Just because it’s the desert doesn’t mean its flat, and Alice Springs has one tough climb on its western edge: Anzac Hill. It’s not very long – only a few hundred metres of sealed road, but the gradient boots up to about 26%, and averages about 12%. Stage 2 of ICME, yesterday evening, had us pegging up there at max effort in a hill climb TT. What a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Race rules state that you can change wheels and tyres, as long as you ride the same frame throughout the race, and some of the top guys had swapped their knobbies for tiny slicks not much wider than road tyres to gain some advantage on the bitumen climb. James Downing’s Cannondale, when I picked it up, weighed less than my road bike! I was pretty glad that none of the top three women had made any changes, short of pumping up our tyres and doing our shoes up extra tight. I moisturised as well.
Not everyone took it so seriously. One guy was wearing a dress, and I spotted a few stubbies in drink holders. I did a good warm up and lined up for my turn. I rode the whole thing in big ring, out of the saddle, and suffered immensely. My time was a not fantastic 1:11, and Jo came over the line behind me four seconds faster. Rowena Fry’s record from 2013 of 54 seconds still blows me away – the top men can all break the minute barrier, but not many women, and not by six seconds! Yesterday the fastest man was Ryan Standish, in just 43 seconds – this on a dual suspension with knobbly tyres – good man.
Norm Douglas has been shooting some fantastic video of this event, popping out of the bushes at every corner with his camera and interviewing a huge variety of riders. He’s put together some great highlights from the Anzac Hill TT. Watch as the afternoon turns to sunset and the riders get faster and faster.
After all that excitement I rolled home, spent my $20-bucks-a-day budget on a room service dinner, then wandered over to presentations before watching a BBC costume drama and going to bed.
I felt great this morning for the 50 kilometre stage. I warmed up on the bike path and my legs seemed to respond very well, despite last night’s lactic acid injection.
The start, on rolling bitumen then sandy four-wheel drive track, was civilised at first, even relaxed, but quickly ramped up and up. I did my best to go out hard, trying to take advantage of my good legs, but couldn’t shake Jo, yet again! And yet again she out-graced me in the sand, riding across the Todd river in the first 5 kilometres or so where I had to jump off and run, then crashed into some poor fellow trying to remount, then got my gears mixed up, etc. etc. I could see Jo riding with a group of guys in the distance, then not at all.
I stayed calm and did my best in the long fire road section. This is where Jo had been strongest yesterday, where I’d been quite comfortable in the singletrack. Today’s stage was a lot straighter than yesterday’s, with longer stretches of dirt track in between the rocky technical stuff I like. I tried to play to my strengths, focused on eating and drinking and riding smoothly and efficiently. I’m sure I gained some ground on Jo in the final 20 kilometres of singletrack, but finished about 2 minutes down, still, very, very happy with my form and loving the close-ish racing. Jess Douglas, who caught up to me, relaxed and happy early in the race, came in third.
The men’s race is much closer, with leader Ryan Standish and Ben Mather crossing the line virtually together, although Mather took first place. In third was Chris Hanson.
Crashes and punctures made some regular appearances on the trail today, particularly as riders fatigued near the end of the 50 kilometres and the heat turned up. I was pleased I’d chosen to race with a hydration pack instead of bottles, because chances to eat and drink in the last half of the race were very, very rare, and it was hot and dry.
ICME is a real race of variety, and tomorrow the smorgasbord continues, with a 20-kilometre individual mountain bike time trial in the morning (one of my favourite kinds of races because no-one can distract me), then a night race on the same course in the evening. I’ve got myself some new lights made by Full Beam that pump out about a million lumens and I’m looking forward to being visible from space for the duration of stage 5.