The 12th edition of the Otway Odyssey was run and won under grey skies in the singletrack wonderland that is Forrest, Victoria, Australia. With the national XCO championships occurring on the same weekend a number of key big name riders were notable absent. However, the women’s field showed significant depth with 4 former winners on the start line of this years event!
The Odyssey has become a stayer on the Australian MTB calendar now which has adapted well to it’s new format of start/finish in Forrest as opposed to the original point to point format where riders climbed to the sleepy hamlet in Otway ranges up the stunning ‘dog trap road’.. Although the iconic climb is no longer present, riders get no easy pass. This race is widely agreed to be one of the most difficult XCM’s in the country. the first stage climbs close to 1500m in only 30km. Hence, it rewards a strong yet smart rider. It is very tempting/ easy to burn many matches in the opening phases of this race as the more elite racers pull away on the seemingly never ending climb. A mistake I have made in the past is to over estimate my climbing abilities and biting off more than I can chew early on and then paying for it dearly later. Once familiar with the stages and the layout of this race this is when the ‘race head’ needs to switch on. gauging one’s efforts in different sectors of the race should ensure a strong finish and being able to enjoy the amazing single track this race has to offer.
Hence, today’s race was no different the strong yet savvy riders rose to the front and finished at the front. The opening 10 or so kilometres are relatively manageable on sealed/ dirt roads. From here is when the action really picks up. The climb up the Otways named by the organisers in sections such as the ‘corporate ladder’ is nothing to be scoffed at. many hardy bike riders were seen having to walk their machines up some of the steeper pinches of this climb. It was relatively cordial in the men’s group until this climb, a real honour to have Tour de France yellow jersey wearer Phil Anderson in the race today. His presence no doubt commanded a sense of respect in the group on the early slopes of the race today. However, the chips were down when the road pointed up and the ever experienced Chris ‘Jblood’ Jongewaard stamped his authority early on and proved why he has won this race 6 times from 8 attempts and never finished further down than 2nd place. It seemed Jongewaard would be on his way to another victory before an impromptu wrong turn led him astray. Opening the door for the chasing younger riders to come through in front. Ryan Standish from Alice Springs whom had rode a rich vein of form through 2017 with 2nd place at ‘Easter in the Alice’ and the National XCM championship was in hot pursuit of Jongewaard. Standish then pushed on to take his first Otway victory and give signs of a promising season ahead. His decision to miss the XCO national championship paying off. After taking a wrong turn in last years event himself the victory was sweet for Standish “There were no dramas at all today, it was awesome, I love the trails down here, and I’d love to come back down and spend a bit more time riding for fun rather than hurting the whole way.”.
In the women’s race a hard fought battle was developing between 3 of the best XCM racers this country has seen. Jodie Willett from Queensland with much experience to her name took the race by the horns and rode to the lead of the race until the 70km mark when defending champion and former road national champion Peta Mullens showed why she is the perhaps the most versatile and classy women’s bike rider the country has ever produced. Mullens passed Willett leading into the final sectors of the race and would cross the line as victor to add to her growing tally of Otway victories. In 3rd place the inaugral winner of the Otway odyssey Tory Thomas proved she is still a force to be reckoned with crossing the line not far behind Willett into 3rd. Briony Mattocks from Sydney at her first Odyssey showed signs of another good season ahead with a comendable 4th catching former winner Renate Bucher in the closing kilometres who finished 5th. Peta Mullens on her race: “That’s probably the first time I’ve really suffered some dehydration in the middle of the race and I honestly didn’t think I would bounce back from it but that tempo climb out of town allows you to get in a steady rhythm that helped me. I’m just glad I can make it number five; it’s good to be back!”
Full results available here.
The Odyssey offers the best of both worlds, some of the most challenging and difficult terrain you will encounter in any race coupled with some of the most enjoyable. The trails around Forrest always remind me about what is great about XC mountain biking- Fast, Flowy, Fun yet still hard! If this race is not on your bucket list it needs to get on there, with 12 editions up it’s sleeve now, there is no signs of it going anywhere. Rapid Ascent do a stellar job running this race and they definitely make the trip worthwhile.