As a very popular race that has become a bit of cult event in the last few years, the Otway Odyssey has become a must-do race. Sandwiched between all of our sanctioned, national-level races, the event is renown for its steep climbs, and it attracts a large field, from weekend warriors to elite racers.
Personally having done this race since its debut in 2006 and as my very first mountain bike race as a 16-year-old, I've always looked forward to it and done reasonably well. I guess you could say this race has been quite kind to me over the past four years. Coming back again in 2010 with the rest of Torq squad was going to ensure a great weekend of fun and riding!
The race started just as it was getting light. It was already around 25 degrees Celsius. The elite women set off 30 minutes prior to the men, then the 1000-odd amateurs set off in chase.
On the start line for the women, we had Katherine O'Shea and Jo Wall; and for the men, we had our main man Dan (McConnell), Steele (Von Hoff), Robbie (Hucker), Dean (old man Clark) and myself (Luke).
The race started with a police escort along the ocean road until we hit the first hill and were met with a 500-metre climb from sea level. As the road twisted its way from the beach to the forest, you could look down and see hundreds of riders battling their way up the climb. It was something special.
Due to the headwind, at the pointy end of the field, it was single-file and everyone was scrambling for a wheel to stay protected. The bunch stayed together for quite a while until we hit the steeper sections about 20km in. Race favourite and teammate Dan unfortunately suffered a number of flats early on which pretty much ended his hopes of winning.
I found myself in a good position as the race went on. Through all the steep sections, I was feeling strong so ended up riding with AJ [Adrian Jackson - ed.] from the Merida team who was the eventual race winner. I knew I had to ride at a pace I could sustain for five-ish hours. AJ was pushing hard, so I let him go and settled into my own rhythm and ended up riding the next 50km by myself, constantly thinking I was going to be caught by the group behind and especially Dan.
It was clearly not Dan's day as I found out later that he had three flats, but still finished and got some good training in. Also not having a good day was poor Jo Wall. She decided that while descending, it would be a good idea to see what Truvative handle bars taste like. Apparently from her delirious account, they don't taste good and the dental bills leave a lot to be desired! I guess Torq bars are the better option from now on or maybe Torq gels as they don't involve chewing.
Our team manager Dean was a man on a mission to beat his last year's time! I'd say that the mental strength was there, but the kilometres just weren't in his legs this year due to becoming a dad in 2009, so training hasn't been the top priority. At the halfway point, he was up on last year's time, but he couldn't maintain the pace home. As he came through for the final 13km loop in the heat of the day, he looked absolutely smashed. He later admitted that pulling out was on his mind but kept pedalling because he knew the "team" would take the piss out of him if he quit. Luckily, he did keep going as he would have never heard the end of it, the loser!
Out in the singletrack, you always have glimpses of the people in front of you and the ones chasing you, but you never really know how far away they are. In front of me was AJ, Lachy (Lachlan Norris), Gordo (Craig Gordon) and Josh Fleming, so it put me in fifth place. Feeling confident that I would make it through the last loop in reasonable shape, I kept a steady pace without smashing myself.
I got caught with 25km to go by Jason English. Soon after that, we passed a very beaten and tired Josh Fleming, then had a very close call with a big Tiger snake.
Coming through the last feed station, I grabbed more electrolyte and gels from our awesome feeder Ray (thanks Ray) and left the feed at the same time as Jason English.
The last loop is a long fire road climb that just keeps stepping up and up. Jason and I were pushing the pace a bit on the steeper sections to test each other, but none of us were willing to give. On the descent, Jason was leading and I was following closely, waiting for the right time. His helmet cam came loose, and he stopped for a second to put it in his pocket. Meanwhile, I got a small advantage.
At the bottom of the descent, there is the famous "sledge hammer" a stupidly steep climb at the 95km mark. I pushed as hard as I could and increased the gap then never looked back. A goal for me was a top-five finish, so to come in fourth, I was absolutely stoked! [It was] one of the toughest races I've done but the most rewarding!
In the women's race Katherine O'Shea smashed it and finished second to a well-known roadie, Judith Arndt, who rides for the HTC Columbia team. [It was] A good result for Kat as she is building her form up as she prepares for the World Cup season kicking off in April.
Team Hubbard Robbie managed to keep rubber side down all race and finish comfortably in the top 15, even with a messed up hand and some serious lack of skin around his knee, while Steele had to withdraw the race due to mechanical issues.
Luckily for old man Dean, our resident pom and team manager, he was able to push through the pain (after some walking) and grovelled home over the finish line to realise he was a loser like a few years ago when we were going to make him walk home. Yes, he didn't beat last year's time, but there's always next year.
We all had an awesome race, and it's always good to hang out with a great bunch of people which makes it much more memorable. I can't wait for next year!