The Mitta to Mt Beauty is a classic event in Australia, but going to attend it you realise it's more than a bike race.
What's the oldest mountain bike race in Australia? It's the RRR in Tropical North Queensland. And the second oldest? The MItta to Mt Beauty, a 55km point to point race from - you guessed it - the small town of Mitta to the slightly less small town of Mt Beauty.
Point to point bike races are something of a rarity these days. They aren't easy to organise, and they can be a bit of a bother to race in as well, unless the event has great organisation. But for 26 years, Team Mt beauty have run the race, drawing riders from not just the local surounds, but around the country. National champions mix with local riders, kids in the junior races, and aspiring riders - plus some people trying it out for a laugh.
Today's race started under grey skies, and having driven over from Mt Beauty in the Isuzu D-Max we have for a week in Victoria, we got to have a look at the conditions. The 'we' being Chris Panozzo, Albury local Kathryn McInerney, and Matt Staggs behind the camera (and wheel now and then).
The ground was soft, trees were down, and the top of the climbs were shrouded in mist. The town of Mitta was mostly still asleep as we arrived, just ahead of the shuttle bus bringing riders and bikes across from Mt Beauty.
With people catching up, getting their race plates, and generally happy to be out and about on a Sunday morning, the race vibe was a refreshing reminder that sport, and in this case mountain biking, is about social connections and community.
Just before 10am, Liam Panozzo gave us the race briefing, before Joel Panozzo drove the lead out car to take us out of Mitta and onto the main climb. The pace was steady but not settled once we turned off the main road, and as the road pointed upwards it was Tim Beardall and Rohin Adams who were at the front of the field.
Behind, people had splintered into groups of 3, 2 or in my case... 1.
With two passes to climb through, all riders were treated to a day of changing views. We climbed as high as 1112m, and while the early climbs were shrouded in fog, over the last pass it was lifting, and we descended into the Kiewa Valley in full spring sunshine, with the fields a radiant green.
Everyone had their dual out on the course. Whether it was between old adversaries or new, girlfriend and boyfriend, or just against a previous best time. There was no bad blood at the finish line, where Rohin Adams took a victory ahead of Beardall, and Kathryn McInerney was the fastest woman.
Save for a few people who had to ride back to get their cars, everyone waited around outside Mt Beauty Bakery for the presentations. We chatted, we reminisced, we were stoked on riding bikes in the high country.
It is easy to forget that while many of us love the solitude that we can get on a bike, a lot of it is about shared experiences too, which is partly what makes group rides fun, and why we want to share our experiences on social media. The Mitta to Mt Beauty race was the perfect reminder that community run races are a core part of our sport. With champions in the field and people taking part for personal challenges, everyone got something out of their time on the bike. It was a perfect way to engage with the sport, yourself, other mountain bikers - and the awesome terrain.
There wasn't a centimetre of singletrack in the race but there was plenty that made it unique, challening and fun. It's one of the few events in Australia that send you up a reasonable climb, and that carries with it the opposite too - a long descent. IF you like seeing new places and want to add something unique to a trip to the area, make sure you check out the date for 2018. Keep tabs on the Team Mount Beauty Facebook page for a 2018 date, you can find results there too.
All photos by Matt Staggs.