I’ve never done the Otway Odyssey – weird, because it’s one of Australia’s best-known races. There’s just always been some clash that’s kept me away in the past, so this year was my first go.
A few aspects of the race sounded pretty interesting to me: It’s known for its longclimbs, crazy good singletrack, and for always attracting a stacked women’s field.
This year was no different. And there’s one other thing that’s great about this event– the separate, elite women’s only start some 30 minutes before the men take off. It’s not the only race that does this – the FlightCentre Epic does too, but with something like 25 top women attending the Otway Odyssey event, it really, really feels like a women’s race.
And it was super cool. We started at 0700 (sunrise was at 0701, phew!). I came to the startline dressed like a Queenslander, with a 2-litre Camelbak Chase 10L Vest, armwarmers, and various other layers. I made a last-minute decision to ditch it all and enjoy the cool morning with just a bidon for the first 38km. Sound sensible? It isn’t, but everyone else was doing it!
I don’t know how many women started in the elite field at 7am but it felt like a lot. It was amazing – our own bunch, riding our own pace, with our own dynamic. We all stayed together until about 10km in when we went around a corner, off the road and onto dirt, and Renata Bucher hit it. I had been sitting up near the front chatting to Holly Harris but was pretty much ready for the move. It didn’t work out. A few ladies might have dropped off the back but soon we were all together again on a lightly corrugated dirt road.
Then we hit it again when the road tipped up. And again. Soon there were just five of us: Samara Sheppard, Holly Harris, Renata Bucher, Peta Mullens, and me. Then there was just me, with four girls disappearing in front at the end of a particularly nasty three-minute climb. Then I was back on! Taking advantage of a clear shot at one of many fire road descents with sketchy steep water bars and massive random ditches. The next climb I felt better, and instead of me, Peta slipped off the back.
We continued in this undulating terrain for a while, then about 20kms in hit a steep pinch called ‘Heavy smoker’, I grovelled off the back, Holly and Samara got away, and Renata ended up in the middle. I could see Renata looking back at me and I know she was thinking ‘should I wait and chase with this lady, or should I put my head down?’ I made the decision for her! I couldn’t bridge across and she was putting time into me on the descents while I was clawing it back on the climbs. Pretty soon we hit what I call the ‘random moto track’ – a narrow and very, um, overgrown section of ruts and twists. Sometimes I felt like I was nailing it. Others I felt totally dispirited at my riding. Mostly I just wished it would end and pushed through, reminding myself that the faster I went, the sooner I’d be back on some more humane trails.
After finally emerging I could still see Renata on the longer climbs, but she’d definitely pulled away. I don’t remember much of what came next. Some nasty steep climbs, some easy nice climbs, more singletrack, then the feed zone.
So, all I had to do was pick up my Camelbak. But wait. Where is my Camelbak? Mike had placed them in the middle of the ‘rider number 1-200’ section but it turns out that about 4 bidons for 200 riders turns out to be 800 bidons, plus gels, pumps, wheel bags, chairs, Eskys, shoes, people, and a whole lot of confusion. I felt my fourth place slipping away as I ran, with my bike, back and forth and back and forth looking for the blue bag that contained our nutrition. Eventually I found it, grabbed the Camelbak, and hightailed it for the trails (pause to disinfect tyres). A few kilometres later I had to stop to adjust my Camelbak and actually do the straps up but then, yes, I was definitely away. But I was badly shaken and annoyed at myself for making a rookie error (not knowing exactly where my stuff was), struggling with the ‘old school’ flat cornered singletrack, the likes of which I hadn’t ridden since the 90s, and probably a bit tired from doing two hours at threshold. So of course I descended in to the inevitable, every-marathon-has-one, valley of mental despair. It didn’t help that at right this moment all the fast men started passing (in the tightest singletrack), then Jess Douglas passed me, and I couldn’t even hold her wheel.
I plodded around for the best part of two hours until FINALLY we came into the last feed zone. I found my bottle with much less difficulty – ok, still some – and left the feedzone to excited screams from spectators – apparently another lady was about to pass me. Bugger! (Pause to disinfect tyres.)
But the endless, stop-start singletrack was behind me, and I was back in my element. A big mother of a climb at a pleasant gradient. I told myself that with every pedal stroke I could move closer to Jess in front, and further away from my pursuer behind. So I sat between 200 and 250 watts, settled in, and enjoyed it. The climb must have lasted at least five kilometres and it helped me a lot – mostly because it gave me a chance to reset my mind for the upcoming singletrack and the final 25 kilometres.
We turned into a cool trail that plummeted down the range, up the only climb of the day that really, really, really hurt (it was steep), and into some very nice flow trails. Where I struggled on the flat corners earlier, I felt really confident on the flow stuff, and sensed that I was making good time. Suddenly, after some climbing trail, Jess appeared in front of me, but every time I felt I could bridge across to her, we hit another flow descent, and she’d pull away. Soon we were in a super twisty network of trails that carried on for nearly 10 kilometres. And all I wanted was for the race to be over. As we twisted and twisted around and around, with Jess no longer in sight, I developed a new motivation – to stay in front of Mike Blewitt, the husband, who’d started 30 minutes behind me, and who uncannily only needs to train twice a week to maintain superior fitness to his wife’s.
I always like races that finish with a bit of a descent. The Otway Odyssey is one of those. Before too long I was screaming down a hill and into the race village. Wow.
I really, really rate the Otway Odyssey. Talking it over after the finish with Holly Harris, whose last XCM, like me, was the World Champs in Italy in September, we both agreed that this race is fully ‘Euro worthy’ – that’s the highest compliment we know! What makes a race Euro? Long climbs, a variety of challenges and terrain (not just singletrack!), a huge women’s field, and an awesome vibe.
It was a really frantic trip getting here yesterday. I literally raced home from work on Thursday and threw some clothes in a bag then left at 4am the next day (thank you for packing my bike, Mike!). I may have forgotten the chamois cream, but I’m so glad we made it. Another cool location in a part of Australia we’d probably not otherwise visit. Another chance to catch up with amazing people and challenge ourselves on some tough terrain.
HollyHarris won the women’s event, followed by Samara, then Renata, Jess,and me. I also stayed in front of Mike, which is important to note.The men had a ridiculously fast start, with Brendan Johnston winningover Tasman Nankervis, Russell Nankervis, Reece Tucknott, and AdrianJackson.
Tomorrow we line up on our duallies for the Great Otway Gravel Grind(affectionately known as the GOGG). It’s tempting to commit to a nice tempo ride with some time out in the untimed, chill-out zones, but I will reasess in the morning.
Full results are available online.