Reef to Reef is finally here! There’s been a fair bit of excitement about this event and it’s understandable. Not often do you get the chance to 1. Race in Cairns in the dead of winter, and 2. Race in a pair in Australia, or even 3. Attend an event in its inaugural year. The prologue, a 20-kilometre romp around world-famous Smithfield took place this afternoon, with teams of two taking off an hour or so before individual racers.
The course around Smithfield did exactly what you want a prologue to do – it stimulated a lot of conversation, warnings, tall tales, and mystique. Arriving after 11pm the night before, Mike and I had no chance to ride it, but were nonetheless familiar with a certain steep descent (big rocks!), a near vertical climb (so steep!), an endless series of switchbacks (endless!), and the grand finale, Jacobs Ladder (gnarly!) – because we couldn’t look at our phones or walk past another competitor without someone warning us about all of the above. It turned out that nothing was really as big or scary as anyone said it was, but the course definitely threw up a bunch of challenges worth talking about.
Having been sick (so sick) the week before the event, Mike and I nearly cancelled our flights and stayed home. Reef to Reef is wedged awkwardly up against our departure for Europe and another four-day stage race, the Rothaus Bike Giro in Germany, at the other end of the long-haul flight. It seemed really risky to enter Reef to Reef in the first place, but once we came down with the Cold Virus From Hell, it seemed downright stupid to attend.
So here we are! Stupidly happy to be racing, with our heads buzzing and dizzy and our heart rates abnormally high. But don’t fear! We made a serious pact, an honest, highly adult and did I mention serious pact that we would ‘take it easy’. That the only way to survive this fabulous race we’d been looking forward to for months and the epic Euro trip to follow would be to ride within ourselves. We promised that we would be able to ‘just ride’ this event and use it for some training as we get well (so sick). And did we? Well… yeah. After our countdown at the start today we took off fairly hard and settled down as soon as we were out of sight to avoid embarrassment. Mike let me in front of him so I could set the tempo and we both tried very, very hard not to redline. There have been races that for whatever reason (ahem. total mental breakdown) I’ve ridden easier than I should’ve, but this really, honestly is the first time in 15 years of racing that I’ve just let it go. It helped that we were riding the prologue in a time trial format and that everyone had been so well seeded by race organisers that only a few teams passed us. It helped that Mike could give me the odd push. The near vertical climb didn’t help. My heart rate still hammered into the red zone a number of times. And I don’t want to take anything away from our competitors… Today Mike and I did the best we could with everything we’ve managed to scrounge together to bring to Cairns – which boils down to a love of MTB racing, a positive attitude, and a mild fever.
You’d think I’d remember more of the track, given I rode it pretty much at a high (if dizzy) tempo, but sticking to slightly-easier-than-race-pace is actually hard and needed a lot of concentration. I do recall some incredible views from the top of the endless-switchback-climb, cool crowds around transition, and some super flowy descents (which, having taken so much antihistamine last night that I’m seeing in 2D, felt really sketchy).
It was cool to ride around a few other teams and hear them talking kindly to one another, each rider supporting the other, conferring and adapting. That’s the beauty of pairs racing – finding a way to go faster together – and I’m so glad to see it brought to Australia in Reef to Reef. Mike and I haven’t raced together as a team since before we got married (you can infer what you like about that), but today I think we proved we’ve still got what it takes. What does it take? Communication, mostly, and consensus. (All this fell apart when we both got epically hangry after the race, but hey, tomorrow’s a new day.)
Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams won the men’s pairs, Briony Mattocks and Anna Beck won the women’s pairs, and Samara Sheppard and Kyle Ward the mixed. Nathan Sandford won the individual men’s race, and Sarah White the individual women’s event. Mike and I came fifth, which I think is great, given that apart from our ‘take it easy’ policy we had a mechanical and a few other (hilarious) mishaps, walking down Jacobs Ladder being a particularly memorable highlight.
Tomorrow we transfer up the range for a 60km stage at Davies Creek. Wish us luck!