Photos: Open Shutter Photography & Scott Vaughan
Held over the last weekend of April, the Bendigo Golden Triangle Epic has once again bolstered its reputation as one of the biggest and best mountain bike events on the Victorian race calendar. Despite heavy rains the day before, over 400 riders descended on the Central Victorian town to compete in the Bendigo Mountain Bike Club’s flagship Cross Country Marathon race.
2015 represented the 10th year of the Golden Triangle Epic, and it certainly lived up to the Bendigo MTB Club’s claims of being their biggest and best event yet. Judging by rider and spectator feedback, it was also a roaring success.
Located just 1.5 hours drive north of Melbourne (and 1 hour drive from the airport), Bendigo is the regional hub of Central Victoria. It’s the 3rd largest town in the state, and it’s also synonymous with mining due to its historical significance in the 1850’s Gold rush era.
These days the town hosts a thriving cycling community, a growing network of mountain bike trails, and a reputation for producing some of the country’s finest athletes. The region is well known for its high calibre of cycling talent, both on the road, and off it.
Highlighting the strong local contingent, many of the towns biggest hitters saddled up at the Golden Triangle Epic start line, which included Peta Mullens, Chris Hamilton, and Tasman Nankervis – riders who have performed at some of the highest levels of the sport.
Compared to events such as the Otway Odyssey and Wombat 100, the Golden Triangle Epic runs a unique format. In more recent years, the Epic has utilised a 50km course. Riders can choose to race 50km (1 lap), 100km (2 laps) or 100 miles (3 laps with an extra 10km section added on at the start). This makes the race far easier to manage logistically, but it also creates a killer vibe in the event village, with riders passing in and out of transition throughout the day.
When the Golden Triangle Epic first introduced the 100-mile category several years ago, it was the only event of its kind in Australia. The category has grown since then, and in this years race, the 100-mile category saw over 20 (crazy!) riders take to the start line at 6:30am to complete the gargantuan distance.
Being a Cross Country Marathon (XCM) race, the Golden Triangle Epic attracted a strong field of elite riders for the 100km distance, but it was the 50km category that saw the lion’s share of the participation. Over 300 riders took to the start line for the 50km race, making for a great mass start, and heated racing through the tight and twisty singletrack that tangled its way through the southern forests of Bendigo.
The riding in Bendigo is renowned for its dry and rocky nature, but a huge dumping of rain the day before the race helped to bed in the dusty trails and provide tacky conditions come race day. The course itself took riders through some of the best riding the Goldfields region has to offer, along with sections of the historic Goldfields Track.
The Big Hitters
There were plenty of big names that turned up to take it to the locals, and the race times were proof of just how hot the competition was.
World XCE Champion, Paul Van Der Ploeg, ended up taking out the 100km Elite Mens Category, with blistering pace that saw him edge towards a 25km/h average speed. There was just 1 minute separating him from Adrian Jackson in 5th place though, and from all accounts there was plenty of chopping and changing in the lead throughout the day.
In the Women’s Elite 100km category, Rebecca Locke had an unfortunate crash towards the latter part of the race, which saw her lose valuable time over her rival Jenni King. King held on for the remainder of the race, finishing in 4:57, with Locke barely a minute behind.
Peta Mullens was an obvious omission from the women’s 100km Elite category, but in the week leading up to race day, Mullens changed her tactics and aimed for the 50km category instead. Mullens was due to fly out the day after the Golden Triangle Epic, and so the risk of racing fatigue wasn’t worth it for her. As expected, Mullens blitzed the 50km field, with her home ground advantage paying off on the podium.
Possibly the most impressive effort of the day went to Tobias Lestrell however, who finished the 100-mile category in 1st position. Lestrell maintained incredible pace for all 3 of his 50km laps, crossing the line in under 7 hours. He also finished 25 minutes clear of Phillip Orr in second place, proving that he’s the one to watch out for in this long distance category.
24-hour Solo World Champion, Jess Douglas, also saddled up for the 100-mile category, and took out the women’s field with her trademark determination. 9 hours on the bike is a long day in anyone’s books, but for Jess, that’s not even halfway in her usual race format!
Because of the staggered start times over the course of the morning, the crowd began to swell in time for the elite riders to cross the finish line. With riders filling up the transition zone as the afternoon wore on, the atmosphere continued to grow. Competitors were greeted with an icy cold bottle of Beechworth Pale Ale as they crossed the line, and an array of couches dotted around the village provided a comfy spot to recover weary muscles and share war stories.
The club also did a great job of providing the right amenities for both riders and their supporters. Boxes of free bananas were distributed around the crowd, while a gourmet pizza van churned out fresh pizzas from a wood fired oven, and a coffee van delivered the caffeine to where it was needed most. There was an obligatory sausage sizzle that was helping to raise funds for the Nankervis brothers overseas racing quests, and a live DJ span tunes throughout the day to keep everyone grooving. With everyone jazzed up from the idyllic trail conditions, it was a terrific atmosphere.
Putting Cash Back Into The Trails
If all the smiles going around at transition were anything to go by, this years Golden Triangle Epic was a roaring success. In the days following the events conclusion however, it became apparent just how big of a success it was for the Bendigo MTB Club.
Event coordinator, Joel Rockes, was thrilled with the increase in numbers for the 2015 event, which has matched the significant growth in membership of the Bendigo MTB Club. Much of this is also in tandem with the growing recognition of Bendigo as a premier riding destination.
“The Golden Triangle Epic the 2nd largest club-run events in the country”, said Rockes. “As a grassroots mountain bike race, that means all the money raised from the event entries goes directly back into the local trail network and to the Bendigo MTB Club.”
What this means for riders is better quality, sustainably built trails. Although Bendigo is already well known for great singletrack, the Bendigo MTB Club has been hard at work developing a Strategic Trail Development Plan, which will bring world class trails to Bendigo in the coming years.
Vice President of the Bendigo MTB Club, Rim Martin, has been spearheading the Trail Development Committee. “We have identified Spring Gully as the priority area for MTB trail development”, said Martin. “There’s already lots of great singletrack in and around Bendigo, but the emphasis with the Spring Gully Trail Network is to build sustainable, purpose-built trails that are inclusive of all rider types.”
And that’s what is so brilliant about the Golden Triangle Epic. All the money raised from this years event will go towards funding this Master Plan, which alongside funding from the local council, will help lay the groundwork for even better trails for the future.
Although everyone was frothing over the course at this year’s Golden Triangle Epic, we can’t wait to see how the event is going to evolve over time. Here’s to another 10 years!
Rider: Paul Van Der Ploeg
Event: 100km Elite
Nice work on taking out the win! Is that the first time you’ve crossed the line at the Golden Triangle Epic in 1st position? It sure is! I raced the GTE when it was Marathon champs a few years ago and my brother Neil was second and Murray Spink took the win. I was blown away in the last 10km of the race.
How did you find the trails? The new format is awesome! 50km laps make it less intimidating and it meant that I knew what to expect for the second half of the race. A really good mix of trails, open sections and technical features.
Were you worried about the rain from the day before the race? Driving into Bendigo the night before I was worried as it was dumping rain. I was reassured by Peta and Jarrod that it would be good for the course and in the end it was so premium. Probably the best condition I have seen the Bendigo trails!
How did you find the event overall? Really impressive event. The local club really dialled in the format, with logical start times so most of the category riders finished before the Elite riders. It made it a really special and electric atmosphere crossing the line with a crowd of a few hundred people.
What do you think is unique about mountain biking in Bendigo? The terrain in Bendigo is very special with short rolling hills and a great mixture of surfaces to keep you on your toes. The history of the gold rush is still prevalent in the forest and gives the area more character. Also racing close to town makes it easy logistically.
You brought a Giant dual suspension race bike fitted with a dropper post. Tell us about the bike itself and why chose to ride it over a hardtail? I recently built up the 2015 Anthem with the RockShox dropper post and I love it. Because I’m so tall my seat height is an issue on the downhills. I have always struggled to get my centre of gravity low enough in the steep sectors of the course. The dual suspension was definitely the best option for me in the techy singletrack.
What do you think could be improved about the Golden Triangle Epic? The club needs to really promote this event as I think they have something special that needs to be shared with the Australian mountain bike community. Just by having such a successful event this year should help build it’s reputation. I enjoyed so many parts of the day, so overall it was a very impressive and well run format. You could even start the Elites later so even more people have finished 🙂
Will you be back again next year? Hopefully! I hardly know what I’m doing next week let alone next year!
Rider: Jenni King
Event: 100km Elite
Congratulations on taking out the win! Is that the first time you’ve crossed the line in 1st position? Thanks! I’ve been pretty happy with my marathon distance form at the moment and lucky enough to sneak in a few wins 🙂
You’ve ridden the Golden Triangle Epic before; how did this year’s event compare to previous years? The course seemed to flow a lot better than previous years. The club / volunteers had obviously put in a lot of hard work over the preceding months as the trails were in “mint” condition. There also seemed to be more competitors and more atmosphere with plenty of food stands and sponsor set-ups. The comfy couches were handy to relax in following the race!
How did you find the trails? While there aren’t too many longer climbs in Bendigo, the terrain is certainly tough with many ‘pinchy’ ups and downs and lots of cornering. You certainly need to be on your ‘A’ game for the entire race and keep your eyes on the trail! It is the type of terrain I love to ride as I reckon it is a course for the true mountain bikers!
Were you worried about the rain from the day before the race? No not really. I have never ridden Bendigo when it has been really muddy, as the terrain seems to hold up really well. If anything, the rain helped smooth the trails out and made for some fast times.
You brought a Merida dual suspension race bike to Bendigo. Tell us about the bike itself and why chose to ride it over a hardtail? I guess I’m getting old hey 🙂 I have found, with my dodgy hip, that I can get away with a little more on the dually. On the rougher type of terrain, the dual suspension helps with pedal efficiency and the small weight increase over the smaller climbs doesn’t matter so much.
What do you think could be improved about the Golden Triangle Epic? It’s hard to think of anything more that needs to be done. Maybe just some more couches to collapse on after the race 🙂
With its proximity to Melbourne and all of the impending plans in place to build a world-class mountain bike park in Spring Gully, what does the future of mountain biking in Bendigo look like? There seems to already be a great network of trails in and around Bendigo, but the more the better! New trails are starting to pop up in quite a few areas and I have certainly noticed more people getting into the sport; particularly kids, which is great! Many of our greatest riders have come out of Bendigo and surrounding areas and I’m sure with these increasing trail networks there will be many more future stars.
Rider: Ben Peach
Tell us how the race turned out for you? The race turned out great! The course was set out very well and was balls-out fun, plenty of variety and not a lot of hardcore climbing. My goal was to get into the top half and I didn’t quite manage to get there, definitely next year!
How did you find the trails? The trails were great; not too much climbing and the little bit of rain beforehand meant the dirt was tacky and confidence inspiring. Some people have put in some serious blood sweat and tears into building those trails and it shows. And it was f***ing fun, especially trying to navigate the trail behind someone with moving fist sized rocks moving across the trail!
How did you find the event overall? It was probably one of the least stressful races I’ve attended. It had a great vibe from start to finish; plenty of parking close by, really friendly rego crew, great race briefing with clear audible instructions (which is very rare) and great volunteers cheering you on and providing that extra bit of motivation at each checkpoint. The race itself was great, nothing overly technical and plenty of places to pass / be passed without too much risk. Most importantly, heaps of free swag, awesome coffee and just a killer good local vibe! It’s also the little things that add up that make this event awesome: free event photography by OpenShutterPhotography, live DJ pumping out tunes, free socks, free bananas post race, free beer when you cross the line and I scored a free birzman pump as well! The freebies essentially paid for the race!
Tell us about the bike you brought along and how it handled the trails? Trek Fuel EX 9 29er with some lighter wheels. Handled the trails perfectly! Although it may be a little slower on some climbs than a hardtail, I was grateful for the squish towards the end when the trails got a little rough; no sore bum or body for me.
What do you think could be improved about the Golden Triangle Epic? I don’t think it’s what can be done to improve the GTE, but what can be done to ensure it stays the same. I think a race as fun and well run as the GTE can run the risk of getting really big and losing a lot of its charm. Keep it medium size, keep it fun, keep the free swag, keep the awesome coffee and food, keep the tunes, keep the local Bendigo race vibe! Rock and roll GTE!
Will you be back again next year? Bang yes! This one is pencilled into my diary for the rest of my life.
Rider: Jo Johnston
Tell us about how the race turned out for you? My race turned out wonderfully! I had such a fun time out on the trails, enjoying nearly every moment (except for a few cramps in last few kms), and then surprise to me, I came 3rd in the women’s veteran category! I was on my single speed, so I had no expectations, except to race myself, and try to stay consistent the entire way.
How did you find the trails? The trails were fantastic, a bit of everything. Hills, flow, tight single track, and all in perfect condition.
You’re a Bendigo local; had you pre-ridden the course? I had pre-ridden most of the course the week before. I’m glad I did, as I could see this race was going to be fun, especially if they stayed in the condition they were – tacky!
What do you think is unique about mountain biking in Bendigo? It’s unique as the trails are so close to the city centre, so no matter where you are in Bendigo, it doesn’t take long to get a beautiful ride in. There are many options as well! If you want to a nice quick spurt on single track, Spring Gully trails are right there, if you want a full day out on the bike, you can ride trail, all the way to Castlemaine! (jump on the train and home again!) There is something to suit everyone!
Tell us about the bike you brought along and how it handled the trails? Well, I bought along my beautiful Niner Air 9 Carbon, setup single speed! It handled the trials amazingly, and climbed the little pinch climbs with love! (except the last power line climb…)
What do you think could be improved about the Golden Triangle Epic? I think the Golden Triangle Epic was a fantastic event! The only thing I would improve would be a little more signage on some parts of the trail, as I did manage to take a wrong turn (whoops!)
With its proximity to Melbourne and all of the impending plans in place to build a world-class mountain bike park in Spring Gully, what does the future of mountain biking in Bendigo look like? I think the future looks strong & vibrant. Hopefully growing, and continuing to host fantastic events like the Epic. I think with Bendigo being such a central location to many surrounding towns and cities in Victoria, it can be the perfect mountain bike hub for a weekend getaway. Not too far to travel, good fun trails, and plenty of non-mountain bike activities for other family members to enjoy. What more could you ask for?!