We pried Kath Bicknell off her bike seat for a few more words on the fast, fun racing taking place in the Red Centre.
While the singletrack-heavy course design of most of the ICME stages has had many a mountain biker sitting up and laughing, Stage Four favoured riders who could sit down and pedal. It was also about teamwork. After a tough, rocky, up-and-downy start to the day, riders were greeted at the 25km mark with almost 25km of sealed path and tarmac. Mountain bikers often pretend to hate these surfaces when riding with knobbly tyres, but half way through a stage race they can be a welcome way to tick through some easy kilometres. If you’re in the Red Centre, this is the stage to take in the views.
I found myself in a hero bunch for the middle section of this course. A good, strong group of women at this year’s event have been finishing each stage within a couple of minutes of each other. About six of these ladies were joined by a similarly strong group of men and we charged through countryside in an almighty pace line. Heart rates rested, (some exploded) and I shook my head in amazement at the pace that we maintained. We finished the race a much happier group than those who had to go this distance alone in the wind. Those who had a bit of gas left in the tank could pull away on the technical climbing and descending that followed before hitting up the local BMX track before a finish banner, handfuls of cut up oranges, and a chance to swap stories with new friends made on the trails so far.
Thursday began with a 24km time trial. Riders were seeded from slowest to quickest and went off at 30 second intervals – the best part about this being that you were chasing, or being chased by, someone you had probably met a few times on the trails so far. After a flat, pedally fire road and a climb that would have been quite scary if we hadn’t faced a few already, this course was all about singletrack.
A fast lap with Craig Findlow as he rips around the Stage 5 course Video footage from Stage 5
The same loop – from and to the Alice Springs golf course – will be used for the night stage later on this evening. The morning time trial gave riders the opportunity to take in the flow of the trails, sight tricky lines over a few of the rockier sections and look at the view while the sun was high. It was also a chance to ride the singletrack as fast as you can.
Not much beats a good hour or so of fast singletrack with no one holding up the line in front and only the odd rider or two putting pressure on you from behind. Because the course will be re-used tonight, all the track markers offer people supporting the event (but not necessarily racing in it) a chance to hammer along some of the best trails in the area too.
On the racing front, Andy Blair and Mel Anset are looking comfortable and fast in the men’s and women’s yellow jerseys. Lots of mini battles have formed between riders elsewhere on the GC, which keeps the motivation high, the pedals turning and the heckling fun. Head over to the event website for additional news and info and to the Multisport Australia site for up to date results.