They say you’ve got to be careful what you wish for. Just before heat-induced delirium set in about half-way through today’s stage I reflected that I’ve been walking around for years trumpeting my taste for hot races. Well, today I got what I wished for and more on the final stage at Easter in the Alice.
Last night was a busy one. Our madly sliding, bulldusted, confused and, ultimately incredibly fun night race finished somewhere approaching 8pm. Andy Blair won the men’s, with a string of the top riders barely separable behind him, and I managed to win the women’s, although Briony Mattocks made me work for it.
Apart from the fact that evenings are best spent relaxing and watching Antiques Roadshow, night racing is tough because of the havoc it wreaks on your body clock. Your adrenocortical hormones are thrown into wild and crazy overdrive, and it’s my firm belief that a night stage is never truly over until you actually manage to get to sleep.
Sleep didn’t come and so my race never really ended: beset with hot flushes and racing thoughts, I only got a couple of hours, and when I got up I noticed that the air over the golf course where we’d raced, just below my hotel balcony, still smelt of bulldust. After a breakfast buffet including six pancakes, two bowls of cereal and about 7 tiny hot chocolates, I felt ready enough to take on today’s stage, a 52km lap of Alice’s finest singletrack. Starting, as tradition dictates, with an easy roll to the Telegraph Station bedecked with bunny ears, pretty much every rider seemed relaxed and happy, and looking forward to the stage ahead. How naïve we were! Word had spread last night that today would be a scorcher – even, perhaps, by Alice Springs’ standards, and when we finally left the Telegraph Station at about 9:30am, it was already properly hot.
We started as usual with a direct dash into the Todd River (which most of you will know is a dry riverbed of deep sand 99% of the time), which always strikes me as designed for the amusement of spectators, who get to watch hundreds of riders sliding, falling, and running gracelessly through to the other side. At the front of the field, however, a few managed to ride the entire crossing, and from here local Ben Gooley jumped early and gained a gap on Andy Blair, who, with his GC place secure, seemed happy to tap away in second place. The men’s race switched around a bit, but youngster Luke Pankhurst eventually rode into third.
My plan for the day was to try to get away if I could, then keep my nose in front just in case anything went wrong and I needed some time up my sleeve to fix it. Alice Springs has been characteristically hard on riders’ equipment and everyone is highly conscious that the risk of suffering a crash, flat, or other mechanical is at least quadrupled out here in the desert. Briony was riding really well and we ended up in a group together, but I managed to get a gap after about 9km and held onto it, although we frequently caught sight of one another through winding climbs for a while after that.
I kept my head up and focused as much as I could on the track: on riding efficiently, braking smoothly, and pedalling wherever I could, trying to save some energy because I expected that at any moment Briony’s group would catch me and the race would be back on. It turns out Briony had a terrible reaction to the heat at about half way and finished in damage control, while I rode most of the rest of the race as if she were 20 seconds behind me. Focusing on these processes though wasn’t wasted: it definitely helped me in my race against the elements, because I got to the finish line in one piece – I did end up suffering from the heat and very dehydrated in the last 10 kilometres – but that was much, much less than a lot of other competitors out there today.
Today had two parts for me and, word has it, for pretty much everyone else – the first half of the ride was immense fun as the course took us through Alice’s amazing network of flowy, technical, rocky trails. The second half of the race featured more of Alice’s amazing flowy, technical, rocky trails, but they were experienced through the whacky kaleidoscope of heat exhaustion, dehydration, and fatigue. The heat on course today climbed to 42 degrees and was accompanied by a fierce, dessicating desert wind: and every single rider crossing the finish line showed the effects. For a 2:50 race I’d taken a 1.5-litre hydration pack and three 800ml bidons, plus isotonic gels, but ended up sorely short of the mark. Some riders who stopped for extra fluids consumed another two or so litres more than me and still ended the day in distress.
On this note, ride of the day goes to 16-year-old nitro Luke Pankhurst who, after realising he’d need some more fluid and while riding in fourth place in the elite field, took out his phone and ordered Siri to call his mum so he could ask her to bring an extra bottle to the next feed zone. A bit later on he realised one extra wouldn’t be enough, so he called his mum back and asked for two. The bottles were duly delivered and I suspect that ride of the day actually belongs to Mrs Pankhurst, but will leave it at that.
Another Easter in the Alice over
A big shout out to all the volunteers who stood out in the desert all day looking after riders at checkpoints and feedzones, as well as those at the finish line handing out ice and cold water. Lasseters Easter in the Alice is over for another year. I’m thrilled to have won the event. I’ve been reflecting a bit this trip and have done some counting – this has been my sixth trip to Alice Springs to race mountain bikes – that’s more than I’ve travelled to Victoria to race! I hope to keep coming back to one of the friendliest, most picturesque, dramatic, and trail-blessed places in the country.