If you’ve not ridden this race, you should. Its like Wimbledon for marathon mountain biking. Its one of the biggest races in Australia and attracts the A-listers of rough rubber royalty. Its long, fun and scary hard to boot.
This event and me have a long, chequered past. I form one of 15 or so masochistic psychopaths who have completed each Odyssey since its inception some bazillion years ago. In achieving this dubious milestone I have burnt as many calories as McDonalds Ararat sell in 20 minutes, sweated near to 900 litres in human seawater and been vigorously, consistently, mercilessly punished like a small full back playing in Tony Lockett’s return to country football.
And despite the years of mad heat and relentless rain I have fronted up again and again, usually under-done, to stupidly drag my scarred cadaver over climb after climb, hoping that this would be the year that I would gain something resembling glory. To date? Nothing.
But this time – with the event date moving later into the calendar year, I was ready. A little altitude training, a little attitude training and more than a little wallet emptying and I was fit, awash with kit and ready to rip.
Even my wife, Kyllie had her race face on, having let me shoehorn her into her maiden 100km entry some 6 months earlier. Moving through the starting chute I even had enough sparkle to rev up marathon-mudder hardman Simon Goninon for settling into a mid-pack beginning.
And there I found myself, high heart rate and cold legs, three back from sharp end of a skinny and hungry pack, straining against the start line like wild eyed greyhounds – yearning for the gates to open. And when they did…
I held on, bumping elbows and rubbing tyres as the group rushed through the opening five kilometers like bogan crowds at Boxing Day sales. Occasionally I could see my rivals in the 40+ category, bobbing to the surface like flotsam and then disappearing again under the torrent of dust and lycra. Then, as we swung off the tarmac and hit the first of the sandy climbs I saw them all quite clearly. Riding off into the distance.
At this point all sorts of voices started howling in my head. Those harsh, hurtful ones that seem to enjoy puncturing holes in your soul, just to watch the strength leak out. I was hunched over my bike, head down, to the casual observer trying both to draw out my breath and slow down my heart rate. But in truth, I was trying not to let my heart break.
Racing is a funny thing. The expectations we place upon ourselves seem never to be met and those we place on others are regularly exceeded. The Odyssey is my benchmark, my high and low watermark, almost a fucking birthmark. This time I went into it expecting a category-win, or at least podium – and while I never said that openly, lest somebody else’s expectations of me not be met, I had rehearsed my acceptance speech, such was my level of commitment. To watch the podium ride off me, and easily, like I was a roadside mailbox, was one crushing little moment in my usually pretty jovial history of racing. First world problems yes, but problems none the less.
Eventually, all that shit stopped. Largely prompted by a gentle realisation that bitching to myself about myself was probably going to get old pretty quick – reinforced by knowing it would certainly not bring the finish line any closer. Racing called and I got back to business, kinda embarrassed by my little internal moment. I got up and over the Sledgehammer and made up a few places barrelling down the long fire road descents. Hollow little victories but at that stage I was happy for whatever scraps I could get. Post the first stop at Forrest football ground and I was in a better place. I was refuelled, refreshed and had my racing is fun fire rekindled. Moreover – I was in singletrack…and I like singletrack almost as much as mid morning sex.
This section went all too quickly, which, due to having a plate zip-tied to my bars suited me just fine. Marriners run, Grass Trees, Foxtail – some of the sweetest trail in the country was being very nice to me indeed. By the time I’d reached transition for the final loop, I’d made up a handful of hard to get places and was feeling like this race wasn’t going to be so bad after all. I think I even let out a ‘WooHoo!’
Post the final transition and we were all faced with a bit of a grind. 7 or 8 kms of tarmac smooth fire road ascent, straight up Kannglang road. I was forcing down an Odyssey sandwich. Some sweet singletrack corned-beef in between two stale and hard to stomach slices of HTFU.
Women give birth with less moaning than what I did dragging my arse up that climb – and by the time I’d got to the top I’d almost forgotten – again – how much fun all this racing should be.
With more than just a little resolution I attacked the timed Red Carpet descent and while it was largely ceremonial, with nobody immediately in front or behind me I still ripped through it like a beer bottle goes through a grocery bag.
Turns out I made up a little time. I had descended through the ferns, deep into the belly of the beautiful Forrest undergrowth and had climbed up one of the last painful dirt ladders to gain a little altitude again before getting onto the final 25kms – beginning near the famed West Forrest trailhead. While the climbs had hurt me, I was still in the ring with more than a couple of punches left to throw – and having ridden this section more times than I eat cheese (which is a lot) I was looking forward to finishing on a high.
But there was more fighting to come. West Forrest trail is a deceptive beast. At recreation pace its a mostly sweet, occasionally savoury section of singletrack with arousing features and lines that will make a grown man wish he’d worn shy-shorts. But at race-pace, it can be a piercing howl as every meter seems to demand more and more tech prowess to get by. I got by OK, and also got by a few cats who were more writhing than rhythm. And as this wonderful section came to a close I caught Liam McCrory – a hardass mofo holding down 5th in 40+. A place I was more than happy to relieve him of.
I popped out of that section knowing it was only 5kms or so to the line, but also fully aware that I needed at least 1.5 of those kilometers to hold off a certain Mr McCrory who goes up hills like a bushfire…and sure enough, as I crested the first of three small climbs, there he was. Right behind me. I bombed the resulting descent, hoping that the ultrafast downhill would put enough space between us, and while there was ‘space’ – I was a little short on ‘enough’. On the next climb he went by me like helium, and despite licking the paint off the inside of the hurt box to hold his wheel -he had gapped me, easily.
With only a time trial kilometer to go – with nothing technical or vertical between us I tipped everything in. I mashed the pedals, flicked up gear, mashed them again. It felt like I was gaining on him, and the odd furtive glance he shot back confirmed it, but with 200 meters between us – I needed him to be getting bigger in my vision a lot faster than he was. As is would turn out, I made up almost all of that space in the final approach – hitting the last gravel turns brakeless and gunning it over the grass to come in only a bike length behind. No podium, no glory, but the best result I’ve had in the Odyssey and a cracking balls-out finish to boot. A total time of 5:07:03 – 34th overall, 6th in Masters.
Kyllie also had a flyer – storming home to finish her first full distance Odyssey in a touch under 7 hours…a feat many of my riding buddies are yet to manage. So proud.
And big thanks go to Rapid Ascent for another surgically precise event, to Cycles Galleria for not only my epic Pivot Mach 429 Carbon, but Kyllie’s very cool Trek Fuel and to Pro4mance sports nutrition for fantastic foodstuffs all day. Mavic can take a bow for the excellent Crossmax SLRs I was rolling with and SRAM for the XX1 group that ran better than flawlessly.
Moreover, thanks again to everyone who came out and pushed themselves, dug deep, grimaced and grinned to make an event like this so much more than a bike race. And finally, while we all race for one reason or another, uber-hardman Simon Goninon races for a really good one. Check out his work for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) over at MudRacingMechanics.
Full Race results should you like numbers. I know you do. We all like numbers.