And just like that, it’s over! Reef to Reef today finished with a sweet 50-kilometre stage that took in some icons of tropical north Queensland riding: Wetherby Station, The Bump Track, and Port Douglas’s Four Mile Beach. Logistically, this was a tricky one to manage: everyone corralled in the dark at 6am to load bikes into trucks and to climb into buses for the transfer to the start of the stage at Wetherby.
This was further complicated by the fact that the RRR (Rural, Rainforest, Reef, Australia’s oldest single-day mountain bike race) was running today as well, over similar courses. None of this seemed to matter. Riders’ spirits were as high as usual, and the vibe out on track was similarly supportive and friendly.
Mike and I were fortunate enough to score a special transfer in the media minivan and arrived to a chilly morning up on the range. I did a warmup of precisely 2 minutes 35 seconds (i.e. rode to the start line) and before too long we were away. The start was quick, but not really hectic, and we ended up in a very similar group to yesterday. It was great to swap dusty moto trails today for hilly, natural, loose, and rocky off camber hills, some super steep. I pushed hard over a few of the early climbs, but still managed to stay pretty much out of the red zone, before, at about the 20 kilometre mark, we notched things down a gear as we finished this loop and headed back to Wetherby and straight for The Bump.
At this point Mike and I were really lucky to be in the company of Marty and Linc from team Bicycle Central in Cairns, hammering down an endless dirt road before the big descent. It was great to sit on with them and maintain a pretty solid tempo pace while travelling over pea gravel at warp speed (the solo riders we picked up looked pretty happy, too). Off the dirt road I ran into yet another dead-end wheel rut and we lost the group, but soon found a great rhythm and plodded our own way towards The Bump Track. I asked Mike, a seasoned TNQ rider, how far until the Bump Track so many times that eventually he stopped telling me how many kilometres and just said ‘there’s a big sign that says “Bump Track”’ and we left it at that. When we finally turned one more corner there it was, Mike let me take the lead and down we went, before ambling across the creek and dropping down, down, down, ears popping, arms pumping, all the way to the canefields below.
The Bump Track was originally used by timber-getters hauling valuable timber down the range. Having ridden down the steep, lumpy grades a couple of times now I can only marvel at what it was like getting a bullock with a tonne or two of timber down to Port Douglas… let alone in the wet.
Mike sniffed the air and smelled home and immediately dropped me in the canefields, then in the bike path, then in the parkland, then on the road, then another bike path, then on the beach, until I worked out that if I grabbed hold of his Camelbak strap we didn’t necessarily go any faster, but nor could he ride away. We cruised along the beach like this for quite some time (it really is four miles!) dodging sandcastles, jetsam, dogs, and humans until we were in sight of the finish line and of course, pretended we hadn’t just argued for fifty kilometres and held hands while we crossed, and jumped into the balmy tropical ocean.
No change in the GC race today, with Brendan Johnston and Jon Odams winning the day and the men’s pairs event, Anna Beck and Briony Mattocks winning the women’s stage and GC, mixed stars Kyle Ward and Samara Sheppard winning the mixed pairs and their GC. In the solo event, Nathan Sandford won the stage and GC, as did a st0rming Sarah White.
Reef to Reef is in just its first year, but the quality of the organisation and the racing makes it feel like a well-established event. Ironman, the event organisers, as always, are carefully listening to rider feedback and taking it on board, so we can expect to see an even bigger and better Reef to Reef next year. I can hardly think of a better setting for an August race than warm, friendly, relaxed TNQ, and hope to see the event grow. I’m also really keen to see the pairs format pursued and spread in our local race scene. Arguments aside, it really is the only way to stage race.
For us, it’s a quick stopover at home before we jet off to Europe on Tuesday, where we’ll race the Rothaus Bike Giro, Swiss Nationalpark Bike Marathon, and of course XCO and the big one, XCM World Championships. As always, I’ll be writing about all our travels and travails right here.