The Ingkerreke Commercial Mountain Bike Enduro is only weeks away from hitting the reinvigorated mountain bike trails around Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges, with an eclectic bunch of riders set to compete in the multi-day, multi-stage race.
The seven stage event has as always attracted riders ranging from top tier to those simply out for an adventure experience in the Top End landscapes.
In the men's category, podium placegetter at this year's national championships, Andy Blair returns to defend his title won at last year's event and will be anointed as favourite after winning the season-long, multi-event All Mountain Cup in March.
The Australian Capital Territory rider will face strong competition from South Australian, Ben Hogath, who won the Mawson MTB Marathon winner in 2010 (solo), was eighth Oceania cross country championships in 2012 and has an Ingkerreke Commercial top 10 under his belt.
The latest member of the marathonMTB.com team, Nick Both, will likely feature at the pointy end, too, having registered three top 10s in Alice Springs previously. EnduroPulse.com.au team rider Ben Randall is also looking to take a stoush or two up front over the five days of riding and undoubtedly young gun Billy Sewell, who came fourth overall last year. Two other young riders on the rise in contention include Team Torq duo Robbie Hucker and Jack Haig, who were first and second respectively in the U23 at the national championships recently.
And can young Alice Spring indigenous athlete Hayden Jude blaze a new trail as a role model by pushing into the lead pack? Twenty-year-old Hayden Jude will be the first indigenous youth to participate in the Enduro. He will have some cultural company for at least one day with Dudley Clarke, and indigenous rider from Sadadeen, Northern Territory, testing the waters as the only other indigenous rider albeit as a single stage entrant.
The women's field will be strong despite the absence of reigning champ, Jess Douglas, who will be in Italy defending her 24-Hour World Solo Championship title.
In with a shot at a win will be Queenslander Naomi Hansen, who came second at Alice Springs in 2007, took a third in last year's Crocodile Trophy multi-day, and recently became the first Australian female to enter the Cape Epic Amabubesi club, meaning she's one of the few crazy enough to complete more than three South African Cape Epics, one of the toughest MTB multi-days going.
Sticking it to Hansen will be U23 World Championship representative Terri Rhodes, who, after taking a major spill in the Oceanic titles resulting in a broken collarbone, returned to form at the Kona Odyssey this year taking out the 50km Shorty and placed top 10 at the National MTB Championships.
Melissa Anset will be in contention, too, her win at this year's Bike Buller MTB Festival showing she can handle a mix of distances over several days.
Scott 24-Hr Australian Solo MTB Champion (2011) and top 10 rider at Alice Springs in 2010, Courtney Shinn will also be in the top end mix as will Josie Simpson, who placed fifth at the recent Bike Buller MTB Festival.
The introduction of a new masters category has been popular with older-on-the-birth-certificate but younger-in-spirit riders, of which there are eight on the entry list to date.
Gavin Brown (Ashfield, WA) and Kerry Ryan (Blackburn Victoria) take the honourable title of eldest competitors on course. The question is if they will also be the 'wisest' and pace through steadily through the days on track, or will they get pumped up and go hard out in an effort to embarrass their younger category competition? Either way, they prove themselves of masters of the mountain biking universe, proving that the Third Age is no barrier to having mountain biking adventures.
Some riders are travelling to Alice Springs as part of their rise up the ladder of mountain biking experience. Sixty-one-year-old Micheal O'Keefe from Pymble, NSW, says he completed the 2012 Mawson event from Adelaide to the Flinders Ranges and reckons, " I'm ready for something more challenging!"
Mark Twomey was bitten by the mountain biking bug after completing the Tour de Arnhem Land last year while Darren Nunn from Nhulunbuy, NT, "bought my first mountain bike 16 months ago to do the Tour De Arnhem Land and been hooked ever since. Thought I'd give this racing a go."
Other competitors have ridden the Ingkerreke Commercial previously and are back for more fun.
Peter Svara from Darwin, NT, is one a few returning to ride in Enduro number seven while Scott Wilson-Haffenden from Tasmania is back to right some wrongs after a torrid time last year: "Despite a dislocated collarbone, full body bruising, broken lights, lost polar, six flats, busted pedal and a leaking bladder (a Camelback that is) in last year's event, I thought I'd come back and try again."
And we wonder if anyone is under suspicion on our entrant list with news that Derek Milne from Tahunanui, NZ, is attending: he's a self-employed private investigator (but, also a decent rider being 2011 Vet 3 category New Zealand National Champion and a sponsored rider for R+R Sport NZ).
For Quentin Hart, from Weston in the ACT, riding the Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro is a matter of salving a mid-life crisis. "It was either buy a red sports car or enter a five-day mountain bike race in the middle of Australia. I didn't get the former, but the latter was a good excuse to buy a flash new bike...in Kermit green rather than red."
Everyone on course should also watch out for the thundering thighs of Victorian firefighter Sam Bach. His background as a world champion stair climber, will see a display of endurance performance on the trails. How stair running in full firefighting clobber will translate to the skills needed to master a mountain bike on rocky trails actually translates is to be determined come mid-May.
Another entrant with legs used to putting in extreme effort is Kim Bunny. A registered nurse from Kununurra WA and a second time competitor, she is also an ex-velodrome track sprinter and multiple WA state champion from the late 1980's and early 1990's.
Micheal Brill from Victoria will need all the leg strength he can muster as the only (known) singlespeed rider on course. Others travel a long way to compete. Tony Keogh, a founding member and President of the Mongrel Bastards Mountain Bike Club and organiser of the Hell on Wheels Cycle Tour, will be driving a 7000km loop to attend.
All competitors will take on board a bunch of new and freshly groomed trails taking in seven stages of racing over five days, ranging from a 45-second hill sprint in the middle of town to a 77km epic through the majestic MacDonnell Ranges.
For more information, visit www.ICME.com.