This post has been written by Ed McDonald
Awaba has long held a privileged spot as one of Australia’s best riding destinations. An accessible distance from Sydney and Newcastle, it boasts spectacular trails set in the foothills of the Watagan ranges, with the flowing berms and gullies of Salad Bowl, rocky descents, the treacherous Murderhorn, and – of course – the infamous Camelbak climb.
Even racing in the searing summer heat, Awaba held both torture and sweet relief – stinking climbs and the sweaty grind offset by the promise of cool rainforest air through the descent. A tough but rewarding track, the idea of a 24 hour race there held both an allure and trepidation.
On February 17th and 18th, Rocky Trail Entertainment are bringing the JetBlack 24 Hour to Awaba. Will the mercury reach the extremes of an Australian summer? Or will Newcastle deliver another characteristic downpour? Or will it magically offer a mild and cloudy day out on the trails? While the weather may be an unknown, there are always some certainties associated with a Rocky Trail race:
A strange but surprisingly addictive chorus of European house and techno in the transition
The fluoro colours of Jet Black racing having fun, everywhere.
Either way – it’s shaping up to be an epic race worthy of a few tales on post-ride coffees to come, and it’s no surprise to see a strong contingent of riders turning up for the party.
The women’s solo field is a small field of willing racers. Heading up the field is the winner of the 2015 Grafton G-Bomb 12 hour, Jemma Burtonwood, who’s got a strong endurance and triathlon background. She’ll be chased by Jen North and a very notable name for me – Dalene Pretorious.
Dalene’s always stood out as a rider for me – pushing limits, and loving every minute out on the trails. If there’s one rider guaranteed to be smiling the whole way through – it’s Dalene. Although I can’t help but feel that, with the race on her back door, Central Coast local Charlie McCabe might be tempted to turn up and race the full 24 hours.
In the men’s field there are a mixture of new and established old timers in the race. Strong local riders Tim Stevenson and Simon de Pomeroy head up a local contingent who’ll know great lines and gave plenty of familiarity on the Awaba trails. Will local legends Andy Lloyd – second at WEMBO in 2013 – or Stefan Merriman, multiple time motocross world champion – turn up, and throw down the gauntlet?
There are also a couple of noteworthy crazy singlespeeders, led by Dave Speering – “fresh” off an effort riding from the coast to the highest point of Australia. But my sneaky stand-out riders would be Robin Mules and Sam Moffit.
Sam’s been getting progressively stronger and stronger over the years, with an attitude that “there’s no such thing as too much”. With a 2nd at the 2014 24 hour Nationals to his name, Sam finally busted an elite win at the 2016 Bright 24 Hour after an epic duel with great-mate (and racing nemesis) Jason Archer through heat, mud, and everything inbetween. The harder it gets, the more Sam will love it, and he’ll race hard right through to the end.
But it’s hard to imagine a 24 hour race without Jason English turning up. The Port Macquarie local has recently relocated to Newcastle, so the race will be conveniently located for another methodical Jason English ride.
With a record of 27 straight wins recently brought to an end, Jason will be keen to reassert his dominance on the sport – and will have Sam and Robin to keep him very, very occupied.
Either way, when a blazing Australian summer sun rises on Sunday morning, it’ll be to another epic tale on the trails – numerous battles against other riders woven into the fern and growth of the forest. But the bigger battles will be the battles against the self – willing another big effort up the wall that is the Camelback, willing wrists to stay alive through the descents, finding some unexpected head-banging from Martin’s euro trance collection, or finding lap after lap of grin-inducing fun through the berms of Awaba.
Need more details? Head to the Rocky Trail Entertainment website.