The Epic; it’s perhaps the biggest mountain biking event on the Queensland calendar, and has well and truly earned its place through 14 years of events in many different forms. The 2016 Epic was just that, epic, but quite a far cry from the 114km, fireroad-heavy races of the early editions of the race. This year was the first that the event was held wholly on the Spicers Hidden Vale property. With the World Trail fairies busy in the months leading up to the event, the anticipation for an all new Epic was high.
Whispers of a race that was nearly 90km of pure singletrack floated through mountain biking communities, yet until only a month or so ago no one was really certain what the course would look like. The trails were opened a couple of weeks prior to the event with only 10km of ‘mystery’ trails remaining a surprise for race day.
With several months of picturesque Queensland springtime weather in the lead up to the Epic, the weather gods were unkind enough to drown out the event centre in the days leading up to the event. So much so, that the Saturday 20km ‘Chaser’ event was shortened to 11km to preserve the trails for the Sunday events. The Epic is no stranger to adverse weather, with the 2014 event evoking traumatic memories fromthose who raced the event of digging claggy, thick mud from bikes in order to facilitate further forward movement. Elite winning times were around half an hour slower than a dry year, making people very wary of the grey skies and frequent deluges on the Friday and Saturday events.
The sun shines on the Epic
In a stroke of luck, on Sunday we arose to sunny blue skies. With a boggy event centre and the trauma of 2014 still too real for many, there were many riders bracing themselves for a long, arduous day in the saddle. In a wise move, Epic organiser Hayden Brooks made the big call on the Saturday to delay the start to 10:00am, and cut 10km of the course deemed to be in an unsafe condition, for a total marathon distance of 77km.
The 2016 Epic was also a round of the 2016 XCM National Series Calendar, which meant that the Elite Men’s and Women’s field saw solid fields of talented marathon racers travelling from all over Australia to sample some of Queensland’s finest trails.
In the men’s race, national champion Brendan Johnson continued his streak of dominance, taking the win in a slim 19 sec margin over Queenslander Michael England. In third, only a minute down, was Victoria’s Adrian Jackson, no stranger to the podium of elite XCM racing in Australia.
The start line of both men and women’s field showed some great talent; both female and men’s national champ, national series race winners and prior national champs alongside Australian XCM worlds representative meant that the race could be anyone’s.
In the women’s race, series leader and national champion Peta Mullens made the trip up, but a recent bout of illness had her unsure of how her legs would hold up. After a rather recreational rollout, five or six of the field stayed together for the first hour. Samara Sheppard set the pace up the front with Anna Beck, Holly Harris, Em Viotto, Briony Mattocks and Sharon Heap following, Peta showing the virus had taken its toll losing contact after about 45mins.
Beck and Sheppard swapped turns riding tempo up the new Epic single track. When they gapped Harris by a few metres in the Remnant trail, Sheppard saw an opportunity and turned the screws a little, Sheppard and Beck soon losing visual contact with Harris. At the 27km mark, the trail turned into the ‘epic’ trail and Beck tested the waters on the rocky descent, unbeknownst to her that by the end of the singletrack she too would be out of visual contact of Sheppard.
Further back, the tousle between Viotto and Mattocks was fierce, with Mattocks stamping her marathon footprint on the race and coming back strong in the closing kilometres.
In the end it was Beck clear for the remaining 50km of the race, finishing 6min ahead of Sheppard, with Mattocks a further 5mins down in third.
In the Elite Men’s race it was a bit more of a tousle, with a strong field it could have been anyone’s race. National Champion Brendan Johnson suffered some misfortune when he realised an hour prior to race start that he had forgot his shoes, borrowing a pair from fellow elite rider Ethan Kelly.
An early move from Tasman Nankervis saw him and Johnson clear, but reeled in by Russell Nankervis, Kyle Ward, Marc Williams and Andrew Blair. In the next climb Tasman dropped off the pace and Russell flatted, leaving Johnson to think this may have been the race for the day.
At the 40km mark, passing back through the event village, Brendan chose to change his shoes, losing time from the small group which had been bridged across to by Adrian Jackson and Michael England. Riding back to the main group, Ward had made a move and was off the front, Johnston, Williams and England reeled him in. The exertion of making it back to the front meant that Johnson waited, letting England set the pace in the final stages, attacking on the final climb with around 8km to go and leaving it all on the line for a winning margin of only 19seconds.
Despite the weather, the Flight Centre Active Travel Cycle Epic once again somehow managed to turned it on, hosting an exceptional event for the 2016 edition. Post-race, riders were talking about how amazing the trails were despite the deluge the day before. As usual, stories great heroic feats, excruciating cramps, and camraderie, good beer and wood fired pizza were all on the menu post race, and why not? It’s not called the Epic for nothing!