Falling smack-bang in the middle of Autumn, the Wombat 100 has become an institutional event on the Victorian Enduro racing calendar since it’s humble beginnings back in 2009 as the ‘BMC 100km Classic’. 5 years on and attracting 800+ riders to the quaint Victorian country town of Woodend, the Wombat is a key event on many riders radars from the pointy end in their sponsors kit, to the weekend warriors whose sole aim is to cross that finish line without need for hospitalisation.

We’ll have a full run-down of the entire day along with a comprehensive spread of beautiful riding shots and photos from the event in our next issue of Enduro, but in the meantime, here’s a rundown of the 50km race and my experience partaking in my very first Wombat event.

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Firstly, I’m not sure who started the trend, but hot dang mountain bike races start bloody early in the morning! Yeah, yeah, race logistics, presentation times, driving home at a reasonable hour and all that, but having to wake up before 5am is not the sort of thing I tend to associate with a recreational outdoors activity. In Maximum Adventure’s defence, there was provided accommodation on site at Cammeray Waters where quite a few people took advantage of the campsite option and chose to arrive at a normal hour on Saturday afternoon. For those not familiar, Cammeray Waters is a rural resort with luxury accommodation & function rooms available for Melbournites looking to escape the city for the weekend. It’s in a tranquil native bush setting surrounded by a glassy lake, lush green paddocks and a golf course, and is probably not the sort of place that smelly and dirty mountain bikers would be seen in on any of the other 364 days of the year. Having never ventured into a Wombat 100 event before, the setting was new to me, but as the fog lifted through the eucalyptus trees on a dewy Autumn morning, it was hard not to be impressed with how beautiful the location is. Ah, how’s the serenity?

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Anyway, I was saying how early it was. My riding companion, Dave, and I were discussing in the car on the way out to Woodend what a great idea it would have been to take advantage of the camping option. That was an option that unfortunately wasn’t really available to us however, as we were somewhat involved in a mutual friends bucks party the day before where we had spent the afternoon zooming around the city on blue Melbourne Share Bikes, travelling from pub to bar and enacting various tasks that I shall not divulge into here. I can safely say though, that we were in no state to be operating any kind of heavy machinery on Saturday evening, and so the camping option was out. Instead, we elected to wake up pre-5am in order to make the hour drive out to Cammeray Waters (’bout 15 minutes from Woodend) to get Dave to the start line for the 100km race.

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In case you hadn’t heard of it before, the Wombat 100 is (of course) a 100km race, which sends riders around the native bush and pine plantations through the Wombat Forrest in the Great Dividing Range. There is also a 50km option for those not so keen on the idea of arse-chafing, and an 18km race for the Juniors. In the lead up to the April race-date, I to’d and fro’d on the idea of doing the full 100km but ended up chickening out to do ‘just’ 50km. Backing up my decision, Mikkeli (Enduro Editor) decided to take the reigns for the 100km event, giving me a convenient excuse. Given how my head was feeling during the pitch-black and drizzly drive along the Calder Hwy, I was very glad I wasn’t riding triple digits.

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After being guided in by moving flashlights like a taxing 747, we parked the car in the dark paddock, daring ourselves to open the door and venture out into the brisk morning air. It was a cold start to the day (or was it still night?) and I have to admit that enthusiasm levels were pretty low. Dave was giving himself a modest guestimate of about 8 hours to finish the 100km event, and I had dashed away any chance of finishing within half an hour of the winner for the 50km race, given we were both dried out like 2 surly prunes. But, we soldiered on and made our way to the registration building, where we were greeted by a number of helpful volunteers handing out race packs that I personally felt were far too enthusiastic for that time of the morning. The walk back to the car to affix race plates revealed a severely growing number of nervous-looking riders outside the portable toilets, all voiding their bladders and bowels in preparation for the next few hours of being glued to a bike saddle. I must confess I had a bit of a chuckle to myself as we dawdled past – no matter how maxed out the portaloos are before a race, you know full-well that it’s the toilets back at riders homes that are going to get the real workout post-race, once all of those gels and carbohydrate drinks make their way through the digestive tract…

Back at the car, the dirt road leading into Cammeray Waters served as a warmup circuit for the lycra-wrapped cyclists looking to get some blood into their digits before edging up to the start line. Dave got his kicks and helmet on, and I sinked back into the passenger seat of the car, gently ‘resting my eyes’ and quietly hoping I might accidentally fall asleep through the race start. I didn’t, and the inevitable buzz of race-day began to take over. As 7am neared, a mass of riders began to filter down towards the yellow inflatable start line and we made our way down lakeside to join them. Race briefing was welcomingly succinct, though the golden tonsils of Tim Sheedy provided some much-needed humour to wake up riders amassing in the start gates.

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All of a sudden, it was 7am and the the 40 or so Elite 100km riders were off through the start gates, making their way around the lakes perimeter and off onto the fireroad. The rest of the 100km field were then sent out in self-seeded waves over the next quarter of an hour, with riders jostling for position in an attempt to clear the path before being drawn into the tight singletrack. And with that the quiet fell over race village again as the last spec of coloured movement disappeared into the distance. With another 45 minutes before the 50km race start, I made my way back to the warmth of the passenger seat in Dave’s car, though admittedly not before dropping by the portaloos for a nervous wee.

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To avoid traffic chaos, the 50km course was simply the 2nd half of the 100km race. With over 500 riders choosing the shorter option (double the number that elected for the full 100km), a series of waves were sent off from the start line to keep the congestion levels down upon entry into the singletrack. The first couple of km’s were fireroad and doubletrack to help warm up the legs and in order to stretch the field out quickly. There was a touch of moisture in the air, though everything was looking pretty dry given that there were a handful of days between race day and when Woodend last got rain. Unfortunately for me, my legs took a little longer to warmup than I may have otherwise hoped, and so was dealt with the task of negotiating nervous riders with skinny handlebars and shaved legs upon the first stretch of trail. That’s ‘part of racing’ though (a phrase I heard more than several times later that day), and so being able to pick a point on a narrow singletrack that is both suitable and polite becomes quite the art. The Wombat trails were there to help however, with some beautifully crafted jumps and log-rolloves serving as techy ‘A-lines’ that many of the tentative roadies would avoid by taking the slower outside line. Gradually as the heart rate went up along with the adrenaline levels, I was able to creep forward a few riders at a time, with traffic thinning out towards the end of the first 20kms. Despite it being a race, I couldn’t help but let out a few stupid ‘whoops’ and ‘yee-ha’s whilst swinging from side-to-side down one of the gullies. The trails were absolutely primo – well designed, a great use of the natural terrain and mostly covered in hero dirt. Whilst I had ridden the Wombat loop before on many an occasion, it was all the new singletrack we were churning along that impressed me the most. The enjoyment level was helped significantly given that the majority of the trails in the first portion of the course were mostly downhill, where we dropped around 200 vertical metres from the highest point near the start.

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The latter 30kms of the course saw the singletrack more interspersed with fireroad stretches, whereby any advantage I had gained in the singletrack was quickly eroded away by fitter riders swallowing up the gap and then overtaking me on the long dirt-road climbs. A certain amount of frustration kicked in, but then I realised I was definitely taking myself too seriously, and especially so given that walking in a straight line 12 hours earlier had been quite a challenge. The fact that I could even ride a bike was to be perfectly honest, a feat in itself.

So onwards we climbed on the dirt fire roads. And climbed. And climbed.
Whilst I’m no physicist, a growing sense of dread grew as I realised we were beginning to chew back all of the elevation that I had so readily taken for granted on the singletrack descents. In the space of about 5kms, we clawed back those 200 vertical meters at a pretty awful gradient. My heart went out to the singlespeeder that I’d been trading places with for the first part of the race, but pity quickly turned to annoyance when I realised he simply got out of the saddle and roasted me on the climbs. After a particularly long section of dirt road, an impressively well-stocked feed station thankfully signalled the half-way point.

Sarah Riley: Winner of the Womens 50km Category in a time of 2:31. Despite not having much race experience at the 100km distance, Sarah impressively earned a podium finish at the National Marathon Championships over the weekend in Atherton, QLD, with 3rd place in behind teammate Therese Rhodes and the winner, Jenni King.

It’s probably worth noting that I had chosen to ride the 5″ travel MSC Blast on race day, which we’ll be reviewing in our upcoming issue. All you need to know is that it’s a lightweight carbon dually with a pretty efficient suspension platform, sporty geometry and 26″ wheels. Yup, 26″ wheels. I reckon I can almost pinpoint the exact moment on the course whilst I was being overtaken by various carbon 29er hardtails, where I realised just how much they have taken over the XC racing scene. Don’t get me wrong, the MSC was a hoot in the singletrack and the suspension was comfy for the few hours I was on top of it, but if ever there was a more suitable advertisement for 29er mountain bikes being the choice for marathons and enduros, that moment would have been it.

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The rest of the race was mostly by the numbers, though with around 15kms to go I managed to tack onto the end of a 5-rider train that I felt like I might be able to springboard off of. Most of the alcohol must have leaked out of my sweat pores by this point, as I was starting to feel pretty good. Weaving our way around some pretty fast downhill sections, there was a bit of nervous riding going on though. I imagine all of us were thinking the same thing and looking for riders in front of you to make a mistake for you to skip around them. And then: BAM!! I was on the ground in an instant. Pain in my knee, adrenaline shooting through my body and a fuzzy head trying to work out what exactly just happened. “YOU RIGHT?” came from the riders streaming away from me. “YE-YEAH, I THINK SO!” I yelled back. And then I noticed the huge stick lodged in my front wheel, one that had been kicked up by a tyre in front of me and had jammed in the forks bringing the bike to a stand still and sending me over the hangers. I did my best Peter Griffin impression, breathing in air tightly between my lips and exhaling loudly; “ahhhhhhh”, over and over again, hoping that it would fix the stabbing pain in my knee. As I’d fallen, the end of the handlebar must have swung round and decided to introduce itself to my kneecap. The following 500 metres of riding was presumably, to anyone watching, hilarious, as I attempted to pedal with only my right leg. After I got the left leg moving again, the pain reduced marginally and enough for me to cruise on. As I rounded a corner, an ominous “10km To Go” sign ridiculed me.

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The last 10kms of the race was brutal, and it involved me telling myself repeatedly that “it’s ok, you’re all good, they’ll have coffee and probably sausages” as I attempted to coax my knee back to life. A final piece of singletrack with around 6kms to go was one of the sweetest bits of trail in the whole course, which helped stoke a bit of fire to keep the weary limbs going. That opened up to the last few lengths of dirt road, which cruelly took you past the transition area, giving you a false sense of relief that the race was over. It wasn’t, and I was left cursing at myself out loud trying to keep the bike moving faster than walking pace, knowing the quicker I went, the quicker it would be over.

I ended up crossing the line somewhere in the top 50, happy that I had come within 25 minutes of the winner but annoyed that some random bad luck had caused me to take a dive. At least if you wash out the front wheel or hit the brakes too hard on a descent you can learn from your mistake for next time. Ah well. As I was reminded over and over again in the race pits via tales of other bad luck; ‘that’s racing!’

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Probably the best thing about the whole day was crossing that finish line and being handed a raffle ticket by one of the race volunteers, who explained the token was for a free beer. I very quickly forgot the pain in my knee and enjoyed a rad cup of amber ale from the 4 Pines Brewery crew, before scoping out the food vendors and getting myself a mean burger. The photo up above of the bay marie with all the snags and hamburgers in it was met with disgust by the lady behind the counter, who turned out to be the head chef at Cammeray Waters and was appalled we were photographing such terrible food. Apparently they had catered the event last year, and to a standard that they would normally do for functions and events such as the corporate days and weddings they host year-round. She explained that it was a total failure, with all of the beautiful salads, quiches, gourmet meats and so on being snubbed by the exhausted riders who had finished the race and simply wanted a sausage, bread and sauce. I suppose when you’ve been chowing down electrolyte drinks and powerbars all day, your body is probably not prepared for anything that’s too much of a culinary challenge. As such, food was of a much more ‘basic’ variety for the 2013 Wombat.

Winner of the Mens 50km Category in a time of 2:08 was Jason Lowndes. At just 18 years of age, Jason is showing some great signs of things to come, and just last weekend also took out the ‘Race The Train’ event in Castlemaine. Standing at nearly 2 meters tall and tipping the scales at under 80kg, it appears that the genes are well and truly on his side!

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Chatting to other riders and race organisers post-race, there seemed to be a collective sense of enjoyment and relief towards the end of the day, with most folks happy with the course and how they had travelled. The weather held out on us, despite some grey skies threatening rain, which reminded Tim Sheedy of the apocalypse that was the Wombat 100 a couple of years ago (the one with the hailstorm and where riders who were still out on course ended up having to hug trees to reduce the ferocity of being bombarded with hailstones). Comparatively, we did pretty well.

The pointy end of the 50km race was taken out by Jason Lowndes for the lads, and Sarah Riley for the ladies. Adrian Jackson and Peta Mullens were crowned the King and Queen of this years Wombat 100, though for those playing at home, you can check out the full results here.

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Oh and as for Dave? Well he actually finished under his earlier projected time of 8 hours, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so relieved as when Dave was passed a beer shortly after this photo was taken. He also mentioned that 100km races “are f*%ked”. For many riders, the 100km is all about the accomplishment, regardless of how long it takes. The last rider to cross the line came in some 9 hours after the race began, and I’ve gotta give a hats off to anyone who can stick out a race of that distance.

With Wombat number ‘6’ coming up next year, we expect the same slick-running event as always, and this years race has set some pretty high expectations for me. A beautiful setting, hilariously fun singletrack and all within an hours drive of Melbourne. Next time I reckon I’ll camp the night before though. But if any event organiser is reading this, let’s talk about afternoon events!