By: Imogen Smith
Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith
Today’s Stage 1 of Reef to Reef in gorgeous Cairns was a 17 kilometre time trial through Smithfield’s world class XC trails. I’m racing with long time partner Mike (and long time husband) in a return to doing what we love together after three years off. So how did it go?
First, let me tell you something about getting old. Anything out of the normal routine causes additional struggle. Alteration to diet? Dead legs. Slightly less than eight hours sleep? Dead legs. Slight amount of work stress? Dead legs. Racing in the middle of the day? Burning hellfire pain in the legs. So it was a slowish 12:12pm start from me, and Mike had to wait for me a bit (men don’t seem to get dead legs!?), but we settled in and by the time we hit the first, short, bitumen climb I was feeling pretty zen. The climb crept up and turned to rocky dust. Soon we could see Jarrod and Peta up ahead, probably about 30 seconds away (they’d started 20 seconds before us), turning into the singletrack.
I was shaky on the first descents, worried about the traffic and generally full of adrenalin and nerves. My technical riding, which isn’t a strength, has been something that’s caused me a lot of anxiety lately (which, of course, makes me ride worse) and I had to work through the self-doubt for the first three or four corners, losing time while I negotiated with my over-punitive superego so I could get back to actually watching where I was going.
The next climb of about 80 switchbacks, Pipeline, was perfect for us. A chance to find a rhythm, settle in, have a drink, and maybe, just maybe, make up some time.
By about 2/3 of the way up the climb we could see the two Roxsolt jerseys of Jarrod and Peta. I was a little too crosseyed to count the seconds between us, but it was probably the start gap of about 20, maaaybe a little less? Strategically, they were in a good position though. All they had to do was hold us off until the descent and their superior bike handling would mean they could more than likely pull away.
Still I dared to dream (very silly). If we (I) can just hang on down the descent. Could we (I) possibly? Might we have it in us (me)?
Turns out, NO.
Got to the top of the Pipeline descent and whether it was because I was waaaay over my threshold heartrate or nerves, or adrenalin, or nerves (probably nerves), I messed up the first four or five corners and lost a bunch of time. Mike sat up and waited for me to finish internal negotiations and we picked things back up, passing a couple of men’s teams and generally having a great time, until my glasses started falling off. I rode down this luge with them balanced, professor-like, on the tip of my nose, kinda precariously when you remember that they retail for a couple hundred bucks.
It’s really, really hard to take your hand off the bars and nudge your eyewear up to the bridge of your nose when you’re trying to handle tight, steep berms and G-outs at your top speed, but I managed to accomplish this no fewer than three times down the entire run. Amazing.
Anyway, back to business. A brief but violent argument on the next fire road over whether Mike should talk or push (he chose the former), and we were back in some cool, twisty, narrow trails before the final techy pinches and the long, flat curvy run to the finish.
I heard the commentator announce Peta and Jarrod crossing the line and yelled ‘Fulllgasss go go go’ at Mike, thinking there were only two or three more corners before the finish straight. Alas, there were about 12-14 or maybe 16 more corners, I blew up a few times in thirty seconds, and we finished exactly one minute down on Peta and Jarrod’s third place. Not too bad considering just a few days ago I had so little faith in my bike handling that I was going to quit and take up archery, which seems to me to be a sport that rewards the ability to NOT move, and where extreme old age such as mine would be less of a limiting factor.
The podium is stacked with hitters, with Em Viotto and Karl with a K in first, Holly Harris and some guy called Mitch Docker in second, and Jarrod and Peta in third. Tasman Nankervis and Alex Lack won Open Men, and Anna Beck and Karen Hill won Open Women’s. Full results are on the Reef to Reef website.
I set 10, 20, and 60 minute heartrate PBs for this year (i.e. went faaar too deep for a four-day stage race), but had an AMAZING time on the Smithfield trails. Reef to Reef course designers put together a set of trails that managed to be both challenging and festival-level fun at the same time. The track was just perfect… and it was dry. Chef’s kiss.
While we’ve all been able to get to a few races here and there this year, including XCM Champs last weekend in Wagga (don’t ask), this is the first bike race I’ve done since the pandemic (let’s not count the Cape Epic – still have to finish that) that feels like an event. A real celebration of mountain bike racing, competing, riding in perfect weather. We’re all on holiday racing our bikes and nothing could make me more grateful.
Tomorrow we race at Davies Creek, which has some great old-school singletrack which, if I remember rightly, rides like ball bearings on an ice-rink. But I may be wrong. There’s not a lot of climbing and it’s going to be a super-fast stage.