Alice Springs has a special place in Australian mountain biking. It’s known as the home of the Rapid Ascent Redback (nee ICME) and now the Lasseters Easter in the Alice too. Two stage races, at different times of the year, one town, and about 300km of singletrack.
Alice Springs trails have had a lot of attention recently, but it’s a funny place, as the trails need to be cleared for events. There is so much singletrack, that it’s hard to keep it all open, and there is plenty of freshly cut buffel grass covering the rocky singletrack in the desert.
Today’s 90km first stage of the Easter in the Alice was also the 2nd round of the MTBA XCM Series. Gridding was before dawn, and to UCI standards, with a pretty loud collection of canons sending riders on their way for 90km of the towns finest.
The start was neutral, behind a lead car, to get through the edge of town and onto the trails – about 1km. The car was a fair way down the road when the canons went off and Chris Jongewaard shot off. Neutral means no passing the car. And he didn’t. But it was an attack from the gun. It was pretty apparent he wasn’t about to sit up, and Andrew Blair and Ben Mather went about chasing, with Michael England, James Downing and myself doing our best to stay in contact. We hit the dirt (sand) in the dawn light and the tales of carnage were ready to start. Front riders all got through, some with a scare, but no doubt someone will have come unstuck in the low light and deep sand holes.
The race split up into twos and threes pretty quickly. I found myself watching Chris Hanson ride away, and was then riding with Ollie Klein after the first road crossing. The day was dawning, the temperatures were wild, and my legs were hurting. In all, not a bad Saturday morning.
Soon I joined Ben Gooley for company instead, and then I was on my own. When you’re riding well in Alice Springs, it feels amazing. You predict corners, you spot the line, and you pick the trail you need to be racing on – which can be hard. The area is littered with trails, ridden, unridden, marked and not. It does make following the right one a bit hard when you’re chewing the stem. You have to stay very alert and look for the markers.
Part way in I stopped doing that so well, I didn’t carry enough food, and was running on fumes between feeds. I overshot corners, over-braked, and was generally pretty shit. Around this time I also missed some markers.
I ended up figuring it out as I came backwards to a corner of the course, as 3rd place rider Michael England came through. So I backtracked on the real route, and promptly hit the wall but thankfully none of the riders coming through (close though). I chucked in the towel and rode to the finish. Slowly.
Chris Jongewaard rode to the win under 4 hours, with Andrew Blair coming 2nd and Michael England 3rd. All riders had stories of getting a bit lost on course.
Blair had bridged back to Jongewaard a number of times, but every time JBlood would just attack again. Michael England mostly remarked about his lack of singletrack ability – but it can’t be too shabby finishing 3rd.
James Downing was 4th over the line, but he went very wrong in the middle of the course, and spoke to the commissaires 50km in with a restart. He still finished with 90km. Jason English came across 5th after a couple of off course mishaps of his own, and a very deep wound to his right knee, plugged with his glove to stop the bleeding.
Stories came that Ben Mather was still out there, by the side of the trail, vomiting.
Jenny Blair (nee Fay) was the first woman over the line and about 10th overall – a stunning ride that elad her straight to first aid for shade and fluid. Mel Ansett was 2nd, with similar stories to everyone else about the difficulty of the race. The trails are great, but 90km of them is very hard on the body.
Soon after Mel, our own Imogen Smith came over the line, with a fair bit of dirt. She’d gone straight over the bars into a face plant just before the Telegraph Station, and went to first aid to have a deep cut on her arm attended to, and her teeth checked.
There were a number of DNFs due to illness and misadventure, and I’m not even sure if my bike will work tomorrow due to a rear derailleur that won’t hold chain tension. The riding in Alice Springs is magical, but it’s hard. Thankfully stage two is ‘just’ 26km. So while round two of the MTBA XCM series is done, the stage race is just starting.