If you had asked me towards the end of last year whether or not I’d be around for LEITA in 2018, I would have said I’d like to but I’m not sure where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing by then. At that point I had been planning to go back to continue graduate studies instead of hanging around in my hometown racing against some of the best riders in the country over the Easter long weekend… To say a lot has changed since then may be an understatement! I decided to stay at home with my parents in Alice Springs a little longer, focusing on training for a season of racing in the northern hemisphere while working full time at the hospital pharmacy and helping my mate Chris take over and find his footing with Ultimate Ride/Bicycle Centre (my local bike shop since I started racing 10 years ago).
On to the racing though, and in its 4th (?) year LEITA was bigger and better than ever before, with 230 riders from all over the country coming to ride/race/enjoy the local trails and beautiful Autumn weather in Alice Springs. For me this race is more than just the first round of the Australian Marathon Series, it reminds me of all the people who give up countless hours of their own time to assist in the organization, management, and maintenance of the tracks around town.
Day 1, the marathon stage, started off with the neutral roll for the first 5km which was nice before the mad scramble through the sand west of town and short brutal climb up “the widowmaker.” The first 15km were on fast fireroads and the four of us (Cam, Trekky, Blairy, and me) at the front were setting a cracking pace until calling a “pisso” (pee break) shortly after the first feed zone… Maybe we were all a little nervous. The next 40km was relatively uneventful, keeping up the high tempo and enjoying the singletrack as the temperature rose in the hot sun. Coming into the last feed zone at the telegraph station we were all still together which is when Cam decided we weren’t going fast enough and my own legs told me we’d been going too fast for the past 2.5 hours and I started to lose ground on the front guys. Across the plains of Mordor I was in the land of the fairies, seeing stars and telling myself to just finish my water and get to the finish. In the end I lost ~9 minutes to Cam who was definitely the strongest guy on the day, with Trekky a minute behind him, and Andy coming in 6 minutes ahead of me… Things to take away from today – do more racing if you want to keep up with people who do lots of racing!
Into day 2 I was super excited to ride the best of the rocky and technical Alice Springs trails, iconic tracks like perente, huffy, shitta, Carls, sink, Tabsy, and Jew Bear. I remembered from last years race and loved this stage for showcasing the variety of trails we have in Alice. I took the lead early, driving the pace to trying and get little gaps in the technical sections that I knew like the back of my hand. This let me save energy while the other guys had to power back on through the fireroads linking the technical sections. Close to the finish Cam and Trekky decided it was time to speed things up and put in a big effort up the three sisters putting me just out of contention before the last section of fireroad and river crossing into the Telegraph Station where I was ~10 seconds behind. Plus side today, getting some time back on Andy meaning the last day would be red hot with me trying to get another two minutes and him trying to prevent it!
Day 3 was always going to be exciting, with some of the fastest and most flowing singletrack Alice has to offer, and not much separating Cam and Trekky, and Andy and myself. Similar to yesterday I made sure to push the pace as we left the Telegraph Station and headed along the North Stuart Hwy before turning east and trying to remember where the tracks go as the sun was burning our retinas! As we tore along the larapinta trail, through wiggleys waterhole, down Grants track and avoided the barbed wire of the fence line, I continued the high tempo and put more pressure on as we got onto the helmet track. As we came along the ridge Trekky and I had a lead and couldn’t see the other two guys, which gave me a fleeting rush of adrenaline to keep me going for the second half of the stage. As we came down Stimpson Cam had caught before we turned onto the 1km of sandy fire road where Trekky made a little mistake early and I took that as a chance to use my local sand riding skills to my advantage and put some time between the others. This paid off and I was able to maintain the gap over the guys as we came back towards the Telegraph Station. I nervously checked over my shoulder as my legs were dying in the last 3km and knew from last year that Trekky can come out of nowhere at the end of a hard race! It was great to finally get a win at the hometown race against some of the fastest guys in the country and it’s stoked the fire to be competitive racing overseas this year.
All in all, the Easter in the Alice was an unreal long weekend of racing with good mates as always. Not only is it awesome to catch up with the other locals I don’t see as often as I’d like as well as meeting everyone from out of town who have enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and vastly different trails Alice has to offer. I hope to be back next year and can’t wait to see this event continue to grow and evolve each year.
That’s it for today, as I am about to get on my flight to LA . Follow along as lope across the US meeting acquaintances and such… (Game of GNAR reference) But basically I’ll be racing pro XCT’s (or US Cups, whatever they’re called these days), the Epic Rides Off-Road Series, a few World Cups, and maybe even a trip to Mongolia… Stay tuned