Having placed second in this event last year, and enjoying a fantastic weeks riding in the process, I was hoping to go one better in 2010. We were warned at the Sunday night briefing that the trails had been very eroded due to heavy rains in Alice Springs this year. This turned out to be the understatement of the week!
Day 1 – 40km
I planned to go as hard as I could to get the lead and have the other competitors chasing for the rest of the week. It was nearly bought unstuck in the first 10k when I punctured on one of the many jagged rocks. Luckily I was running a tubeless system and the hole sealed quickly with only a few more psi with a pump required to get me on my way again. The fence-line track was some of the roughest terrain I have ever ridden but I think I had an advantage coming from a running background as there was plenty of off-the-bike action and pushing up hills. Winning the stage I got a few minutes up on Jenni King from the Torq team.
As the record holder for this event the pressure was on to win this one and perhaps better my previous mark of 58 seconds. As the morning stage had been considerable harder than last year the legs didn’t have it and I could only manage a minute flat, which was enough to take the stage win.
Day 2 – 49km
As with the day before I was conservative with my start hoping to overtake the other competitors after my legs had warmed up about an hour in. I had not seen Jenni King as I worked my way to the front and assumed she was still up the road. Feeling the effects of the previous day I rode as hard as my legs would let me, not wanting to lose too much time. In the process I managed to crash in several of the loose corners, cracking my rear derailleur hanger. I coaxed the bike to the end, trying not to use my easier gears in case I put the rear mech into my spokes. Pleasantly surprised, I came across the line in first place with Jenni a couple of minutes behind me. A quick trip to the guys at Ultimate Ride and my o.nine was ready to fight another day.
Day 3 – 95km
After complaining this stage was too short last year (70km) I was wishing I had kept my thought to myself. My memory is hazy but all I can recall is 5 hours of various forms of sand. Shallow sand, deep sand, very deep sand, wet sand, grassy sand. Riding with Gracie Elvin and Rebecca Rusch we worked together to try to get a lap on the other girls. We were very grateful for the company as this stage was in a word, miserable. Turning off the sand we were faced with a straight fireroad that disappeared over the horizon…into a block headwind. Did I mention the corrugations which felt like a jack hammer going to work on your spine? It was quite funny watching everyone following other peoples lines or veering to the other side of the track when they spied a slightly smoother piece of road or firmer looking sand.
Gracie attacked in the last couple of k’s and Rebecca and I rode together to the finish, keeping her in sight. Crossing the line third all I could think of was food and a good lie down. Not fun, but certainly a test of character, with some competitors tossing their bikes into the bush out of frustration.
23km Individual Time Trial
This was my favourite stage last year with riders going off in 30 second intervals and the chance to ride some great single track unimpeded. Either due to the eroded tracks or fatigue I found it hard to ride as smooth as I would have liked and lost a few seconds stalling in corners and steep climbs. I did enough to win the stage by 40 secs but just missed the course record from the previous year.
23km Night race
Held on the same course as the mornings TT, this was a mass start race with a mess of headlights heading off after sunset. I don’t ride much under lights and the first 10 minutes was pretty nervous just trying not to get caught up in any crashes. Trying to discern where the soft sandy patches are is especially difficult at night, no matter how good your lights are. I had a lead over second place of 18 minutes so I just wanted to ride cautiously and get to the end in one piece.
Although I was tired I managed to overtake Elvin in the first 15 minutes and held the lead with only 4km to go. Then the fateful sound of air rushing from my tire had me off the track trying to put a tube in with a headlight and frozen hands. On my way after a few minutes I only got 1km down the road when another puncture struck, again in my rear wheel. I had made the wrong choice in running super-light non-UST tires as a tubeless set up. The terrain was just so sharp and rocky and at night it was difficult to ride the clean lines required. In the true spirit of the race some of the competitors passing me stopped to assist and had my on my way, limping gingerly to the finish line. I had lost 10 minutes to Elvin but was still in the lead. A sleepless night followed and a scamper for a new tire for the final stage.
Day 5 – 45km
Probably the best singletrack of the week the final stage felt like one of survival. I held a lead of 12 minutes over Elvin and we rode together until about half way. Gracie got a break but remained in sight so I was not too concerned. If I could have won the stage I would have, but I had put everything I had into the previous 4 days and honestly raced every stage. The legs just didn’t have it. Rolling over the finish line was just such a relief and was the first time I could really relax and appreciate when we had just completed. I am so happy to have won such a demanding race and ridden with such amazing people.
A big thanks to those who make it all possible: Merida, Flight centre, SRAM, Nightrider lights, Shotz, Adidas, Lazer, Schwalbe and For The Riders.