In 2007, there was a new race on the calendar – the Otway Odyssey. A 100km race was scheduled to start on the Great Ocean Road at Apollo Bay, and climb up and over the Otway Ranges towards the town of Forrest, where the old logging roads and new singletrack would be tackled, before finishing at the oval.
The demanding route would cover about 3000m of climbing, and with a rich prize purse for men and women, it was attracting a strong field of Australian riders.
The likes of Sid Taberlay, Shaun Lewis, Aiden Leffman, Tory Thomas, Murray Spink, Tim Bennett, Lachlan Norris, Emma Colson, Jodie Willet, Rosie Barnes, Dan McConnell, Zoe King, Adrian Jackson, Ben Randall… you get the picture. Marathon racing was arguably approaching its prime in Australia, and this new point to point race in Victoria had attracted the nation’s best.
My Otway Odyssey
This was one of my first major marathon races. I had raced the Flight Centre Epic pretty atrociously the past two years with the Flight Centre-Scott Team, once with 8 flats and the other time on the sidelines with a stomach bug. I had enjoyed the Convict 100, and in general I was keen for more. I was even due to fly to London a few months later, ready to start a working holiday, loaded up with some marathon bike racing as well. It was a great time to be keen to race, with epic events growing around the world.
But first, the Odyssey. We amassed on the start line, right on the Great Ocean Road, a sea of mountain bikers revelling in their sport. Anyone would have felt on top of the world rolling out behind the lead car that morning, as the sun rose above the ocean.
This was the early days of marathon racing, where potential race winners had loaded Camelbaks, the fast riders were on 26″ wheels, and bar ends were common place.
We took a hard left onto a steep dirt road, one that many of us had taken a look at in a recce, but once you were a few wheels back, it was a climb that would be nothing like it could be when climbing on your own. Gears slipped, bars were bumped, and riders got stuck in the wrong chainring (it was the style at the time). Helicopters buzzed overhead, covering the race.
I don’t remember that much, it was 14 years ago. I remember lots of climbing, lots of riders. Some wind at the top, and the relative silence of entering the forest, with tall trees and dirt that had just the right amount of moisture.
We crested the range, and bunches formed on the road. Riders looked at each other. They drank from bidons, chewed food, and glanced around. The course marker showing where we would leave the road (and enter a mud ditch) was sighted, and gears crunched, rubber was shredded on the road and the small groups splintered again.
Soon enough most riders were alone, or in small groups. We would enter Forrest, and take on the purpose made singletrack. Growing up in Sydney, riding into what was some early days World Trail singletrack was other worldly. Berms! Flow! My aching triceps!
The trails were a blast, but took their toll. We tackled the Red Carpet descent, and of course a timed climb. I remember passing the transponder start for that and not even changing my cadence. The march towards the finish line was a slow one.
We sat around the race finish in a daze. What a route, what a challenge, what a race! By chance we snagged a lift back to Apollo Bay, and quickly made an A-line towards the ocean for a swim. The cool water was a relief, and we relayed our stories from the day. I started the drive to Melbourne, but promptly turned around and took up the offer to stay another night with friends. The prize giving ceremony was on at the surf club and the vibe was good. The vibe was strong.
The start of many races
There is no doubt about it, after the Otway Odyssey in 2007 I knew I was hooked. I jumped into more races that northern summer with the Kitzalpbike marathon and Dolomiti Superbike. Then far more in 2008 with the same races, Transalp, then the Shenandoah 100 in the US. It was the start, and in late 2010 this very website was launched – in part due to what the Otway Odyssey had given me. It was the experience of that first year, of an epic race, a huge challenge and a whole bunch of type two fun.
Since then, I’ve done the Odyssey pretty often. Not every year, but most years that I have been around. The route changed but overall – the challenge didn’t. Elite women were moved to a seperate start for fair racing, and in that sense the Odyssey still really leads the way, and the start list for the elite women tends to represent that each year.
If you have never been to the Odyssey, then 2021 is probably your year to try the race. While the start moved to Forrest in 2013, it’s back to Apollo Bay for 2021. The logistics are harder but trust me, the reward is greater. Back up the Saturday race with the Great Otway Gravel Grind on Sunday and you’ve got a great weekend on the dirt. If you’re looking for something to do on February 20-21 this year – this is your answer!