Words: Imogen Smith | Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith
It was an early start today, getting up at five am so I had enough time to remove the ‘murder plastic’ from the hotel windows (my DIY blackout solution, which BTW is amazing) and pack two bikes, two bike bags, two gear bags, and somehow, about fourteen other bags of crap, into the hire car. The drive to Davies Creek took us up the range, and we had just enough time for a quick photo of the view to the Great Barrier Reef and a coffee stop, before pulling into race central for Reef to Reef.
It was a chilly morning up on the range. I was determined to get a proper warm up in, knowing how difficult I find it to get started after a hard day, so rode a long, long way up the road and back a couple of times, throwing in some ramps and listening to my favourite EDM from the early 2000s.
Race starts always throw up hundreds of decisions about lines and wheels to follow in the space of a few minutes, then there’s all the random things that happen, like people crashing or missing corners. Today’s start worked out pretty well for us, and we found ourselves on the first singletrack climb behind another two mixed teams, Holly and Mitch, with Peta and Jarrod in front.
I was super comfortable with the pace and felt great. Like really, really good. Once the track opened up again, Holly and Mitch rode away but we ended up with the Roxsolt team. Oh dear oh dear what do we do? I tried to get away and Mike came along (reluctantly it seemed), but we ended up realising that it was probably futile on the undulating fire road. On a really long climb, feeling good like I did, maaaaybe today I could have (for a while at least), but not when there were lots of opportunities to chase back on, and where was the singletrack? I kept expecting we’d turn into some any moment, and in that case I’d rather be following than leading… So we came back together and Mike and I decided we should sit on.
There followed a bunch of creek crossings, all of which slowed me down quite a bit “Urgh, I have sand in my shoes!!” and gradually Jarrod and Peta pulled away as I hit a bit of a low patch. We were at the half-way mark and I was feeling a bit… not as good. Mike and I encountered a few minor calamities, missing a corner, overshooting a feedzone and having to go back (I think we were the only mixed team to use the bottle drop – oops) and getting caught by another men’s team. We bled some time but managed to ride back into the race a few kilometres later and finish strong in the fast, loose trails towards the end, but the damage was done – another fourth place for us on a day where we had opportunities and high points, but ultimately were beaten by stronger riders who raced brilliantly together.
The beauty of Mixed Pairs
Mixed racing is so interesting – A lot of what a mixed team can do depends on the fella’s ability to support his queen. Jarrod, for example, proved that chivalry’s not dead by swapping his eTap battery for Peta’s when hers expired, bravely contesting the sprint in a 34-40 or somesuch. Pushing, towing, sitting in, and importantly, impeccable timing of these are a huge part of successful mixed racing – and communication is the most important of them all. It was great to see how Jarrod and Peta worked together, as well as Mitch and Holly, both teams capitalising on their strengths. I’m sure Em and Karl are also working unbelievably well – it’s just that I never see them!
Mike and I made a couple of suboptimal moves today, like me ending up on the front in the wind a few times, or him wasting energy on a few pushes on loose climbs where we would have been better off riding separately.
Peta and Jarrod definitely rode into today’s race, moving forward into second position on the stage, the finish coming down to a sprint between them and Em and Karl, who won and held their overall lead. Holly and Mitch came in third, and Mike and I, well, we were fourth again, with Ella and Tim in fifth.
Close racing calls for sweet recovery. We rode in our swimmers down to Davies Creek and plonked ourselves in the fast-flowing, crystal water while I ate a bag of chips. An ice bath in absolute paradise is definitely a key ingredient of a successful stage race.
Tomorrow is the longest stage, a 60km tour of Mount Molloy. With very little climbing, just 550 metres, and considering I can barely see the screen right now I’m so tired, it will be interesting to see how things go for us.