A first year race can be a gamble for racers, organisers and event sponsors alike. We ride and race in an outdoor environment that means we have to deal with what the local area delivers. The Hellfire Cup was postponed earlier this year due to disastrous fires that hit the area. Numerous races on the east coast of Australia have been postponed or cancelled in the past few years due to heavy rain. When the reasons that an event goes awry moves from climatic to human – it gets a little bit harder to understand.
The inaugural Brownie Points Burner was run on Sunday 25th, and so much about the event was positive. The Clarendon Farm Retreat afforded accommodation that was more than comfortable, as well as hosting the start/finish for the race. There was plenty of parking and camping available. But the onsite accommodation was well worth booking.
The Taree Tip Trails are becoming well known, with twisting single track threaded through seemingly endless dry bush land and temperate forest. The course offered more than a romp on single track, with a fast opening loop that slowly but surely introduced more and more climbs, building to the KOM. The descent off the back was steep and testing, before a fast run alongside a creek with numerous crossings in dappled light. This was just the start, but it was a great course.
Attracting people can be difficult. A bike race needs to have the right mix of competitors, marshals and event crew. Collaborating with a local club to gain man power in return for a club donation or similar works for many organisations. For a first year event, and one in a regional location, the Brownie Points Burner attracted quite a good elite field. August is still winter, and plenty of racers are happy to find a month where they can justify hanging up the bike, or at least not racing, for a little while.
Racing begun after a relaxed briefing, and the pace was steady with Dylan Cooper setting the pace. With an elite bunch forming fairly soon, it also stayed together for the most part, only losing people to punctures and branches in wheels. Cooper flatted early, and Brendan Johnston flatted once and rode back, yet flatted again.
While I inevitably ended up in no-mans land, we were all together again after about 35km. Some marking was highly ambiguous, leading us through a power line clearing. This was wrong, and by the time the front group had realised, the top 10 riders were back together. So close to half way, and the race had been neutralised.
‘The Wall’ soon after sorted this out, with some able to climb more than others. The following descent again created more gaps, as did single track ability as the route took in the Tip Trails. Thankfully there was a marshall to make sure we got the turn right, as the trail started with a sharp kick into the bush from a fas fire trail descent. It would be easy to miss. The Tip Trails are littered with signage from other racers, motorbike signs, other trail markers, and of course the race signage. It was a bit hard to differentiate, and sometimes didn’t lead the eye into the corner. This technique is essential.
Soon, a couple of riders were doubling back again, to where I was now riding with Anthony Shippard. Kyle Ward came back too, after a flat tyre. We pressed on, once sighting the signage again. Eventually, we split, I dangled, and was dropped. And then climbing to the main road, there were no signs. Again. This had happened the previous day. In some course inspection, we noticed the signs were down. Organisers said that there had been reports of signage being taken down by locals. And now, having to make by with a limited number of event crew, these crucial turns were unmarked and unmanned. People got lost, and people were angry.
One way or another, riders made their way back to Clarendon. Some clocked over 60km, others well over 110km. Some crossed the line in anger, many in relief. Notably, Jason English crossed and went straight to the organisers to advise them of the situation.
Two things were clear: there had been course tampering, and there wasn’t enough crew on hand to cater for that.
But there was still a lot to take away. The area is great, the course is a challenging Marathon route, that could be modified to be brilliant. And the event has been setup with the best intentions for the riders. The foundations are right, but the outcome this year wasn’t quite right.
With some discussion, places were awarded on the 3rd check point. This doesn’t account for some vague marking, but does account for the apparent course tampering. Jason English was the first home, and had been first through CP3. 2nd was Anthony Shippard, and Jarrod Hughes was 3rd.
In the women’s, although Nienke Oostra had a great ride and was first home, it was her team mate Naomi Hansen who had passed CP3 first. Nienke was therefore given 2nd place, and Maggie Synge 3rd.
This race has a lot of potential to be a hard marathon race for the full distance, and a fun and testing race for the half distance. There are plenty of hills out there, more trails to use to modify the route, and lots more racers who could be there. Some missing arrows didn’t ruin my weekend away riding and racing my mountain bike with mates – I’d go again.