The Great Otway Gravel Grind is, in my opinion, what makes the Oddysey weekend such a worthwhile event, and sets it apart from any other racing in Australia.
After a hard day on Saturday racing the 100km MTB marathon, most riders returned to Apollo Bay, and enjoyed celebratory beers and chat to their mates, with a swim to cool off, and great bars and restaurants nearby. Meanwhile the event organisers packed down over 100km of signage (over the multiple courses), working hard to set up for the second day’s gravel grind.
The morning after a race is always tough, and its a testament to the toughness of the riders who wake up early to get back on their bike and squeeze the last dregs from their legs. However after the initial force of will it takes to leave the comfort of bed, a short drive back to Forrest and you’re reminded why you decided to race the second day. The Great Otway Gravel Grind is a different type of racing with neutralised sections on the course where your time stops, this lets riders stop and recuperate, enjoy some food, conversation and even coffee before continuing.
How the Great Otway Gravel Grind played out
With a smaller field than Saturday, but some riders who came specifically for the gravel race, there were still 184 starters in the 97km Great Otway Gravel Grind, called the Big Ring. After meandering out of the Forrest township at a relatively sedate pace we came to the first proper gravel section which climbs out of the valley, where the pace immediately increased.
A combination of some fresh legs, and strong riders meant lots of attacks from some enthusiastic youngsters, and even some of the veterans. Before too long Tasman Nankervis decided to try his legs, they were good… A stinging attack left me “swinging” on his wheel, mildly cross eyed and breathing hard I quickly decided to drop back when I realised he wasn’t easing off… I was quickly joined by 2 Juniors in Fergus Browning and Nick Bell, as well as Sebastian Presley, with Cam Ivory chasing close behind. We worked well together but were no match for the horsepower of Tasman, eventually coming into the feedzone some 3 minutes behind.
Everyone regrouped at the feedzone, with a coffee van and plenty of delicious snacks from event sponsors I was busy demolishing my 3rd coffee for the day (and not the last).
Following a quick rest and catch up, we set off for the descent down to the Great Ocean Road, thankfully this stage proved slightly calmer, and the bunch stayed together with only a few close calls as riders got used to the reduced grip on their gravel bikes (compared to the MTBs of Saturday). The stage neutralised at the Great Ocean Road, allowing everyone to enjoy the phenomenal views the ride offers, with some riders even stopping in at local coffee shops to take in the vistas (and more caffeine).
Before too long it was time for the climb back up to the first feedzone, this is a long steep climb, and by now any leftover energy is well and truly spent. Thankfully Tasman decided to take it a little easier to start off with, this gave everyone some time to find their legs, before he once again attacked. Soon it was just myself, Tasman and young Fergus left at the front, both Fergus and I gasping for breath. After a little recovery we started taking turns and in no time we were over the worst of the climb, however Fergus decided he had good legs and unleashed a series of hard attacks of his own. Luckily for Tasman and I, this left him vulnerable for our own counterattacks, and being prideful old guys (yes I include myself in this now that I’m 20…) we had no option but to salvage our pride by attacking, I launched first, putting a small gap into Fergus and Tasman, unfortunately being on a converted MTB I soon ran out of gears and Tasman quickly powered across to me, going straight to the front with me spinning like a 2 stroke whipper snipper, to keep up with the powerful Bendigo rider. We rotated turns, holding Fergus off to the feedzone in search of more food.
Finally after regrouping we cruised down the hill back into Forrest, everyone chatting excitedly about their day, their close calls, and how keen they were for the beer at the finish.
Official results take into account the time-out zones which saw Nankervis holding on for the win in an overall time of 2:56:07, ahead of myself (2:59:12) and Browning (2:59:47).
I won King of the Otways after I also finished second in yesterday’s Otway Odyssey 100km mountain bike race.
Women’s results at the Great Otway Gravel Grind
In the absence of Peta Mullens to defend her Queen of the Otways crown, it was Neve Bradbury who placed first overall in the 97km Big Ring Gravel Grind.
“It’s such a beautiful course; I love that you can stop, wait for mates, have a chat… it’s very social and I love that – despite the last climb being a killer,” said Bradbury.
Bradbury finished the race in a time of 3:21:44, with Courtney Sherwell placing second in 3:27:20. Full results available here.
The day also saw some quality riding in the 49km Small Ring Gravel Grind with Nash Snooks outsprinting Camden Mclean in 1:47:48. For the women, it was Caitlin Wade in an impressive 1:56:41.
“I love being out there – really nice riding and a great vibe amongst the riders,” said Wade.
Rapid Ascent deliver again
All in all combining the Otway Odyssey and Great Otway Gravel Grind makes for an incredible weekend off road, from the pointy end racers to the weekend warriors who completed such demanding courses, in such high spirits.