This race is a must do if you are even remotely into the marathon racing scene. Even if you’re not you should get it on your list of events to hit up. To date, I have not ridden an event that offers so much varying terrain in one hit. Bitumen road, forest roads, firetrail, unknown overgrown dangerzone ™ singletrack, groomed singletrack and so much more are what is on offer here. It truly tests all of your abilities in one unique condensed course over 100km.
For this year I decided to fly down to Melbourne and then chug a hire car over to Forrest where the race is held. On the way I dropped in at the Cannondale headquarters in the industrial region of Altona North to catch up with the crew there. The guys and girls there simply love bikes and the whole lifestyle surrounding two wheels. We all lost track of time talking about walls, strava, Instagram, 2016 bikes, everyday wheelsets, thai food and other random stuff that you do when the conversation is just flowing naturally and easily. Good times!
My destination for the evening was the salubrious (shout out to Ed McD) hamlet of Colac. As soon as I arrived I promptly lay down and had a nap. An hour later I woke up in a pile of drool and tried to figure out where I was! That may have been a tiring transit day! I built the bike up and proceeded to go and roll the legs over through the Botanic Gardens chasing some fresh oxygen.
Too Tired - either a big bike or a small bed
Friday came around pretty quickly and I started the day chilling out drinking espresso and eating pancakes in one of the local cafes that I like to go to. My plan then was to go and recce the first sector of the course. This one is a good hike of about 40km and essentially climbs the first hill in the race. By climbing the hill I mean that it goes up in general. There are a few rolling bits but you essentially climb about 600m or so in the first 25km. It was here that I realised that the trails had been recently graded….it was very, very, very soft….and slow….and soul destroying. I invented some new swear word combinations that I have not used before to describe this section! It will be better on race day though I told myself totally believing it as well!
The recce was good to open everything up and spin the legs over as well. I felt pretty good so went back, cleaned the bike, sorted nutrition for the next day and promptly had another nap! After collecting number plates I met up with my teammate Tom Ovens and we hit up the Lemongrass Thai restaurant in Colac for a prerace carb green curry chicken with the delectable coconut rice on offer. Tom told me how he had been experimenting in the kitchen making his own version of coconut rice. I probably didn’t need to learn how easy this was because I’ve got 99 problems and the vast majority of them involve carbs so the last thing I needed to know was how to facilitate my own vices!
Freaking gigantic trees and soft dirt
Race day came around and there was a massive crew of riders in the mix. Along with 1100 keen mountain bikers, 30 top level riders had made the trip to Forrest to make a solid race of it. At this time of year everyone has great form due to the perfect riding weather on offer. The first 8km or so are all on bitumen and is relatively chilled. There are a few discussions going back and forth between riders to calm the nerves, enquire about recent events, and even to offer some constructive sledges. Once it hits the dirt though after Barwon Downs, the pace gets lifted and there is a copious amount of position fighting ©
All of the guys know where the right hander is for the start of the first descent and there was a sprint worthy of a road crit finish to get to the start of this in good position. Being so dry, dust was flying everywhere and if you weren’t in the top positions then you were seeing a cloud of it. Paul Van Der Ploeg hit a corner way too hot and binned it, a small mushroom cloud erupting as he hit the deck. He got the adrenaline kick that you do from these sorts of things and was up in about 2 seconds and heading off like a scalded cat.
I saw neither of these things #rippedoff
On the next climb was where the initial selection is made, and this edition was no exception. There were about 20 riders strung out into the physiological groups that occur. Some riders were smacking it hard, some were pacing, and some were sounding like Darth Vader. I got myself into a good rhythm and got onto the wheel of Shaun Lewis. We picked up another rider and worked together for the entire climb going back and forth but ultimately getting up over the climb together. This was at about the 65 minute mark into the race.
The next descent kicks ass. It is a fireroad bomb through at well over 60km/hr. I was on Shaun’s wheel drifting, tucking and hauling down this section in search of the next bit of singletrack, the infamous moto trail. This trail is the one that looks like it has been hacked back with a matchete. It is narrow, sketchy, sticky, and rutted like no one’s business. It is in a word, nuts. You go on autopilot through here and simply hold on hoping for the best!
Being very careful to keep within the allocated box
Sector 2 came up fairly quickly and it was a chance to grab a bottle and some gels and head out through the Yaugher singletrack for about 20km. This set of trails is super tight. It feels like it was built in the olden days of 26er wheels. There are some corners where you are just muscling the bike around wondering if there is something wrong with you! But it is just tight. At about the 50km mark, my teammate Tom Ovens, effortlessly rode up behind me, demonstrating his brilliant local knowledge and skills as an ex Pro Motocrosser. Sensing a top day out on the bike, I jumped on his wheel and we worked together back through into transition where we had managed to pick up the 2 guys in front of us.
My tip to anyone doing the Odyssey is that you should strongly consider leaving some energy in the tank for the back 40km. This is where you can definitely make up a fair bit of time if you haven’t gone out way too hard. From 60 to 70km is a fairly decent climb…decent in that it doesn’t stop. Indecent in that it is freaking hard. The 4 of us rolled track turns doing about 30-60 seconds on the front at a time. Such a great way to roll up this hill – hashtag thumbs up. Half way up I started to check out how the other guys were going. I knew Tom was riding strong, but bearing in mind that we had hauled the other 2 riders in prior to the Forrest Football Ground transition I was keen to see if they were running strong or running on fumes. The heavy breathing and the occasional missed turn is always a bit of a giveaway (we have all been there before so it is easy to spot). As I came through for my turn off Tom’s wheel, I ramped it slightly and got a 20 metre gap. I tried to make it look as though I wasn’t hurting, but 3 minutes in I was almost questioning whether I had gone a bit early! I took the opportunity to recover a little bit down the next bit of singletrack and the wide open fireroad descent. It had the desired effect and Tom used his skills down the descent to get back across and I sat up a bit so that he could latch back on the wheel.
Red Carpet descent is a piece of singletrack that is a showcase piece of the region. We gassed it using the loose conditions to two wheel drift around corners, use the side of trees as berms and hit the 180 degree switchbacks foot out getting so loose and just having a blast all the way down. Mountain biking FTW all the way!
You get to the top of the next hill and look at the speedo and it still only says 80km…the simple math states that you’ve still got 50-60 minutes to go…so you keep on going. It was just a case of swapping off emptying the tank. At about the 95km mark we caught a couple of riders one of which was going backwards unfortunately. The other, Harrison Ernst, a relative local from Warnambool saw Tom’s wheel and became sandwiched between us! At the 98km mark, we hit this descent that was like talcum powder. Brown talcum powder – suddenly I could not see a thing. Harrison glued himself to Tom’s wheel. I chose the safe option and used the brakes dropping the wheel and about 50 metres in the process so that I could vaguely see the trail. Unfortunate time as I then had to hustle hard to get back on the wheel, covered in copious amounts of dust and feeling it grind a little between my teeth!
Tom ramped it up the final climb and I could see Harrison dropping off slightly as he let out a desperate scream of frustration. He was cooked, but such a seriously great ride by this young dude – keep an eye out for his name in the future! I rolled om through with Tom for the last kilometre hauling ass down the hill before getting onto the finishing straight and rolling through in about 4 hours and 40 minutes.
I managed to roll through in 9th place with Tom 3 seconds behind me in 10th. It was a great opportunity to roll a good 50km with my teammate ripping drifts, putting down some power and thoroughly enjoying the day out. Tom told me afterwards that he had laid down an average of 280 watts for the duration of the race with an average heart rate of 169bpm…extrapolate up or down depending on your own circumstances or expectations!
Well and truly done and dusted
Statistics and not so random numbers:
Duration 4 hours 40 minutes
Nutrition: 4 litres of Sukkie, 10 Pro4mance gels
Average Heart Rate: 167bpm – cooler weather, so a little lower today
Maximum speed: 73.1km/hr!
TRIMP Score: 457
Next up….At this stage there is not a lot on until the Easter in the Alice stage race, in, you guessed it, Alice Springs, at….yes….Easter. But I am sure that something will turn up that requires me to put a number on the bike!