The second round of the Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA) XCM Series ran today as stage one of the Lasseters Easter in the Alice Mountain Bike Muster. The ‘Bunny Buster’ is a 90km trek through the rough, rocky, and often flowy singletrack of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory. 2015 XCM Series champion Andrew Blair was triumphant on the stage, and in the women’s race Queenslander Imogen Smith was victorious.
This is the second year that the XCM Series has visited Alice Springs, and riders knew from 2015 that the course, and climate, would both prove decisive. With hot temperatures predicted, riders had bottles at four feed stations on the route, and took to the trails early – right at first light.
Taking off from Lasseters hotel and casino, the race took to the streets briefly, before hitting the dirt. The first sandy double track was raced at high speeds. Blair was quick to show his dominance, but the other elite men stayed attentive.
As the elite men’s field broke up local Ben Gooley chased Blair but was sidelined with a flat at 40km. In the end another local talent, Luke Pankhurst had the legs to chase, finishing about 10 minutes off Blair, and happy with his result. Jeff Rubach came third. Blair stated that getting fluids in on such a day was hard work.
‘I think the biggest thing for me today was the heat, I tried to manage it as best I could. Drank heaps of water got two big bottles in every single water stop but it wasn’t quite enough as I felt a bit funny towards the finish, but it came at the right time for me.’
James Downing was quick to praise the marathon route, ‘It’s one of the best marathon courses in the country. I love the riding out here, the variety, and today had everything that makes the trip worthwhile. They nailed it.’
As the race progressed temperatures soared to the mid-thirties, and riders battled the elements as much as one another. Dust and the rising sun made picking out the trail difficult, while exposed rocks and hidden sand traps caused more than a few crashes.
In the women’s event Imogen Smith managed the win she had hoped for but was a characteristically analytical of her performance. ‘Overall I raced consistently, but while Alice is my favourite place to ride, I have to admit the flat, open, physical trails don’t necessarily play to my strengths: Every time I saw even the smallest hill I went ‘thank god!’. I was chasing a faster time than I managed today. I still have a lot of work to do but a win is so encouraging,’ said Smith.
Tomorrow hosts two stages – a new, mass-start hill climb stage up the brutish Mt Gillen. After about five or six kilometres on incredibly rough rocky tracks, riders will head directly up a two-kilometre climb that reaches gradients of a whopping 30%. In the evening, a Mad Max-style night race sees riders rocketing through two laps of a five-kilometre course at full gas.
Results will be up soon on the Easter in the Alice website
What’s next in the MTBA XCM Series?
While the Easter in the Alice has three more stages over the next two days, the MTBA XCM Series moves to round 3 in Bendigo for the Golden Triangle Epic on April 16th. The week before that riders will race the National XCM Championships in Derby, Tasmania on 10th April.