to divide visitors from regular Alice yahoo-ers – here in Alice Springs, riding at night is not the after-work-in-winter, cold, muddy mountain bike drudgery it is on the coast.
We kicked off Easter Sunday with a casual cruise through town to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, everyone fully kitted out in race regalia and bunny ears, for a Welcome to Country by Lhere Artepe Tribal Elders.
After that, it was all on, with the second starter horn sending us out across the Todd River, over the newly opened Alice Springs Mountain Bike Trails network and then out to Emily Gap and back – around 45km, and mostly singletrack. Phew!
Put two fatbikers into a crowed room and what do you have? A secret club, that’s what.
With a growing population of fatbikers in Alice Springs, the Fat-Tyre Flyers category was inevitable.
The fatbike battalion spent most of the weekend posing for the camera, and parking their bikes in prominent places and revelling in the attention their bikes earned them.
But those fatties sure held their own when they did head out for a burl. So we sent them off on their own fabike course in the Subway Mt Gillen Eggcellent Stage Three. Think sand, sand and more sand – they loved it!
The 87km Bunny Buster
The Stage Four Lasseters Bunny Buster was aptly named. That loose and sharp Alice Springs terrain, together with the warmer Central Australian desert temps, really cranked it on, making the 87km course one hell of a challenge!
I’ve heard it said that ‘winners are grinners,’ but here in the Territory, it’s the grinners who are the real winners, and we had plenty of those at the 2014 Lasseters Easter in the Alice. Roll on Easter 2015!
Wanna get your red singletrack fix at next year’s Lasseters Easter in the Alice? Results for this year and more info on next year’s event at www.easterinthealice.wordpress.com.
The four-day stage race takes riders on a journey through the lush landscape from Cradle Mountain to Strahan. Most days feature two race stages, with transit or ‘cruise’ stages in between. These allow riders to spin their legs and catch up with people who bust through the competition stages at different speeds.
‘The journey passes through the very unique landscape of Tasmania’s West Coast. It starts in alpine country, descends through rainforest and ends on a wild beach,’ says Race Director Nic Deka.
‘Along the way, the race follows historical trails, visits small, welcoming communities and provides a diversity of scenery and experiences that are unique in Australia.’
The entry list typically sees a 55/45 split between local and interstate or overseas competitors ready for the adventure. Previous winners include Olympians Sid Taberlay (a record five times), Mary Grigson, Lisa Mathison and Dan McConnell. This list exhibits the calibre of the racing on offer and the high regard riders have for this event at the elite end of the field.
But Wildside’s longstanding success lies in the way it offers a fun, rewarding and unique experience for riders with a range of goals.
‘We continue to get many people who are not serious riders who set Wildside as a challenge to recover from a serious illness or injury, something to do before they die, or simply to improve their health and fitness,’ says Nic.
‘It’s great to see the excitement and the tension at registration, the buzz at stage finishes, but most of all the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that people get from finishing the event in Strahan.
‘The fact that about 50% of our entrants are returning competitors also adds to our enjoyment because we get to know our competitors and it makes the whole experience more personal both for them and us.’
Canberra Liv/Giant rider, Eliza Eldridge Bassett, is returning this year after sharing the experience with her immediate family in 2012. This year the party list is even bigger.
‘(Last time) my dad, James, and my brother, Til, raced, and my mother Julie did the support and vehicle driving. My mum saw how much fun we had last time and decided she wanted to join in on the action too.
‘This year my uncle and aunt will come along and do the support. We’ve really made it into a whole family affair!’ Eliza’s partner, Mark Tupalski (TORQ Nutrition), will also be along for the journey pushing the field at the pointy end.
‘Mark will be at the race to fight for a position on the podium, I’ll be there to have fun and challenge my time from 2012, likewise with my father and brother, and my mum will be there to have an adventure on her bike and take in the stunning scenery,’ adds Eliza, pointing toward the broad appeal of the short stages that travel through a little seen part of the world.
‘For me, the biggest draw card is the country we race through. The landscape is stunning, and being able to ride through it adds a different dimension from the usual bushwalking and driving trips I’ve done through the area.
‘I love the format of the race itself. The stages are reasonably short and super fun, although sometimes quite hard! And the cruise stages let you recover from the racing and have some social time.
‘Starting in waves each stage lets you get to know your fellow riders and have a ‘mini race’ within the race; and when you’re not at the pointy end of the field like me, it means you get to feel like you are!’
The event has a reputation for tight organisation, catering that people rave about, and, most years, at least one stage that sees riders covered from head to toe in mud. Accommodation and transport packages are available, although many riders choose to bring someone along to drive a support vehicle and fill up additional accommodation options nearby.
The physical and mental journey of the race is sure to complement the visual journey. Getting from point to point with a tight crew of family or friends adds to the experience, making it more special still.
‘The fact that families and friends share the experience is something that we encourage,’ says Nic. ‘It’s very much reflected by our organisational crew who are our friends and family members too.’
Over 400 riders will start the journey on Friday January 25. They will take in 140km of competition stages, and 60km of transit sections. Entries are open for a few more days.
The upside is that this crew have been forced to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Flow sat down with Event Director, Duncan Giblin, at the end of the four-day race to talk about some of the battles he’d faced getting this event off muddy ground.
Duncan, first fires and then floods. The environmental impact on the event is obvious. Can you talk us through some of the extra challenges you’ve had in putting on Hellfire Cup that riders might not be aware of?
From the outset we wanted to put on a race that we felt suited the riding that we really like doing in this area. It’s a very beautiful area. One of the big challenges for us was the process of change within the forestry industry that was going on, so getting land tenure was pretty interesting. One of the land managers that we use was a major forest holdings group that went into bankruptcy. Then with the Tas Forests agreement going on, where there’s changes to things like logging access, there was uncertainty about who was going was to manage the land and what people were going to be able to do there. So there was a potential risk to access for stuff we’d previously been given permission to use. We now have all this resolved which is great for the event’s future.
One of the other challenges is that we’re in a smaller economy here, where unemployment’s really high. That means there’s not a lot of extra government money around for new projects or a lot of cash around for corporate sponsorship.
Financially too, running it again the second time after the postponement, you almost run two events off the one income. For your first major event like that you always take a loss anyway but that made it harder.
Do you think that following the influx of mountain bikers to the regional community over the last week, local businesses might be more likely to come on board for future events?
Yeh. A lot of local businesses and community groups have been fairly heavily involved and inundated with the bushfire recovery itself. Everybody from the mayor to the guy who runs pub are part of the bushfire recovery group. I think they’re at a place now where were they are really able to embrace mountain bike development in the area. They have been really supportive of the event and its future.
Do you think that for some of the local community, having seen the amount and the type of people coming in, might be more interested in being involved in future events too?
Totally, they needed to see it first. We had a few concerns about traffic management from community members. Now people in the community are there cooking sausages for riders and asking when the next race is on. They were a major part of providing alternative venues to keep the first Hellfire going.
On the topic of the race just past, things were looking good for the rescheduled event, but then the rain came to town. What did you have to do, logistically speaking, in order to keep the stages running each day?
Our goal was to try to make sure that we’ve got a rider experience that people can engage in that’s worthwhile. We also had to work out competitor safety.
What a day like that looks like is we come home from the race village and we look at maps, and weather maps and we then go back out in the bush and we make changes to the trail at night. We reset a whole course while we’ve got a little bit of daylight and then drive back home and do the admin and answer the emails. We also do the work plan to get the next stage happening. We’d do that until about five in the morning, then get up and actually run the stage.
Did you also have to deal with road closures and permission to access different areas to hold the redesigned stages?
Yeh, so when we change a stage, people might think it would be a great idea to just go somewhere else. But to get access to the public roads and the management of that, that’s a formal process. We had to use routes within our existing road permit. Also a big thing for us is that we use properties that have shared use, so if we change something it affects so many other people. It changes the plans and the requirement on the volunteers, it puts them under more pressure too.
We also have to look at the logistics of the race itself when we change; how do we manage our timing, how do we manage our basic rider comfort and safety, how do we manage the concerns and the requirements of the media guys and the promotion opportunities for our sponsors.
Did you ever think of just calling it off?
We thought about it, but basically we didn’t come this far after the fires to just pull the pin on it. People came here to ride and so we were going to ride. That’s basically that.
Given the time that has gone into making these decisions, do you think the things you learned from this event make for a much better management plan for next year?
Well we know we’ve got a good fire management plan, we know we’ve got a good flood management plan. Look really, I don’t have any worry about our abilities to adapt the racing, but what we are focused on is dealing with adverse circumstances and maintaining the quality of the event.
What improvements do you think you’d make to the event overall having seen the experiences riders had this year?
I think anything that supports that atmosphere that we have, which just makes it an enjoyable experience. I have a background putting on raves and other events, and I like to bring that whole feeling to bike races. Our 24 hour events have always had great a great atmosphere, I want to improve that, work on it more.
We’ll have an elite only option so it’s fairer on age category guys competing against them. We had hot showers that we were going to use at the race village and the problem when we had to relocate is that we weren’t able to set those up. And they should have been set up earlier.
We’ve engaged a site manager for next year so we can get earlier set up and more transferable services. The lunches will be more substantial and we are looking at increasing the variety for the evening meals including some more gourmet product. We’ll also have an electronic timing system that will be used for the 2014 event.
Some riders have been saying they’d like to see less prize money and more funds going into ‘all you can eat’ kind of catering. At the same time, the amount of prize money pitches the Hellfire Cup, in terms of the public perception and marketing, as a world class event, which gets people here. What are your thoughts on that?
We are planning to improve of the quality of all services, including food for competitors, without compromising an attractive prize pool for professional riders. We want the experience to be great for all riders punter or pro.
What does it mean having so many people from all over the country, as well as high-profile international riders, come to the event?
It’s really nice to be supported like that. I think for us it makes us more determined provide riders with great trails and good times. It’s been really good for the local community and most people have been really happy about being part of that community recovery, just by coming here and riding their bikes. It also shows that people are interested in what we’re up to and what we want to do. Although it’s been hard over the last 18 months, it makes us more determined to actually provide a better experience and support our local community by having people here.
In the lead up to the AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup we ran a story called ‘Sharing the Holler.’ This article described the pairs format stage race as one born out of a desire to bring people to the kind of trails that inspire you let the brakes off, relax, and yell like a small child on a jumping castle as you rip through the bush.
Bushfires held back edition one, their impact on the local community still visible nearly a year later. Come November, it was rain and floods that dampened edition two.
Mountain bikers did what they often do in such situations: they stayed positive, hardened up and rode anyway.
‘Come hell or high water,’ said an email from determined event director, Duncan Giblin, which arrived at dawn on day two, ‘We will keep you riding as long as we think it can be done in a safe manner.’
The event team were up until 5am each morning negotiating ways to keep things moving forward. On this occasion we’re not actually sure they slept at all. The passion and commitment of this Tasmanian team got them through one bottleneck after another, a commendable effort indeed.
Energy went into rerouting courses and sorting out the logistical side of making the next day’s racing a reality. Unfortunately this meant never fully realising the infrastructure or trail networks that were the main attractions of the event. It wasn’t safe enough for one and there simply wasn’t enough man power for the other.
Hot water for showers was never installed in the camping area, dirt jump expos, live music, an open air cinema and kids events were cancelled as well. Disappointed by the catering, riders hung out in nearby towns instead.
Competitors were very understanding about the impact of the weather and applauded the effort undertaken by Team Hellfire to give riders a positive racing experience. But as an inaugural event there were always going to be a few extra issues that would show their teeth.
‘I think for a first year event, maybe there needed to be more of a focus around infrastructure and getting those sorts of things right, rather than a massive prize pool for the elite riders,’ said Peta Mullens (Target-Trek), who won the mixed pairs category with partner, Jarrod Moroni.
The generous prize pool on offer is a big part of the Hellfire Cup’s appeal and its marketing as a world class event. It is also a big gesture from the organisers who want to see our top riders better supported financially than is typical of the sport in this country. But most riders, including those in the elite field, agree that the $12,000 top up given to the outright winners would have been better spent on the event as a whole.
Peta elaborates: ‘You see people like (World Cup winner) Dan McConnell and (2012 Junior World Champion) Anton Cooper on the start list and you probably go, “Well, I’m not going to win the 15 grand.” As soon as there’s a couple of elite riders at that level, the rest of the guys aren’t in it for the money, they’re just here for a really good time.’
It was such a shame then that, despite close racing provided by the rerouted stages, things that would have set this event apart just weren’t able to happen. The singletrack on the morning of day one was a teaser, but a forecast of up to 250mm of rain meant uncertainty for the three days ahead.
‘The first day was amazing,’ said Peta, who has recently signed to the Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling team but whose heart is still clearly held by the dirt. ‘Even though it was muddy it probably just emphasised how good the tracks really were.
‘Then there was a hell of a lot of fire trail. We really haven’t stepped off fire trail since that first day, which is a little bit disappointing for an event that was boasting a lot of good trails. And that’s kind of the reason that we came.’
The final stage was a twisty loop around a paddock that took the fastest riders about a minute to complete. Despite the short distance, this stage had the best atmosphere of all. Cowbells sounded, riders cheered, and people were happy to have made it through a very challenging week.
As I left the race my heart felt heavy. Everyone had made the best of a tough situation. While the atmosphere echoed the positivity you get from holding hands around a campfire, tough conditions had sapped the buzz.
I got on my bike one more time and headed out to re-ride the trails we’d seen in the opening stage. I was joined by Andrew Hezel, from Mansfield, who we met on Flow’s Bikes and Brews tour earlier in the year.
At the bottom of a valley, the original event area was soaked in water and car tyres had cut countless circles in the grass. The river was running high and it was clear that it had been a good idea to move the racing elsewhere.
With just the two of us in comparison to day one’s muddy crowd of 300, the trails just flowed, literally, as a lot of them resembled small rivers. But they flowed in the regular mountain biker meaning of the word as well. I could imagine the laughter that would have come from riders in the original singletrack relay stages and enjoyed hooking in, leaning my bike through the terrain.
We saw a long bermed descent bunted out with Mountain Trails tape. I’d heard so many good things about these guys and I was itching to see their work. The soft sand was too steep to ride up, but we soon found an equally well-built climb. This trail was ‘the Elevator,’ designed for the hill climb stage that one team mate would do while another raced a crit.
The climb up had some steep pinches and would have put racers on their limit. The descent featured berm after wide berm, with some long fast straights traversing the in-betweens.
This trail is so good that you wouldn’t just save it for the hill climb stage. Riders would be recommending it to each other during the off time between race stages as well.
We yelled into the crisp air, got covered in mud from head to toe, probably did six months damage to our bikes, and rode back up the climb to do the descent one more time. This was the holler.
In his gentle way, Andy pointed out that while the event team had seen so much positivity from the way riders had banded together to make the most of the previous few days, what they’d missed was seeing people genuinely excited about the trails. Trails that so much work, pride and time had gone into. Trails that were the biggest selling point of the event.
In that moment, I got it. I could understand why Duncan and his team so badly wanted to hold an event and bring so many people to a place. They’re passionate trail builders and what they have here are a collection of some of the best.
Held together with a festival atmosphere, race-branded beers, music, film, sunshine and a sense of festival the days would have gone from one high point to another.
The AvantiPlus Hellfire Cup is scheduled for the same time next year, November 20-23. The organisers have already begun communicating their intentions to build on the lessons learned from the last few days: better catering, electronic timing, improved plans for dealing with the unexpected. To attract the field they’re hoping for, their biggest challenge will be to communicate to riders how well they take this year’s feedback and turn it into a reality.
‘Although it’s been hard,’ said Duncan after the event, ‘It makes us more determined to give riders a better experience and support our local community for having people here.’
With the right infrastructure, and the weather on their side, this event could create a holler so loud that you could hear it from the mainland.
Head to the event website, www.hellfirecup.com, for detailed results from all categories and images of these great trails in the dry.
The final stage of the Cape to Cape MTB finished with a fierce battle between 2011 Cape to Cape MTB Champion Andy Blair (VIC) and former Australian representative Peter Hatton (WA).
The fourth and final stage saw riders leave Colonial Brewery in Margaret River earlier this morning and finish up some 60kms later at the Dunsborough Country Club.
In a fast final day, at an average speed of 30kms per hour, attacks on the bunch started right from the get-go. In an entertaining day of riding, with lots of races within the race. There were guys riding for a position on GC, there was Mark Fenner and Jon Gregg battling out for the Masters and Jenny Fay and the girls going for it in the women’s race Masters rider Mark Fenner broke away from the lead pack early in the stage. However the 20 strong lead group didn’t allow Fenner time to relish his lead, closing the gap before hitting Cape Naturaliste Road and dropping into the single-track of Meelup National Park.
In the Women’s, Jenny Fay held a lead in the overall that soon became uncatchable, only a disaster would take the pink jersey away from her.
Throughout the stage, Andy Blair concentrated his efforts on securing a second overall win to really stamp his domination on the event. Working tightly with team mate Shaun Lewis, a power of work was done to ensure Blair took out the title.
Adrian Jackson(Merida Flight Centre) rode a really smart race, sitting with the lead group and keeping out of trouble to ultimately secure second place overall for the event. Brendan Johnston (Target Trek) crossed the line in fourth place today but claimed a spot on the podium, coming third for the event overall.
Western Australia’s famous slippery pea gravel is always a challenge for interstate riders, which was taken to the next level in the single-track in Meelup in the deciding last leg of the race. Andy Blair led a group into the final single track at Meelup while behind him Pete Hatton led a chase group together with team mate Craig Cooke. In a big effort through Meelup, Hatton managed to pass several riders through the single-track and catch Blair to set the scene for the final downhill sprint to the line.
Blair said, “I got a little gap over Hatto and Craig Cooke but they mowed me down at the end and I had no choice but to lead Hatto out hoping that riding in the front would be okay.”
The numerous spectators and support crew lining the finish line witnessed an incredible sprint to the finish. Peaking over the crest leading into the final straight at the Dunsborough Country Club, Hatton was the first to appear with Blair working hard to beat him to the line. In the end Hatton was simply too strong and fought off Blair’s attack to claim the stage win for the day.
“He’s got a good sprint on him,” said Blair. “It’s a bit of a replay from two years ago, we came in here and had a similar finish. It’s good to see Hatto take on the final stage which means a lot and I’m sure he’s happy about that.”
“And I’m happy with the jersey.”
Peter Hatton said, “It was pretty good today, it was a pretty hard stage with road tactics and it came down to a sprint finish in the end. The key was to make sure I was right up the front in Meelup’s single-track. Luckily I wasn’t too far back, I was right up on them. I felt pretty good and I was reasonably confident in the sprint and it was good to finish it off on a high.”
At the Wildwood Road point of the course, it was Jenny Fay and Jo-Anne Bennett working together, a partnership that continued until they crossed the finish line almost simultaneously. Fay said, “I really was helping Jo today, because Target Trek have a really strong team, and Peta (Mullens) was helping Tory (Thomas). You know, we’re all mates and when it’s out there and I’m in the pink jersey it’s good for me to get into a bit of training and strengthening and I kept Jo up there.”
“In the last climb I told Jo how much there was left, and I just went on the last climb there to secure the win. I knew that was where I needed to go and I could hear her breathing deep. Because I can’t beat her over the pea gravel I gotta buy my time over that stuff.”
Jo said, “I felt better today, I just came good at the end again I think but not enough. It was good fun, I had a good time”.
“Today Jenny (Fay) and I worked together a bit as she had a big enough gap in the overall that it wasn’t going to affect her. So that was great we were able to work together, at the end of the day we are all great friends, not enemies”
“I haven’t done a stage race for 4 or 5 years now and I think I’m just a one-dayer now and you know I had a great time and the girls were awesome to race against. It was great to see so many guys and girls come over for the race and put on a good show for everyone.”
“It was good to be at and event on my doorstep”, she said.
Two women who also spent the day working together were Peta Mullens and Tory Thomas. “Today we had one aim which was to consolidate Tory’s second place,” said Mullens. “She had a bit of a rough patch on the road section and I did my best to bring her back up to Jo and Jenni which didn’t quite happen, but we held onto second and put her on the podium again. Looking after her in terms of gels and carrying her bottles. Tory got a mechanical on the road, she
snapped her seat, so I pushed her along a little bit and got on the front and tried to drive her along for as long as I could.” Thomas said, “The time gap would have been huge if Peta hadn’t saved my butt out there. There was a head wind, yeah she was so strong and waiting for me and doing roadie things like giving me water bottles. We really wanted a stage win, that would have been great but yeah so happy to get second.”
Today’s stage was the fourth and final in a record Cape to Cape MTB. Event Director Jason Dover said “The event this year was just remarkable. We had a record field of competitors, over 1,200, truly making this event the largest of its kind. Over the four days we’ve seen not only some incredible racing amongst the field of elites, but also some wonderful camaraderie and sportsmanship from the entire field”.
“The highlight for me was Andy Blair becoming the first rider since James Williamson to win the event twice. In a general sense seeing almost 1300 riders roll through the main street of Margaret River yesterday was another great moment.”
The infamous Croc Trophy kicks off in just two days, departing Cairns and trucking north through some of the hottest, toughest country in Australia to Cooktown.
With 900km of racing over nine stages in brutal conditions, the Croc is widely regarded as one of the most gruelling mountain bike events on the planet. Despite the inevitable suffering, the Croc attracts an all-star cast, always with a healthy contingent of masochistic European hammerheads.
This year, Flow’s going to be taking a more personal look at the Croc, viewing it through the dust-filled eyes of the Il Pastaio Rocky Trail Racing Team. Over the next week and a bit, we’ll be relaying their experiences to you right here. Every cramp, saddle sore and callous in its agonising-yet-strangely-rewarding glory.
Introducing team Il Pastaio Rocky Trail Racing
Martin Wisata: Big Martin is at the Crocodile Trophy for the fourth time this year and will race in the Master 1 category. He says that it is a personal challenge to complete this grueling race every year, something that motivates him to train all year.
Phil Welch: Young Phil will race in the Master 2 category and will report for us from inside the Croc peloton. The experience endurance racer was very surprised at the fast pace of even the training rides in Cairns that the European racers have been setting.
Peter Selkrig: Old Pete is an Australian ex-pro road racer and one of the strongest contenders in the Master 3 category. Very strong-minded he will be ready to withstand the attacks of his international counterparts.
Stage Plan 2013:
Stage 1 Smithfield (5 laps) / 35 km/900 m
Stage 2 Cairns – Lake Tinaroo / 89 km/2500 m
Stage 3 Atherton – Irvinebank / 80 km/2500 m
Stage 4 Irvinebank – Mt. Mulligan / 118 km/1600 m
Stage 5 Mt. Mulligan – Granite Creek Dam / 163 km/3000 m
Member for Port Stephens, Craig Baumann yesterday launched the Port to Port MTB (Mountain Bike) Classic to be held for the first time from 1-4 May 2014.
The event will attract top Australian riders, as well as a selection of international riders and is open to all serious recreational riders from across Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.
Set in the Newcastle and the Hunter amongst some of the most iconic and beautiful scenery in Australia. Riders will enjoy the best roads, tracks and trails the region has to offer, as they wind their way from Port Stephens to the Newcastle finish line.
“The 2014 Port to Port MTB Classic, supported by the NSW Government, through its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW, and the City of Newcastle, will bring to NSW, and in particular Newcastle and the Hunter, an international stage mountain biking event like no other,” Mr Baumann said.
“Our local communities will benefit from the economic impact that the 2014 Port to Port MTB will bring, and, with the NSW Government continuing to promote Newcastle and the Hunter region, this will be a boon to both the local economy and lifestyle.”
Event Director, Chris Heverin, was excited to announce the Port to Port MTB at the official launch.
“We are very excited to be bringing Port to Port MTB to Newcastle and the Hunter”, he said. “Mountain biking is a growing sport and this four day stage event will provide a great challenge for riders of all standards. The Port to Port MTB course is amazing, with some of the best trails in Australia. As a sister event to the fabulous Cape to Cape MTB in Western Australia, we will be giving riders another outstanding MTB stage event.”
Minister for Major Events and Tourism, George Souris said: “The annual calendar of events that has been secured for Newcastle and the Hunter includes international surfing competitions, international rugby, World Cup Soccer qualifiers, many other top sporting events and the nation’s biggest international country music festival.
“Securing and developing events such as the Port to Port MTB is delivering strong results for the region. In the past 12 months, events and festivals are estimated to have been worth about $700 million to the local economies of Newcastle and the Hunter regions,” Mr Souris said.
“During 2012, the Hunter Valley attracted more than 2.2 million domestic and international overnight visitors who spent a combined $1.0 billion in the region during their stay, enjoying the best food and wine the Hunter Valley has to offer.”
Destination NSW CEO, Sandra Chipchase said: “The 2014 Port to Port MTB will not only be a world-class sporting event, it will also showcase to the world the idyllic scenery and world-class riding trails of the Newcastle-Hunter region and boost the local economy.”