“They take their allegories pretty seriously in these parts. So much so, that before the Marathon could get underway, we were treated to an obligatory, but wholly appropriate, visit from the ‘man from snowy river’ – in the flesh”
It’s not bad, this MTB business. Somehow I managed to tie my birthday, my first MTB stage race, a heap of good times and celebrating with my partner Sally, all into the one weekend. Drinking beers and winning races - I could get used to this.
The Snowies Mountain Bike Festival is made up of 4 stages held over 2 days - as well as pool parties and festivities. Delicious food, local beers, and fun on the dirt all included. Arriving at Lake Crackenback on Friday afternoon, we got straight out on the trails, before ending with a pleasant meal and a few birthday drinks at the resort restaurant - all part of a meticulous race preparation, of course.
Stage 1 - The Time Trial (5.5km TT staggered at 30sec intervals)
After a few easy laps checking the course it was obvious that this was going to be a fun little prologue to the event. Not overly technical, but rather fast and flowing. Super fun, but also easy to overshoot corners if you push that bit too hard. Once bitten and twice shy, I curbed my enthusiasm and erred on the side of caution for the run - smoother is faster, right?
Turns out it is - Stage 1 went off without incident & I was fairly pleased with my lap, no major mistakes or mishaps. I put a time in of 12:57:89 which put me in around 11th overall and in the lead of my category (Veterans 30-39 years) by around 17 seconds.
Stage 2 - The Thredbo Summit Smash - 21.5km ascent from Lake Crackenback to Thredbo
A couple of hours of chalet relaxation later and we were ready for the next stage; the aptly named ‘Summit Smash’. The mass start was fast and furious up the bitumen road climb before entering the single track - so good position was important early. I snuck in behind Peter Clayton from Cyclery Northside and, happy I was where I needed to be, set about reducing my heart rate and getting into a rhythm as the undulating climb snaked up Thredbo (533m overall elevation over 21.5kms).
As we hit the 8-10km mark, some of the riders who had gone out hard were starting to fade on the pinches. I started picking up places obligingly and was feeling good. I had one rider hang with me between until the 10-15k mark, but as he fatigued I was able to drop him and push on solo.
With approximately 1km left to the finish line I took a wrong turn. Quickly realising I back-tracked, only to find old mate back in sight. I had to dig deep to hold him off in the last minutes of the stage; for personal pride if nothing else. My stage 2 time was 58:23:2 and I had extended my lead to around 8 minutes in the veterans category. Time to have some lunch & chill out by the Thredbo river with friends.
Stage 3 – The Descender – 24km descent from Thredbo to Lake Crackenback
I got a great start on stage 3 with a nice hole shot & led the pack into the single track. This was a great stage; fast and flowing, with some occasional caution exercised, especially on some of the tight downhill switchbacks. By the time i made it to the bottom i had passed all the elite women except for Jenny Fay and her bionic legs. I cleared the stage without incident for a time of 1:00:04:35. My lead in the Veteran category had increased to 12 minutes & I had moved up to 9th overall.
Saturday dinner was held at the Shippard, Ward & Cyclery Northside residence. A nice, low-key dinner, with great company and a few drinks (thanks to both Sally & Briony for going above and beyond to feed a slew of hungry racers). We shared a few laughs and some tall tales, then, satisfied we’d psyched each other out, headed to bed and recovery for Sunday’s 75km final stage.
Stage 4 – The Marathon – 75km (5 x 15km laps)
They take their allegories pretty seriously in these parts. So much so, that before the Marathon could get underway, we were treated to an obligatory, but wholly appropriate, visit from the ‘man from snowy river’ – in the flesh. His music played through the PA, he rode in from behind a very manly cloud of dust, whip a’cracking – emasculating us to a man for our skin-suits and lycra. But he didn’t seem to mind; he cracked his whip once more and the race was on.
As with stage 2, the race start was straight up a bitumen hill, which spread the riders out before entering the flowing single track. The Elite men took off so fast (no surprise) and I did my best to sit on the back & not get dropped up the first climb. Entering the single track I was in about 12th wheel, once again sitting behind Peter Clayton.
After the first piece of downhill single track is cleared there is a junction/road crossing, where, while racing stages 1 & 2, we had gone straight ahead. Come the 75km marathon and we were, unknown to me at the time, required to take a left and go up a short bitumen pinch climb. On approach, sitting 3rd wheel back, rider 1 went straight ahead, while rider 2 in front of me turned left, but looked unsure it was the correct decision. It was a 50/50 choice, a flip of a coin. Backing the first rider (having the better visibility of trail signage & the event marshal directing traffic) I followed him straight through. Bad move. About 4-5 minutes up the trail we came to a stop where the trail had been bunted off, with a marshal informing us we had gone the wrong way. Shiitic!
Doubling back I knew I had a 12 minute gap to 2nd place in the veteran category. I figured the mistake had cost me around 8 minutes, so all was not lost (unless, of course, 2nd place was putting in a blinder). The rest of lap 1 was really hard work, getting through all the slower riders, and it wasn’t until midway through lap 2 that I was able to get into a nice race rhythm & start working with a clear track.
The 15km loop was a great mix of trail, with a few small technical sections, but for the most part it was fast & flowing, with some good areas for recovery. It also gave me a chance to put my head down and claw back some valuable time.
I crossed the finishing line with a time of 03:16:18.23. With a total combined race time of 05:27:43.68, I had done enough to take out the category, with a 26 minute gap back to 2nd place. I had also finished my first mtb stage race with a category win in every stage.
Shout outs and thank-yous
I would also like to mention the great results that some of my friends achieved:
Anthony Shippard surprised quite a few taking 3rd place outright in the prologue TT & finished 8th overall.
Kyle Ward, Mr super consistent, managed to take 3rd in stage 3 & 4th overall while doing skidz and wheelies and generally having fun.
Briony Mattocks – great result in her first race in the elite female category (coming 4th overall).
Peter Clayton – 1st in male Masters & my closest rival in the age group sandbaggers.
Thank you to MC Cyclery for fixing my rear wheel at short notice on Thursday and giving me such a reliable ride. No mechanicals or issues the whole race!
Thank you also to everyone at In 2 Adventure for holding such a great event; to my very understanding partner Sally, Anthony & Briony Shippard, Kyle & Mark Ward, Peter & Tegan Clayton, & Briony Mattocks.