“I like the town of Forrest, and I really like what the Forrest trails do for the sport of Mountain Biking. This event is also the best yardstick out there for running a great event. I hear that next year is the 10th year as well, so I think it could really be harder than ever. Just think if all of those elites from the last 10 years decide to come back and race? Damn it will be on.” – Rohin Adams, 4th place in 100km Male Elite at the 2015 Giant Odyssey.
2015 marked the 9th year for the Giant Odyssey mountain bike marathon race (also known as the ‘Otway Odyssey’). That feat alone is a marathon in itself, though it’s a testament to the event’s successful recipe that it continues to be just as popular now as it was almost a decade ago.
Endurance racing (6/12/24-hour) may well have exploded and dissipated within that same decade, but marathon events such as the Odyssey continue to draw riders out of their neighbourhoods and onto the racecourse. Over 1000 riders turned up in Forrest on Saturday the 21st of March, making the Odyssey one of the most popular mountain bike events on the Australian racing calendar.
Some riders turned up looking to challenge their mates, others came to challenge themselves against the trails, though every rider was out there to challenge the clock in an attempt to cross the line just a little bit quicker than last year. And given the post-race buzz about the Forrest Football Ground on Saturday afternoon, it’s clear that after all these years, they still love doing it too.
Much of the post-race buzz had riders talking about just how good the Forrest singletrack is, and there is no doubt that is indeed some of the best in the country. With over 60km of purpose-built singletrack crafted by World Trail, the small town of Forrest has evolved to become a true riding destination.
Situated about a 2-hour drive West of Melbourne, and 45-minutes inland from Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road, Forrest is a town that was originally sliding off the map following the demise of the local timber industry. Thanks to its mountain biking reinvention however, Forrest is now a thriving hub for cyclists and their families.
In town, you’ll find several cafes, the Forrest Brewery, and the Corner Store bike shop, all of which have sprung up on the back of the success of mountain bike trail network. Events like the Giant Odyssey don’t just showcase how good the riding is here, they also highlight just how important mountain biking is to the Forrest community and the wider Otway region.
A Marathon Race for All
Part of the Odyssey’s ongoing success is without doubt in the event’s accessibility for a diverse range of competitors. Riders can choose from either the full marathon (100km) or half marathon (50km) distances, and there’s also a 15km Pioneer course for beginner riders and young tackers too.
At this year’s race, the youngest competitor to take on the 50km course was 13-year old Lachlan Hewlett, who finished with an impressive time of 3 hours and 56 minutes. Meanwhile in the 100km event, 71-year old Mike Swain crossed the line in 7 hours and 48 minutes. As the oldest competitor and an inspiration to any cyclist, Swain spent the day proving that age is merely a number, not a barrier.
Another trend that has continued to grow with each Odyssey event is the rising number of female competitors. Whereas many mountain bike races struggle to attract much of a female contingent, this years Odyssey saw over a 25% representation on the day.
This included an Elite field stacked with high profile riders including Jenni King, Peta Mullens, Jenny Fay, and Melissa Anset. And with $3000 cash on the line for the winner, it’s no wonder that the female field was so strong on race day.
Rebecca Locke was one rider who has nearly competed at every Otway Odyssey, with 7 podium finishes out of 8 starts, including last years big win.
“Having won the race last year I had high expectations of myself to get a good result” Locke said. “Seeing the start list and the depth that was going to be on the line I knew I had to have a great ride to stand on the podium. Considering the depth of the women’s field I was pretty happy to grab 4th.”
Although Locke wasn’t able to back up last year’s victory, she was content with her performance on the day, finishing just 10-minutes behind an in-form Jenni King.
“I’m a little surprised by this but I’m really happy,” exclaimed an out-of-breath King after she crossed the line in first position. “I entered the Odyssey as an end of season ‘fun’ race with the aim of just enjoying the trails and getting through the distance. To take out the win, really was a nice surprise. I had no idea how far in front Peta [Mullens] was so I just concentrated on my own race and was really lucky to be able to get past her near the end.”
Coming off the back of taking out the Road National Championship, Peta Mullens led out the women’s field for a large part of the race. This included taking out the Queen of the Mountain title, with a handy $250 cash prize for her strong performance through the hill climbs. She knew the challenge was coming though, with King flexing her technical muscles through the tight singletrack to push past Mullens in the latter stages of the race.
“This is my fifth time doing the Giant Odyssey, I love coming back here,” said Mullens, who was visibly stoked with her close finish with King. “The trails here are amazing, I love the start and finish in Forrest and it’s a real mountain biker’s marathon so I’ll definitely be back next year to try to get the win again.”
Locke also concurred with Mullens thoughts about the event and the Otway region.
“I love the trails around Forrest, they are such great fun to race on,” said Locke. “Forrest itself is such a beautiful place to hang out whether it’s just riding or racing your bikes. It has a great little coffee/bike shop (The Corner Store), and you can’t go past the brewery for a great feed and of course the excellent craft beer!”
One truly unique aspect of the Giant Odyssey was the inclusion of a Handcycle category that saw 4 competitors line up on the start line alongside the 15km Pioneer field. Introduced last year for the first time, the Handcycle category took riders along a customised 7km off-road course around the Forrest trails, which was designed by Rapid Ascent and Handcyclist Campbell Message.
“We work for the Spinal Community Integration Service (SCIS), and we work with people who have received a spinal cord injury for 1-year post discharge from rehabilitation,” explained Message. “The course was designed as an introductory course for people who are just getting into Off Road Handcycling. So it’s not overly long or difficult. Having said that when you push yourself against the competition, your arms really feel it!”
The sport of Off Road Handcycling is relatively new, and it presents a new opportunity for those with spinal injuries to get out into the bush. As an alternative to wheelchair basketball and wheelchair racing, Off Road Handcycling can make the inaccessible, accessible.
“The machines are pretty new to Australia and really expensive,” admitted Message. “So it’s taking a while to get people into it. But the impact for the individuals can be huge. Having a spinal cord injury can be massive, but helping people return to what the love can be awesome.”
The Best Half-Marathon In Australia?
For this years Giant Odyssey, I entered into the 50km ‘Shorty’ option. The Shorty event is the most popular distance at the Odyssey, with over 500 riders taking to the 50km course for 2015.
The race initially takes riders through the Southern trail network, before crossing through transition at the Forrest Football Ground on the way into the Yaugher trail network for the latter part of the race. Rapid Ascent seem to have gotten the ratio right between fireroad and singletrack, with the fireroad climb sections providing plenty of opportunity for recovery and hydration. Most of the singletrack is descending, so it keeps things fun when you want them to be.
Both the 100km and 50km courses saw some improvements for this years event, with a greater separation of the two courses that saw less traffic on the trails. This was a terrific improvement on previous years, as it allowed the 50km riders with fresher legs to keep up the momentum through the tight singletrack.
Further refinement of the Odyssey for 2015 saw rider feedback from previous races taken on board. Along with the inclusion of the brilliant West Forrest Trails, the 50km course cut out the less popular ‘Yo Yo’ and ‘Casper Black’ trails, instead putting riders on trails ‘Vista’ and ‘Barre Warre’ to provide more flow and to make for an easier finish.
Finishing times were a little different to previous years as a result, with most riders taking between 3.5-4 hours to get around the 50km course. David Sagnol took out the Mens category in just 2:15, while Louise Betts finished in 2:43 to win the Women’s category.
J-Blood Reigns Supreme In 2015
As for the Men’s 100km race, it was a dominant Chris Jongewaard who notched up his 6th win at the 2015 Giant Odyssey. Finishing 6-mintues clear of Mark Tupalski, it was clear that Jongewaard was on another level to the competition as he stormed through the finish line chute at the Forrest Football Ground.
“I was one minute off the record but it was still a pretty fast day; and I had the time of my life out there,” said Jongewaard. “I always love coming here; they’re such good trails, the people are great and it’s an awesome atmosphere. Bring a group of friends over; it’s the perfect weekend and you’ve got to be here,” said Jongewaard.
As with the Women’s 100km race, the Men’s field was loaded with big-hitters who came in from all around the country, including Paul Van Der Ploeg, Ben Mather, Tom Goddard, and James Downing.
Melbourne local Rohin Adams had one of the rides of his life to finish in the top-5, his best result ever at the Odyssey.
“To be honest it feels bloody great,” said Adams when asked how he felt finishing in the top-10. “I have only missed the Odyssey a few times due to clashes with my grandma’s 90th and a wedding the (now ex) wife said was not negotiable. Every year I have set the goal of a top 10. In year 1 Phil Orr got me with 10kms to go putting me in 11th. Since then I have snapped chains, flatted, food flatted, cramped or just not been fit enough for it. To have not only been in the top 10 but to have finished 4th this year was a very special moment for me indeed. Fair to say I was emotional about it.”
There was plenty of action during the Men’s race, with XCE World Champion Paul Van Der Ploeg pulling out part way through after not quite feeling 100% on the day. World Cup contender Chris Hamilton was also in a world of pain, finishing down in 18th position. As they say, some days you’re the hammer, and some days you’re the nail.
“As we left for the last loop and hit the big climb Tupalski put on some gas and only Ben Mather, Tobias Lestrell and I could go,” said Adams on how the race panned out in the latter stages. “I was once again maxing out and starting to regret having done very little heart rate training or racing. But I knew the longer I could hold on the more distance I could get on the boys behind and this was my chance of top 5. I blew up, but held as much speed as I could. When I came across Mather with about 7kms to go I was to be honest surprised. His back was playing up and he wished me luck, congratulated me on the chase and that was that. From there I was all emotion as I just put everything I had left into getting to the finish.”
Broadcast updates through the loudspeakers at the Forrest Football Ground kept everyone on their toes throughout the day as spectators eagerly anticipated the arrival of their friends and family at the finish line. Adams ended up 10-minutes behind Jongewaard, with Tupalski taking 2nd place and Tobias Lestrell finishing just 30-seconds clear of Adams in a tight finish.
A Decade Of Odysseys
Next year marks the 10th year for the Otway Odyssey, and given how successful 2015 was, we’re certain that Rapid Ascent will be turning it on yet again. There have also been some recent announcements about funding for further trail development for the Forrest region, which should only serve to cement this towns reputation for providing quality mountain biking.
Either way, we’re sure that many riders will be back next year to tackle the Odyssey, whether they’re gunning for a podium position in the Elite field, or are simply looking to beat their time from this year. Given the accessibility of the Giant Odyssey to a wide range of riders, you can bet that there’ll also be plenty of new competitors looking to challenge themselves in their own personal Odyssey.