The Otway Odyssey started in 2007 as an epic event starting opposite the Surf Club in Apollo Bay and climbing up to the Otway Ranges. The course took riders through the trails around Forrest and beyond, before dropping them, with a lot of fatigue, back to Forrest for the race’s finish. Since 2013, the race has run from Forrest, side-stepping logisitical issues, making a better event centre and taking out a bloody big climb from the Great Ocean Road.
This year, the 11th iteration of the Otway Odyssey, drew an enthusiastic crowd from around the country, ready to do battle in the 100km race, light it up in the 50km race, or just get a feel for mountain biking and the general laid back nature of the sport in one of the shorter events. There were even E-bike categories for the 100/50/30km events – hats off to Rapid Ascent for including newer riders into established events.
After the gun at the Otway Odyssey
The race start was really relaxed. Which is fine by me. The problem of racing in Victoria is there are lots of strong Victorian riders. They don’t always appear at other events, but they come out in droves in their own state and the Odyssey always seems to draw more out, with the likes of Phil Anderson racing, and even Steele von Hoff pulling out his 26″ bike for the race.
We climbed away from Forrest on an opening loop of dirt roads and small sealed roads, before looping back through town on a closed sealed road. Again, a good move by Rapid Ascent for having the road closed for the start, as it is a dramatic increase to rider safety, especially considering we were riding into the (low) sun at some points. That said, I think the start from Apollo Bay was better. A big climb early on sorts out a field and lets you know where you stand.
In time we hooked right into more dirt road, and the pace lifted but then settled for a long drag then false flat. Then next turn indicated a switch to fire trail and it started to get strung out, and I dropped back, suffering from the 5Ps – not really getting my suspension dialled and pinging off the water bars.
At the front, the next long climb saw the Nankervis brothers (Russ and Tasman) working together, with Adrian Jackson never out of the mix.
This first long loop has some unrelenting climbs and fast descents, before entering a long section of motorbike singletrack. Sometimes awesome, sometimes annoying, but always virtually blind, the trail is tight and finishes with a steep descent dropping you at the base of an infamous climb – The Sledgehammer. Now falling in the early and not late stages of the race, it’s a different beast than in “the old days”. But it’s still steep!
With a few more sections of fire road and singletrack we arrived back at Forrest for our first feed zone, and hearing your name called over the microphone is always lifting. Still, once through the football field I had to call it a day, an injury from The Pioneer was pretty uncomfortable and I wasn’t helping it heal. I’d see the rest of the Otway Odyssey from the sidelines.
The Otway Odyssey from outside the tape
After a quick change I rode towards the base of the Red Carpet descent, and in time I got to see a flying Tasman Nankervis bombing down. For a super friendly kid seeing his race face on was an experience – he was focused on a big win.
Next through was Adrian Jackson, a previous race winner and rider with some serious pedigree. The time gap was about 1.5 minutes at that point.
Next along was Russ Nankervis. He had been riding with Tasman but had to drop back and AJ was hot on the heels of Tasman.
Riders kept streaming down the descent, first with big gaps, and then they got smaller down to position 15, 20 and beyond. Rohin Adams was riding super strong in 5th, and ended up 4th.
Peta Mullens was leading lady, but I hit the road to get to the race finish to see if Tasman would hold his lead.
At the finish of the Otway Odyssey
I rolled into the football ground to a sea of people enjoying beers and burgers, coffees and paninis, and cans of coke to recover. Tasman Nankervis had just crossed the finish line for possibly the biggest marathon win of his young career. For a rider with an XCO focus he’s quick over a long distance.
Next up was Adrian Jackson about 2 minutes later, and Russ Nankervis about another 2 minutes beyond that.
Tasman was surprised that the true racing started early, but had been happy to take the initiative to attack.
“It was kind of an odd race. We went pretty hard out on the road [at the start]. Usually it’s kind of just a bunch ride and everyone’s pretty casual, but it was solid today. I was the first to attack, and then my brother came across to me. For the next two thirds of the race I was with him. Then we saw AJ (Adrian Jackson) not too far behind. In the last third I had to say “I’ve got to go, Russ” and I launched from there.”
IT really is a changing of the guard in Australian XCM racing at the moment. The stranglehold of Blair/Lewis/English/Mather has gone, and instead we see Brendan Johnston on the top step much of the time – but often Tasman Nankervis has also been on the box, and now on the top step of a truly big race.
“I’m stoked. The honour board here is impressive, some of the strongest riders in Australia have won it, so it’s awesome.”
His brother Russ, who has just picked up a ride with Trek Racing Australia, was just minutes behind. He clearly relished racing with and for his brother.
“The race worked out well. I knew Tas was going to be the strongest up the climb. Being able to hold on to him was really motivational for me. As soon as you lose contact with someone in a marathon that’s usually it. Having someone to chase on the singletrack the whole way through is great. Tasman has great skills so we were able to work together and keep it pretty clean.”
But with a new team, surely there’s a plan?
“We’re right in the middle of the XCO racing. Tasman and I are focusing on that more than anything. It’s great training here (at the Otway Odyssey) and there’s money up for grabs; we’re both hoping to go to Europe in the next couple of months so that’ll help. This’ll be our third year over to Europe for cross-country races.”
Mullens takes 4th Otway Odyssey
We have barely seen Peta Mullens off road this year, and she only had her new Focus mountain bike built last night. But there is no denying that the multiple XCM (and other disciplines) national champion has the pedigree to win big races.
“I made a promise that I would look after myself today, and just follow the girls early on. But I hadn’t done any intensity recently and I was really intrigued to see how I was going, and how the bike (her brand new Focus One) would perform, so on one of the first descents I didn’t attack but I led.”
“Then after two descents there was just Renata [Bucher] and I, and I hit it up a short climb and she was gone. That was probably 30 minutes before the QOM and I was trying to set a tempo but I turned around and there was some chick catching me so I had to gas it again.”
“I think I’m pretty lucky on the technical trails because I tend to make up a bit of time and then I was able to sit down on my [dual suspension bike] all throughout the second loop.”
The Odyssey is a hard race (yes, we’ve said already) but it does mean race times are often around 5 hours, not 4 and a bit for winning times.
“I’ve done a lot of 5 hour rides recently so I knew it wouldn’t be that that would get me, it would be the intensity, so I sort of shut down the intensity as I went into the last loop. Turns out I had a much bigger gap than I thought I had. I was still looking back in the last couple of kilometres just in case.
This makes four titles for Mullens, at the race which was her first marathon race. Can one win be better than another?
“Every one is different. Last year was special because I set such a blistering time (a course record 5:06:18).
It’s a different sort of field now. I feel like the marathon scene’s kind of changing and we’re waiting for that next era of younger riders to come through. A couple of the younger girls haven’t quite stepped up to the longer distance. So I feel for me I’m pretty lucky that I’m still young enough that I can do really intense efforts early in a race and get a good gap.”
“I’m racing against the same girls I’ve raced for the last 10 years; Renata and Jess Douglas and we’ve had really close finishes. So to get my fourth Odyssey… I’d like to one day catch [6-time men’s winner] Chris Jongewaard, so I’ll keep going until I get to that.”