Well the 2014 Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro is almost here, with Stage 1 kicking off in Alice Springs tomorrow. And after 6 days road tripping to the centre of Australia, covering well over 2000 kms in the hired campervan, we (the family) are here too. Excited yes, ready to race, not so sure…. Still full of a cold (well-beyond a usual bout of man-flu) that has laid me low for 3 weeks. Some idea of my pre-event training peak in this condition – Otway Odyssey 100km on Sunday 27 April, an easy 10km recovery session on an indoor bike at work on the Monday, followed by a 20km of the same on the Tuesday. From there it has been an aborted crack at the Interwinter (had to pull out after 1 lap (10km)) on Star Wars day, precisely 2 weeks ago today and then nothing. Even after getting the bike up and going after some upgrades, still haven’t been able to man-up and ride as yet. So, now I am going with the approach of hitting stage 1 with fresh legs… I’ll keep you updated on how that goes!
Have had this event on the bucket list for a long time. Love Alice Springs, so it was always going to be that I would do this event someday. First crack at a stage race format so keen to see how that goes too. All up there are 7 stages, ranging from a 300m hill climb to an 80km distance. There is a time trial and night race, and all the time you are hitting up new trails. Have read and YouTubed plenty about the trails and by all accounts they are top notch. Rocks, hills, loose surfaces and endless singletrack – can’t wait! Have brought along the dually 29er for the cause and even lashed out and ventured into tubeless for the first time. Last advice was there would be around 200 riders, and it looks like they are travelling from all parts of the country. Not sure who the contenders are, but Phil Orr is here, so the Ballarat Sebastopol Cycling Club should be prominent. For me, I am aiming to ride well and get through. I am guessing expectations will change as the week progresses as I really am unsure of what to expect (fitness, stage racing, etc.). I’ll try and keep you posted with regular updates, even if it is just to wax lyrical about this awesome weather (sunny, high 20s, you wish were here).
Stage 1 – Easing into it (37 km)
So stage 1 is down and the lingering feeling is that there is some awesome riding to look forward to this week. I’ll go out early and state that the trails are up here will excite all MTBers full stop. There is a lot going on – they are rocky, gravelly, sandy, loose and well-flowing once you get your confidence up. But back to where the stage began.
At the race briefing last evening, Stage 1 was described as the Introductory stage, nothing too strenuous, just something to give you an idea of what to expect for the week ahead. The stage started with a police escort through the town along closed roads (showed they are serious about this race with police holding traffic at all intersections). Behind the leading police car the pace was pretty good, good enough for a good warm up. All went well until the police lead out stopped, literally, and the leaders rear ended the patrol car, sending the No 1 plate rider (Ben Mather) and others to the bitumen after bouncing off the car. Confusion all round, but just seemed one of those things that happens. While riders checked themselves, their bikes, all others just stopped and waited while the leaders resumed their position.
From there it was race on as the field hit the dirt and raced out alongside the rail track. It didn’t take long for a skill check as track was criss-crossed with deep sandy sections – very challenging to keep straight, and if you didn’t, well it was time to foot it. These sections were a real slog and tough on the legs. This first section of trail finished with the KOM section – not Haydens Tk Odyssey style, but a loose, rocky, rutted and steep track that was worthy. Up and over I was pretty chuffed for staying on, but the recovery was short lived as we crossed the rail tracks and then went back up it! Down the other side came across a casualty holding a collar bone – that must suck anytime, but stage 1, really? From here we were on to the singletrack for the first time as it weaved its way in, around and over a low rocky range. The trailbuilders out this way really know how to make trails for fun. The trails constantly changed direction, sideways, up and down and they were full of tight switchback corners which for some reason were just great fun negotiating. There were rocks everywhere, sharp rocks, and being mid-field I came across a plethora of punctures. Stopped for one guy and offloaded two CO2 canisters as he cursed his third flat for the stage. Pretty happy with my work on the tubeless as they were holding up fine, and did so for the stage. The new Arch Ex wheels where noticeably nice to ride too!
The kms just ticked over in this area, the schmick trails and majestic landscape being admired, and before you knew it we hit the railway again, crossed and were faced with a 2km to go sign. Not quite job done though as we turned off the rail siding track to be smacked with Blairs Stairs – a real grunt of a climb. Steep, rocky, loose, twisty – it beat me into submission pretty early on. So hike-a-bike to near the summit, crest the hill and belt into the velodrome for a lap crossing the finishing line. I am guessing I was somewhere mid-field, time of 2:08 and 20 something in prime male category (18-39 years). Pretty happy with that as pretty hampered by a chest full of something that would make a good tyre sealant I reckon. Chatted to Phil O at the finish and he smashed an 8th overall in 1:38ish so a great start for him.
So bike washed this arvo while chillaxing, taking it easy for this evening’s Stage 2 Hill Climb. Not sure I have the energy for a ‘bring it on!’ just at the minute……
Stage 2 – The ANZAC Hill Blast
This stage was a pedal hammering blast of 330m or so with a height gain of 32m. Not big numbers, but it was more a case of how hard could you push it? ANZAC Hill is one of many rises closes in to Alice and comprised a bitumen road to the summit. So this was one for the roadies, but that said it added a nice bit of variety to the MTB event. The course was simply from bottom to top, following the road which curved its way up to the top. A fairly even climb, more gentle at the bottom and a real pinch on the main bend and another at the very top. Riders headed off at 30 second splits based on placing in stage 1. A bit of shenanigans going on with some blokes in frocks, and another in thongs on clips – shoes forgotten maybe? Some showed their keenness, whacking on commuter slicks for that second or so gain. Record time from previous years was 42secs. Standing at the bottom, I couldn’t see how that was possible….
It was a bit hard to get excited about this one, waiting at the gate for my turn. At the go signal, just settled into my selected gear, put the head down and peddled away. About half way hit the steep pinch bend and from there, it was an out of saddle effort, just pumping to the line. Not that much more to it really, didn’t really pay much attention to the big crowd that lined the route – don’t see that at MTB events much – but it was a nice touch. Actually did the whole climb in one gear come to think of it. Managed to crest the top in 71 seconds, totally spent. Hung around up top for the others to come through. Phil O broke the minute mark with a 59 second effort – there was not many breaking the minute mark. This result sees Phil sitting in 7 overall at the moment, would be pretty stoked with that. For me, it is 57th after the two stages, and looking forward to the next stages. Up next is a 50km stage, so I’ll keep you posted.
Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro Stage 3 – Slim ‘n’ Dusty
Day 2 of the #ICME 2014 and the sun was out in a cloudless sky to greet riders for the start of a 50km stage starting at the Telegraph Station next to the dry and sandy Todd River. A mass start with no escort saw the leaders set off at an OK pace for the mid-pack riders enabling most to keep up till hitting the dusty trails about 1km in. It was straight on to a sandy track which spread the field – nothing like sand to sap the early energy! The first 8kms was on minor car trails that went here there and everywhere meaning you had to keep a constant lookout for course markings. From around 8km it was time to hit up some slim trails which had been described “as some of the sweetest single track you will encounter in the country” (see Event Program for confirmation). First impression was they were underselling it! A short, flowy section with a gravelly surface was pure silk to ride, absolutely awesome. It ended way too quickly, but with the hope of similar to come, for the time being it was back onto some old car trails that had more or less morphed into singletrack.
The whole landscape is green up here at the moment following good Easter rains and the thick growth made it damn hard to pick where the trail was in places or see rocks or washouts. Many a time I had to perform a quick save to avoid trouble. About a quarter of the way through the back tyre let out a sudden ppppffffttt that kept going for around 10secs before the sealant went to work. Quick check, no damage done, so onwards and upwards up one more of the numerous pinchy, loose rocked climbs – any loss of momentum or sideways movement and it was time to foot it. Really started feeling the heat at around the 20km mark, probably more just the direct sunlight with very little relief on offer. There was a waterpoint coming up at the halfway point so tried to consume as much of my fluids as possible (3L Camelbak with water + bottle of staminade). Topped up at the waterpoint and it was onto the second half of the race.
The trails in this mid-section of the stage were superb, but tricky to ride. In general there were lots of rocks and the terrain was undulating as we weaved between low rocky ranges. The ups were that perfect gradient where it didn’t feel like you were doing an uphill and those along the tops of the escarpment were flowy fast sections weaving in and out of rock outcrops. There were switchbacks, steps ups, drop downs and plenty of rocks to negotiate. Lines of sight were generally small and I got caught out on plenty of corners coming in too hard and then faced with a rock wall or even a tight corner going the opposite way to what I was expecting – bit of trail knowledge would have been useful for sure. Beyond the trails the landscape was just amazing and I kept making sure that I took time to look around and appreciate it. Also passed an old hand basin and then further along an ‘old shitta’ to match so that was worth a chuckle.
The great thing about riding these trails and the landscape you are in is that the kms just tick by and before long Alice Springs was back in sight. Did have some nervous moments with the rear wheel 3-4 times letting out brief pfffttts, as well as one major one with about 15km to go which noticeably dropped my tyre pressure – still rideable so didn’t bother inflating. The last 7 or so kms were over a series of tracks lining waterways or under powerlines and they just seemed to go on and on….at this point was really hoping they had forgotten to put out the 2km sign as I just needed it to end. Eventually passed the 2km sign and then the 1km sign along a bike path dash to the finish out the front of Lasseter’s Casino – job done in 2.51 so satisfied with that. So far it is 52nd overall, so breaking the top 50 is something to aim for in coming days.
Phil Orr kept up with the lead group for most of the stage and finished in 7th overall, with Ben Mather and Ryan Standish setting a cracking pace to the end. Phil sits in 7th overall, pretty nice going.
Stage 4 – Wrong way, go back……
Yes, a case of MTB101 this morning in the time trial, follow the trail the arrow points to, not the one going the opposite direction…..
The #RapidAscent #ICME Stage 4 was a 22km time trial out from the Alice Springs Golf Course. Starting at the clubhouse, the route followed some buggy and vehicle tracks for a couple of kms before hitting the scrub along some sandy tracks which were hard going into a wind, and worse if you chose the wrong line. Pretty early on I managed to pass the guy in front of me (started 30secs apart) at about the same time the guy behind me caught and overtook me – nice, kind of cancelled each other out! The trail was working its way gradually up a bit of valley, with plenty of soft sand sections to contend with and some climbing to do. I stuck with the guy who had overtaken me as we hit some barrier tape indicating a change of direction and onto a sweet single track climb. The climb zig-zagged up to the top of the escarpment and every now and then you caught a glimpse of front riders. At the top it opened up into some beaut twisty and rocky single track, and I was kind of glad to be behind someone as I could read what was coming up in this techy section based on their movements. After a bit we came across two guys coming the other way and wondering if they were on the right track. No worries guys we’re cool and the guy in front said a pre-ride of the track last Sunday definitely came up here. Good enough for me and we pushed on. I did start to wonder a bit when the front guy muttered that he was a bit worried now too….Onwards and upwards it was until we came up the back side of the Medical guys we’d passed earlier, and their waving arms made it clear that we’d stuffed up. We were told that we should have turned the other way back down where we entered the singletrack….#%$* it!!
At this point there were 4 of us so it was spin around and head back the way we came. This really sapped me of motivation, and the other guys seemed even more peeved and just rolled out – my thinking was a bit of ground to make up now so gun it! In all there must have been at least 10 riders take this route at the time as I kept having to inform them as I came back down. Eventually hit the wrong turn spot, where a Marshall kindly pointed to the arrow and said “the arrow points the other way”. You don’t say!
So back on track (after what looks like a 3-4km detour on the GPS) and it was clear we had lost a lot of time as the fast riders were now coming through. I just tried to really push my limit, cursing all the way. The trail wound up a rocky rise and it was a tight climb with rocks and sharp corners to negotiate as the trail was benched into a steepish slope. As with previous stages, once you get up top, the trails flatten out and you can really open it up – that is until a sharp bend or rock face gets in the way. Up and over, there was a good section of sandy open track which took you across to another rise. Once on this rise, we hit the motherload. A flat, flowy section of smooth trail that was pure bliss to ride, and ride fast. No sharp corners and few rocks it was just a breeze to hit it fast – my new favourite trail ever! This section really gave me back my mojo and I started passing some riders again.
Down a loose rocky track came across a rider who was clearly in need of some medical assistance and already another rider had stopped to assist. While pretty bloodied, he was pretty sure that his major problem was a busted collarbone. Add that to a busted bike with a taco’d front wheel and blown tyre. While we made sure he was getting comfortable I took the task of riding on to inform the next Marshall (I did do it buddy, but it was about 5km further on and they informed me that medical was already on its way – so hope all turned out well). Just before setting off again, moved over to give Phil Orr a clear bit track as he flew past. Thought this might be a spur to get me going again so tried to keep up, but that was futile as Phil left me for dead in no time. Soon I was starting to get those feelings of where’s the finish line, but cruelly I looked sideways and saw riders like goats on a mountainside ascending another rise, one that I hadn’t been up yet…
So it was a tough climb up a goat track trail that was pretty technical and challenging at this point (because I was absolutely stuffed). But hill conquered it was down the other side, not a full on descend but a wary one as plenty of rocks to contend with. Coming down one section saw a photographer ahead, tried to strut a suitable MTB pose and on approach caught a small tree with my bars which saw me almost take out said photographer. So instead of a gun MTBer pose we will see something like a frog in a blender as I tried to unclip and stay upright (which I did kind of manage in the end). We had a chuckle and the photographer informed me that I wasn’t the first to come a gutser there and the constant blood drops on the trail for the next stretch confirmed that! From there it was a blast down back to the golf course and around the buggy tracks to the finish line – into the wind to cap it off.
Was absolutely spewing with how the stage panned out for me, but hey no damage done when I think of the poor guy earlier. Haven’t looked at times or placings yet…. Interesting thing is the same course is used for tonight’s Stage 5 Night race. Thinking some of the sections are going to be pretty treacherous without due caution. Not sure whether to look forward to it or dread it. May be best not to look at results from Stage 4 yet so I don’t get ideas of trying to make up time tonight!
Stage 5 – You’ve been Thunderstruck!
Na Nan Na Naa Naaaa Naaaaa THUNDER Na Nan Na Naa Naaa Naaaa THUNDER! Best way to start to start a race with a bit of AccaDacca blaring through the race PA just on nightfall. Did the trick for me, got me absolutely pumped for a charge off the finish line and flicked the on switch. Just 5mins before the start I told Sarah I really couldn’t be bothered with this Stage. In fact my lethargy saw me assemble late in the start bunch which had me right at the back, par for the course with how I was feeling. But then with 2mins till start those familiar tunes came roaring and the last minute was spent pulsating eager to go!
The #RapidAscent #ICME 5 stage was a night race using the same course as the morning’s time trial – this time minus the stuff up of my wrong turn hopefully. The start was quick and damn dusty as we headed out through the golf course and over some minor sandy vehicle tracks, generally rising slightly to the first of the singletrack. I pushed hard to move up further through this section as I anticipated a big go-slow would hit on the single track and bang it was time to join the congo line. While I was eager to go a bit quicker, there was no chance of moving up so settled into a rhythm and looked around at the awesome sight of a line of lights snaking its way up the hill, absolutely spectacular. You had to stay on the game as it was pretty rocky riding and there were plenty of minor offs as people slipped and bumped off rocks or loose surfaces.
Through this section, there is a straight line of double track which I remembered from the morning and used this to really hammer it and make up some places before hitting ‘the best single track’ described for Stage 4. Entered the section with no one immediately in front, scattered lights ahead and a huge grin on my face – awesome! Absolutely fanged it through here and caught and overtook some riders, rapt to have a clear run. It is even better in the dark! Out the other side I picked up the tail of a guy going at a nice clip so it really helped to keep my pace up. Tracked him through a sandy section of fairly flat, low lying land at a handy speed. We caught up to some other riders and soon after he just flipped in front me at speed and I had nowhere to go so managed to do the same – big time! Turns out he hit a wash out, and well I would have hit it also in that case so certainly no fault on his part. We dusted off chuckled and disentangled, thenI collected my loose water bottle and fixed my dropped chain and set off. Unfortunately was in a bit of a sandy section at the time and I just completely lost my rhythm for a bit as the riders rode away from me. I wasn’t sore, just couldn’t get the legs spinning properly.
From here I struggled through for a couple of kms before getting to the last set of the rises. Turning into the climb, I just HTFU and set about getting on to the lights ahead. This worked brilliantly and in no time I was up, over and heading down on the tail of a group of riders. This descent was pretty sketchy with rocks so took a bit of care, but in no time was shot out the bottom, into the golf course for a big ring blast to the finish. Much happier with that effort than this morning’s…..Managed a 47th overall in 1:07:50, a big negative split on the morning’s 1:21 in 111th! Phil Orr managed an equal 6th in 56:20 so flying, with the winner Ben Mather more than 2 mins ahead of anyone in 51 something.
Next up is the big 80km stage, looking forward to it.
Stage 6 – Dead (Centre) in the Red Centre
Was presented with the ‘Dead Centre in the Red Centre’ race plate prior to embarking on the 80km Stage 6 #RapidAscent #ICME. That means I was smack bang in the middle placing in the men’s field – you can say I am Joe Average for a day. Cool to have something to show for a very mixed day yesterday over two stages.
The stage started out at the velodrome to the north of Alice Springs and on the start line wasn’t sure what I could deliver today. In my mind I was looking forward to the stage, but the week was really starting to take its toll on the legs which were feeling a bit dead. The race started with a 5km police escort north on the Stuart Hwy so the plan was I’d use that to get into a rhythm. Best laid plans hey? From the start I knew almost immediately the legs just weren’t up to it and unfortunately the mind followed. Turned off the highway onto a nice piece of singletrack, but it was slow going as riders formed a line and many struggled with the slippery rocks and track surface following a morning of steady rain. Interesting section of trail and really punishing – not sure if that was the trail or because we were forced to tackle it so slowly, with riders in front it was impossible to get any flow. It wasn’t until 10km or so that I could manage a bit of space to settle into my own rhythm, but for me that rhythm was a grind. Managed a bit of overtaking here and there, but my lack of oomph had me only setting an unsteady pace. This section was littered with some pinchy climbing up rocky and loose 4WD tracks which were damn slippy and took some negotiating, but as a trade off the damp sand was much easier to ride.
This section ended with the first waterpoint and I stocked up on some lollies and fruit cake to try to boost my energy levels. Should point out that all week Rapid Ascent’s feed stations have been top notch (actually the whole event management has been awesome). From this feed station it was a 30km stretch along sealed surfaces. First it was 17km on the Simpson Gap bike path, which was curvy and gently undulating and then it was along a couple of roads. While I wanted to lift the pace here, I just didn’t have the go. Maintained a steady pace behind a couple of guys I could sometimes see in the distance while a few shiny legs blasted past. So after doing most of the 30km stretch on my lonesome, I joined the two guys who had been in sight the whole way and cruised along with them for a while – I cruised while they did a fine job churning away on their singlespeeds, crazy people. As we neared the end of this sealed section a road bunch passed and we tagged on – certainly some benefits in that approach!
Stocked up on some goodies at the feed station and greeted the family who were doing another fine job in volunteering and set off on the last 17km, totally spent. And it wasn’t an easy end. First up, there was 8km or so of corrugated gravel road which I just could not get comfortable on. There was a nice fenceline section which was pretty cruisey and then the trail headed upwards as it climbed onto an escarpment along a very rough and rocky 4WD track. There were ups and downs and the ups were grinds and the downs were rock strewn ‘stacks waiting to happen’, particularly as my concentration and energy had left me a long time ago. The scenery was amazing yet again (when I could lift my eyes from watching my front tyre tread slowly rotate), and even passed a couple of riders stopped and taking pictures! Finally got to the end of the escarpment and headed downwards in one piece.
About 5kms to go and the trail hit the rail siding track for yet another ride next to the rail tracks. Again I felt so slow on this section and was just on the lookout for the 2km to go sign. The Ghan train passed by which was pretty cool and then the 2km sign. Grinded in the last 1km (do have a concern for the condition of my bottom bracket) and finished it off with a painful lap of the BMX track – no energy, no fun. Finished in 4:11:32 and 52nd place, putting me 54th overall. Totally spent and currently wondering what shape I’ll be in for the last stage tomorrow. There’s a movie night watching Where the Trail Ends at the Alice Springs Cinema tonight, so may get some ideas about finishing the event in style!
Just looking at results Phil O managed 5th in 3:18:38 so huge ride there and good enough to keep him in 7th overall. Big race over 40kms tomorrow to finish off the event.
Stage 7 – All over red rover!
Stage 7 of the #RapidAscent #ICME 2014 has been dusted, finishing off an absolutely superb event! We were promised that this last stage had some of the best singletrack on offer and all up was my favourite stage course – and that is against some very stiff opposition with other gems in the earlier stages. If you come to Alice Springs and want to check the type of trails on offer then get this ICME Stage 7 course into your GPS and enjoy!
After the more than solid day yesterday, was feeling surprisingly good on the startline and even moved myself further up the field as I was fairly sure we were hitting the dirt early on. The start was damn fast with a bit of a breeze through the edge of town (again with police lead out and closed roads), probably either a factor of some leaders having a last crack at moving up or the addition of fresh legs to the field as this stage was open for day entries (which noticeably boosted the numbers riding). The speed was frantic as we scooted along some sandy vehicle tracks and it wasn’t long before we started heading up one of the low ranges. The next 25km section was unbelievable trail. Mostly singletrack it weaved up, down, along and across the rocky escarpments, with plenty of rock to negotiate. In places you could really pedal the big ring, while in others you were carefully threading narrow passes between rock masses, or pinning it down benched trail running along rather steep and rocky slopes. Did not even contemplate being tired here as the riding was that spectacular. Managed to stick with some guys who were doing a nice clip so really helped to keep my speed up. Every now and then you could lower the adrenalin levels on the sandy trails in the lowlands, but before long you were into another awesome section. For the most part it was Camelbak drinking though as few chances to reach down and grab the bottle.
Hit the feed station at around the 31km mark and with just 11km to go was happy with what I already had on board so kept going. Out of the feed station there was a section of fresh benched trail that took you up the side of one of the ridges – absolute perfection in that you went up quickly while it felt like you were pedalling on the flat! The last section was more open than that covered in the first part as we headed out a fenceline and then wound our way through some arid woodland and through a few dry and one wet creekbeds. From 35km I hit a bit of a wall (not literally) and started struggling and dropping pace. Still loving the trails though I tried pushing on hard as was in the last few kilometres. Looking for the 2km sign to go as soon as the GPS rolled over 40km, but nothing. Kept grinding away along the undulating trail, looking eagerly around each bend for the sign but it wasn’t until the 43km mark that I passed it by – that 3km feeling like 10km! Knowing the end was near, boosted the pedalling and into the finish chute at the Telegraph Station. ICME 2014 done and dusted! Did the stage in 2:27:11, which put me into 51 overall, so not quite cracking the top 50. Great effort by Phil O to earn a 7th overall, awesome effort!
What an awesome event! Trails are nothing short of spectacular and have to be ridden to be believed. Haven’t come across anything that gets close to them yet. Rapid Ascent did a perfect job of race organisation and management. The RA crew and all their volunteers had everything running smoothly always, thanks heaps. Worth every cent! The whole being part of an MTB crowd for the week has been great too, as it always is. Lucky enough to be up here with the family, and for the kids they just loved immersing themselves in the whole thing. At their age the riders are their heroes and for riders like Jess Douglas, who always goes out of her way to chat to them, is pretty special. And to James Downing and Imogen Smith who passed on their category win prizes (flash bike pumps) to the kids, that’s awesome too. So get on this event whenever you can in the coming years, and if you can’t well make it happen! Can’t wait to get back, and definitely will!