It is now less than a week out from the Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro in Alice Springs and it is fair to say that I am getting excited. I’m looking forward to it for a number of reasons, but most prominently because I need a holiday and I can’t think of a better way to spend a week off work than to be smashing rocky single track and outback trails in a beautiful location with a bunch of mates.

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The weather is another aspect I am keen for. It is starting to get a little chilly here in Canberra, so the expected temperatures of 25-30 degrees are sounding appealing. I’ve done the race twice now and I don’t think I have ever even seen a cloud out there! The weather is also conducive to a relatively relaxing stage race, compared to others I have done that involve a daily ritual of cleaning a filthy bike and discovering all the components that have worn out or broken in horrendous conditions. At the ICME it is simply a matter of hosing off the dust and lubing the chain (and maybe changing the tyres half way through the week?). That gives you plenty of time to hit the pool, get a massage or have a coffee in town, or all three.

The format of the race is another drawcard.  7 stages in 5 days taking in a great sample of the trails and terrain on offer, and they are awesome trails. Rocky, twisty, sandy, loose…all the good stuff.  In fact this year I am leaving the hardtail at home and taking the Epic; something different, something fun.  There is plenty of variety in the stages that range from a 45sec sprint through a sea of noise up Anzac Hill to the 88km epic “Queen Stage”, with some super fast, technical & fun medium length stages and even a time trial thrown in there for good measure. I am particularly excited about the NT Major Events Stage 4 from Santa Teresa back to Alice. This is a new stage for 2013 and will showcase the sport of mountain biking to the Santa Teresa community and hopefully inspire some young kids to pick up a bike. From there it will take us on what is by all reports a stunning, varied and challenging route back to Alice Springs. It’s good to see something new and witness the evolution of what is now a real classic MTB race. I’m also looking forward to the ITT up Anzac Hill. I have never come close to Ben Mather’s record of 42secs, this year I have the chance to go head to head with him which sound be fun….it’s also one of the rare opportunities I get to wear my skinsuit J.

RIDERS ON THE TRAILS IN 2012_Andy Blair #1

The people in Alice Springs also make the event something special (and I include the visitors and event organisers in there along with the locals).  Last year I was lucky enough to stay with local legend Paul Darvodelsky, and he and his wife Cath have been kind enough to welcome us back. Not just me either, my Swell-Specialized team mates Jenny and Lewi will be there too, as well as a few others including one of my childhood idols, Tim Bennett from WA.  I’m looking forward to a week of hanging out with the unofficial mayor (read: cinema owner) of Alice Springs and a crew of guys all out to represent the Darvo household with pride….well, at least not disgrace the name.  There are plenty of other locals I look forward to catching up with like John Piper (who usually has a house full of visitors like Darvo), plus all the other mountain bikers that will descend on Alice from all over the country.  Anyway you look at it there will be a great crew with whom to hit the Casino on Friday night and tell stories about a fun week.

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The racing this year looks like it could be exciting too.  My tip is that the winner will come out of Ben Mather, Shaun Lewis, Michael Crosbie, Tim Bennett, Ben Hogarth or myself, but with such rough terrain and over 10 hours of racing anything can happen.  Ben skipped marathon nationals in order to prepare specifically for this race and is a former winner in 2010. He is one of the true hard-men of the sport and whether he has the form to win or not, his presence will guarantee that there are no easy stages. Shaun Lewis is bombing at the moment and recently won the Convict 100 marathon in NSW. He is also perfectly suited to this style of racing as he is very strong technically and has a sprint that could be vital if it comes down to time bonuses. Cros might lack a little experience and race craft but the current U23 national marathon champion is bloody strong; I will never forget motor-pacing with him and having my tongue on the roller only to watch him attack the bike and ride off the front.  There might not be enough climbing for him to really show his strength but he is a real chance at the win.  Tim “Bomber” Bennett is a legend of the sport in Australia, I remember watching him racing head-to-head with Cadel Evans in about 1995 and he went on to have a very successful international career.  Tim has the best skill of anyone on the start list and more experience than anyone else, he is also probably the craftiest and has helped to mentor me to stage race wins in the past. If we are close on GC I don’t expect he will be too keen to help me out in Alice. Ben was 2nd last year despite a few flat tyres, if he has good legs and good luck next week it will be interesting to see what he can do. As for me, I am on a hat trick of ICME wins after having won in 2011 and 2012. I won’t give too much away but I felt like I had good legs last weekend at the Convict but a flat tyre ended my race, it is fair to say the I am motivated.

ANDY BLAIR_2012 Event

The women’s race looks like it will be a great battle too between Jenni King, Jenny Fay, Row Fry and Terri Rhodes. Jenni is coming off winning her second national XCM title and the former Aussie XCO champ is always a big threat. Jenny Fay won the Convict 100 last weekend and the actual race in Atherton (although she is Irish). She is super strong and will be trying to use that to her advantage. Terri was on the box in Atherton and showing fine form, she is a proven performer in Alice with a great head for racing. Rowy is such a gifted mountain biker that she can never be underestimated, she has won more Aussie titles than any girl I know and if she has been doing some kilometres she will be tough to beat.

So the stage is set for another great week of action at the ICME. I will be covering the race with daily blogs on http://enduromag.com.au, so watch this space if you are keen to keep up to date on what is happening in the Red Centre.  Only a couple more days of work and a bit of packing to go. See you there!?!?!