I’ve been to Alice Springs, in Australia’s red desert heart, to race five times now, I love it so much it’s never hard to justify going back
Stage racing out in the Alice Springs desert brings some special challenges with it, so as I’m writing reviews of the trails and getting ready to deliver race reports, I’m also thinking about how I’m going to survive a few days of heat, cold, sand, dust, and lots and lots of riding.
Here’s a guide for anyone looking to take their bike on a desert holiday and participate in the great racing Alice Springs, or just any desert town, has to offer:
The spares for Alice Springs
If you’re riding in the desert, make sure you take lots of spares! Everything out there is thornier, sharper, stickier, rockier, and scratchier than your tyres are built for. Choose tyres with thick sidewalls and take a spare. Set your bike up with tubeless tyres and plenty of fresh sealant. Always carry spares – and consider doubling your usual. Try to carry two tubes and a pump as well as CO2 with you for a long stage. While I’m in the toolbox, don’t forget to take plenty of dry or wax-based lube. The dry terrain of Alice Springs means wet lubes can stay at home. We find Ride Mechanic Bike Mix is great for the longer days.
The hydration pack
I don’t usually race or even ride with one, but in the Red Centre it’s a different story. If you’re taking part in an event such as The Redback or the Lasseters Easter in the Alice you’ll be well looked after with feeds at regular intervals, but the rough terrain and its twisty rockiness might mean you barely have a moment to take your hands off the bars. Sticking a tube in your mouth can be much easier, especially when dehydration is one of your fiercest opponents. There might be a stage or two where having your hydration pack saves you a lot of time and bother – and not just on the longest stages.
Taking your suncream is obvious, but even blokes are going to long for some soothing product for face and body. Humidity is shockingly low in Alice Springs – great for riding, but horrible for your skin, especially if you’re doing a big shave-down for racing. Don’t forget some high-SPF lip balm, too.
The great milkshake
Recovery is the most important part of racing and nothing says recovery like a litre of milk mixed with caramel and icecream. Park up at the Telegraph Station café or trundle down to Alice Springs’ Todd Mall after each stage and treat yourself at Red Dog or Page 27 cafés. They do great pancakes too.
It’s unlikely you’ll need to hire car for a MTB visit to Alice Springs, so your bike will be your transport. A good lock can be heavy to travel with but sacrifice a few bikinis and throw one in so you can lock your Formula 1 race bike up while you duck into the shops for some two-minute noodles.
The warm jacket
The striking thing about the desert is not how hot, but how cold it gets. Temperatures usually plummet as soon as the sun goes down, so make sure you’ve got some warm gear to get about in and something for your pre-stage warm up. Want something extra? A bit of Goanna Oil will warm your legs and – bonus – provide a super-fast sheen!
The bike wash
A clean bike’s a fast bike and a jet-wash gets the job done in no time. My insider’s advice is to hoard your gold coins and use them at the Easy Carwash on Gap Road after every second stage.
Here’s a riveting look at how Mike Blewitt cleans my bike after every stage race I do:
The light pack
If you’ve ever wanted to sport a bumbag while riding your bike, this could be your chance. You’ll need to take a small, zippered bag to stuff with your valuables, recovery snack, your warm-up jacket or armwarmers, etc. at the start of each stage. Also, supermarkets in Alice don’t supply plastic bags, so rock up with your bag or you’ll have to buy one. While I’m on your light pack, don’t forget to pack your lights. Centralians are mad for night racing and always include one in their stage races.
The custom tape
A roll of brightly-coloured electrical tape and a permanent marker will be priceless to you. Stick a strip on your bottles and write your name and race number on it then hide it before anyone asks you to share. Recognising your bottles from 50 metres in glaring sunlight means a quick run through feed zones and, importantly, an efficient exit when you pick them up at the end of the stage so you can get your milkshake ASAP (see above).
The shower race
At MarathonMTB we have a saying: the stage isn’t over until you’re in the shower. What this means is that all the stuff you do every day in a stage race can wear you out as much as the riding, so think hard about developing a smooth and efficient routine of collecting, washing, shopping, repairing, cooking, eating, and, if you have time, sleeping. And try to do them before everyone else. A stage race is basically a frenzied Bosch painting with bikes where everyone is trying to finish doing exactly what you’re doing before you can. I’m not just talking about riding the trails.
One more thing…
Enjoy the blue sky, the red dirt, the mateship and the bright stars. Riding in Alice is very special, so make sure you treat it as a holiday as well.