The Evocities MTB Series has been enjoying some excellent support from those riders who have been interested in visiting the towns and cities of regional NSW. I had my eye on attending one for some time, but just hadn’t been in the right place at the right time. But a couple of weeks ago, it looked like a flight to Wagga Wagga from Brisbane, via Sydney, would make sense for Imogen Smith and I, before some work and family commitments south of our Queensland home.
The Evocities are seven cities in New South Wales, strong regional hubs that are linked in an effort to promote themselves as very liveable cities in beautiful parts of the country. It’s not all about Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
Just like each Evocity is unique, so is each round of the Evocities MTB Series. While the last race in Tamworth was a 5hr race, this weekend was a 6hr race – with a catch. If you went out for a lap and came in after 6hrs… your lap didn’t count.
Wagga Wagga, like much of the Australian east coast, had experienced its fair share of rainfall in the days before the race. About 50mm fell through the week, and while I fitted some wet weather tyres to the front wheels for Imogen and I, and put in Ride Mechanic Bike Mix, not Milk, that was about the length of my wet weather preparation. You don’t ride in the wet in Brisbane. You’re likely to get stabbed, or worse.
We flew in across the NSW countryside, and it was vibrantly green. Both Imogen and I often joke that European settlers must have come through these parts of Australia soon after such rain, and thought the area would be excellent for British style farming – only to be left in drought more often than not. But on Saturday, we could see the ground was flooding with water. Quite literally, there was a very major flood watch on. Dams on properties had flooded fields, and there was a lot of standing water along most roads.
Our taxi driver told us a story about the river levee being supported by a bulldozer, two trucks and a telegraph pole in decades gone by, right next to the Prince Charles hotel where we were staying. My mate owns it now and thankfully the levee is reinforced with concrete now. Still, the caravan park down the road trundled their cabins away to a local park on higher ground. Flooding was a real possibility.
The Wagga Wagga MTB club had done some excellent work prior to the race, with updates via Facebook for track conditions – and a lot of work on Saturday cutting channels and setting the course to more suitable trails. But more rain overnight un-did a lot of their good work.
Ready for race day at Evocities Round 4
It was a cold start on Sunday morning, and we rugged up with our bottles and race food on our backs, and rolled out, with an extra stop for a coffee at a service station. Do note that the Jura coffee machines at some Caltex service stations don’t do a bad coffee!
The brief rays of early Spring sunshine disappeared, and greyer clouds amassed as we arrived. Thr ground was wet, and the MC was talking about the mud we would encounter.
But there was a good selection of riders ready to do battle, like Shaun Lewis, Ed McDonald, Andrew Lloyd, Jason English, Garry James, Liz Smith, Wagga local Dan Beresford and more. Shaun always is a magnet for the camera and luckily WIN were there.
Racing got underway after the kids’ races, and we went straight up the hill on the red dirt and wet clay – it wasn’t too bad, and I could see Jason, Ed and Dan disappear, with Shaun on the way too. I got in the way of Andrew for a little while until there was room for him to pass.
Much of the course at Pomingalarna was on rock, with old school singletrack weaving through the sparse bush. But a lot of it was under water too. So while there was heaps more grip than I expected, there was also a lot of ground water.
After mostly riding casually since the Mackay Mountain Marathon, even my sedate pace proved a bit too much after a couple of laps so I had to wind it back. There were about 160 riders at the race but I still managed to ride with someone else most of the time – and there was a lot of surprise that we had come down from Brisbane!
I ended up bumping into Shaun Lewis, but after a chat and continually getting dropped I eventually hunger flatted and had to pull over and do a Solo man inhale of food at transition. And then again part way up the climb. But the problem when you start going slower is you cool down. And I cooled down a lot. Pedalling slowly, I navigated one of the growing mud bogs through a ditch and my bike made some more unhappy sounds. Red, gritty mud was everywhere, and there were a lot of horrible sounds coming from everyone’s bikes.
So I stopped, looking at where the sound came from. A gentleman wandered up and asked – “should we call the race?”. We were about 3hrs in. I knew I wasn’t having much fun anymore. The drier sections were ok, but most was getting worse, mud sections were longer and deeper, and the bogs were getting very deep and sending people over the bars.
I ended up short cutting back and took off what I could replace with something dry and warm. The race was called as a 4hr and some people went out for their final laps. Imogen was out, in 2nd place behind Albury’s Kathryn McInerney, and Jason was leading mens. It’s hard to change a race once it has started but not everyone was aware the race was cut short, and even a solo rider near our setup was taking on food and fluids to set off again before we told him the race was shortened.
Liz Smith snuck past Imogen to take 2nd, and Imogen was third. Jason English held Ed McDonald off and while Dan Beresford was 3rd overall, it was Andrew Lloyd who was 3rd in Open men.
Being cold and wet is never fun, and Imogen was pretty quickly in a bad way. But we were in regional NSW and she was quickly looked after, with a fleecy jumper donated off the organiser’s back, plus a space blanket and real blanket.
Reflecting on Wagga Wagga
Australian mountain bike events, and Australian mountain bikers, have an uneasy relationship with wet weather. If a race calls an event off, people are dismayed as their plans go awry. Clubs lose their investment in their time, and probably with some of the equipment they have hired.
But if they push on and gamble that it will be ok, they risk riders who are upset their bikes have been trashed, their local trails get severely damaged, and they might have to cut the race short.
It is hard to know what the right call would have been for Wagga Wagga. Club members were on course the whole time keeping an eye on conditions, closing lines if they got too dangerous, and trying to clear sections of trail. They reacted to the changing conditions and still pulled off a good event.
Our day wasn’t over after the race, and we rode back to the hotel via the car wash, then made our way to Splash laundromat to get our kit clean. This morning I picked up a set of pads and a rotor to replace some that were trashed, and I think I’ll have to get some new bearings once home. Plus some more pads after taking another look. Wet races are expensive.
It’s a tough call, but it is great to see race organisers at Dubbo are already investigating course conditions for the next round. The local clubs behind each Evocities round are truly invested into their races, and their trails.