After a 3 year break from XCM racing and an 18 month hiatus from racing in general, I was excited to get back the ‘eye of the tiger’ at one of my favourite events on the Australian MTB calendar- The Otway Odyssey.
I always had painful yet fond memories of this race and the 2016 edition would mark the 10th anniversary of this 100km classic through the Otway ranges by the Great Ocean Rd in Victoria. Being the 10th anniversary and as always holding a considerable prize purse a handy bunch of elite riders had rocked up for a stoush at the 2016 title.
After a long commute from Sydney and a super early start to get to Forrest for the start line it was a familiar yet somewhat nerve wracking experience being on the start line. For me, I used to get real nervous before the start of any race, as the race meant so much to me, it was my job, my life, my passion and a good result could mean the difference between a contract for a following season or an opportunity for other race starts. However, this year, none of this mattered. I was here in Forrest- For FUN! Yet still. those uncomfortable nervous feelings preoccupied my mind before the start.
A good athlete knows how to transform nervous energy into performance on the bike. Having nothing really at stake for myself in the race I was reliant upon my own competitive instinct and drive to motivate me. It was refreshing to get that feeling as the gun went off, I was darting off trying to follow the right wheels. Choose a good bunch position and find my rhythm on the bike. The Odyssey starts with about a 10km stretch of road which was taken at a sedate pace by the main group. As is usually the case in this race as soon as the gravel is hit in Barwon Downs the race is underway proper.
The pace was driven hard by those with prior knowledge and experience at the race including Adrian Jackson, Paul Van Der Ploeg and Chris Jongewaard. There is a long, steep climb at approximately the 20km mark. It was by this point that the race had established itself proper. I found myself sitting ok in the top 15 just off the back of the group containing James Downing and Shaun Lewis. My strategy, given many years away from such racing was to ride well within my limits on the climbs so I could try to save my power for the long singletrack sections that define this race.
This proved to be ineffectual as merely trying to get over the steep climbs in this race pushed me well into the red. I pushed on into the ‘moto’ trail- a section of about 5km of overgrown, messy singletrack. Here the strategy was just let go of the brakes and hope for the best underneath all the overgrown shrubbery that shrouds this trail. This is where the Norco revolver FS came into it’s own, I could relax a bit more than anticipated through here as the bike was doing much of the hard work for me. Admittedly I did still end up in the bushes a few times. Got through here even making up a few spots.
Out of the rut and into the Odyssey groove
Lap 2 of the 3 lap odyssey and I was starting to find my groove. The singletrack was where I was finding my rhythm. I made up even more spots on the sweet, Forrest singletrack and was even having FUN! Who would’ve thought- Racing could be FUN! The excitement about being on the MTB, doing what I love in a FULL GAS manner was palpable.
I did however have in the back of my mind the promise I had made to my wife to go on a tourist drive to the 12 apostles after the race. I couldn’t completely empty the tank like I used to in races. I was very grateful to get the wheel of a Melbourne Specialized rider who towed me to the beginning of the final and arguably hardest lap of the race at 35km to go. It was a little after being dropped from the aforementioned wheel that I realised I was well out of condition to race at the pointy end. I hit the wall BIG time. The long, long climb at the 70km mark seemed to go on FOREVER. I struggled to get enough food down and as usual had not paid enough attention to my nutrition plan.
Living with Type 1 diabetes makes this a little more complicated as I need to be constantly cognisent of where my blood sugar levels are at. I started slamming down gels and bars with rather desperate urgency to regain the energy to get me through the last 20-30km. I did after losing 5-6 spots and after the famous ‘red carpet’ descent find my rhtythm again for the sweet final section of Forrest singletrack. Riding a duallie for the first time in a MTB race made me realise how much more I could get out of these trails. The Norco held up with sweet momentum and smoothness over all the log jumps, roll-overs, drops and switchbacks that make this race FUN! I put the hammer down for the last 5-10km and crossed the line 1 minute shy of my 5hour goal for this race.
The feeling of finishing albeit 40minutes behind the winner Chris ‘hurricane’ Hamilton was perhaps even more satisfying as an older, more retired and less stressed out racer than it was as a results driven youngster. I had fun out there, however I didn’t have the energy until the following day for that 12 apostles trip. I still got to enjoy the afternoon with my wife relaxing and eating after I had churned through thousands of calories in the morning’s events. The Rapid Ascent Odyssey re-ignited a passion for XCM racing for me. I found it fun, satisfying and motivating to be back in an atmosphere that whilst still competitive has a elegant charm about it. After spending 5 years around professional road racing to be in a race where even at the pointy end competitors would check that other competitors by the trail were ok and offer assistance was delightfully refreshing and put a smile on my dial. After all that is what this sport should be all about- encouraging more smiles on dials. And sometimes after 5 hours of punishing pain the smile from the satisfaction of finishing can last for days afterward.
Till next year’s Odyssey, what an awesome ride!!