Words: Imogen Smith
Firstly, a clarification. The suggestion that Mike ride the last 17 kilometres to the finish of Stage 3 on our only back wheel after sitting at the feedzone for a couple of hours was mine – not the other mixed racers’, not the R2R people, and definitely, definitely not Mike’s. Also, we didn’t get divorced. He seemed quite happy to do it!
So, we were out of the race. We’d had a long day and I’d been feeling a bit off. Stage 4, we decided, we’d just ride tempo and get safely to the finish, with our borrowed wheel intact. No worries! I thought. I’ll ride tempo, sure. Mike can help me. Help me stay with the front bunch. Help me keep up on the climbs. Help me on the flat bits. In short. I was going to ride tempo, but Mike was going to redline it all the way from Mt Molloy down the Bump Track to Port Douglas so that we still went fast. Sweet.
Unfortunately, I didn’t mention any of this to Mike, who thought that he would also be riding fairly easy (ridiculous). The start was totally tranquil, but we let ourselves sit on the back and well, ride tempo. So when I started getting dropped, piece by piece, as the race heated up in front, my expectation that Mike would help us go the same pace as yesterday led to a little, um, conflict. Mike got sick of my meek cries for ‘halp’ on the hills and started to ride away. This left me in no-man’s land, where I went through the full spectrum of ways to say ‘slow down and help me [expletive expletive expletive]’ using just the word ‘Mike’.
There’s the quick, high pitched ‘Mike!’ yelp, the long, tremulous ‘Miiiiiiiiike’ wail, and finally, when all the others have been ignored, the brutal, loud, and frankly terrifying ‘MIKE!’ bark, which strikes terror into the hearts of any male rider who hears it (sorry fellas), if not my actual race/life partner.
Eventually I realised that ‘tempo but really fast’ wasn’t realistic and was probably going to wreck my marriage, so we gave up and sat with a nice group including the leading women’s team of Anna and Karen, and Tony Tucknott and his partner in the Grand Masters’ jerseys. It was a positive and steady group, riding actual tempo, so we were happy for a time – I even scored the occasional push! At the top of the bump track the group broke up a bit, and we enjoyed the fast pedally top of the descent, before we plunged into the rainforest abyss.
With two teams in front of us there was a lot of dust. Sunlight slanted through the canopy to illuminate shards of air and the odd patch of ground, but otherwise, we were riding through dense, white powder suspended in an air indistiguishable from the ground. I couldn’t see the front wheel. I couldn’t see the track. All I could do was guess the surface as it plummeted downwards over rocks and dirt until we emerged, ears popping, into sunny cane fields.
At this point we toyed with chasing the group in front but only half committed to a chase (tempo, remember!), after a brief argument, we sat up and enjoyed the final few kilometres of what I can honestly say has been one of the best races I’ve ever done in Australia. It’s been competitive, friendly, beautiful, supportive, and all in all a huge and long overdue reminder of why we train and why we race: because it’s just. so. fun.
We rolled down the beach, checking out the nude sunbathers, the cute doggos, and the azure ocean lapping white sand. Honestly the prettiest race finish in the world, that I’ve seen anyway. We spent the afternoon catching up with other racers and friends, and while it hurt a bit to miss out on the wide podium, we have plenty of positives to take away. Apparently, I can climb!
Peta and Jarrod went out and won the day with some fantastic and determined tactical riding, with Em and Karl in second, followed by Holly and Mitch. We rolled in a few minutes back in fourth (unofficial), with Ella and Tim in actual fourth (official). Em and Karl took a spectacular overall win, followed by Peta and Jarrod in second, then Holly and Mitch in third.
What’s next? Well… recovery. Then I’ll be writing a five page feature in Australian Mountain Bike magazine about Reef to Reef, and we’ll be gearing up for the Flight Centre Epic at Hiddenvale, Qld, the Whaka 100 in Rotorua, NZ, and probably turning our sights to Port to Port next year (Mike says he might even do some training – I will report back). All the while we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the weather plays a bit nicer this season.
I’m also helping run RideCAMPS with the Ride Technics crew. As a coach it’s so great to be involved in these events, taking MTBers to cool locations to work on their skills, make new friends and ride great trails. It’s kind of all the things I love about stage racing, but without the actual racing, which will be a nice change.
It’s also very cool to be back writing race reports – it’s a long time since I’ve done one and a long time since I’ve done much content for MarathonMTB. Writing up each day really helps me process all the hilarious mishaps that make racing… interesting. Hope to be posting lots, lots more in future.