Enduro columnist and Subaru-MarathonMTB.com rider, Kath Bicknell, checks in with some news on the tight racing, blown tubes and magical views in Alice Springs.

 

Mike Blewitt, Andy Blair and Robby Hucker leading the pack on Stage 1

STAGE ONE:

The Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro (ICME) packs in seven stages of racing over five warm winter days.  Based in Alice Springs, the terrain is rocky, dry, dusty and full of all kinds of things that can make tyres go bang.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many people on the side of the track fixing blown tyres as I did in Stage One. Number 2 plate, Billy Sewell (Torq), watched time tick by as he fixed four flats on this leg of the race. He still managed to power home in 2:03:16 but lost half an hour to current GC leader, Andy Blair (Swell-Redshift).

Winner of the Golden Ticket, Stuart Brown, cashing in on his free season of racing Rapid Ascent events

Winner of the Golden Ticket, Stuart Brown, cashing in on his free season of racing Rapid Ascent events

Word from the locals is to carry spare tubes packed with sealant as there will no doubt be 20 other thorns in your tyre by the time one goes through a little bit too far.  These riders obviously know a thing or two about how to beat flats out here, as most of the riders holding on to tyres, pumps and tubes have travelled here from somewhere else.

The course was brutal on tyres with not only having to contend with punctures, but also sharp rocks that would tear sidewalls with ease.

 

Before riders lined the side of the trails fixing tyres, the stage began with a police escort out through town to the motivating cheers of Alice locals. A few fire roads followed, then some lengthy singletracks put a whole range of skills to the test: powerful pedalling, smooth fast descending, technical climbing and riding quick on the rocky and loose stuff. In between chasing each other down, and saying goodbye to pre-race nerves, riders were treated to breath-stopping views of the territory. It’s hard to take racing too seriously when views like that are as much of the experience as the pedalling, tubing and downing of gels.

STAGE TWO:

Andy Blair ran skinny slicks for the hill climb, as any advantage was welcome. 2nd place behind Ben Hogarth was enough to keep Andy in the leaders jersey

Stage Two, the ANZAC Hill climb was held on Monday afternoon. It also made riders think twice about how hard they wanted to pedal.  Go all out to get to the top as quick as possible, or go a little easier, hold back the desire to vomit and save some punch in the legs for the rest of the week.

"Buffed athlete" of the week must go to Allan Stancombe who is leading the Masters category (60+)

The elite men rode this stage like they’d been launched out of a rocket ship with Ben Hogarth winning the 300m climb in a time of 45 seconds. Sarah Holmes (Torq) took the honours in the women’s event riding to the top in 1m06s.  Ben Mather and Jodie Willet will be pleased to know they’re records of 42s and 58s from previous events still stand.

The ANZAC Hill provides riders and spectators with a great view of the surrounding areas, but I totally forgot to take this in, preferring instead to look at the tarmac in front of me as I tried to catch my breath. Fortunately, some pre-race hot air balloon tourism meant I got to see things from even higher up before the racing began (a higher perspective). It has certainly made my appreciation of the landscape even stronger as the event progresses.

Mount Beauty rider, Matt Zagorski showing the strain on the hill climb stage

STAGE THREE:

Tuesday was a one-stage day, packing in 50-odd kilometres of riding which began at the historic Telegraph Station – one of the original relay stations from the overland telegraph line.  After about 10km of fire roads and sand, riders were treated to seemingly endless amounts of world class singletrack. Today’s course included trails with names like Helmet Track, Sink Track, Shitter Track, Roo Track and the Huffy Track. The local MTB crew have obviously named these trails according to trackside features more than the flowy terrain.

Melissa Anset in the leaders jersey at the start of Stage 3

Race leaders Melissa Ansett and Andy Blair put even more time into their competitors today, riding into a class of their own.  Less time seemed to be lost by other riders further back fixing flats, but race nutrition has started to come into play. With so many fun trails to ride, eating, drinking and steering is not as easy at is sounds – especially for riders who opt to go without a bladder on their backs.

At approximately 77kms, tomorrow’s ride is the biggest day of the race. The loop consists predominantly of 4WD and 2WD tracks with some fast sealed sections thrown in to get contestants from A to B. It will favour riders who put power through the pedals over riders who gain time on the singletrack and category rankings by the end of this stage should give a good indication of the final standings on Friday. I guess there’s only one way to find out!

For more info on the race head to:

 

The Torq boys working up front with Ben Hogarth (Giant) and Andy Blair sitting in.

And for up to date results go here: 

Thank you to Rapid Ascent for the images above and an amazing journey so far as well.