Having never raced in the Northern Territory before, when the Easter in the Alice crew asked if I wanted to race, I jumped at the opportunity!
For the international readers, Alice Springs is in the heart of Australia, and is surrounded by desert. With temperatures in excess of 40 degrees celsius and minimums frequently dipping below 0degrees, it can be a place of extremes! Coming from Tasmania this was certainly a shock to the system, but not an unpleasant one.
Some history on the race
The Easter in the Alice is run by the local club, and has attracted some big names in the past! It’s run over three days (no surprise, through Easter…) and explores the local trails with relatively short 30-50km stages. It’s a super relaxed atmosphere and this is helped along by the crew of volunteers and calm vibe in the town. Previous winners include: Anna Beck (2019,2018) and Andy Blair (2019, 2016), Cameron Ivory (2018), Brendan Johnston and Jenny Blair (2017), and MarathonMTB teammate Imogen Smith (2016), among many others!
After finishing National Champs, pushing through Dragon Trail, I took a break from the bike for a week. Consuming roughly my weight in chips, pies, and chocolate, for the first time in months, it was great! But pretty quickly I was bored and a little sick of stuffing my face, so the opportunity to ride somewhere new and get out of the state was welcome. I jumped on an early flight out of Launceston, with a stop over in Melbourne. Pumped out a quick gym session at the gate, to the surprise of many fellow passengers… before a quick change and on to the next flight. A lovely chat to the lady next to me, who was surprised to hear of mountain biking in Alice, and we were landing already!
While Covid has certainly made flying more challenging, with a few more checks and masks, it was surprisingly easy to get to NT. I got a lift from the airport from Henry Hacket, one of the local racers, who was remarking on how green everything was at the moment. Even to my untrained eyes it was obvious there was life bursting from every crack and crevice, and I was stunned with how beautiful Alice is. Let me explain this statement, while some people might like neat lawns, green grass and straight trees, I’ve always loved the curving gumtrees of Australia, the grey leaves, the red dirt, and the vastness of the landscape that gives you that feeling of being in the middle of such a large continent, with bush all around. So this was heaven for me!
Henry took me for a spin on the local trails, and without spoiling the raceday review, they are great! Finally relaxing by the pool with everything ready for tomorrow.
For people not used to true Australian heat, “pro hours” in NT are as early as possible in the morning, to avoid the harsh weather in the middle of the day. So race day dawned at 5.30AM for me, with a nice coffee and breakfast at the hotel, before spinning out to the start with a few of the other guests I had met.
Usually a stage race starts pretty sedately, giving riders a moment to find their legs, and settle in for a hard day. Henry decided otherwise. A monstrous sprint off the startline greeted everyone, with Henry disappearing up the start hill… The rest of us chased onwards, and before too long he realised it might not be sustainable and eased off, I went to the front and set a solid pace, putting a little gap into Henry and Owen Chenhall. Henry’s local knowledge really came to the forefront as he mastered the rocky hardpack descents with ease, luckily I had good legs and held him off up the short climbs. The couse wound around Alice, with rocky descents and climbs, and loose over hardpack gravel underfoot.
There’s something refreshing about riding a new trail that isn’t flow trail, and it really keeps you on your toes. However with the recent surge in growth, lots of the trail was covered with overhanging grass, making rock placements a high stakes guessing game! I made the mistake of plowing into a waterbar, and quickly took Mum’s suggestion to identify local plants a little too literally, getting up close and personal with the ground… Luckily nothing broken, and after resetting my cockpit and some other bits I was back up and running, unaware of how close Henry had gotten.
Once I found my rhythm I set a solid pace again and came through the finish 2minutes ahead of Henry.
Owen Chenhall finished a further 2minutes behind in third:
“it was hard man, you guys dissapeared so quickly, and after that it was so hard to keep the pace up. Fourth caught me, we are good mates and I couldn’t let him beat me.”
The race finishes at a lovely park just outside of the town center, and so Henry, Owen, and I grabbed a milkshake and shared some race-stories, while watching other riders filter in.
Unofficial results: Men Elite
Sam Fox 1st, Henry Hacket 2nd +2minutes, Owen Chenhall 3rd +4minutes, Tom Stockwell in 4th.
In the Women, local Nicola Jelinek finished in 1st ahead of Briony Mattocks in second:
“It was a pretty hard start, straight up the ashphalt climb which seperated the field, I probably didn’t warmup enough but had a good start, close to a few other guys and Nicola (another elite woman), riding together. I was hoping to follow locals, as some of the overgrown grass made it hard to guess the trail. It started to break up when we started hitting the punchier climbs about 15-25km in. Nicola just gave it to me, and made a really good overtaking maneuver through a sneaky local shortcut. I tried to hang on and the elastic eventually snapped. I was descending pretty well but chasing back on clipped a rock and it sent me flying off the side. It was actually my best Alice crash, I didn’t land in spiky bush or rocks, but lost my wahoo for a bit and had to dig around to find that. Eventually overcame being winded and got back into it. Reflecting, the grass made it super fun, you just had to put trust in the trails, and for the most part it worked out… Full credit to Nicola, she had too much today.”
Kim Douglass finished in third place for the day.
Unofficial results: Women Elite
Nicola Jelinek 1st, Briony Mattocks 2nd +4minutes, Kim Douglass 3rd +41minutes
Tomorrow we are back to the trails for another superb stage, and an extra 30minutes of sleep (yay!).