Thanks to the folks at Rapid Ascent, they hooked me up with a media entry which gave me the best excuse I could come up with to travel to Alice Springs for a week of incredible Mountain Biking

You can read each of my brief stage reports below, but I’ll give you a short recap of the event itself.

Let me begin by saying that Alice Springs is a mecca for mountain biking. Each of the five trails that we did were vastly different and I can only imagine how much more exploring there is to be done. Within a few minute ride from Alice Springs itself you have dozens of trail options that remind me of what you’d find in Arizona, California or Mexico (i.e. very desert-like, rocky and singletrack heaven). Don’t forget the tyre sealant – all those sharp thorns from various vegetation are like magnets to the tyres.

The event itself had the vibe of showing up to a local mountain bike race, but most of the people were from elsewhere around Australia. Many of the competitors stayed at the same hotel (the Chifley) as were many of the stage starts and presentations. By the time the week was done, it felt like you had 200 new mates.

The racing itself was either ultra-competitive, or as relaxed as you wanted it to be. At the pointy end there were World Cup standard racers fighting it out on every stage. At the back of the race there were all sorts of riders who were there simply to enjoy the atmosphere and ride some of Australia’s best trails.

If you’re looking for something new or an excuse to visit one of the coolest places I’ve been to in Australia, I highly recommend signing up for this event next year.

Click here for detailed race results.

Find out more about the Ingkerreke Commercial Mountain Bike Enduro here.

STAGE REPORTS

Stage 1:

Two stages were held on day 1 yesterday and there was no easing into it. The first stage was a quick 42km loop west of Alice Springs finishing on the town’s velodrome. I placed myself in the start grid based on the look of the competitors around me (right in with the guys with beards and hairy legs). As it turned out, I nailed it and immediately found my place in the pecking order.

Nearly every kilometer of stage 1 was flowing singletrack and the trail conditions were perfect with some recent rain. As always, there are some unique characteristics to these trails and the two that stand out are the jagged rocks that hit your pedals more times than not, and the razor sharp needles that stick into your tyres (there’s no way you’d make it without slime in the tyres).

In the end I managed to follow someone who was better than me and pushed me all the way to 13th place overall (1st in my new category, the 40-49 year olds!).

Stage 2:

Later that evening we had the stage 2 time trial up Anzac Hill. It was only 300m long but an average of 11%. It was a fantastic atmosphere with many locals lining the road shaking cowbells in our ears. I hit it as hard as I possibly could and thought for certain that nobody would be able to beat my time. Was I ever wrong! I managed to get a time of 1:01 (9th in Vets, 43rd overall) and the winning time was by Andrew Blair (also winner of stage 1) who bombed up that hill in 44 seconds! (The Strava segment for the hill can be found here).

Today’s Stage 3 is 49km through some of the region’s best trails – apparently more singletrack heaven over fast, flowing and undulating terrain. Let’s see if I can hold together my lead in the Vets category. I’ll beat up on them while I can!

Stage 3:

Stage 3 didn’t exactly go as I envisioned it the night before. I started the day in yellow (40-49 Vets) and while I had no upfront hopes of winning my category, it’s not hard to get caught up in defending the lead.

It was a short ride to the startline and halfway there I started to hear some creaking coming from the cranks. It took a couple minutes to figure out, but once I did I noticed that my crank arm was so loose I could turn the bolt with my fingers. It certainly wasn’t like that the night before during the uphill TT.

At the startline I frantically looked for someone with a 10mm allen key to tighten up my cranks but to no avail. Starting like this wasn’t an option as it was just a matter of time before I’d be stuck in the middle of the outback in worse trouble.

Some 45 minutes after everyone started I found a support vehicle with the tools I needed and got back on my way.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the lack of pressure on the racing allowed me to ride alone with my head up through some of the most magnificent countryside I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of riding through parts of the Arizona desert, albeit with an Australian twist. The skies were ocean blue and the soil and mountains a deep red with singletrack heaven winding through the middle of it.

Today is quite a long stage at 90 kilometers and keeping the pace quite moderate on yesterday’s stage was probably a good thing to have forced on me. There will be no mercy in stage 4, and I’m fired up for a good result.

Congratulations to Michael Crosbie (see photo above) for winning stage 3 in the men’s and to Rowena Fry for taking out the women’s stage in her third straight win of the race.

Stage 4:

If there was any chance for anyone to make up significant time and put the nail in the coffin, it was stage 4. Some 90km of relatively flat doubletrack would put everyone’s road racing savvy-ness to the test.

An early 4am wakeup saw the whole field bussed 90km away from Alice Springs into the remote indigenous community of Santa Teresa where the race started. The pace was frantic from the gun and within 10 minutes the bunch was split to many pieces. As much as this resembled a road stage, it was extremely intense trying to follow the wheel while negotiating the wet and slippery soil along with ruts and rocks.

I was lucky to make the front split of about 20 riders but a crash in front of me saw a few of us slip off the back and not able to catch up again. These guys were absolutely flying.

I managed to catch on with a chase group which was a comfortable pace for the last 50km. The race within that bunch was between Rowena Fry (who rode for GreenEDGE last year) and Jenny Fay. I had my nemesis from the Vets category in my group as well, so the challenge was to get rid of him. Fortunately I was able to put my dirty little road tactics to work when I saw a gap open up and managed to pop him from our group in the last 15km.

Unfortunately someone had tampered with the course markings in the final sections of the stage which caused our group and the lead group to get lost. We met up with the lead group and had a laugh asking each other for directions and about a dozen of us rode across the line together after riding about 10km too far. The race was neutralised but I still had an incredible day out and was happy with my ride.

Today we race stages 5 and 6 at the Alice Springs Golf Course on a 23km course, starting this morning with an individual time trial over the 23km course, followed by an evening group stage of the same 23km course! It is expected to be a highlight of the week.

Stage 5:

Stages 5 and 6 on Thursday were quite a unique format. In the morning an individual time trial was held around a 23km course starting from the Alice Springs Golf Club. That evening would see a night stage with all 200 competitors lining up against each other on the same course.

The morning ITT was sensational. The sun was shining and the trails were a great mix of fast singletrack and technical climbs and descents. Through it all I studied the course more than usual and tried to put all the tricky bits into memory. The whole time I was out there I was thinking, “this is going to be tough tonight!” I came away with a time I was happy with, but wow … some of those top riders took 5 minutes off the time I did in the space of only about an hour!

Stage 6:

For the first time this week the sun was shining hot and most everyone spent the afternoon eating and drinking by the pool. The prospect of getting on our bikes with a belly full of food and beer didn’t have me very excited. However, once we got kitted up the mood to ride quickly came back. As we lined up on the start grid and felt the vibe, I knew this was going to be an absolute blast.

Once we got moving I had a smile from ear to ear and couldn’t help but look behind me at the hundreds of lights dotting the trails in the darkness. I would have had the worst light of the bunch as I bought mine about 15 years ago (it was the best back them) and they certainly have come a long way. Regardless, the dynamics of riding in the dark are completely different than in the daytime and it feels like a different trail. What a blast, even though my time was 20 minutes slower than in the morning! The guys at the pointy end of the race did a quicker time than their individual time trials which is incredible.

Today is the final day with our last 40km stage with flowing sections of single track and 4WD tracks. It’s the first time I’ve every been disappointed that a stage race is ending so soon!

Have a wonderful weekend and I’ll be back online next week.

Stage 7:

This was my final chance for a decent result after some minor setbacks. I didn’t come here with results on my mind, but I could feel myself getting better as the week went on, and since I had some days where I rode easy, I was far from being tired.

As all mountain bike races start, this one began with a bang. I knew roughly where my position would be in the pecking order, and went about 5 riders up from that.

I made the front group of about 10 and was on my limit trying to keep up. The guy I was following was better on the climbs, but once the singletrack came I asked him if I could lead. He obliged and I felt like I was floating through the fast twisty trails through the open plateau. My chain had been randomly slipping off the big ring all morning and I knew I should be careful. But in the excitement of it all I powered through the singletrack and my backend got kicked up briefly (nothing out of the ordinary). I pushed down on the pedals to regain control once my tyre was grounded and the chain had come off. I flew over the handlebars and my head went straight into the ground with my legs above me.

This wasn’t good. I got my bike out of the way and sat on the side of the trail for 10 minutes with my head between my legs doing a mental checklist of toes, legs, abdomen, neck, arms, hands. All were intact and I couldn’t feel any broken bones, but I was definitely injured. I got up but when I felt nauseous I knew I had hit my head. Hard.

I sat around for another 20-30 minutes and waited for my mates to catch up while I began to feel better. The day was a write-off for a good result, but a calm ride through some vastly different trails was a nice treat which seemed to be the theme for my week. Life is good…

Full disclosure: Thank you to Rapid Ascent covering my entry fee and accommodation.