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Riders enjoy the dark side of Alice Springs
Andy Blair holds a line.
To the booming strains of AC/DC's Thunderstruck, the Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro riders lined up under the darkened Alice Springs sky this evening for the much anticipated night stage.
Unique in that it is one of the few mass starts taken under headlamp and handlebar light, the stage saw riders take their cue from the Bon Scott soundtrack, striking off in a thunder of wheels, dust and flickering beams of light, ahead of them 23km of mostly tight and shadowy singletrack.
With a back-to-back title drawing ever near, buffered by an essentially unassailable time gap, Andy Blair still took the initiative to draw away early on, leading the race from start to finish and even enjoying his own concert-on-wheels along the way.
"It was great fun out there. I don't usually like night riding, but once I got away on my own, I used my phone - which we had to carry as compulsory gear - to play music. It was awesome, I whacked it on shuffle and really got into it.
Blair gave credit to his lighting set up for showing him the way better than most.
"That better vision really helps, because your braking becomes less intense, so you use less energy and have more in the tank for the hills. I felt like I was doing easy. And with the music going, I felt a bit like a Jedi out there."
Conscious of the potential of becoming being the first ever rider to nab back-to-back overall titles in this event, Blair will ride safe tomorrow saying it will all be abut mitigating disaster. [Other back-to-back category titleholders include Carolyn Jackson in Vintage (2008-2011), John Allison in Vintage (2010-2011) and Paul Darvodelsky in Veteran (2009-2010) - Ed.]. "I'll carry a lot of spares and concentrate on not being complacent. It'll be a fun race, tomorrow - as it's the final shootout, people will be still by vying for other podium places and category wins. My mate Nick Both has come up in the rankings and is a shot - he'll have a lot of work to do, but you never know."
Both came second tonight 1:10 behind Blair, increasing his chances at a real shot at the podium, while third place went to Ben Hogarth only two seconds behind Both.
Despite smashing a derailleur, current overall women's leader, Melissa Anset managed to limp her bike over the final kilometres to win, her margin diminished somewhat to 27 seconds over second place getter, Sarah Holmes.
Holmes, known more for her cross country riding, scored two second placings today to add to her one stage win on the hill sprint earlier in the week.
"As the week's progressed I got stronger and today was definitely my best day," said Holmes. My stage 2 win in the hill sprint showed I have the power, but when it came to the longer stage yesterday I had a shocker and struggled."
"Today really suited me - the trail came across as a pure mountain biker's course, I really loved it - in fact I'd say it was the best course I've ridden.
Unlike Blair, Holmes nominates night riding as a favourite.
"My time was only two minutes slower than the day ride on the same course. I do a fair bit if night riding, and really enjoy it."
Holmes and the rest of the Ingkerreke Commercial riders face a 40km final fling tomorrow, finishing at the famous Telegraph Station just outside Alice Springs.
With nothing to lose but time, Holmes will be giving it her all in order to finish higher up the rankings than perhaps she thought possible earlier on.
"Tomorrow I will leave nothing in the tank."
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