The Wicked Wombat at Bungarra, just outside of Jindabyne, was the last race of 2013. In its third year, and this year has attracted Australia’s best, with Andy Blair and Jenny Fay of Swell-Specialized riding in the mixed pairs category. People made the trip from as far as Darwin and Brisbane to take part in what’s quite an unusual format these days: Over eight hours, team riders can all do the course at once, so winners are those with the highest number of laps completed… So the longer people ride, the better. Everyone.
That said, most people didn’t bother to count laps or record times, most riders bringing along the friendly party vibe that will take them all the way to midnight and 2014. The organisers, who did a fantastic job, suffered a power outage during the day that affected their amplifiers and timing, but nobody seemed to mind. It was great to see entire families competing on the course and lots and lots of women, and Snowy Mountains girls really know how to shred.
The course snakes its way over 11 kilometres of twisty, dusty trails, with heaps of time to be gained, maybe a minute or two a lap, by taking ‘A’ lines through steep rocky corners. After a couple of months or R and R and an inadequate introduction to the alpine air I was pretty thrilled that not only was the track almost entirely singletrack, there were no heartbreaking climbs, either, with lots of switchbacks and contoured trails keeping the gradient completely manageable. I doubt some of the elite riders bothered dropping out of big ring at all.
This trip and my experience at the race has really brought home to me how important mountain bike tourism is becoming in Australia, and, along with this, how essential it is for venues and operators to be able to attract more than racers. From Cairns to Alice Springs to Thredbo, what’s important is the family appeal of mountain biking. After a long break, Mike and I are getting a headstart on 2014 on an informal training camp, staying at what’s fast becoming a MTB training hub, Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa near Thredbo. Savvy operators like Lake Crackenback are even investing in their own network of trails, which are ridden day and night by all kinds of riders, from four-year-olds to full-time pros. It’s rare to see a car up here without several bikes on the top, and being able to integrate a race into a family holiday seems more and more feasible as the sport develops. Something else Mike and I will be seeing more of in 2014, as our work and racing takes us across Australia as mountain bike meccas mushroom all around us.
On a personal note, the Wicked Wombat’s was perfectly timed to make day 2 of training camp pretty hard. What’s more, now I’ve joined up with the Subaru-MarathonMTB Team I have a new, fabulous Bianchi Methanol 29er hardtail and a whole lot to gain by doing hours in the saddle and getting to know my bike, at speed, and under pressure. After one lap on the trails at Bangarra I’d forgotten my Niner and fallen in love with the Methanol’s stiffness, it’s slightly sharper head angle and lower bottom bracket that makes both high and low speed cornering much faster, and calls for a more aggressive style of riding.
I planned to ride for six hours and after an 8am start, was thrilled to finish my ninth lap at exactly 2:02pm. I then proceeded to the backseat of the car, curled up in the foetal position and stayed there until Mike started taking photos.
I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, the most significant beneficiary being the diet industry, but it was good for me to end the year as I mean to continue. 2013 had been difficult: I’d been on and off the bike for months, unwell, unmotivated, and my year culminated in a series of DNSes, an interstate move, and a stay in hospital. Throughout this, I’d clung to this trip south to the Snowy Mountains: A chance to get fit again, a chance to escape the city and the everyday grind. A chance to race and train with Mike for the first time since we finished Transalp six months ago.
And here I am, living it again. Why wait for January 1?