Stage races aren’t cheap. There’s accommodation to book, flights to pay for and a race entry fee that covers the logistics of a full week. So despite dreaming about heading to one of these events one day, it’s easy to put it off in favour of other things.
But big events force you to focus on big pictures. I’ve written about the seven race stages at the Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro here, here and here, so I won’t recount them again. Below are some of the other best bits – moments and experiences from the event that have a sticky tab next to them in the scrapbook of life. If you ever get the chance to do something similar, lock it in and go your hardest. And if you’re reading this having just returned home from the event, thank you so much for being part of a great adventure.
A lot of the white fella I met in Alice were mountain bikers or living with them. And many of these folk had moved there from somewhere else. They have a calmness about them that comes with leaving the rush of city life to spend time in a small, beautiful and quite confronting town in the desert instead. Despite never having been to the Northern Territory previously, there were a few friends I’d met before on the bike that I was looking forward to seeing.
I spent the week flatting with Nic Learmonth and Chris Turnbull. Sharing pre-race banter with these ‘local’ kids from Dunedin, New Zealand, provided a nice build to the week of racing. Sharing the event with them was a happy blend of exciting and relaxing. By the final stage, and after almost 14 hours of riding, Chris and I were separated by 45 seconds on the general classification. Riding with friends made the race stages even sweeter.
Making new friends.
The rhythm of a stage race means you earn respect for and learn from others who have a similar pace or attitude to you out on the trails. Whether it’s talking with people after a hard slog in the wind, chatting with smiley riders at the beginning of each stage, or just observing how people handle the trails, a large group joined together by a common hobby provides the chance to meet all kinds of people you might not ordinarily meet. Riding with so many strong women added to the inspiration stakes too.
Living local was also a ticket to meeting even more people from the Alice area. The Central Australian Rough Riders MTB Club are a passionate group and, like most MTB clubs, have a lot of pride in their local trails. Whether spectating or riding, these guys and girls are like walking GPSs. Who needs to memorise a map of the stage when an aptly timed conversation tells you everything you need to know to enjoy whatever section of terrain is next?
Getting to the start line.
I’ve never seen so much strapping tape on riders at the beginning of a race as I saw at this one. Given that the travel for something like this is often booked a long way in advance, pulling out with an pre-event injury is not a choice taken lightly.
My training for the month leading up to the ICME included six hours a week of ITB stretches and muscle exercises. I went for few light rides to test some new pedaling strategies and to keep an eye on the pain gauge as an indication of healing. I lit a fire under my left knee at the Easter 6 + 6 and spent the last two laps pedaling mostly with my right leg.
Regular visits to the team at Chirosports, Kings Cross, helped me pace my way to the start line with energy levels high and my body intact. Tim Robards’ treatment plan took the mental stress out of recovery and I lined up at the start line confident that I could manage the injury and enjoy everything the vast landscape had to offer. Injuries are part of racing. Knowing the right team of health professionals to visit makes situations like these so much easier to handle. As the real race began I felt so grateful to be back on my bike.
Being part of a team.
The Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team had four riders at this event: Nick Both, Mike Blewitt, Naomi Hansen and myself. I rate the attitudes of these riders and looked forward to the end of each stage so I could hear about how things had unfolded elsewhere in the field. Picking up Na halfway through the night stage we had the chance to ride together weaving lines through the dark. After we crossed the line it was hugs all round. Teamwork does that to people.
Being on a team like this has also meant access to some excellent equipment. The CamelBak Magic made hydration easy on the long, twisty trails and the chick specific Vista fits a week of race goods in container that meets airline standards for carry-on. Adidas Eyewear provided the gift of sight, look out for some words on a welcome prescription eyewear solution in an upcoming post. Maxxis Ikons meant no energy was wasted in sandy riverbeds or track-side fiddling with tubes. We had enough Netti clothing for the hot temperatures in the day and the cold rolls to the start. The thought of five days of energy food had me a bit nervous on day one, but SIS drinks, gels, bars and recovery potions kept me feeling even and strong the whole way through. My Merida 96 felt like cheating compared to some of the other rigs I saw out on the course and Radical Lights were the difference between chasing from behind at night and riding out in front. LineBreak compression wear provided pyjamas and undershirts. The women’s tights were also the garment of choice for the stretching and muscle strengthening program I undertook before and during this event.
It’s near impossible to discuss equipment without it sounding like an oversized sponsor plug, but these are important things to write about, especially for an event of this duration. Equipment is a huge part of the mountain biking experience and totally transforms a rider’s abilities on the trails. Thank you to Team Manager Mike Blewitt for sourcing the team products so well suited to the longer format of racing we do. The Bicycle Garage bike shop in Lilyfield had my bike running smoothly all week and helped me avert a first world panic when I discovered a rear brake issue as I was packing my bike for the plane. DIY MTB rescued my seized rear shock after the last race and both the front and rear suspension work better for Duncan’s secret touch than they did when they were new. As for the rest of the experiences that were had this week, maybe now’s a good time to lay the foundations for next year’s race and find out for yourself.
Thank you to Nic Learmonth and Chris Turnbull for their great work on the camera. And to the Rapid Ascent event crew, enormous praise for making the event such a pleasure to participate in. To get an even better appreciation of what it feels like to ride through this place, check out this simple yet stunning gallery from Tim Hill.