Australia can seem custom made for mountain biking – lots of land, a dry environment, sand based soil, old stable mountain ranges, and a laid back population. For the most part, Australian mountain bikers really benefit from this. We rarely complain of crowded trails, and we can ride through winter, save for a few wet weeks depending on your location.
But with a lack of population density, mountain bikers in regional areas get stuck with problems. Who else is there to build and maintain trails? What events are close by? Where is the closest MTB club I can join? These are three questions that mountain bikers around the capital cities and along the south east coast don’t need to be as concerned with.
Thankfully, there are people and groups that make a difference. Great MTB events don’t need to be limited to within 1 or 2 hours of a capital city. The best race experiences don’t have to come from events with a surplus of people. I love the feeling of being part of something so intangibly massive that I can’t even imagine where the organisers might start. Two of the world’s best known MTB races couldn’t be more different. The ABSA Cape Epic is a behemoth, a media monster that is broadcast to the world showcasing the best mountain bike talent and about 1200 other racers early each year. But it seems like the Crocodile Trophy is just as well known, but it rarely has over 100 racers.
The Mackay Mountain Marathon is a new addition to the Australian racing calendar – and having witnessed the organisation and involvement of the local MTB club, Corry Cycles, the Eungella community, and plenty of other individuals and groups, it seems here to stay.
About 270 riders drove the approximate 80km west of Mackay to Eungella, sitting at the top of the Great Dividing Range. It’s a quaint little town, with a pub, a general store, a quirky cafe (but do try the strudel) and a few places to stay. And of course, a great cricket ground which doubles as a campsite for the weekend.
At the end of a lazy saturday afternoon, World 24hr Champion, and National Marathon Champion Jason English lead some kids skills and fun racing on the oval, before the BBQ started – along with the live entertainment. Most were in bed early due to the 7:45am race start – or just due to the rapid drop in temperature up at 680m!
Sunday 4th of August dawned clear, and Race Director Evan Corry performed one of the best rider briefings experienced – it was clear, concise, and made us all aware of what was in front of us. All race distances had been shortened a little, due to a wetter dry season than expected. The final single track section through the rainforest was ok for some traffic, but not 270 sets of wheels. It is easy to respect this decision, as being able to ride walking tracks in races is rare, and by following the guidelines it’s more than likely the trails can be used in 2014.
With a roll out of town behind a police car, the start was very steady. One keen bean attacked, and sat 25m off the front with a rider from Townsville on his wheel. By the dirt road turn they were back and it was Adam Cobain, from Cairns, who attacked. The group had split to about 9 riders in front as the road climbed through temperate forest.
The course itself isn’t overly technical – but that doesn’t mean it is easy. There are continual changes in gradient, the double track often has one good line, and if there are two, you’d better choose the better one as you are racing after all. Through the course of the race I pedalled hard in both my lowest gear (25/36) and highest (39/11). Like any Queensland bush race, you go through a lot of bushland scrub, clay based farm trails, and some loose rutted tracks. Line choice is important on this type of track, but the organisers did a great job marking the trail, meaning minimal navigational challenges for riders, allowing time to focus on the fastest way through.
The race got a bit more interesting as the front group thinned to five, and then finally to 3, with Jason English, Jeff Rubach and myself. Jason complained of the weighty additions from too many Austrian buffet breakfasts, I hacked away with wet lungs, and Jeff just rode strongly. By 40km, the pace hadn’t really lifted, but I couldn’t get back on after a small gap opened. Rubach and English rode away. There was no one over my shoulder – but you can’t trust that for long! People are always coming – and when you see them it’s too late.
Coming into the closing kilometres it was a shame we couldn’t ride the last 15km single track section. But with about 2000m of climbing in the 63km we did race (to a timing matt before a sealed road run into Eungella) my legs were happy enough to be done! Jason had taken the win and the $2000 by a couple of minutes from Jeff, and I rolled in for third. Imogen Smith crossed about half an hour later, as the winning woman.
Full results are available via Timing Results.
Riding back to the official finish at the pub, I contemplated how relaxed the whole race was, and why Jason English was such a good ambassador to be there. He was so low key the whole time. His seat had ended up being too low, by about 4cm, for the race. But he won anyway. Such a thing would frustrate me no end! He was cool and collected for the kid’s tutorial and race, providing advice and having a laugh, being generous with his time. And although he flew in from Port Macquarie, that attitude matches well with this area of Queensland. Everything felt like it was going a bit slower, but everything got done anyway. There was no aggression, no stress. Just a great mountain bike event that challenged plenty, and rewarded all who finished.
Getting to Mackay
I flew from Sydney using Tiger Airways. They have a restricted schedule, but it worked for the days I needed and the flights were on time and comfortable. Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Qantas also fly from Sydney.
Coming from Brisbane you can fly either Qantas, Jetstar or Virgin Australia.
From Melbourne, you can fly Qantas, Jetstar, Tiger or Virgin Australia.
Eungella is a bit over 80km west of Mackay, so it takes a little over an hour to get there, driving through cane lands and then up the range. There’s plenty to see along the way, including the scenic Finch Hatton Gorge, or go and spot some platypus at Broken River.
We stayed at Mountain Edge Retreat, right in Eungella. There are a few self catered cabins here, but book quickly as they will quickly fill up. For more details on amenities in Eungella, head to their website.
Thanks to Evan and Louise Corry, who were part of the driving force behind the event, and the excellent help from the whole crew at Corry Cycles who helped myself and Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team mate Imogen Smith get our bikes together. This event is a great one to put on your calendar if it’s nearby – or one to build a Northern Queensland holiday around.