Photographs on this page (except where noted) by: MARK WATSON
171 riders began the event with a trip up the chairlift downhiller style in the Monday morning fog. This was followed by a quick time trial back down the mountain via some of the tamer sections of Thredbo’s National downhill course which linked up well to some of the flowy bottom sections of the cross-country track. Most of us took it fairly easy down here as the loose gravel meant it would be easy to get out of control and end the event when it had only just started. Craig Armour found this out first hand after going over the bars during a complicated overtaking manoeuvre. This saw him watching the event from the sidelines and support vehicles for the rest of the week. For me, I was surprised to learn that taking it fairly easy down this long descent meant that my legs got quite numb in the cold and I struggled to hold my body for so long above the saddle. I struggled even more with the short, sharp climbs that linked the track together. Still, it felt great to be doing them, and great to get the race underway. Cooma’s Andy Blair dominated this stage with a time of 18:31 while his partner and Redshift Racing teammate, Rosie Barnes, won the women’s category by over two and a half minutes. Kim Fritsche set a record at the back of the pack with his time of 1:00:54 and may have been the rider spotted admiring the golf course part way through the race.
Before I knew what was happening, the event continued with its first “cruise” stage to the nearby Crackenback Resort. The cruise stages were designed to get riders through the easier parts of the route to the beach and alternated with the more interesting and technically challenging “race” stages which put our mental toughness and preparative tactics to the test as much as our fitness, leg strength and ability to consume massive amounts of food and energy gels.
The overall feel of the event was dominated by a supportive, encouraging, and there-for-the-fun-of-it vibe. An obvious thing to write perhaps, but it is something many events set out to achieve and few pull off as seemingly effortlessly as this one did. Credit for this needs to go not just to the riders and volunteers involved, but the team at Wild Horizons who developed, ran, and set the tone for, this incredible event.
Sydney’s Rob Parbery is exemplary of this captivating Mountains-to-Beach vibe. Rob was involved in a crash at a road crit in the week before the race which saw him lose a fair amount of skin down the right side of his body. He must have hit his head pretty hard too because he decided to make things even harder for himself by being the only person to complete the event on a singlespeed. In between spinning out on the flats, standing up on the climbs and flowing through the singletrack, Rob managed to take time out to snap photos of the event, help several riders with flats and arrange for a cold beer to be delivered at the creek crossing before the final climb on day four. He won several prizes for his sportsmanship and made any rider who was suffering feel so much better about their own personal effort. People like this go a long way to making our sport what it is and explain why time and time again non-riders are constantly impressed and surprised when they get a feel for the type of people that make up the mountain bike community.
Above photograph by: DAVE BATEMAN
At the pointy end of things, Andy Blair led the men’s field in the general classification from day one, and through his hometown of Cooma, only to be beaten by 2008 World Solo 24 Hour silver medallist, Jason English on the final day. It took these guys just under 10 hours to complete the race stages which was made all the more impressive by Andy’s National XC race effort in Tasmania two days before the event and Jase’s 1st place solo finish at an 8 hour mountain bike event two days later in Sydney’s Lower Blue Mountains on his way home to Port Macquarie.
Inset photograph above by: DAVE BATEMAN
Rosie Barnes and Noosa’s Naomi Hansen fought hard for the women’s lead in the first two days of racing until Rosie had to pull out due to ongoing injuries from a car accident several months earlier. Naomi appeared to get stronger the harder the stages became and won the category by 59 minutes over Heather Evans from Sydney. Not content with one big week of hard racing,
Naomi left for South Africa shortly afterward to race the Absa Cape Epic.
After the final finish line, more stories were shared and friendships continued to form. Not just between racers, but volunteers, supporters, people from the bike industry, event staff, and anyone local who chanced to walk by. People like Rob on his singlespeed, and Pete motivating people out on the track, and people like Andy, Jase and Naomi who still looked fresh but were happy just to sit and chat. It’s that shared love of the adventure that is what this event is all about. It is central to the memories people will take home from it and right at the heart of the event’s outstanding success.
Main photograph above by: DAVE BATEMAN