Over the weekend 1750 mountain bikers got together for the fifth edition of the Otway Odyssey. I don’t often associate with the feral species of cyclist known as “mountain bikers”, but with the amount of top level roadies competing I thought I’d give it a crack. After all, it’s only 100 kilometers. Piece of cake. I should have this done and dusted in no more than three hours and be sipping my second latte by 10am.
The evening before the race it began pouring down with rain. I’ve heard horror stories about how the terrain in the area turns into heavy clay when it gets wet. As I was falling asleep while listening to the rain pound on the roof I thought to myself , “This is not going to be an enjoyable 100km run through the forest.”
Thankfully we woke up to a beautiful warm morning. I hadn’t done a mountain bike race for many years and I felt like it was my first. I took a little stroll to see what everyone else was wearing, camelback or bottles, sunscreen or no sunscreen, how much food, what tyre pressure, etc.
Everyone had advised me to get as close to the front of the start as possible to ensure a decent position up the first climb. I’m well experienced with all of the tricks of maneuvering into the very front of the startline after riding all those Bay Crits and fortunately had no problem weaseling my way to the front of this mob. That was as close to the pointy end of the race as I got.
The race got off to a much more civil start that I had anticipated. The buzz of a couple thousand knobby tyres along the bitumen sounded like an attack of killer bees. I positioned myself at the front of the pack with most of the experienced riders, and even still I can see why mountain bike handlebars are such an unwelcome hazard in the bunchrides.
A couple kilometers as we started ascending the first climb. It became evident very quickly that I wasn’t going to be in contention for a good result. The pace was seriously fast and there was no hope that I could hold onto the front group. The bunches started splitting and I found myself dropping back to the second group. As the second group split, I found myself struggling to hang on and thought to myself, “Wait a minute, we’re only 3km into this, I’m redlining already, and we have 97km to go. Who do I think I am?” Ahh, a sigh of relief. Here comes the third bunch…
The third bunch contained a few guys I knew from the road scene. Andrew Stalder (who attended the 1997 Junior World Championships and arguably still the best crit cyclist in Melbourne) and Danny Kah (who has represented Australia in the Olympics three times). In all honesty, I was surprised I could even hang with those two. They were probably just humoring me anyway.
And this is when the race became fun. My goals had changed from wanting a good result into simply wanting to beat Stalder and Kah. “CCCC punks”, I thought. “These guys might go alright on the road, but I’m gonna smash them when we hit the singletrack!”
After the arduous slog up and down the fireroads we ventured deeper into the rainforest and it became increasingly muddy. Many of the climbs were unridable and it was a comedy of errors just trying to walk those bloody hills. At one point we were running in thick clay to our knees down a sketchy descent and everyone’s wheels became completely clogged. This was the one and only time I thought a Cannondale Lefty fork would have been a good option.
Shortly after we passed through the messy section of rainforest it was singletrack heaven. This was the opportunity to drop my rivals Stalder and Kah with my superior technical abilities. I was on fire. There’s nothing like the feeling of being on your A-game and linking up every twist and turn with perfection. During a transition roads a gun rider from TORQ took the lead into the next section of singletrack. My legs were feeling strong but my feeble upper body was taking a pounding. He was pushing me to my limit, but I was able to keep up with him by following his perfect lines. We must have put 20 minutes into my rivals in that sections alone.
Then the inevitable. I have no recollection of how it happened, but I found myself flying through the air at about 30km/hr. I hit the ground and while rolling down a steep drop-off I thought to myself, “This is it. I’m gonna have to get choppered outta here”. With every summersault and bounce I anticipated wrapping myself around tree or a rock. Instead, with a stroke of luck I somehow landed on a pile of ferns and foliage that was like a massive bean bag chair. I laid there for five minutes munching on an energy bar in the most comfortable state I could imagine at that point. Life is good.
Then it occurred to me that this area had a striking resemblance to episodes of Crocodile Hunter. Prime habitat for massive snakes and spiders. I could handle making front page news because of some epic mountain bike crash, but the thought of having a close encounter with a deadly reptile scares the crap out of me.
I then found myself riding alone. It seemed like I was alone for 20km of singletrack without a sign of any other rider. My thoughts were getting fuzzy but every so often I’d come around a corner to a photographer hiding in the bushes nearly giving me a heart attack
I needed to hold it together. My camelback was out of water and it became too much of an effort to reach for a bidon. Then, right before the second feedzone transition the unspeakable happened. Stalder, Kah and my other nemesis, Reece Stevens (who had broken his chain 50km’s ago), came ripping past me like I was standing still. This nearly cracked me. How the hell did these roadies ever catch me? Could it have been while I was laying in the ferns eating my energy bar?
I was determined to stay with my rivals but lost them in the feedzone. The smell of sausages and hamburgers made me stop and reconsider going out for the final 13km. My rough math estimated 1hr remaining at my current pace.
I set out from the feedzone determined to catch my competition. Soon after I passed a sign saying “Britney’s Meltdown”. That doesn’t sound too bad. If I could get through sections such as “Nucking Futz”, “Corporate Ladder”, “The gift that keeps giving” or “In Quads we Trust”, I should be able to smash Britney’s Meltdown and gain back some time on the guys ahead.
I can’t say precisely when the meltdown occurred, but I’d say it was sometime in between when I couldn’t see anyone behind me to the time when I got passed by a dozen riders. From then on it was an absolute grease-fest in the singletrack. The course was rutted-out and streams of water flowed down the tracks. Everyone I could see was fumbling around through the trails and could barely hold a line.
I never thought I’d say it, but I was relieved when I came up against “The Sledgehammer”. People had been telling me about The Sledgehammer as being this gruelling ascent near the finish that breaks a man’s spirit after all he’s been through. To me, this meant the end of the race was near. I couldn’t be happier. The fact that it was unridable made me even more pleased.
It was one of the least dramatic finishes I’ve ever been involved in, but one of the most satisfying. I crossed the line in just under 6 hours with not an ounce of energy to spare. Congratulations to everyone in my own little race. You all beat me….to a pulp.
To most of the competitors this is not considered a race per se. It is an event. It’s all about either finishing the course, beating your time from last year or beating your mates. That’s the beauty of something like this. It’s not like a road race where the pace is dictated to you and the outcome is largely decided by tactics, timing and aerobic engine. Finishing a road race is not the name of the game. To finish the Otway Odyssey however is a true achievement.
I’m forever hooked and will be making the journey every year. Thank you to Rapid Ascent who organised this spectacular event. The level of organisation was remarkable. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Congratulations to Chris Jongewaard who smashed the course in an unbelievable time of 4:22.06. These guys who finished in 4.5 hours are on a different planet. But equally impressive are all the guys who finished in ten or eleven hours. It shows some serious determination to slug it out for that long and finish. Tthere were over 300 riders who either DNS’s or DNF’d in the 100km event. The way I see it, the guys further down in the results endured many more hours of suffering than I ever could. Good on them!
The women’s race was not without controversy. From the race report:
It was a case of jubilation and then tears in the women?s elite field when U23 national champion Gracie Elvin crossed the line first only to discover she had been handed a 30 minute time penalty by race officials for a rule-breaking indiscretion.
Elvin overcame crippling cramp at the 80 kilometer mark to hold off Peta Mullens by nearly five minutes, but to no avail with her time penalty relegating her result from a win. “possibly the biggest of my life” said Elvin at the finish prior to learning of her penalty to a sixth placing.
The ruling bumped Peta Mullens up a place on the dias to take the official race title and $4000 prize money with Jo Wall elevated to second place, coming in less than a minute behind Mullens? 5:51:53 time. Rebecca Locke took official third placing in 6:08:19.
Elvin, who like Jongewaard has her sights set on the National Championships and the London Olympics in 2012, was visibly upset at the decision, taken after she took a hydration pack from crew while on the course, an act that she was unaware of being against race rules.
Race directors were sympathetic to Elvin’s case but determined that as a professional she should have known the rules.
Eventual women’s winner Peta Mullens
Phil Anderson is still in unbelievable form. My mate Brad Davies had been pulling turns with teammate Lachlan Norris(4th place) trying to get him back into the race after fixing his broken chain. Brad dug deep into the red and was hurting after Locky rode off. Soon after, Brad took a big tumble about the 40km mark and was considering pulling out at the transition area. Uncle Phil rolled up alongside and said in his burley voice “Its a real hard-mans day out today, eh!?” Brad eagerly agreed and got back on with the job inspired by a true hard man of cycling.
I have to say thank you to Trek for lending me this Superfly 29’er. I took it out for a testride during registration on Friday and they generously lent it to me for the race. It rode superbly and I’m blown away by two things that are new to me. First, the 29 inch wheels. The way they’re able to negotiate the sigletrack and roll over obstacles is awesome. Second, the SRAM 2×10 XO groupset. I loved the gear selection it had and found myself shifting on the front derailleur almost as much as the back.
I love the level of analysis that some people put into these types of events. It’s what makes it so much fun. Here’s an interesting way to look at the race. This is a chart put together by one of my mates Tim Calkins (who finished with a fantastic result). On the vertical axis is distance remaining and the horizontal axis is minutes behind a certain rider. We all start in the top left corner with 100 km remaining and having lost 0 minutes to any rider. As the race progressed, here are our respective gaps to the base rider blow out. All of a sudden we find that we have lost 40 min to Jongewaard in 20km.
Feel free to download the spreadsheet and manipulate it to suit your group of mates (you have to have some basic Excel skills, but you’ll figure it out). You can change who the base rider is on the “selector” sheet. You can also change who else is shown on the picture.
A few observations on our group by Tim:
1. Reece snapped his chain at about the 25km mark. He went from being 40sec behind Dr. Mitch Anderson to being 24 min behind during this stage.
2. Everyone (except Adrian Jackson) managed to lose at least 5 min to Dr. Mitch on the final loop.
3. Wade had a MELTDOWN for the last 30km. in the final loop, he lost 15min to Dr. Mitch and nearly 20min to Jonga. It was a 13km loop, so that’s over 1 min per km.
4. Byron Davies (maaaaawwww calkins) lost time to everyone at every stage.
5. Reece beat Peta Mullens — fastest chick — but only by putting in a hard effort on the final loop. Of course, she was off her bike for much of that loop due to serious chain issues, but that’s not relevant. She did manage to beat both Wade and Byron.