Yesterday The Redback’s sixth and final stage took in 45 kilometres of desert trails, sand traps, and rock features. We lined up just south of the Telegraph Station, the town’s trail hub, and rolled up the bike path, at a neutral pace. I hoped to catch sight of the dingo munching on a dead kangaroo everyone else had spotted, but he’d already moved on. The boys accelerated at the end of the bike path and pulled away, and I settled in at about 12th place, thinking that, given my result the day before, I’d be able to hold it, and have another great finish at The Redback.
Rolling into the Redback’s final stage
I pulled off a rare tactical victory when I joined a nice train of big blokes on a 4WD road section into a headwind. I let these guys go when we turned back into trail, and tried to find the steady rhythm I’d ridden at the day before. Somehow though, I kept drifting back. Every now and then a group of guys would catch me, and instead of being able to sit with them, they rode away. I guzzled gels and kept gulping at my Camelbak, but nothing seemed to revive me. Go! Go! Go! I kept telling my legs, but my legs had other ideas. It was a flat day and I had to accept it!
I rode alone for a long, long while. I passed through the feedzone once, then twice, stuck between groups, unable to catch the guys in front, and just staying clear of approaching riders. My left shoulder (which had a reconstruction in March) had been gold all week, but started to play up (I think the tape I’d applied before stage one might have stretched by then!). I had nearly clawed my way back onto one fellow’s wheel when we hit a road section but, like the last few opportunities to work with someone, I let it slip away and ended up stuck in no-man’s land. Then train of riders chased me down, and with them was Zoe Cuthbert.
We turned back into singletrack. Alarms went off in my head, but there was nothing I could do to lose the train behind me. I was tired and started to make mistakes, especially with my shoulder throwing up random shooting pain, usually halfway around a switchback.
Zoe played it smart. She waited. I glanced at my computer whenever I could take my eyes off the trail. Eight kilometres to go. Six kilometres to go. Five. Three. Two. I knew GC was safe even if I had to run, but I didn’t want to give the stage away, either. In the final kilometre or so we hit an epic sandtrap and I stupidly thought it would be faster if I could just ride it. I crashed, remounted, crashed, remounted. Zoe got off and ran. She ran like a gazelle while I tangoed with my bike, doing dips and pirouettes in the sand. She got a great gap, and I couldn’t chase her down, crossing the finish line in second, a few seconds behind.
The men’s race at The Redback
Ben Henderson has been pushed throughout this race by Chris Hanson, who carried on making Ben hurt yesterday, right up until he suffered a difficult (and extremely unlucky) puncture with just a few kilometres to go. Ben went on to win the day and the Tavis Johannsen Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the first-placed male on the final stage. Poor Chris lost a lot of time and slipped back to third on GC, with Ben Gooley leapfrogging into second place. In the women’s, I held on for a really special win, Kim Willocks maintained her second position, with Zoe Cuthbert taking out third.
Post Redback ruminations
Anyone who follows my write-ups here on MarathonMTB.com will know I had an accident earlier in the year. A week before heading to Alice I considered pulling out and racking the MTB for six months because it was causing my shoulder too much pain. I went anyway, strapped the stupid shoulder up with a metre of tape, and had a blast. I’ve raced all around the world and I honestly always enjoy myself in Alice more than anywhere. There’s something about the people, the big sky, the trails, that create a universally relaxed and supportive mood. I’ve never had so many encouraging words and wonderful conversations at an event, and I feel that attending The Redback has really helped me turn a corner with my recovery, and with my attitude to the injuries, which was verging on bitter just a week ago.
I got to make a speech on the podium. I said that there are a lot of ingredients to amazing events: good organisation, interesting trails, great location, sunny weather, but most of all it’s the people that make events special. Apart from the locals (Ciara and Steve, Ben, Fergy and Henry, Janine, Paul Darvo over Messenger, all of you!) There are two groups of people that I want to mention: my competitors: Zoe, with her big future (whatever she chooses to do), and Kim Willocks. Kim has three little children under five and they all came along. While I was sleeping and recovering, Kim was up at night looking after a nine-month-old.
Then there’s all the guys I rode with. Racing is often tense. People usually hate getting held up, and hate getting passed even more. Not in Alice. I’ve had immense encouragement from the blokes I’ve raced around, many of whose names I never caught, and I really want to thank them all for their kindness – you helped me remember why I love mountain biking so much.
I first raced in Alice Springs in about 2005 or 2006, right back at the beginning when Australia didn’t really have any stage races and we must have run back and forth across the Todd 25 times in four days. I’ve since returned for six or seven races – I’ve lost count. I’ll be back again next year, too, and I’m already looking forward to it. Thanks Alice.