In just under a week’s time, nearly 200 riders will clip in and pedal off into the uncharacteristically damp desert to tackle the five-day, seven-stage Ingkerreke Commercial mountain biking enduro event, taking place 16-22 May.
And while many sport pundits will be keeping a close eye on the elite pack – which includes the recently crowned male and female Australian 24 Hour Solo Champions – others will be cheering on six riders whose equally impressive claim to fame is having raced in every edition of the event since its debut in 2008.
Michael Heyburn (Alice Springs NT), Paul Darvodelsky (Araluen NT), Stephen Brady (Alice Springs NT), Alf Bluch (Manifold Heights VIC), Jane Ollerenshaw (Silvan VIC) and Steve Munyard (Silvan VIC) will return to the Red Centre as ‘Four Timers’ with a unique and knowledgeable perspective on what’s in store. Yet they also look forward to fresh challenges incorporated in this year’s race, with route changes and fresh new singletrack.
“This is actually my fifth year,” notes Jane Ollerenshaw, from Victoria, who competed in the event run by Alice Springs Bike Club the year prior to Rapid Ascend taking it on.
“I love Alice Springs, it’s such an exciting place to ride with amazing scenery and fantastic singletrack,” says Jane, who will ride with her husband (who last year broke his ribs) and friends, while her parents – currently caravanning around Australia – will be cheering her on from their posts as race volunteers.
Riders will travel from far and wide to compete in the event – some from as far afield as Vanuatu and Singapore – experiencing the unique beauty of the Red Centre from a two-wheel perspective. It will be new adventures for many first timers, but even local entrants are surprised by what they discover in their own back yard when riding in the Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro.
“The event provides an unparalleled opportunity to access many routes which we, even as locals, would not usually be able to ride due to their remoteness and the need for rider support,” says four-timer Stephen Brady, from Alice Springs. “Every year I discover more beautiful places in Central Australia.”
While the ‘Four-Timers’ hope to beat personal bests, crunching the dirt up front will be a stellar field, led by Australian 24 Hour Solo champions Jason English (also world champ, www.jasonenglish.com.au) and Joanna Wall (http://josiejowall.blogspot.com/), who each bagged Aussie 24 Hour Solo crowns in April.
Also a reigning champ of Ingkerreke MTB Enduro, Jason English is expecting a tight tussle for the coveted yellow jersey presented to each stage winner.
“I think this race will be close like last year. I’m planning on running some non-carbon rims this year and am still deciding between a hardtail and dual suspension based on how well my wrist recovers in the next 10 days,” he says, in a telling sign of how much a toll his 24-Hour success took.
“I’m looking forward to the new route for Day One, and to the tracks around the golf course as they were awesome last year. I like how all the tracks around Alice feel fast as they are all rock based. It makes for quick racing”
So who does Jason believe will be pushing his (hard) tail? “I think Andy Blair will most likely win the race based on his form at the Marathon Nationals. However, I think Aido (Aiden Leffman) will also be a hot contender based on his cross country form.
“If I can win one stage I think I’ll be going pretty well! I’m also super interested to see how the juniors go – I’m impressed to see how many have entered,” says Jason.
In addition to Jason English and Jo Wall, other elite riders to watch include:
· Andrew Bell – former National 24Hr Champion. http://andy-bell.blogspot.com/
· Ryan Standish (Team Merida) – Under 19 Australian champion 2010, 2nd Otway Odyssey 2010. Selected for USA Cycling National team. www.merida.com.au/en_au/cms/816/en_au-en_au-racers
- Rohin Adams – pro rider. http://rohinrides.blogspot.com/
- Aiden Leffman (Team Merida) – former junior champion, previous stage winner, WC racer.
- Scotty Chancellor (Team Torq). www.torqaustralia.com.au/nutrition-home/TORQteam/Sco.aspx
- Andy Blair (Red Shift Racing) – World Cup Racer and raced for Australia at World Championships http://redshiftracing.net/rider/andy-blair/
- Nick Both – Red Shift Racing http://redshiftracing.net/rider/nick-both/
- Jess Douglas (Giant) – current world 24 hour solo champ. http://www.jessicadouglas.com
- Terri Rhodes (Team Merida) – Australian rep rider, state champion (SA), once a roadie but converted to downhill and XC, once lived in Alice Springs. www.merida.com.au/en_au/cms/816/en_au-en_au-racers
- Anna Beck – 3rd in Australian Marathon Champs
Old and young from far and wide
The big guns are always great to watch, but this event is as much about the weekend warrior as the leading lights of our sport, so it’s worth keeping an eye on:
Malcolm Robins, from Port Melbourne, Vic. At 65 years of age, the eldest statesman of the pack.
Jacques Jacobie from Longreach QLD, at 14 the youngest rider out there, riding alongside (or speeding off on) dad, Christo.
Singapore is 4251.4km from Alice Springs, while Port Vila, Vanuatu, is only 3664km.
But travel time including stopovers is 25-35 hours from Vanuatu, and only 12-20 hours from Singapore. Kristian wins the award!
Best ever course over seven stages
According to race director, John Jacoby, it will be air miles well worth covering.
“The rivers and creeks are flowing, the grass is green, the flowers are out and there is more singletrack around Alice then ever before,” he says.
“This year’s race stages have been reduced in length compared with previous years. Stages vary from the lactic acid feast of the Anzac Hill climb (Stage 3) which takes approx. 60 seconds, to Stage 4, the traditional long stage which this year will be 77km with a mix of twisting and turning sealed bike track to some hilly fire roads and a spectacular ridge top ride at the end.
The crowd favourite, the 23km night stage, is back again as one of the most exciting MTB stages going around.
“Last year, Stage 1 was a tough 50+km initiation,” notes John. “This year it we’ve listened to feedback, and reduced it to 39km. A lot of the tough sections have been taken out while the single track heaven that exists between the 10km mark and the 36km mark is still featured.”
The now famous Telegraph Station eastside stage remains unchanged and takes in the challenging, fun and awesome single tracks that invoke strange images when negotiating “helmet track”, “dunny track”, “sink track”, “the washing machine” and “the roller coaster”.
Following Jacoby’s recce last week, more singletrack is included in 2011.
“The final Stage 7 is probably one of the most fun stages I have had the privilege to ride,” says Jacoby. “It includes 5km of brand new single track, plus a combination of some of Alice’s best tracks joined up to make a final outstanding 41km stage which finishes in the majestic grounds of the Old Telegraph Station. It is a fitting end to a brilliant week of mountain biking.”