Australian Mountain Bike - - Reef To Reef - WORDS: IMO­GEN SMITH PHO­TOS: TIM BARD­S­LEY-SMITH

Reef to Reef is a new race, sta­ble­mate of the highly-suc­cess­ful Cape to Cape and Port to Port events which to­gether make the new Triple Crown se­ries. They’re also joined by huge in­ter­na­tional events like the Swiss Epic, The Pi­o­neer and Cape Epic thanks to a global ex­pan­sion of MTB events in re­cent years. A first year event can be a risky propo­si­tion – there’s the ques­tion of whether untested cour­ses will work out, will fa­cil­i­ties and lo­gis­tics sup­port all par­tic­i­pants, and will the for­mat suit the MTB rac­ing co­hort who ex­pect more and more for their money with every pass­ing year? Reef to Reef took a par­tic­u­lar risk by in­tro­duc­ing and pro­mot­ing pairs rac­ing. Rid­ers could com­pete in teams of two in a few cat­e­gories – mens, wom­ens, mixed, and masters – rid­ing the en­tire race to­gether, and help­ing one an­other when they can.

Pairs rac­ing is re­ally pop­u­lar in Europe and is the dom­i­nant for­mat for most big stage races in the world, in­clud­ing Cape Epic, Swiss Epic, Transalp, The Pi­o­neer, and tonnes of oth­ers. While rarely seen in Aus­tralia, pairs rac­ing adds new phys­i­cal and emo­tional lay­ers to an event. Tired? Your team mate can en­cour­age you, draft you, even push you. Feel­ing strong? You can sit on the front, or drive the group, or try push­ing. Most racers try to team up with rid­ers of sim­i­lar abil­ity,

but it’s also im­por­tant to team up with a rider with a sim­i­lar out­look. And don’t for­get to talk over your race strat­egy be­fore each stage. Noth­ing sucks more than a shout­ing match in the mid­dle of a race, or los­ing sight of your part­ner be­fore a check­point.

Reef to Reef kicked off with a pro­logue that cer­tainly sparked a lot of con­ver­sa­tion. While many, in the lead-up to the event, ex­pected the 20-kilo­me­tre loop of Smith­field’s trails to take in the eas­ier blue and green loops, or­gan­is­ers opted for shock value in­stead, throw­ing in a num­ber of mas­sive fea­tures that thrilled some, and dis­mayed oth­ers. These in­cluded an ob­scenely steep climb up to the dam, XCO World Champs crowd-pleaser Ja­cobs Lad­der, a climb of end­less, dusty switch­backs, and a gnarly de­scent of fist-sized rocks that would claim any­one who went into it too hot. All of it added up to over 800 me­tres of climb­ing over just 20 kilo­me­tres, 90 per cent of it on sin­gle­track. And none of it ended up as hard crazily hard as ex­pected.

Af­ter rest­ing up from the chal­leng­ing pro­logue, rid­ers trans­ferred up the range to Davies Creek to take in some of the Cairns re­gion’s most un­der­rated sin­gle­track. Among those in the know Davies Creek has had a quiet rep­u­ta­tion for its smooth, fast, old-school sin­gle­track – per­fect for an af­ter­noon spin as the sun sets over the Great Bar­rier Reef, far down be­low the range. This is where the real pairs rac­ing started. While rid­ers had lit­tle op­por­tu­nity to work to­gether the day be­fore – beyond sim­ply stay­ing to­gether, on day two the team dy­nam­ics re­ally set in, par­tic­u­larly as the day wore on and the course turned out to be much harder – and in­cor­po­rate much more climb­ing – than ex­pected (1100m in 50km). The teams that worked to­gether – push­ing, tow­ing, en­cour­ag­ing – were the teams that came out on top.

Day three brought the queen’s stage to tired legs – a 65-kilo­me­tre re­turn trip through farm roads, dou­ble­track and crazy moto singltrack around Mt Mol­loy, again, up on the range just un­der an hour’s drive from Port Dou­glas. A cool morn­ing greeted the rid­ers, but quickly warmed for an­other promis­ing, sunny, mid­win­ter out­ing. Rid­ers started out on un­du­lat­ing farm roads be­fore nav­i­gat­ing a maze of ditches and ruts be­fore div­ing into forested fire roads with swoop­ing cor­ners and the log bridge, which re­quired a dis­mount. Pretty soon rid­ers looped through moto sin­gle­track that was a mix­ture of nat­u­ral climbs, sweep­ing des­cents, and criss­cross­ing mix­tures of ruts and pud­dles, roots

and ledges, be­fore find­ing them­selves re­vers­ing the same route home, ex­cept this time the fast farm road’s un­du­la­tions felt like epic climbs, the tail­wind was a head­wind, and pleas­ant coun­try rid­ing felt like a gru­elling test to the fin­ish line.

Day four was per­haps the most an­tic­i­pated stage, taking in most of the trails of the re­gion’s other iconic event and Aus­tralia’s old­est sin­gle­day MTB race – the Triple R. Named for the ru­ral, rain­for­est, and reef vis­tas it takes in, the Triple-R was this year in­cor­po­rated into the Reef to Reef’s fi­nal day, with both events run­ning nearly si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Lo­gis­tics for Reef to Reefers ran smoothly, with buses and truck­loads of bikes pulling out of Port Dou­glas be­fore dawn and driv­ing up the snaking road to Wetherby Sta­tion at the top of the range. This day took in some bru­tal climbs, some fast, loose des­cents, and of course the jewel in the crown of any trip to Wetherby Sta­tion, a ride down the iconic Bump Track. Once a trail for bul­lock teams haul­ing tim­ber down the range to the Port, the dirt road is a mag­net for MTBers, with an un­in­ter­rupted, steep dive of sev­eral hun­dred me­tres el­e­va­tion, and plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to get air­bourne. An­other icon fol­lows. Af­ter duck­ing and weav­ing through sub­ur­ban back­streets, rid­ers emerged onto Four Mile Beach for the fi­nal sec­tion of sandy time trial be­fore the fin­ish – an­other great op­por­tu­nity for pairs to work to­gether, part­ners swap­ping off or sit­ting in. Reef to Reef passed at high tide this year, with break­ing waves spic­ing up the clos­ing kilo­me­tres of the race, along­side mys­ti­fied dog walk­ers, beach go­ers, and sand cas­tles. Once across the fin­ish line, it was straight into the azure ocean for a dip.

Reef to Reef took a few risks in its first year, and they paid off. The pairs rac­ing for­mat has huge po­ten­tial to add a new ele­ment to Aus­tralian stage rac­ing, and is set to move to sis­ter events Cape to Cape and Port to Port. Race lo­gis­tics went off smoothly, and no­body com­plained about hav­ing to spend four or five days in Port Dou­glas’s trop­i­cal par­adise in the mid­dle of Au­gust.

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