The Giant Odyssey (formerly Otway Odyssey) will be celebrating 10 years of running one of the premier XCM races in Australia next Saturday (February 20). As one of the pioneer events of marathon mountain biking in Australia the event has earned a reputation as a difficult, epic, hard man/woman yet enjoyable marathon event. The race originally was a mass start event departing from the beautiful seaside town of Apollo Bay on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road before commencing an epic road climb into the hinterland that is the Otway ranges. This format always catered for an early split in the field and sorted the competitors from the pretenders early on by virtue of the painful 6-7km berg. The views, trails and route created a spectacle of a race and a delight for race photographers whom would revel in the backdrop provided by the road climb. However due to logistical difficulties and in the interest of providing a purely MTB/ singletrack specific race, the race has since moved to a start/finish in the bushland hamlet of ‘Forrest’ in the Otway ranges.
This will be my 3rd appearance at this race, having completed both the former and current race course. The previous course incorporating the epic road climb was in 2011 a memorable year with torrential rain the evening before the race creating havoc on the trails and a race that destroyed many a drivetrain. The new course is far more suited to a pure MTB racer as the opportunity to put time into your opponents comes only in singletrack as opposed to on the road. The trails in the Forrest region are absolute MINT for anyone who loves to shred, huck and rail berms. The ‘red carpet’ section is a timed descent that usually brings a smile to the dial of riders who are working their way through a demanding 100km epic. The final 30km is a favourite of mine, the winding, flowy, power demanding singletrack encourages you to empty the gas tank and get your booty to the sausage sizzle on the Forrest oval ASAP!!
Over it’s 10 year history this race has attracted the best of the best of the Australian and international mountain bike community. Of particular note was the attendance of MTB hall of famer and Olympian Tinker Juarez from the USA in 2008. Also world champion and 2x Olympian Judith Arndt from Germany has lined up twice at the Odyssey. Proving the difficulty of this race and the caliber of the field this race has attracted over the years, neither of these 2 world class athletes managed to dominate the race. Judith did take the win in the 2010 event. However, the 1 rider that has this race all over his palmares in former national champion and Adelaide local the famous ‘Jblood’ Chris Jongewaard has won this race in 6 of the 9 versions of this race!
But, who can win the 10th anniversary edition of the Giant Odyssey?
With a date clash coinciding with the James Williamson enduro in NSW and the WEMBO 24hour championship in Rotorua, the elite field is looking a little thinner than in years past. Could this open the door to a dark horse for this year’s odyssey? The race carries a large prize purse, hence a lot of rider’s bring their absolute A game to Forrest for the Odyssey and with the National XCM champs less than two months away there is no denying the competition will be fierce. Former winner Adrian ‘AJ’ Jackson has just penned a new deal with Orbea Bicycles and will be letting rip on the Odyssey course on his brand new machine. Always a fan of this race AJ says “The Forrest singletrack is amongst the best in Australia and everyone should tick it off their bucket list!”. AJ will be lining up as a favourite next Saturday.
Usually a fan of much shorter races, the current national CX champion Paul ‘Vandy’ Van der Ploeg will be another rider to watch. The distance may not work in his favour but races consisting of a lot of singletrack often suit more powerful riders. Paul puts out more watts than most small engine motor cars so the former world XCE champion may be able to power away from the field next Saturday. Paul explains his feelings about the Odyssey “I have a bit of a love hate relationship with the Odyssey. I love the event and getting involved in the hard racing. I hate when I’m not ready and cannot ride at the front of the race”. ‘Jblood’ will be the stand out rider to beat on the day however. Jongewaard’s experience at the race is unrivalled and the miles, power, skill in his legs are always going to be hard to outdo. Other contender’s include former national XCM champion Ben Mather from Launceston and winner of the Inaugral Odyssey- Murray Spink from Victoria will be lining up again in 2016.
The women’s race is always a close fought affair. The field this year promises to deliver some close and exciting racing. With some classic sprint finishes over the years in the women’s category. Who will take the win in 2016 is anyone’s guess looking at the start grid. Former national XCO champion Jenni King outlines winning last year’s event as one of the highlights of her season but is not expecting an easy ride next Saturday. Last year Jenni was caught in a tight battle with former national road champion peta Mullens, the same battle may eventuate this year as Peta will also be lining up hoping to reverse the 2015 result where she finished 2nd to Jenni. Having attempted the odyssey 5 times and never finished off the podium Peta knows the course better than most and will be in tip top form with her eye’s on potential Olympic selection for 2016. Other rider’s to note will be Forrest local and the woman behind much of the MTB scene in this area, former world 24hour champion Jess Douglas, the highly experienced and always high performing Jodie Willet from Brisbane and 2013 Odyssey champion Renata Bucher!
The Odyssey is always a challenging, fun and exciting event for all involved. The Rapid Ascent crew know how to put on a formidable event and the organisation is always top notch even down to showers and sausage sizzle at the finish line! Hope to see you there in the Otway ranges on February 20.