A week of racing

The 2010 Red Centre MTB Enduro was held in the sacred lands of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, where a great mass of riders descended on the small city. A two-hour flight saw myself and teammate Robbie Hucker land in the Alice where we were greeted by warm but dry conditions in which locals excelled.

It was my first ever multi-day stage race and for Robbie, his second. We were both very new to the stage racing scene but had accepted the challenge to compete in this harsh event of seven stages in five days. When we arrived on the Saturday before the event, we built our brand new Cube bikes, which look very nice!

With a fun trail ride on Sunday to explore the local trails, this provided a perfect opportunity for me to adapt to my brand new bike and for Robbie to refine his skills on a bike that was only a week older than mine. By the end of the day, we had had a fantastic time exploring some very exciting local singletrack and to top it off, the bike was awesome! After a good bike wash, registration at the event village and a good feed, it was time to prepare for the long week ahead.

Stage 1 of the 2010 Red Centre MTB Enduro saw a 40km race take place in the morning with a mass start and police escort through the heart of Alice Springs town centre. The first 10kms was all fireroad, and riders were spread out immediately from the gun.

At the front, Robbie held strong with the leaders and was comfortably placed in the top eight for the majority of the race. I was just behind the leaders in the top 10 still holding a solid tempo on the harsh fire trails which consisted of overgrown shrubs and head-sized rocks.

Despite a painful start to the race, the last 20kms brought some very fun singletrack and completed the course. Across the line, Robbie was seventh and I was ninth - a very good start to the week. After racing we headed back to our accommodation for what was to be our usual routine of lunch, pool recovery, bike wash and then rest which - the ultimate strategy after a hard day of racing.

Stage 2 was held in the afternoon and was a short 300m hill climb sprint up ANZAC Hill. Riders set off at 30-second intervals and took the average rider about one minutes and 20 seconds to complete, but the fast guys, only 44-50 seconds. I was the first to go off, recording a fast time of 48 seconds. Robbie then took off a few minutes later and posted an even faster time of 46 seconds, placing Robbie in second overall and me in fourth. This was a fantastic effort by both of us, and we were keen to see day two's racing get underway.

Stage 3 was a bit longer with a 50km course to be completed. In another mass start, racers flew down sandy fire trails to get a good position in the field. However the first 20km were very tough and positions alternated frequently. After running a lot of steep rocky trails and unrideable sandy river beds, both Robbie and I were well placed in the top 10 once again with less than 20km to race.

In similar fashion to stage 1, the last 20km of stage 3 also consisted of flowing singletrack with loose rocks causing tough racing conditions. Nearing the end of the race, my legs were like jelly and I was desperate to cross the line. I finished up in ninth place with Robbie right up in the mix of things in sixth. In the overall classification, Robbie held onto seventh while I held onto ninth.

Stage 4 was the longest and most exciting by far. Riders tackled a gruelling 95km from a remote location back to Alice Springs. To start things off, we were practically bush bashing through thick scrub and sandy rivers with a width of near 100m. In the first 20km, there were at least three to four kilometres on foot - not enjoyable at all. However, we were greeted with the odd refreshing creek to cool those tired legs.

The next 70km were all fire trails with a mix of hills, descents and sandy sections which all crushed our spirits when we encountered them. To make things worse, these sandy sections were totally unrideable and this meant more running! Despite all of this, the leaders were mainly spread out, and I was sitting around 15th for the majority of the race. Robbie was suffering from back problems and dropped off the pace early on. With the last 20k in sight, I hit the last feed zone, got a fresh bottle and had a 14km gravel road to overcome before we hit the final 6km of the race which was all singletrack. I had now moved up into 11th and I powered home to secure this 11th place and record another consistent result to keep myself positioned in ninth overall. Unfortunately for Robbie, a bad day and a sore back meant he finished back in 50th. He managed to drop back to 13th overall and not lose too much time.

Stage 5 was an individual time trial, which consisted of a 23km mostly singletrack loop which took the fast guys 53-55 minutes to complete. Robbie posted a 55 minute and 39 second hot lap, and I rode a 55:51 hot lap despite loosing 30 seconds. We were both very pleased. This put us into fifth and sixth respectively for the stage 5 race.

In stage 6, we undertook the same course, but at night. With a few hours recovery, we were both back on our bikes with some quality Light and Motion Lights which provided some seriously bright light. After a mass start, we headed off into the dark with some riders taking some unusual lines in the first 3kms to gain positions. I got a great start and led the big field of riders for about 1km until a few other riders jumped up the track to lift the tempo.

It was then that Robbie grabbed their wheel and bridged the gap. He then took over the pacemaking and led the field for the next 10km until a slight mistake cost him five places. I then caught up to Robbie and we worked together for the rest of the 23km. We then rode home together and finished up in fifth and sixth respectively again and were only 1:30 behind the winner. It was a great result and we were both pleased with our day 4 performances. Overall, this put Robbie into 11th and I moved up into eighth. It was time to get an early night sleep and prepare for our final day of pain.

Stage 7 kicked off with a mass start and riders undertook a 1.5km street circuit around the town of Alice Springs before heading onto the dirt for the last time. Robbie was up in the top six riding in the lead group, which opened up a small advantage on the rest of the field.

I was only a few seconds behind but was not able to hold onto their wheels. I seemed to hold a steady tempo and control my own pace early on in the race. It was after 10km that I caught Robbie, and we stayed together for 1km until Robbie dropped off the pace. I had to keep going as my closest rivals were just ahead and just behind me. I couldn't loose too much time to the riders ahead, but needed to gain time on the riders close behind. As the race unfolded, I held my position in seventh. Robbie took a top 20 finish, and in the overall classification I moved up to seventh position to cap off a great week of racing. Robbie held onto 13th overall.

Overall, it was a fantastic week of racing which saw some incredible highs and some incredible lows. My favourite quote for the week was on the final day.

"I'm never coming back here again," said Robbie Hucker. It will now be one event that we can look back on and say that we completed it.

Big thanks must go to Gen and Dean at Torq Nutrition Australia who support us so much, especially to Dean for driving a billion hours to get up to Alice Springs and support us throughout the week. Also thanks to our other various sponsors who contribute so much.

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The only UCI-registered mountain bike team in Australia, the TORQ Performance Nutrition team features some of Australia's top racers and future stars, including current national and Oceania Champion Dan McConnell

For 2011-2012, TORQ racers are targeting the Australian Mountain Bike National Series, National Championships and Oceania Continental Championships. The team's top priority is racing Olympic distance cross country events, but it is also mixing things up with some short track, marathon and endurance events - and maybe even some road races.

Some members will head abroad for the World Cups - an important part of Australian national team selection process for the 2011 World Championships. In the past two years, the team has grown to include some new faces with some great results to back them up.

McConnell, who represented Australia at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, is perhaps the team's most well-known member. Mark Fenner, Brenton Jones, Mark Tupalski, Luke Fetch, Robbie Hucker, Jenni King, Katherine O'Shea, Joanna Wall and Becky Mates are also on the roster. Members take turns writing diary entries.