Today, February 26th, the 16th edition of the Otway Odyssey took place in Forrest, Victoria. This marathon quickly became a ‘must-do’ on the domestic marathon scene in Australia, with the iconic point to point route from Apollo Bay to Forrest quickly earning fans from around the country due to the tough nature and honest racing on offer. The brute of the course didn’t end up with anyone winning by chance. Grit and determination were required to get through it.
After a 15 year anniversary in 2021 and a return to the original course, for 2022 Rapid Ascent mixed things up a little. The Forrest-Forrest course was back, but with a few additions to spice things up.
Dawn at the Odyssey – Elite women are go
The Otway Odyssey kicks off at 7am for the Elite women’s start, with all 100km men and women opting out of the elite start rolling out at 7:30am. If you’re not familiar with the impact of daylight savings in Victoria at the end of summer, that means elite women start right about at sunrise. The morning of the race is therefore pretty dark when you arrive and rush to get organised. People say hi, you respond with a pleasantry and wonder who it even was.
There were about 10 elite women on the start line this year, a little down on the usual crowd. But when it includes the likes of 2021 winner and number 3 rider in the world Bec McConnell – it’s a good sign. Plus 6 time Odyssey winner Peta Mullens and some of her Roxsolt team mates, Em Viotto, our own Imogen Smith and more.
Given the early start, doing a warm up isn’t really possible. So the elite women’s group rolled up the first climb at a fairly pace.
The majority of the elite women stayed together until the KOM, at 11km in. There were still 8 in the group. The rolling hills that followed split the group. Em Viotto was riding an aggressive pace, and the three Roxsolt riders were racing as a team to stay right in the front of the race.
But really, it was McConnell’s race soon after the race got going. McConnell rode away after about 10km, so rode the majority of the race solo.
“There was no attack, but I just went to the front in that really bushy fire road and rode a speed I thought was good and comfortable as it’s a long race. Em was in touch for a while, but after the Red Carpet I had got away.”
“I really hoped Em was able to bridge back so I could do some work for her and we could get a gap to the other girls, but it didn’t work out that way.”
Compared to last year with the race start in Apollo Bay, McConnell seemed to prefer the route with singletrack loops around Forrest.
“I think I enjoyed this one more, last year I was surprised at how tough this race really is, so my level of expectation for pure suffering was maximum today. For it to be a little bit below that was a nice surprise.”
While McConnell won in 5:28:03, Peta Mullens crossed in 5:34:46, with her team mate Courtney Sherwell a little further back in 5:41:17.
Johnston triumphant at Otway Odyssey
The men’s race took off half an hour after the elite women, and all in all it was a pretty steady start. The bunch had a lot of high calibre riders. From last year’s 2nd place Sam Fox (defending champion Dan McConnell was away sick), evergreen Adrian Jackson, Russ and Tasman Nankervis, Brendan Johnston, Cam Ivory, Chris Jongeward and even retired road pro Mitch Docker. Plus plenty more hitters!
The first dirt road section was pretty mellow, as the group filled the road and riders surged in and around behind. Over the first longer rise the group started to split, with smaller groups forming and reforming behind.
The following section of freshly cut firebreak took a victim early on, with a rider out with a broken collarbone. As we went onto older double track the loose and narrow descent kept everyone single file, and the ensuing steep climb forced plenty of splits.
Later on in the race, Johnston was ahead of Ivory, with Fox chasing. But with Johnston choosing to attack, it set up his win. Much of it came down to the Sledgehammer.
‘I didn’t know what I would have today, so I just sat back and let them do everything. Seven or eight times I was telling myself I was happy with third. They were asking me to pull through, but I was cramping.’
‘They started to sit up, and I thought if I go now and blow up then it’s the same result, I get third. So I went, I don’t know what happened but I stayed away.’
Brendan Johnston finished in 4:38:39, with Cam Ivory in 4:40:16. Sam Fox was 3rd in 4:42:27. Full results are online.
MarathonMTB.com at the Otway Odyssey
‘It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times.’
Imogen and I flew down for the race, as with the Great Otway Gravel Grind (tomorrow) it makes a great weekend of racing off road. For Imogen, it’s some racing ahead of the Cape Epic, for me it’s a kick in the bum.
Imogen’s race was set to be not as good as possible when she realised in the opening metres that all her race food was in her Camelbak she’d left at the feedzone at the last minute. Thanks to Peta Mullens for passing on a gel! Imogen went through some dark places, but finished strong once she had some calories in the closing stage, ending up 7th.
I rode within myself, until an older left knee injury started to make itself apparent at 50km. After another 15km it was enough to pull the pin on the return to Forrest. A DNF doesn’t feel good, but it 4 hours on the trails was fun anyway.
It’s been a good reminder how hard the Odyssey is. It’s got steep bits, flat corners, areas where the flora flails you, some newly worked trails, and tonnes of speedy riders! A paella at the finish was a good opportunity to reflect that this is such a quality event – and one worth doing if you never have. Just don’t underestimate it (or start with empty pockets).
My bike at the Otway Odyssey
I race my Norco Revolver 29 FS. The main change of late is a move to the 2022 Fox 34 SC fork with 120mm of travel, paired with the 190x45mm stroke Fox DPS, for 120mm of travel in the back. The fork has a 44mm offset, the same as I had on the 100mm Fox 32 SC.
I like the change, although my fork was a little soft today, notable on some roll overs on the trails.
My drivetrain is a Shimano XTR M9100 and Deore XT M8100 mix. The rear mech is XTR, as is the bottom bracket, pedals, chain and race brakes. The shifter is XT, so is the cassette, and the 180/160mm rotors. I used a 34t chainring on 175mm MT900 cranks. The cassette is 10-51.
Wheels are DT Swiss 350 straight pull centrelock hubs laced to EIE Carbon A29C30D18 SL rims. I had Maxxis WT 2.4″ tyres front and rear, with a Rekon Race on the front and Aspen out back. They were ok, and quite fast. But some sections today were a little slippery – mostly the second half of the Red Carpet descent with the new surface. I had 90mL of Ride Mechanic Hoop Goop in each.
I have Mt Zoom Ultralight 760mm bars on a Syntace Liteace stem (60mm). There’s a BikeYoke Divine Rascal 80mm dropper and Shimano remote, with a new Pro Stealth carbon saddle. I have some worn out PRO 30mm silicone grips which I really need to change.
Today was a tough day. Frustrating, but that’s often the case with bike racing. Regardless, Rapid Ascent put on a great event, and anyone who completed the 10, 30, 50 or 100km race should be really happy with their performance.