In2adventure didn't plan to leave the best util last - but that's what they delivered at the Snowies MTB Festival
After a slight stage shuffle due to the storm on Friday night, the lucky riders at the 2021 Snowies MTB Festival would now be racing top to bottom on the Thredbo Valley Trail, in near perfect conditions. The trails in the NSW Snowy Mountains tend to dry fast, and while some had literally been underwater just 24 hours before, with blue skies and some wind, the trails were packed with hero dirt, a little loam, plenty of slidey gravel, a bunch of rock and a tiny patch of mud or a puddle here and there.
The Thredbo Valley Trail is a shared walking and mountain biking trail, and can be used in both directions. This can create some conflict, so having a trail closed and ready to race is a special occasion. With an additional loop through Lake Crackenback Resort, we would all be tackling 39.5km in 20 second gaps, with the fastest riders leading. That means very little traffic, all the opportunity to go full gas, and just about unlimited fun.
The brisk 10 degrees in Thredbo felt warmer in the alpine sun, as Robyn Lazenby gave us the final race briefing. The mood was buoyant - lots of people were just having a bunch of fun racing, and very few people were overly serious about the competition, besides just wanting to go as fast as possible and challenge themselves. Still, there was $5000 split amongst the men's and women's podium, so there certainly was something to race for.
On the Thredbo Valley Trail
Riders took off one by one, and of course from there it's a bit of a mystery. Dan McConnell was off first, and as race leader he was unfazed, finising over 2 minutes ahead of Jon Odams, who is a pretty handy bike rider himself. Ben Henderson was third - and this was also the overall order on the podium.
Zoe Cuthbert kept her lead, with a little over 90 seconds back to Bec McConnell on the stage. 3rd was Meaghan Stanton, although Em Viotto was 3rd overall for the event. Full results are online.
Personally, I was in a heated battle with Karl Michelin-Beard, and although I had a gap on him today, he shut down the 20 second gap in a couple of kilometres, then continued to ride away. A very handy ride for someone who broke their wrist recently and only just jumped back on the bike in the past few weeks. Still, we were duking it out for the lanterne rouge, which is rather prestigious, and I ended up snaring that.
The trail itself was absolutely awesome. It's a very gentle descent, with lots of climbing. As such while it suits a good descender, it really suits a great mountain biker, who can climb, descend, and work the bike on the rockier sections efficiently on the second half.
It was an absolute blast riding the lower half blind, and finding the best lines on the fly and under pressure. It's a rare opportunity to race an iconic trail like this in this way, and something that makes entering events really worthwhile.
Wrapping up the Snowies MTB Festival
I've done most, but not all, major mountain bike events in Australia. There's still a couple I'd like to get to and a few more I can't wait to get to again. This was my first visit to the Snowies MTB Festival and in2adventure really put on a good race. The stages are fast paced but not so hard you're struggling to move later in the day. And being based out of Lake Crackenback means you have an event centre that must be one of the nicest in Australia, with a cafe/bar, lake for swimming, bike wash, kids activities, clean alpine air, a day spa and of course lots of accommodation. Of course, there are even more accommodation options in the area. From camping at the Thredbo Diggings, through to the Thredbo Alpine Hotel or the holiday park at Lake Jindabyne. They're all less then 30 minutes from the event, and mean you can take part with just about any budget.
It has been a tough 12 months for mountain bike events, and the Snowies MTB Festival was a great reminder that despite Strava, competition is good. And despite more hoops to jump through when travelling, it is worth it. I caught up with old friends, raced my bike (not that competitively, but I had a number on!) and visited a beautiful part of Australia.
Best of all, we had our Snowies MTB Festival competition winner Matt along, with his mate Troy. We all shared a chalet at Lake Crackenback and these two were great company - hopeuflly we can run a comp like this again in the future.
Here's to more events being back on the calendar this year, seeing more old friends, making new friends, and riding trails fast!