The Otway Odyssey Through The Eyes of A Roadie

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It’s now three days since the 100km mountain bike enduro called the Otway Odyssey and only now am I’m beginning to pick myself up to write about it. 100km: How hard could it be? That’s two bottles and a gel if I’m going well. I should have this done and dusted in three hours and be sipping a latte by late morning. Or at least that’s what this roadie thought …

The Kona Odyssey is held once a year in the Otways region of Victoria. It’s attracts a huge number of roadies as February is a relatively dull month for road racing events. And let’s face it, all roadies have a dirty mountain bike fetish that we need to satisfy once in a while.

More than 1600 competitors lined up at dawn on Saturday morning to tackle the new Odyssey route which promised to feature more singletrack than previous editions and multiple passes through the town of Forrest.

As a rouleur lining up for a mountain bike race, the first thing any well-seasoned roadie does to size up his competition is check out his adversary’s socks, shoes, leg definition, and sponsored equipment. All important ways to judge who’s wheel to follow.

The startgun goes off and the massive peloton of daggy kits, hairy legs, and camelbacks begin the 100km dirty sufferfest.

Moments after the gun goes off. Photo by Jordan Thomas (a gun mountain biker from back in the day)

As the race gets underway on the gravel roads, the still morning hummed with the sound of knobby tyres and a frequent “bzzzzzt” when wheels touch. Near the front of the bunch it’s an easy sit while all these mountain bikers are nonplussed with sticking their noses in the wind and doing all the work. Suckers.

After one kilometer, a minuscule rider with a lack rag-mop attacks. He is only showing us that he doesn’t stand a chance in hell. He knows it too, but still it’s a fact: he has to choose between finishing at the back after shining, or finishing at the back after not having shone at all. – Tim Krabbe, The Rider

I see my mate Alby up at the front leading the way while attempting to complete the race on a cyclocross bike. A true thoroughbred grimpeur Alby is (loves a drink too). Eleven kilometers into the race, still on unsealed roads, I hear a “psssssss.” Alby’s out. All that preparation we did together, all four hours of training, down the drain. But one less person to chop the prize money with. See ya later Alby.

I look around again to take stock of who’s left. The road starts to rise and as my breathing gets more laboured, I see a guy with a beard, hairy legs, and AC/DC jersey beside me looking comfortable. This can’t be right; him beside me commenting how beautiful of a day it is, all while I mask my groveling? I need to check into those new 650b wheels he’s riding.

Come the singletrack it’s less obvious who to follow. Competitors are politely saying “you go first mate”, “no, feel free, I insist”. The etiquette is appauling. Who taught these guys to ride?

Road racing imitates life, the way it would be without the corruptive influence of civilization. When you see an enemy lying on the ground, what’s your first reaction? To help him to his feet. I road racing, you kick him to death. – Tim Krabbe, The Rider

I elbow my way in front of Mr. AC/DC and take the holeshot into the singletrack. I’m absolutely flying but can’t shake him off my slipstream. He keeps saying, “good job mate, keep it up…” I don’t know how he’s keeping up with my lightning quick accelerations out of those corners and quick braking into the next. It must be that new SRAM 1×11 drivetrain he’s using.

We exit the singletrack and I’m back home on the gravé clocking up the kilometers. I’m flyin’ and drop Mr. AC/DC while he plays with is camelback and makes smalltalk with another competitor. I allow a hairy legged Neanderthal to pass and I lock onto his wheel. I get a free ride for much longer than I should. He eventually flicks his elbow. I roll a soft turn and then pull off again.

Every time I take a pull up front, I feel it: I’m strong today. So what if I attack right here? Then my chances would be reduced. Correct. – Tim Krabbe, The Rider

At the 70km mark after all the sugar, caffeine, and my 500ml bidon has been depleted, I start going hungerflat. My thoughts get cloudy and I start making mistakes. I look around for my team car, but nothing. I call out for my teammates to no avail. Mr. AC/DC comes from behind and offers me a bar. He’s got a Camelback full of them.

The bar has no effect. It’s one of those gluten-free wheatgrass protein bars. I eat three of them just so he has three less.

Bicycle racing is a sport of patience. Racing is licking your opponent’s place clean before starting on your own. – Tim Krabbe, The Rider

I’m fading fast. I misjudged my peak and didn’t taper properly. I must have picked up a stomach virus too. Mr. AC/DC is now coaching me along through this rough patch. I turn a corner and see men playing bongos in the middle of the bush. Where am I?

The final 20km take me two hours. I go over the handlebars multiple times. Competitors who I dropped hours ago begin to overtake me. They ask if I’m alright.

I roll into the finish with Mr AC/DC and think, just for a split moment, to spend my last ounce of energy and pip him at the line. But I don’t. I’ve come a long way in this five hours and arrived to the realisation that mountain biking is slightly different than road racing.

My whole life had only one goal: making that last wheel, here, now. I was wasted. But that elusive finish line, eight, seven, six and a half meters in front of me, kept my hope and desire awake. I coughed and slobbered. – Tim Krabbe, The Rider

Even Wayne Hildred (bottom middle) who has raced Tour of Flanders and Bordeaux-Paris was Odyssised. Will we be back again next year? Hell yeah!

Of course this is my attempt to be facetious and point out the differences between road and mountain bike racing culture. I love both, but for very different reasons. The heart and soul of mountain biking is something I miss and partake in far too little.

I’ve only done the Otway Odyssey once before this so I had an appreciation of how big a 100km mountain bike ride is. For me, that means 5-6 hours of fumbling around on the singletrack. I’ve done the Melbourne-Warrnambool many times and can confidently say that the Otway Odyssey is just as hard.

This time when I finished, as exhausted as I was, I immediately decided that I’d be back next year. I’m happy it’s only once a year, but it’s one of those events that will be booked into my calendar for as long as I can keep doing it.

Thank you to the race organisers, Rapid Ascent, for creating such a good event as well as all the generous volunteers and sponsors who made it all happen. And most of all, Chapeau to Mr. AC/DC who got me to the finish. Vive le Odyssey!

Check out this awesome web service. It’s called VeloViewer and shows an animation of all strava uploads for a particular segment at a specified time. A race like the Otway Odyssey is a perfect illustration. I’m the blue dot, everyone else who uploaded to Strava are the red dots. I can’t embed the animation here, so I’ve uploaded a screen-capture to youtube (above).

Click here to see the Otway Odyssey on Veloviewer.

See Otway Odyssey Strava data here.


100km Kona Odyssey 2013

1. Chris Jongewaard 4:19:19
2. Adrian Jackson 4:19:40
3. Paul van der Ploeg 4:22:14

1. Renata Bucher 5:13:35
2. Peta Mullens 5:14:34
3. Rebecca Locke 5:32:57

50km Kona Odyssey 2013

1. Chris Hamilton 2:17:24
2. Joey Esterhuyzen 2:19:19
3. Jack Lamshed 2:21:21

1. Katie Chancellor 2:51:45
2. Philippa Birch 2:53:38
3. Nicole Jeffries 2:54:18

Click here for FULL RESULTS

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