Receiving invites to races is one of the best parts of being somewhat decent at racing a bike. Disenchanted with a cold and wet winter in south-east Queensland, the chance to race in the tropics was a welcome one. Paluma, 90km north-west of Townsville, hosts the annual Paluma Push mountain bike point-to-point Enduro. At 65km it is one of the shorter races in this format but what it lacks in length, it makes up for in adventure.
Being an ‘invited’ rider never really affords me my preferred modus operandi of flying under the radar. It was not going to be an easy day out though as local rider and current National Road Series leader Ruth Corset would also be contesting the event. As Pensar Hawk Racing teammates we are used to riding together but head-to-head is a bit of a novelty. After rego at BNG Sports Ruth and I hit the Douglas tracks mountain bike park which is a mere 5 minutes ride from her house. Only riding a few of the many tracks on offer, it was apparent that Townsville is well equipped to provide riders with all the skills challenges that could churn out the next National MTB Champion.
At about 6 degrees the start was a lot colder than I’d assumed it would be in ‘the tropics’! My blasé attitude had seen me neglect to bring a jacket so I warmed up by standing as still as possible in the sun, cursing the riders around for stirring up a breeze. By the 9am kick off it was perfect race conditions and the first 4km on the bitumen was fast and furious. After turning onto the next section of fireroad the sweeping corners brought a few unstuck and flying off into the dense vegetation. Riding with the lead group of men, the pace was hotter than I could handle for the expected 3 and a bit hours so I watched them, and Ruth, disappear up the road.
This did give me a chance to truly appreciate my surroundings as this section of the race circumnavigates the Paluma Dam and passes through World Heritage listed rainforest. Like riding through a tunnel the foliage arches low over the double track and the darkness, occasionally punctured by dappled sunlight had me wishing I’d brought my clear lenses for my sunglasses. Local knowledge was a great advantage here to work through the wet tree roots, moss covered rocks and large holes and ruts which abruptly appeared around each corner. It was what Glen Jacobs would call ‘real mountain biking’ with no obvious lines and requiring some conservative riding due to the unknown conditions ahead. I passed Ruth through this section and sought to work the lead knowing the open fireroad and climbs would be where she would claw back chunks of time. My tip to new players would be to eat and drink BEFORE the dam loop as it pretty impossible once on it!
Passing a few cramping riders who did not heed the previous warning the second section was a little less inspiring but just as tough with dead, grassy, rocky climbing through farm paddocks and navel-high river crossings. You know you’re in North Queensland though when the water is crystal clear and you’re fighting the temptation to dive right in. Even in the depths of winter the heat is on up there and I was throwing the contents of a bottle of water, provided by one of the many checkpoint volunteers, over my head by the second hour.
The shorter recreational course follows the same route sans a few of the more interesting trail loops, however all riders got to partake in the last blissful 7kms of gently downhill sloping singletrack which meanders to the Hidden Valley Cabins. I think the route planner had been watching too many mountain top finishes at the Tour de France as the 2012 Paluma Push ended in an abrupt left-hand turn and sharp 20 metre climb which was like a final stab in the heart for riders with some literally falling off their bikes on the finish line in waves of cramps.
It’s always nice to take a win but it’s at community events like this when you realize that winning is not really the point. The oldest competitor was 69 years, the youngest was 12 and there was a returned veteran who completed the recreational course with only one arm. Paluma Push is an event for everyone to have a go at and the Rockwheelers club worked overtime to ensure everything proceeded smoothly. I highly recommend the event especially to those needing some reprieve from the southern climate. Thanks to Townsville Rockwheelers for having me along.