In a time when Australia is losing some classic marathon races, our National Championship is a glorified XC race run on laps in a bikepark, and there is increasingly less focus on elite athlete development from the governing body – it’s worth giving credit where credit is due. One part of that is appreciating how many 3-5 day mountain bike stage races are now on, which is an easy way to fill the void for marathons we no longer have. RIP Wombat 100. RIP Angry Doctor. RIP The Fling. RIP Noosa Enduro – and many more. A stage race gets more bang for your buck in terms of travel expenses – and even training. The Redback is a classic 4-day mountain bike race, and there are plenty more multi-day events like Cape to Cape, Hellfire Cup, Easter in the Alice, Port to Port, Reef to Reef, Snowies MTB Festival and a few others. But a big continuous loop marathon? There’s not many left – and the Otway Odyssey is one of them.
The Otway Odyssey started life in 2007 as a huge point to point race from Apollo Bay to Forrest, in Victoria. The start line on the Great Ocean Road was a who’s who of Australian mountain biking, with more than a few high profile roadies in the mix and a whole lot of riders out for the challenge.
With the start moving to Forrest in 2012, you could say the race mellowed. But it didn’t. What we ended up with was a race with a bit more Forrest trails. Since then there have been tweaks to the route for the 100km race, but additions of shorter events too. If you have never made the trip to the Otway Ranges, here are some things you need to know about the event that’s on 23rd February 2019.
The Otway Odyssey is competitive
It’s Victoria, which means if you travel from interstate there are a lot of fast people you don’t know. Expect hard racing, expect good banter. Rapid Ascent run a good event, and the race is well-respected. It also helps that the men’s and women’s winners get $2000 each. There is further prize money available.
There’s something for everyone at the Otway Odyssey
So while the fast, fit and fabulous go bar-to-bar at the front of the race, there are still options for just about anyone else who has ridden a mountain bike. There is a 50km option, a 30km race, a 10km option and even the Grommet’s Ride for 3-8 year olds right at the event expo. The headline event is the 100km mountain bike marathon. But it’s the other events that make the day so appealing.
Women get their own race
This is a big one. The 100km women’s race has a separate start half an hour before the men. This is a benefit to all women in the race, as it reduces the chance of ‘partner assistance’, and it can make the whole race safer as well, and less about who can draft in a fast mass-start the longest. This is something the Cape Epic finally adopted a few years ago to increase women’s participation. But the Otway Odyssey has done it for years.
The trails aren’t stupidly buff
You can’t easily describe all the trails in the Otway Odyssey. There is tar road at the start. There is dirt road. There is fire trail. There is double track. There is sand. There are moto trails. There is purpose built singletrack. There are old hand built trails. And the condition of all of them changes. The Otway Odyssey requires a complete rider who can read the terrain to get to the finish line the fastest. Some of the trails will be in prime condition, but some won’t. This is a mountain bike race and one that is full of challenges.
A single location makes things easier
One of the benefits of moving the start to Forrest was creating a better event expo. Now the event has the same start and finish it’s way easier for everyone (yes, including the organisers). But it does mean there is more infrastructure – people selling food and drinks, showers, toilets, a bike wash, shade to sit in. It’s all there. So whether you’re getting a burger, a beer, a coffee, a massage or who knows what – at least you don’t have to be thinking about a car shuttle and drawing straws on who has to ride to get the car.
A dip in the ocean is still worth it
Sure, the race doesn’t see the sea anymore but once you have crossed the line and eventually got cleaned up, it is worth taking a drive down to Apollo Bay. It is a beautiful place, and the cold waters will surely help with your recovery. And that’s important as you have another race to do.
Make a weekend of it with the Great Otway Gravel Grind
That’s right – get grinding! The Great Otway Gravel Grind runs on the Sunday, and you can approach it any way you like. Race it, ride it, go long on the 97km route, or keep it short with the 49km option. There are time out zones where you can buy a coffee, quiet dirt roads, fast rolling tar roads, and a bit of a climb back from the coast if you take on the 97km route. Ride your MTB, your cyclocross bike, your gravel bike, your monster cross bike – you might even manage on your commuter! But it’s about taking part, and this is an excellent way to make a weekend of it.
Oh and I probably forgot to mention – Forrest has a brewery.
The Otway Odyssey is one of the hardest marathons in Australia, there are no easy wins. But suitably for any major challenge, it has all the rewards. From good trails, a good event crew, post race service and an awesome location. Entries are open, accommodation is getting full, and it looks set to be a great weekend of off-road riding and racing.
Get the full details on the Otway Odyssey website.