GO TROPPO!

RAC­ING THE ICONIC RRR

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - WORDS: WIL­LIAM BIRD PHOTOS: TIM BARD­S­LEY-SMITH

It’s got ru­ral, it’s got rain­for­est and it’s got reef. That’s why they call it the RRR and that’s why it’s one of the best point-to-point moun­tain bike events in the whole of Aus­tralia.

CEL­E­BRAT­ING ITS 27TH CON­SEC­U­TIVE YEAR, THE RRR (RU­RAL, RAIN­FOR­EST & REEF) IS AUS­TRALIA’S OLD­EST POINT-TO-POINT MOUN­TAIN BIKE EVENT - AND THE BIG­GEST ON THE FAR NORTH QUEENS­LAND OFF-ROAD CALENDAR.

From its birth in 1990 to its present for­mat in 2017, one man has rolled be­side it, guid­ing it, shap­ing it and (on oc­ca­sion) re­build­ing it. With an ex­ten­sive back­ground in cycling (in­clud­ing count­less UCI ap­point­ments around the globe, and a lengthy role as Race Di­rec­tor of the RRR), Peter Blakey is that man.

“There was a guy from Moss­man, Dave Olsen, who said to Glen (Ja­cobs) and I that there was a ride the Moss­man Crew used to do from up near Mt Mol­loy, through Wetherby Sta­tion Road and down the Bump Track. So we met him up there one day (in 1990) and, dur­ing the course of the ride, dis­cussed what it was and how it would make an awe­some race. It was ru­ral. There was rain­for­est. There was a beach. So within about 15 min­utes of talk­ing we had come up with the RRR.”

From a hand­ful of rid­ers do­ing a Le Mans start off the deck of the Mt Mol­loy Pub in 1991, to over 600 rid­ers con­verg­ing on Wetherby Sta­tion in 2017, the RRR has grown and evolved from a so­cial ride to one ad­min­is­tered by Iron­man.

“For that first year (1991) there was prob­a­bly about a dozen of us. There were no mar­shals. The idea then was that we fin­ished at the bot­tom pub in Port Dou­glas. I don’t know even if there was any­one tim­ing us, but there may have been some­one at the fin­ish. There were bikes com­ing in from all di­rec­tions as there was no ac­tual route, no course we were meant to fol­low - just meet at the pub at the bot­tom. That was the first one. “From then it be­came a lit­tle more struc­tured with a starter and tim­ing and so on. Af­ter that first year we changed it so you had to fin­ish along the beach (Four Mile Beach). Back in those days Port Dou­glas was chang­ing so much that ev­ery year we went there we had to make a new track, find a new way to get to the beach. It was ei­ther de­vel­op­ments go­ing up or roads go­ing in.”

For 22 years the RRR started in Mt Mol­loy un­til it moved 5km down the road to Wetherby Sta­tion, where it rests to­day. That first year from Wetherby Sta­tion in 2013 saw the in­clu­sion of a longer 70km en­durance event to sat­isfy rid­ers seek­ing a greater chal­lenge.

SIT­TING ATOP THE TABLELANDS

Lo­cated on the west­ern edge of the Great Di­vid­ing Range in Trop­i­cal North Queens­land (north west of Cairns), Wetherby Sta­tion of­fers a tran­quil event set­ting - think cows graz­ing peace­fully in pad­docks with but­ter­flies float­ing bliss­fully be­tween them.

Es­tab­lished in 1878, Wetherby Sta­tion op­er­ates as a sus­tain­able beef cat­tle en­ter­prise in con­junc­tion with tourism and eco­tourism.

Back in the gold rush days of the 1890s Wetherby Sta­tion (or “Weather­boards” as it was then called) served as an overnight stop for prospec­tors trav­el­ling be­tween Port Dou­glas and the Hodgkin­son River gold­fields along the Bump Track.

The sta­tion is gen­er­ally ac­cessed two ways; via the pic­turesque coastal route of the Cap­tain Cook High­way (i.e. Palm Cove, Wangetti, Oak Beach, Port Dou­glas) and the Rex Range (State Route 44) at about 100km, or up the Ku­randa Range and through Ma­reeba and Mt Mol­loy (Na­tional Route 1 and State Route 81) at 110km. Al­low your­self about 1h30m drive from Cairns ei­ther way.

TRAC­ING THE ROUTE OF THE RRR

The RRR of­fers rid­ers two dis­tances; the 35km Clas­sic and a longer 70km En­durance op­tion. The Clas­sic is a di­rect route from Wetherby Sta­tion to Port Dou­glas, and largely re­traces the orig­i­nal course; fol­low­ing Wetherby Road through cat­tle coun­try be­fore skirt­ing the edge of Ku­randa State

THERE WERE BIKES COM­ING I N FROM ALL DI REC TIONS AS THERE WAS NO AC TUAL ROUTE, NO COURSE WE WERE MEANT TO FOL­LOW, JUST MEET AT THE PUB AT THE BOT­TOM.

For­est, then dis­ap­pear­ing into the lush rain­for­est of Mow­bray Na­tional Park, be­fore de­scend­ing onto the iconic 4.5km sprint along Four Mile Beach. Few can ar­gue that the beach fin­ish alone is a large draw­card for the event.

The En­durance op­tion takes rid­ers on a 40km ad­ven­ture through part of Wetherby Sta­tion’s 4000 acres, be­fore re­turn­ing to the homestead and fol­low­ing the 30km route. The route is mod­i­fied ev­ery year to keep it ex­cit­ing.

Be­cause the prop­erty strad­dles two biore­gions (the Wet Trop­ics and the Ei­nasleigh Up­lands), Wetherby Sta­tion is home to a unique range of en­vi­ron­ments rang­ing from rain­for­est to Sa­van­nah grass­lands and bush, thus pro­vid­ing di­verse and ex­cit­ing moun­tain bik­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

TACK­LING THE ENDURANC OP­TION

Be­ing a Cairns lo­cal, I’m a lit­tle ashamed to ad­mit that the last time I rode the RRR was back in 2010 for its 20th edition (yes, I still have the t-shirt to prove it too). I had just re­turned from hol­i­day­ing in Europe and Scan­di­navia the week prior and thought it a great idea to ride it so­cially with friends. Back then it was only a 35km event held in Oc­to­ber. I re­mem­ber it be­ing a very wet and slip­pery ex­pe­ri­ence, with creek crossings full of flow­ing wa­ter and race of­fi­cials hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time at the fin­ish try­ing to de­ci­pher num­ber plates caked with mud. Fast for­ward seven years and here I was, ready to tackle the 70km course in much drier June con­di­tions. With lim­ited knowl­edge of the course (and wan­ing fit­ness), it was go­ing to be an ed­u­ca­tional morn­ing on the bike.

As a Race Di­rec­tor and Com­mis­saire, and also know­ing I was to write about my ex­pe­ri­ence, I rode with a crit­i­cal mind - eval­u­at­ing and analysing ev­ery route marker and trail op­tion I en­coun­tered. This mind­set of­fered a wel­come dis­trac­tion to the burn­ing sen­sa­tion in my legs which ac­com­pa­nied me from start to fin­ish.

The event started fran­ti­cally with a 5km loop around a pad­dock on very good open roads to stretch rid­ers out, be­fore head­ing away from Wetherby Sta­tion. Over the next 35km we were taken on a scenic roll through eu­ca­lypt woodland, past bush camp­sites, up count­less rocky climbs (of­fer­ing stun­ning views I never had time to stop and ap­pre­ci­ate), travers­ing side­ways across a freshly scraped off­cam­ber slope with one foot un­clipped and push­ing, along a his­toric train line that was ne­glected and over­grown, and com­plete with hikea­bike sec­tions through washed out creeks deeper than I pre­dicted, as well as through well­used cat­tle tracks lit­tered with fresh “ob­sta­cles”.

The en­joy­ment of the ini­tial 40km was tes­ta­ment to Blakey’s great skill as a course de­signer to keep rid­ers chal­lenged. Where he could have taken the easy op­tion and linked ex­ist­ing roads to­gether, he in­stead put in the time and ef­fort to use cat­tle trails and build new sec­tions of sin­gle­track to keep rid­ers sat­is­fied. Crest­ing one of the big­ger hills out the back of the course I came upon Peter him­self, dressed in pro­tec­tive mo­tocross gear, his mo­tor­bike parked be­hind him. Through gasp­ing breathes I quickly praised him for his ef­forts be­fore plung­ing pre­car­i­ously down the other side of the hill into the val­ley be­low (grin­ning ear to ear all the way). Re­turn­ing to Wetherby Sta­tion for a quick bot­tle change and re­sup­ply, I knew the next 30km were go­ing to hurt… a lot. With mul­ti­ple sec­tions of long dirt road grinds be­fore two ma­jor climbs, and de­scents lead­ing into the Bump Track turn­off, there would be lit­tle time to rest and re­cover.

ONTO THE BUMP TRACK

Start­ing at Wetherby Sta­tion with an el­e­va­tion of about 393m and fin­ish­ing at 35m on Four Mile Beach in Port Dou­glas, it doesn’t take a ge­nius to re­alise there is an en­joy­able drop in el­e­va­tion. Most of this al­ti­tude loss is within the Bump Track’s 5.9km sec­tion at about 373m. Ac­cord­ing to Strava, the main de­scent of the Bump Track is about 2km long and loses 316m of el­e­va­tion – the cur­rent record be­ing 2mins 37secs at an aver­age of 46.8kph.

AN I CONIC EX PERIENCE

As its name im­plies, the RRR is an event that im­merses you in three very dis­tinct land­scapes; open cat­tle coun­try, dense trop­i­cal rain­for­est, and an un­for­get­table beach fin­ish. While the RRR may be the “of­fi­cial” event that uses this unique route, the fa­mous Croc­o­dile Tro­phy also bor­rows this route for their fi­nal 30km in­di­vid­ual time­trial. As such, there is no short­age of Strava seg­ments and Euro pros to test ones fit­ness and bike­han­dling skills against. Ru­mour has it there may be some sig­nif­i­cant changes com­ing in 2018, but all I can say that I hope to be cruis­ing down Four Mile Beach again in 12 months time.

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